MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Congratulations to the Dapper Dan Club of Allegany County for its choice of Marshall University’s Abby Beeman as its Top Award recipient for the April 28 Dapper Dan banquet at Ali Ghan Shrine Club. She is the perfect choice first and foremost because she earned it, and she did so in what will always be remembered as the Year of Women’s Basketball.

The former West Virginia All-State player from Frankfort High School led Marshall to its first NCAA tournament in 27 years and was the Sun Belt Player of the Year this season, finishing her college career, which began at Shepherd University, with over 2,000 career points.

The Dapper Dan Top Award is awarded annually to the person who brings the most national recognition to the area through athletics, and has been the most prestigious accolade an area athlete can receive since 1952 when the University of Maryland’s John Alderton was the initial recipient.

That Beeman earned the selection over Buffalo Bills running back Ty Johnson and North Carolina State University All-American swimmer Daniel Diehl, who combined to hold a monopoly on the Top Award through the previous six years, is just as telling. That’s how good Abby Beeman is at what she does, and has been since she exploded onto the area sports scene in 2017 and packed regional gymnasiums as a star at Frankfort.

Beeman follows John Kruk and Grant Noel as Mineral County recipients of the Top Award, and becomes the fourth female recipient, and first in 24 years, succeeding Kacey Kahl, Crystal Fields and Jean Bibby.

She is the first recipient from women’s college athletics, which is significant when you consider how women’s college athletics has seized this nation’s sporting imagination, thanks in enormous part to the play of Iowa basketball All-American Caitlin Clark.

For the first time in history, you see, the NCAA women’s basketball championship game drew more television viewers than the men’s national championship game did by about 4 million viewers; which is even more telling when you consider that the women’s final was played on a Sunday afternoon, while the men’s final was played in primetime on Monday.

“This would have been unthinkable before Caitlin Clark arrived at Iowa and changed everything,” said USA Today columnist Christine Brennan. “This isn’t just a sports story. This is an American cultural story. It’s about Title IX and what happens when a nation gives girls and women a chance to play sports.”

Even better, and more fitting, joining Beeman on the Dapper Dan dais will be University of Maryland assistant basketball coach Kaitlynn Fratz, the former Northern-Garrett great, who preceded Beeman in electrifying this area and much of the state with her play, leading Northern to the state championship game.

After earning Freshman of the Year and all-conference honors two straight seasons at Pitt-Johnstown, Fratz played her junior and senior seasons in college at California University of Pennsylvania, where she led the Vulcans to the 2015 Division II NCAA championship, being named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.

It was a special time for girls basketball in our area as Fratz was two-time Area Player of the Year in 2011-12, Southern’s Lauren Francillon in 2015-16 and Beeman in 2018-19, and I’d put those three players up there with anybody I covered in 35 years at the Cumberland Times-News, and we’ve some great ones – Bishop Walsh’s Lauren Zapf, two-time Area Player of the Year who went on to play at the Naval Academy, Westmar’s Jill McGowan, three-time Area Player of the Year before playing at Towson, and the first great girls player I covered in 1985, Southern’s Jenny Hillen, who would go on to West Virginia University..

But for my money, from 1990 to 1992, there wasn’t a better high school basketball player in the area – male or female – than Dawn Sloan while she was leading the Westmar Wildcats to back-to-back Maryland 1A girls state championships in 1990 and ’91. Twice she scored 30 points in state tournament games, and on March 9, 1991, she scored 23 points to lead Westmar to its second consecutive state title in a 76-58 win over North Caroline.

There was nothing Dawn couldn’t do on the basketball court — score, pass, rebound, defend — and she became the first high school player in history to be named Area Player of the Year for three consecutive years (1990-92), receiving a scholarship at the University of Maryland to play for Coach Chris Weller.

We have a great history here in our area for girls and women’s sports that dates back long before Title IX was finally put into law in 1972, as does most of the country.

The Dapper Dan banquet is always a special celebration in our area because it provides us with a reminder of the best there is in all of us here, and will continue to be.

In light of this and of all that has taken place in the world of sports for the past several years, I can’t think of a more appropriate and deserving person to help us celebrate it this year than Abby Beeman.

The Dapper Dan has done it again.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT