April 4, 2023

Metro Erie Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame announces 2023 inductees

The 2023 class of the Metro Erie Chapter of the PA Sports Hall of Fame has been announced. The 2023 class includes:

Hugh Hillhouse

Paul Benim

Gary Manchel

John Melody

Shannon Pullium

Rick Sertz

Nicole Smith

Ryan Zapolski

Gary Drapcho (posthumously)

The nine-person class will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, June 28 at the Zem Zem Shrine Club at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased here.

Read a brief bio of each of the inductees below.

HUGH HILLHOUSE – Hugh is one of the greatest softball pitchers ever in Erie. He pitched for Erie’s Carpetowne for many years, leading them to numerous City Rec championships. He also pitched in several state championships. He pitched for teams in multiple ISC World Tournaments and ASA Men’s Major championships. He is one of only two pitchers from Erie who ever played in these championships. He won the ASA Men’s Pennsylvania State Championship three times, the first at the age of 18. He also won ASA state championships in Nebraska in 1992, and in New York in 1993. He was the MVP in the Omaha Cornhusker games in 1992 with a gold medal. In 1999, he won the Pioneer Days Top Invitational Tournament with his brother Bill Hillhouse beside him in Salt Lake City, Utah. This was the number one invitational tournament in the country. He has played in several countries, including New Zealand, all over Canada, and all over the United States. In 1997 he played in the ISC (International Softball Conference) World Tournament and in 1999 the ASA Men’s Major National Championship in Decatur, Illinois. In 2005 he led his team to a third-place finish in the NSA (National Softball Association) National Tournament in Salem, Va. Hugh threw many no-hitters, estimated at over 50! In the 1987 National Tournament in Prescott, Arizona he pitched his fastpitch team to a fifth place finish out of over 50 teams. He is also a well-renowned fastpitch pitching instructor.

PAUL BENIM – the 2023 season will mark Paul’s 31st season at Penn State Behrend and his 28th at the helm of the baseball program. He has established Behrend as one of the best programs in the Mid-Atlantic Region. He is the all-time leader in baseball coaching victories at Behrend with a 691-401-4 record during 28 seasons. Including three seasons as the head softball coach he owns a 773-438-4 record. The baseball program has made the AMCC Tournament 23 times, won six regular season and six conference tournament titles, and finished runner-up eight times. He has guided the Lions to five ECAC championships and five NCAA Division III Tournament appearances, the last in 2021. Paul has been inducted into the Wesleyville, Iroquois, Lawrence Park Hall of Fame (2011) and the Penn State Behrend Athletics Hall of Fame (2013).

GARY MANCHEL – Gary enters his 20th season at the helm of the Mercyhurst University men’s basketball team in 2022-23. A three-time Coach of the Year recipient he has a record of 357-202 at Mercyhurst (at conclusion of 2023 PSAC Tournament) and in his 29 seasons as a head coach owns a 487-328 record. In the last five years the Lakers have gone 107-29. He led Mercyhurst to its first-ever PSAC championship in 2015-16 and a first-ever NCAA Div. II Tournament berth. He has now led the Lakers to seven NCAA Tournaments and seven 20-win seasons, along with three 20-win campaigns and an NCAA Tournament appearance at UMass-Lowell, where he served for nine years. His Mercyhurst teams are known for their intense defense and annually rank among the top defensive teams in the country, including number one in 2015-16. In 2018-19 his team tied the most wins in program history with 26 and reached the NCAA Elite Eight. In both 2020-21 and 2021-22 Mercyhurst was ranked as high as third in the country.

JOHN MELODY – John came to Erie from Ireland and was a two-sport athlete at Mercyhurst University in the late 80’s, competing in soccer and golf. From 1997-2001 he served as the men’s and women’s soccer coach at Mercyhurst. The men’s team finished with a 70-21-4 record and had a perfect 27-0 record in the GLIAC. The Lakers won five GLIAC titles and reached the NCAA’s in 1998, 2000, and 2001, reaching the Final Four in 1998. The women’s team had a 72-19-6 record were 37-4-3 in the GLIAC. The Lakers made the NCAA’s in 1999, 2000 and 2001. John was named the GLIAC Men’s Coach of the Year three times and the Women’s Coach of the Year twice and was twice named Regional Coach of the Year for both men and women. He also coached soccer at Gannon 2007 and 2008 with a 26-9-2 record and a conference championship in 2007. He has remained in soccer as the owner of the Erie Commodores, part of the NPSL, since 2010. He served as the coach of the team for seven seasons with a 55-17-15 record with five conference championships, three regional championships, three national semifinals and one national final appearance.   

SHANNON PULLIUM – Shannon was a basketball standout at East High School and Slippery Rock, then went on to serve as the boys basketball coach at Strong Vincent High School and later Mercyhurst North East. As a player at East he led the Warriors to a 22-12 record, the District 10 championship and an appearance in the PIAA semifinals. He earned All-Metro honors as a senior, then went on to score 636 points in 99 games at Slippery Rock, with 399 assists and 213 steals. He ranks second in career steals and third in career assists. His 86 steals in 1988-89 rank second in a season. Shannon was later the long-time head coach at Strong Vincent, with a career record of 308-162 in 18 seasons. His 308 wins is second all-time in Erie School District history. He led the Colonels to several District 10 championships (2010, 2016, 2017) and PIAA playoff appearances, including two state semifinal appearances and one state championship appearance. In 2016-17 he led Strong Vincent to the PIAA Class 4A championship game in the final year of the program, with the Colonels finishing as the PIAA runner-up with a 27-4 record. Most recently he has served as the coach at Keystone Academy.

RICK SERTZ – Rick is regarded as one of the premier tennis coaches in the area. He has a 576-141 career record since debuting as the Villa Maria head coach in 1986. He coached the Fairview High School boys tennis team from 1999 until retiring after the 2022 season, posting a 372-77 record. His 2021 and 2022 teams reached the PIAA state semifinals, and his 2010 squad was the PIAA team silver medalist. He has coached the Fairview girls team since 2012 with a 139-53 record, reaching the PIAA state quarterfinals in 2020. His boys teams won 18 District 10 championships while the girls teams have won six District 10 titles. For the boys, he coached silver medalist doubles teams in 2011 and 2021 plus 13 District 10 singles champions. The girls teams have had for D10 singles champions and two double champions. In addition, as a player he won close to 90 local events in singles and doubles.  

NICOLE SMITH – Nicole was a standout in track & field at McDowell High School. She debuted as a freshman with two District 10 medals in the high jump (second) and long jump (fourth), along with second place finishes in three events in the Metro League championships. As a sophomore she won three Metro League championships, along with four medals at the D-10 championships, including the title in the high jump. Nicole went on to finish fifth in the PIAA Class 3A Track & Field Championships in the high jump. In her junior year Nicole was named the Erie Times-News Metro League Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, winning four Metro League championships and four District 10 championships. She was the PIAA champion in the high jump and had PIAA medals in the long jump (third), triple jump (third) and hurdles (fourth) to help McDowell win the team state title. She won the Pa. Coaches Assoc. State Indoor Track & Field Championship in the high jump, and ranked nationally in the event. She won three PIAA championships as a senior (long jump, triple jump and high jump) to lead McDowell to the team state title. She won four District 10 championships, and still holds the D-10 record in the high jump. Nicole won three Pa. Coaches Assoc. State Indoor Track & Field Championships in the long jump, triple jump and high jump to help McDowell finish in second place as a team. She broke the PIAA long jump record. Nicole  was the 2006 National Junior College Athletic Association high jump national champion at Central Arizona and finished fifth in the long and triple jumps in the NJCAA National Championships.

RYAN ZAPOLSKI – Ryan was a three-time Atlantic Hockey All-Conference selection at Mercyhurst University. He represented the United States on four different occasions, including being the starting goaltender on the 2018 USA Men’s Hockey Olympic Team in South Korea. The Erie, Pa. native began his hockey career at Cathedral Prep where he holds Pa. state high school record for saves in a game (88). He then played for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, where he was named first team All-NAHL in 2006-07 and registered the league all-time season wins record (42). He was a three-time All-Conference selection (second team twice and third team once) at Mercyhurst. Following graduation in 2011, Ryan played overseas with SM-Liga in Finland, where he won the bronze medal in 2013-14. He owns the SM-Liga program record for career shutouts by a foreign goaltender. In 2017-18 he led the KHL in shutouts (9) and was named to the All-Star Game.

GARY DRAPCHO – Gary covered local sports for over 35 years while working at WSEE TV (and later Erie News Now prior to passing away in April 2020. He joined WSEE in March of 1984.He covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for over 40 years and was a regular at Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians games. Gary also covered the U.S. Open, Super Bowls, World Series and Stanley Cup finals. If it was a big game and important to the Erie community, he was there. Gary was the benchmark for storytelling and sports journalism in the Erie market. He helped mentor so many young journalists over his time. He was also very active in the community and his church, St. Patrick’s. Gary will always be remembered for his love of sports, his involvement in the community, his deep faith and his care for his three daughters.