We all strive to find some permanence in a world that constantly changes. Whether it is through a good deed, a kind word, or the work we do, we hope that we will remembered when our time is up.
Penn Yan Academy’s Athletic Hall of Fame is a place where the challenges athletes stepped up to and excelled at are honored and give the recipients a piece of immortality. Two individual athletes and a team will be inducted in this year’s ceremony for the contributions they made for themselves, their teammates, the school, and the community.
Heather Wachob’s career in Penn Yan was brief, but she made an impact in the two years she wore the orange and blue. As a star on the track team, Wachob earned several championships that culminated in her being named an honorable mention All-American. She continued her career as an athlete at Alabama, a Division I school, before a shoulder injury cut short her career.
Wachob, the daughter of James Wachob who was a Penn Yan native, lived in San Diego while her father was stationed there while serving in the Navy. In 1979, James, an exceptional athlete himself who was a member of the undefeated track team in 1949, retired and returned to Penn Yan.
Her former coach, Thomas Smart, remembers her as an athlete who would do anything to help the team.
“Heather quickly became an integral part of the track and field team,” Smart said. “While excelling in the shot and disc, she eagerly filled in at other events whenever needed, especially in the sprints and sprint relays. She was one of our better sprinters at the time.”
Teresa Test, who also coached Wachob at that time, echoes Smart’s assessment of Wachob.
“As a leader, Heather brought a team perspective to a sport composed mainly of individual events,” she said. “To benefit her team, she would do her best in any event a coach entered her. Forty years later, I realized how privileged we were to have a highly skilled, self-motivated athlete who truly cared about the success of her teammates as well as the importance of a team win for Penn Yan Academy.”
In 1980, Wachob won league titles in shot put and discus while setting league records for both events. She competed in the state championship and came in second place in both events. Smart recalled that she “came back determined to do better the following year.”
And that she did. Wachob won the shot and disc at the Empire State Games during the summer of 1980, and her hard work paid off in 1981. She finished the spring season undefeated for shot and disc during league competition, won sectionals while setting new records, and won the New York State Championship in the shot, setting a state record of 44’0”. Wachob placed second in the discus. She was the only Section V athlete to win an event at the 1981 state meet.
“Even though Heather, through no fault of her own and because her father was serving his country, only competed for two years at PYA, she ranks, in my opinion as coach of a number of Hall of Fame inductees, as being in that small group of the most outstanding individuals to don a Penn Yan uniform,” says Smart.
Dan Yonts was a three-sport athlete for Penn Yan. He lettered in football, lacrosse, and wrestling. He was the prototypical student-athlete during his time as a Mustang who, in the words of his former wrestling coach Barry Alexander, “represented Penn Yan at the most accomplished levels.”
Alexander would know, having coached Yonts throughout his high school tenure beginning in his freshman year in 1990-91.
“As both a sophomore and junior, Dan dominated the 175 lb. weight class,” Alexander said. “As a captain his junior year, he led the team to an undefeated season as well as a league championship. Both years he grappled his way to runner-up at Section V Finals and Super Sectionals, (which is) the state qualifying tournament.” Yonts would lose both years to the athlete who would eventually win the state championship.
“Dan returned to the mat his senior year determined to capture a spot in the state tournament,” Alexander explained. Yonts was wrestling in the 215 lb. weight class by this time and, according to Alexander, one of his biggest challenges was finding opponents who could provide him with a challenge.
“His skill-set and strength were unmatched,” he said. “To help him prepare, the coaches would seek out wrestlers from stronger teams and set up scrimmages so Dan could practice.”
His senior year ended with 27 wins, several tournament championships, and was recognized as the team Most Valuable Player as he led with the most pins. He was truly a dominant force.
“Dan entered the Section V, Class B Tournament with an undefeated record and captured the Sectional Title,” Alexander said. “In his third appearance at Super Sectionals, he took the 215 lb. title and became the first wrestler in Penn Yan history to qualify for the state tournament.”
Yonts finished his illustrious wrestling career in Penn Yan with 98 career wins. He also had an impact on the football and lacrosse fields. In football, Yonts was named to the First Team, Finger Lakes League from 1991 to 1993, was Lineman of the Year in 1992 and 1993, and was named to the All Greater Rochester team in 1993 as well as earning All State 3rd team in 1993. He captained the lacrosse team in 1994 and earned First Team All Finger Lakes league that year.
Yonts individual accomplishments are prolific, but perhaps more noteworthy is the effect he had on those around him. Arthur Kirk III played football with Yonts for three years and is currently a business partner with him.
“If you were to build a team of all-time greats at Penn Yan, as far as football, Dan Yonts would hands-down anchor both the defensive and offensive lines,” said Kirk. “While I think we know who the tailback (Tony Collins) and wide receiver (Cris Chrissy) would be, I hold Dan in the same regard as those athletes who made it to the NFL.”
Kirk remembers the effect Yonts had on opponents.
“Witnessing Dan play defensive line as a free safety was an honor and a privilege,” Kirk said. “The fear that he instilled in the offensive player lining up across from him was almost comical. He dominated the game even when being double or triple teamed.”
“As dominant as Dan was on the playing fields of football and lacrosse, or on the mat as a wrestler Dan is truly a first class citizen,” Kirk said. “He is the first guy to help out his friends or family in a time of need, all while raising three outstanding children and being a vice president in his company. His loving marriage to his wife of 21 years, Sara, is also a testament to his character.
Alexander echoes Kirk’s thoughts on Yonts’ character.
“It was a great privilege to coach Dan in wrestling and also to see him lead on the football and lacrosse field,” he said. “Dan enjoyed achieving the highest levels within all sports, he liked to win, but he played and wrestled because he loved to. He was a leader on all teams, setting an example for the athletes around him.”
When people think of Penn Yan, one of the first things that comes to mind is the success of the lacrosse programs. Both the boys and girls programs at Penn Yan Academy have experienced success on levels that few towns can boast. For the boys, that success can be traced back to when the 1996 team finally broke through and brought the first Section V Championship back to town.
Brian Hobart, who is the coach of the boys’ varsity team currently, was an assistant on that squad. He believes the team had qualities that were needed to establish the tradition that is Penn Yan lacrosse.
“They paved the way for what has become a long, distinguished history of winning this title,” Hobart said. “The characteristics that set this team apart were the resiliency and toughness they displayed throughout the season.”
That resiliency was on display when the team faced Geneva, for the third time that season, in the Section V Championship game. The teams had split the season series and were evenly matched.
“They ran into a very hot goalie that day who made 31 saves… and was named the game MVP,” Hobart explained. “Despite facing such a fantastic performance, the team continued to battle and tied the game in the waning moments to send the game into overtime. In overtime, the team prevailed and set off a fantastic celebration both on the field at Nazareth and in the community upon arrival back in Penn Yan. “The young men who had lost close games in the sectional finals both the previous two seasons had prevailed when it mattered most.”
Current varsity girls’ lacrosse coach Chris Hansen was a member of the team. He is proud of what the team accomplished in establishing the excellence of lacrosse in Penn Yan.
“This group of players was committed to getting the Penn Yan lacrosse program a championship,” he said. “The team battled injuries, a tough non-league schedule, and battles with local rivals Canandaigua and Geneva. They paved the way for future successes in the lacrosse program.”
Hansen notes that several of the team’s members are still active in the lacrosse programs today.
“Many of the players on this team have remained a part of the lacrosse program and have coached at the JV, Modified, and Youth levels,” he said. “I think this exemplifies the commitment not only to the team of 1996 but also to the program as a whole.”
Hobart is proud of his involvement in the team’s success.
“I am extremely proud to have been the assistant coach for this team,” Hobart added. “They set a bar that every team in the lacrosse program since hopes to reach. They paved the foundation for what has become a rich and storied history of Penn Yan lacrosse.”