In My Opinion By Kris Yaniello

Keep up with happenings in and around northern
Blair County with “In My Opinion,” a weekly column by
The Daily Herald’s Staff Writer, Kris Yaniello.

There are thousands of high school football fans who are disappointed that the Tyrone Golden Eagles and Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils have finished their seasons after losses last week in district semi-finals action, but I wanted to take the time to reflect on why both teams had tremendous seasons once again.
Beyond the hard work year around by coaches and players as they anticipate the coming of football season, there’s an aspect of both programs at Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis that has remained stationary – the head coaches.
Success breeds success, and what Golden Eagle and Blue Devil fans get to witness each fall and early winter, is two small high school football programs reload year after year. It’s not like Coach John Franco and Coach John Hayes have 100 kids or more to pick from each season like some bigger schools; they take 30 to 40 teenagers and turn them into competitive, championship caliber football teams.
Franco and Hayes have established what some may call a “dynasty” here in central Pennsylvania. Both teams have consistently been successful under each coach’s tenures, so when the season gets underway in September, it’s not uncommon to see the Golden Eagles and Blue Devils ranked among the state’s elite high school football programs.
Whether rankings mean anything or not, Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis receive those rankings because of what has already been established in each program. Most years, including this season, the Golden Eagles and Blue Devils fielded teams that weren’t accustomed to playing with each other, nor vastly experienced. But yet, these kids from both communities acquire a tremendous amount of pressure to overcome – they are told before they ever gain a first down, that they are one of the best teams in their PIAA classification.
It’s probably a lot for the average 16 to 18 year old kid, especially with all that comes with playing football at Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis – all the loyal fans, all the past championship and all-state players, and all the expectations.
What I’ve noticed the last four years, at least with Tyrone, is that fans and on-lookers pretty much expect a district title every year. It’s as if the season is lost if that isn’t accomplished. I don’t consider that a bad thing really, but I think it needs to be put into perspective. Winning a district title isn’t an easy accomplishment.
Franco has been at Tyrone for the last 15 years, and I can only recall maybe two seasons where I didn’t think Tyrone could have won districts, and one of those years was his first season coaching here – and that team wasn’t too bad. The other year was 1998 when Tyrone lost to United at home in the playoffs, and I believe United won districts that year.
Think about that for a second, and think about all the district titles Coach Hayes and his squads have garnered through the years. There are schools around here that would take one of those titles and be pleased, but our two communities could fill a gymnasium with all the awards and medals that have been earned in a little over a decade.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Golden Eagle and Blue Devil fans are ungrateful or unappreciative, because I’m a fan and I take the losses hard also. What I do think is that these two teams this year overachieved, and with a break here or there, both could have been playing for district titles once again.
It’s almost Thanksgiving, and although Tyrone and Bellwood-Antis loyalists won’t be preparing for the first round of state football play next week, I still want to give thanks to the players, coaches, and staff at both schools for making every football season what it is for all of us.
I think it hurts so much when we lose, because no one wants it to end. But, you know there’s always a John Franco somewhere already watching game films and scripting plays to prepare for next season. I’m just thankful he’s right here in Tyrone.
The same goes for Coach Hayes. His program speaks for itself.
It’s difficult for small schools to field good teams in any sport every year. There’s just not usually the talent year in and year out. What makes the difference is the person and people who teach and guide the kids. A good coach can take an average athlete and turn him or her into a competitor; or take the kid who might not have what it takes this year, but encourage him or her enough to come back next year and make an impact.
You’ll find that the coaches who can do that, are the same coaches who are successful in the win-loss column. It really isn’t a coincidence, it’s leading by example. Players carry the same attitude and charisma as the person coaching them.
Coaches come and go all the time, but Franco and Hayes are two men who I hope never leave. Their impact on the kids and the community should be realized now, and not after they are gone. If you see a coach or player over the holidays, remember to thank them for all that they have done and do.
At the end of the day, winning isn’t everything.

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