LEWISTOWN — When she began her basketball career as a young fourth grader in elementary school, former Mifflin County School District teacher Jenn Gibbons dreamed of starting for her high school team. and to be on the field one day in Hershey for the state championship game.
Gibbons eventually earned a starting spot for his high school team at Penn Cambria. In fact, she did much better than start — she became the school’s all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball in 1993 with 1,424 career points. Gibbons’ PCHS scoring standard is still valid today.
In his senior year, the Panthers recorded a District 6 title and a 26-0 record before dropping in the first round of the PIAA Tournament. Ultimately, that was far from the end of his basketball story.
Although it took her nearly 30 more years, Gibbons’ dream of being on the floor at Hershey for a title shot finally came to fruition on March 25 as she joined Willie Harris and John Cihak as as game officials for the PIAA girls Class 6A title between Plymouth-Whitemarsh and Mont Liban.
When asked if she ever thought she would officiate in a state finals, she immediately replied: “Never in a million years!”
A state final can be daunting for coaches, players and officials, but Gibbons had a plan to deal with the pressure.
“Obviously it’s a very important game for the players, but as an official you can’t let the situation overwhelm you” she says. “You have to trust your judgment and trust the skills you have developed over the years.”
This championship game mission was the culmination of years of dedication and hard work, and it’s certainly worth taking a look back at his journey through the years leading up to that fantastic night at the Giant Center. .
Daughter of Flora and Daniel Gibbons, Jenn enrolled at Juniata College after graduating from high school. Although she first played basketball at Juniata, she chose to end her playing career after a short time.
“Basketball was a huge time commitment and I wanted to focus on my studies,” she says.
Focusing on her academics turned out to be a prudent choice, as she earned college dean’s honors and earned a degree in education.
After graduating from Juniata in 1997, she was immediately hired by the Mifflin County School District to teach science at Strodes Mills Middle School.
Gibbons began her officiating career in 1999 at the Juniata Valley YMCA in Burnham, officiating tournaments and league games and used officiating as a way to stay involved in the game she had loved for many years.
In 2000, something happened that changed his life course. Gibbons met Lewistown native Neil Renaldi and the two started dating. The couple married in Altoona in 2001 and Jenn Gibbons became Jenn Renaldi. Jenn and Neil started their life together in the Harrisburg area.
Neil was a perfect match for Jenn, as the two shared a lot of interests. Neil was a former star basketball player at Lewistown High School, and he served as the first assistant girls coach for the Lewistown women’s team from 1984 to 1991. This period included the Panthers’ first two Mountain League titles.
After moving to a new area, Jenn was hired to teach life sciences at Susquehanna Township Middle School. She continues in this teaching role today.
The couple have two children who practice a lot of athletics. Son Andrew was born in 2003 and is a senior at Central Dauphin Secondary School. He just completed his final season as the starting point guard for the Rams’ hoop team. Andrew also played football for CD. His daughter Abbey, born in 2005, is a junior this year and is an outstanding football player.
Jobs as a wife, parent, teacher and official suit Jenn very well, and she is highly respected by her fellow officials and local basketball coaches.
There is a shortage of officials in all sports at all levels nationwide, but despite the tough times, Jenn is still excited to whistle and hit the basketball court.
“I love it! It’s my favorite time of year,” she says. “To be honest, sometimes it gets difficult but I like the challenge. I like being around the game.”
Some may wonder why she would become a civil servant.
“It’s nice to see how kids grow and develop as players over the years,” she pointed out. “I umpire a lot of them in the CYO/AAU/middle school til high school prom. Each year, they come back stronger, more competent and smarter in the decisions they make on the pitch. If you work hard for something and don’t give up, you see results! These are skills that will accompany them throughout their lives.
As for officiating at the college level, Jenn said she would have pursued that option when she was younger, but when you have kids and they start playing sports and getting involved in their own activities, it takes a lot of time. .
“I didn’t want to miss any of it (his children’s activities). It goes way too fast. Right now it would be difficult for me to start at the bottom of the university ranks and move up. I’m very happy at the high school level, though.
Everyone at the high school level seems equally pleased with Jenn, and many in Mifflin County regard her as “one of us” and be proud of her for her accomplishments on and off the pitch.