Saint Joseph’s football struggles prove winning isn’t easy

JOHNSTOWN — As the idea that non-boundary schools can have their pick of high school athletes and build super teams continues to spread across the state of Pennsylvania, the Saint Joseph’s football program ceased to exist, at least for this season.

The Boalsburg Catholic school’s fledgling football team never really got going and provided an example that building a champion — or even a competitive team — isn’t easy, even if you are playing by what some consider looser rules.

Penn Cambria coach John Franco, who won a PIAA Class 2A state championship at Tyrone in 1999, reflected on his time as an assistant coach at Saint Joseph’s during the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference media day at Greater Johnstown High School Friday.

“Some of the big money guys who supported the school really wanted a high school football team, and they thought that it would really promote the school,” Franco said. “But they weren’t interacting with players. They had no feeder system, and I think the idea was that State College has 100 kids every year, and some of those kids would want to come over. I think that would have happened if they could have attracted a base where kids saw it happen, and it became a feasible option. That never happened.”

Franco said he, along with former Wolves head coach Steve Gutoff, were brought in by the principal at the time, Chris Chirieleison, to examine whether it was feasible to have a high school football program at the school.

“He asked us to go in with an open mind, which we did,” Franco said. “They just made everything as easy as possible to coach there and try to get the kids. We just couldn’t get the kids to come out.”

Several factors played into the struggle to get high numbers of kids out for the team.

“We thought the academic standards were really tough,” Franco said. “Coupled with the financial burden on the parents, it was a natural preventive measure of giving the football program a chance to grow.”

The idea of a Catholic school in the shadow of State College Area High School providing a second option to kids so far down on the depth chart they might never see the field with the Little Lions sounds like a good place to start, but Franco thought the process was pushed along too quickly.

“They wanted to start from the top,” Franco said. “They didn’t start from the bottom. For example, we promoted discontinuing the high school program and wanted to start a junior high program that we moved up to a junior varsity program and then it could be a high school program their last two years. The school didn’t want to do it.”

Holy Trinity serves as a feeder school for Bishop Guilfoyle, and those kids play in the Hollidaysburg Area Youth Football Association. Saint Joseph’s tried to build a program without that support.

“They didn’t have a feeder system, because Our Lady of Victory stopped their football program,” Franco said. “Every year, they had to wait and see if they got transfers, and that’s no way to build a team.”

The Wolves were scheduled to start the season against Bishop Carroll Catholic before they were forced to cancel their season. The Huskies have since filled the hole in their schedule with East Hardy, WVa.

“I was sad to see it end,” Franco said. “I thought there were a lot of good people there, and it would be nice to see another program in the area where kids could play. It just didn’t seem like it was meant to be.”

Contrary to popular belief, many of the non-boundary schools share a similar “not meant to be” story. Sure there are a few examples like Lincoln Park Charter School, which became a state-wide power out of nowhere in high school boys basketball, but for every Lincoln Park there’s a story like what is happening with the Saint Joseph’s football program.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521

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