by Mark Cheffey
As PHS football coach Kevin Miles would put it, Wednesday, Feb. 3 was a “great day to be a Palmyra Panther.”
It was national college signing day, and no less than seven PHS athletes signed their names to attend college and continue playing their favorite sport, including four members of Miles’ 2020 state semifinalists football team.
“It is just really exciting to have this many guys sign on national signing day,” Miles said, during a Wednesday afternoon parade of signing ceremonies in the PHS gym.
It’s never been unusual for PHS athletes to further their careers in college, but Wednesday’s signings were noteworthy for the impact the five boys and two girls had made in Panther sports, either for their individual accomplishments, how they helped their teams to great success or even helped build the programs they represented.
Three members of the 2020 Panther football team that went 12-1 and reached the semifinals signed to play on the college level and another of the team’s major contributors signed to continue his wrestling career.
“All these guys will be hugely missed,” Miles said. “And for them to get through their senior year the way they did, and have the success they had, while not missing a game, is a testament to them and a testament to their families in what they committed too.
Weston King, a standout defensive and offensive lineman, signed with the University of Central Missouri.
Starting quarterback Brody Lehenbauer signed on to continue calling plays at Missouri University of Science & Technology.
And Abe Haerr, a standout tight end, plans to continue playing football at Lindenwood University.
King, earned all-state honors and finished as Palmyra’s all-time sack leader.
“He was just a great, great athlete and a great player. You can’t say enough about what he did,” Miles said, noting King’s dominance along with his grit and determination on the field.
“He played with a broken leg his senior year. You can’t say enough about his toughness,” Miles said.
Despite not getting to start as a quarterback until his senior year, Lehenbauer made his mark by finishing as Palmyra’s third leading quarterback in career passing yardage.
“That was exciting to see him come in and have the great senior season a year following his brother his junior year, and then being the one to take us to the that next level,” Miles said. “Some of the things Brody did were just phenomenal. He was fun to watch, fun to coach and fun to be around.”
Haerr leaves as one of Palmyra’s all-time offensive weapons, setting new Panther football marks in pass receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
“When we needed big plays, he was the one we wanted too,” Miles said.
Meanwhile, Ross Arch, who had success on the gridiron this past season as the team’s top running back, is also a standout wrestler and will continue his career at Northern Illinois University.
Arch made his mark in PHS wrestling as the program’s first state champion, having qualified for state three times, while going for another one this year.
“He’s really helped build this program,” said Josh Buatte, PHS wrestling coach, who said he could not have ask for a better athlete to lead a new program.
“He was one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever seen in and out of the classroom,” Buatte said.
Last year’s Panther baseball season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t prevent Bennett Stice from getting signed with Lindenwood University to play baseball.
Stice made it onto the college baseball radar his sophomore year when he earned all-district and all-conference honors as a pitcher who has hit 90 mph.
“It’s a great opportunity for Bennett, and we’re very happy for him to have this opportunity,” said Mark Loman, PHS baseball coach.
Last year’s track and field teams were also left without a season, but that didn’t keep two members of the girls team, Drew Billups and Lydia Szarka, from signing with Hannibal-LaGrange University.
Szarka also qualified for state cross country her first three seasons and is going for a fourth before running at HLGU.
Billups, who also played wrestled and played softball and basketball, has also excelled at track and field throwing events.
“She has that athleticism and can move it into the next level,” said Nicholas Koetters, PHS girls track coach of Billups.
“It was also awesome because I knew Lydia was looking, and then we learned during the summer that she was probably going to HLGU.”