Stacy Olewiler helped lead Central York to its first two boys’ volleyball state championships, but former Panthers head coach Bruce Koller’s favorite memory of him has nothing to do with the sport.
It came just over a year ago.
Koller and his son, Greg, were trying to finish some landscape work outside American Daydream, the barn that Greg restored and reopened as an antique store in York. They were struggling to move some rocks that had been dug up when they heard a familiar voice call out.
Olewiler, who had been undergoing extensive treatment for cancer for close to two years, was driving by and wanted to know if his old coach needed help. He grabbed his work gloves and helped the pair move the rocks.
“That is the core of who Stacy was,” Bruce Koller said over the phone Wednesday. “If you needed help, he was going to help you, it didn’t matter if he was going through cancer treatment. He went through difficult times and he still had this stature and confidence about him.”
Bruce paused and choked back tears.
“Every time I go to that barn, I’m going to see Stacy.”
A beloved member of the York County volleyball community, Olewiler died Sunday after battling an aggressive form of T-Cell lymphoma for almost three years. He was 60 years old.
A 1977 Central York graduate, Olewiler was a lynchpin in the early years of one of York County’s greatest athletic programs. Central York boys’ volleyball has won seven state titles, and its success in the 1970s paved the way for the county’s continued dominance in the sport.
He went on to play at East Stroudsburg and then competed in local men’s leagues throughout the years, even making trips to national tournaments. He was also a longtime referee in the area and became well-known to a new generation of athletes through that position.
Friends and coaches say his passion for the game was matched by a swagger he always brought to the court.
But beyond that, they remember how friendly and helpful he was.
If a fellow referee was fixing their roof, Olewiler went over to help. If he was driving and saw someone struggling to cut down a tree in their yard, he stopped to lend assistance. If a construction crew was working across the street and taking a lunch break, Olewiler went outside just to talk to them for a few minutes.
One year at Halloween, his daughter Kaitlin came home from school in tears because none of her classmates recognized her costume. She was dressed as a character from “Little House on the Prairie.” Olewiler walked around the neighborhood and told the residents of every house who she was dressed as, so she’d be recognized that night during Trick-or-Treating.
“He went out of his way to make people smile,” his younger daughter Samantha said Thursday. “He could have a conversation and connect with anyone.”
“He would drop whatever he was doing to help someone,” his wife Kelly added. “It didn’t matter if he knew you or not.
“Stacy was always full of life.”
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A lifelong passion for volleyball
Growing up in York, Olewiler was the smallest kid in his neighborhood and was frequently picked on, according to his mother, Kerry.
He developed a bit of a temper and sometimes fought back, she said.
Like they do for many kids, sports became his outlet.
He played football and baseball, but volleyball quickly became his favorite. His father had played in high school for Red Lion and the family would often play in the yard when he was a kid.
“Sports helped him a great deal because he was the runt of the neighborhood,” Kerry Olewiler said. “It helped him feel important.”
While he was undersized as a Central York freshman, Olewiler caught the eye of the Panthers husband-and-wife coaching duo, Bruce and Barb Koller, due to his enthusiasm and competitiveness. They wanted him to experience the state tournament and brought him along to videotape the matches.
Barb still laughs about all the “yipping” they heard Olewiler saying to the referees and opponents when they listened to the tape.
By the next year, he had developed into a quality defensive specialist and then a setter. He helped the Panthers win their first state championship in 1975.
He sprouted about six inches going into his senior year, and became a 6-foot-1 middle blocker. He also went from being a holder on the football team to a part-time quarterback. His wife said he used to tell stories about other kids giving him their extra food at lunch time as his metabolism increased.
“I remember I was doing yard work and I saw someone walking up to the house,” Barb Koller said. “I thought, ‘That looks like Stacy but it can’t be because he’s too tall.’ You never saw such a growth in a short period of time.”
That year, he led Central York to another state title with a victory over Penn Hills in the championship. He went on to have a standout career at East Stroudsburg, growing three more inches to 6-foot-4 in the process.
The Kollers praised him for his versatility, affinity for defense and confidence. Bruce said he played with a “cockiness that wasn’t obnoxious. He could back it up and he could do it all.” Men’s league teammate and longtime officiating friend Chad Baker echoed that sentiment.
“Stacy and all those guys who played for Barb and Bruce in those years laid the foundation for what came later,” said Brad Livingston, Central York’s legendary football and boys’ volleyball coach who served as an assistant in the 1970s. “They were so successful it made the other kids in the school want to play volleyball. They showed not just that they were really talented, but that it was a really fun sport to play.”
A love for officiating
As competitive as Olewiler was, he was always fair. Bruce Koller remembered a men’s league championship match where Olewiler admitted he touched a ball the referee had ruled he hadn’t.
It was natural that he was going to become an official.
A longtime IT professional, Olewiler also served as a PIAA and college volleyball referee over the past few decades. He even officiated some national tournaments.
“I always appreciated when Stacy was up on the ladder, because you knew he was going to be focused,” Livingston said. “There were times when we had our moments (of arguing) over this call or that call, but you knew he was doing a great job and doing the best he could. I was always happy when I saw he was refereeing a match.”
Though officiating can be a thankless and often-criticized profession, Olewiler gravitated toward it because it kept him connected to the sport and gave him a new group of friends. He enjoyed that he got to travel to different places to do it.
His daughters grew up knowing him as an official, and even though neither developed into volleyball players, they gave the sport a try knowing it would make their father happy.
“He liked the community of refs, because it really is like a close-knit family,” said Kelly, who married Olewiler when they were in college. “He got to see kids from all over York County play instead of just one district. I’ve had coaches approach me and say he gave them countless pointers when they were starting out.”
Always active, Olewiler never gave up officiating. He refereed a full season of matches in the spring of 2019, and was already setting up his schedule for the fall of 2020.
Not even cancer could stop him from taking the court.
“If he could stand, he wanted to ref,” Kelly said. “He was very firm that he wasn’t going to sit down and die.”
Staying positive until the end
The Olewiler family had a saying that Stacy’s initials stood for “strong, stubborn and oblivious.”
Those three words became his motto during the fight for his life.
Olewiler was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in January of 2018. He immediately formulated a plan for treatment and was optimistic he would recover.
“He came to my house to tell me when he was diagnosed and said, ‘I got this, I’ll get this treatment, I’m organized,'” said Baker, his longtime friend. “That was his attitude for the duration. That said a lot about who he was.”
His battle with cancer was extremely difficult.
After six months of chemotherapy, he seemed to be close to recovery. But the cancer returned in October of 2018 and a bone marrow transplant had to be delayed because the cancer resisted the chemo.
He began a clinical trial for an experimental treatment at Columbia University. He and Kelly made the six-hour round trip by train to New York City 47 times between 2019 and 2020. There were days he went to New York and returned to York in time to referee a volleyball match.
A GoFundMe to help the family pay for the travel and medical expenses raised over $21,000.
There were plenty of other fundraisers, including a golf tournament and a York Suburban volleyball match in 2019. Shirts with the message “Strong, Stubborn, Oblivious” were sold.
“He was speechless. And he was never speechless,” Baker said of Olewiler’s reaction to the support. “He was just in tears.”
According to his family, Olewiler remained determined and confident until the end. He planned out the family’s next four years of camping trips and delayed getting a new furnace so they could get one in a few years that would last them until they were 95.
He went over his mother’s house to clean out her gutters last Wednesday. His health took a sharp downturn on Thursday.
He died at Hospice on Sunday, surrounded by his family.
“Stacy personally never considered the thought that he wasn’t going to beat this,” Kelly said. “He seemed oblivious to the fact that it could kill him.
“He was amazing. We were together 38 years and we have completely different personalities. He was boisterous and outgoing and I’m an introvert. We balanced each other out and filled in each other’s spaces.”
Another golf tournament in Olewiler’s honor will be held Sept. 19 at Briarwood West Golf Course in York. Kelly said the proceeds will go toward the Hope Lodge program to help families battling cancer, since Stacy stayed there at times during his treatment. Anyone interested in playing can contact Chad Zimmerman at email@example.com.
Olewiler’s family will remember him as a great husband and father, the kind of guy who went out of his way to became a soccer fan to bond with his daughter’s husband.
The kind of guy who would help out an old friend or a stranger at a moment’s notice.
“Honestly, I don’t know how my dad would handle this much attention,” Samantha said. “I think he would want people to remember that he was funny. Everyone who met him loved him.
“Everyone who met him had a smile and a story about him.”
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.
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