Rivalries, Respect, Camaraderie, Friendships, Legacy Of Little 7-12/KSAC PSFCA Hall Of Fame Coaches
Written by: Billy Splain on February 9, 2022.
(Above photo: At 2013 Induction Ceremony: Left to Right: Brockway Coach Ray Reckner, inductee, Clarion Area Coach Ray Austin – presenter for Clarion and Ridgway Coach Norm Zwald, Norm’s son Drew who stood in for his father and Clarion Area Coach Larry Wiser)
Dave McLaine, Clarionsportszone.com
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce their Class of 2022, on the NFL Honors program that airs at 9:00PM on ABC this Thursday, February 10th. To be inducted into the Hall says you are recognized as being among best-of-the-best. You are now a member of an elite fraternity.
And as anyone who has attended induction ceremonies in Canton has observed, there are other fraternities, within the fraternity. You see the respect the players who faced each other have for their counterparts, offensive linemen versus defensive linemen; players who played the same position; players and coaches from the same era; players from the same team …
Well, I’d like to share about a smaller, not as well known, Hall of Fame and local fraternity, within that fraternity that is pretty remarkable itself. I should say that of those within that fraternity will share as I look at my responsibility in this article as adding some background details and filler.
That hall is the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association (PSFCA) Hall of Fame, and the fraternity within the fraternity consists of coaches from the Little 7-12/Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference (KSAC), a small conference that started in 1951 as the Little 7 or Southern (District Nine) Conference, with seven teams, the Brockway Rovers, Brookville Red Raiders, Clarion Bobcats, Redbank Valley Bulldogs, Reynoldsville Bulldogs, Rimersburg Rams and Sykesville Leopards.
With school or program mergers and teams leaving or entering over the years, the total number of teams competing in the conference totaled roughly twenty. The football conference folded in 2017, with teams from the KSAC and Allegheny Mountain League (AML) forming the new District Nine Football League. The KSAC is still in existence in other sports. (Follow links below for more info on Little 7-12/KSAC history.)
I was at the Big33 Game in 2003, and had the honor of seeing Union legend Rich Vidunas, being introduced at halftime, along with the other coaches in that year’s class. While we were talking during the break, Coach Vidunas, beaming with pride, mentioned that it was pretty amazing that this small conference had so many HOF coaches. At that time, he was the fourth, joining Harry E. Clarke – Innaugural Class of 1986 (Reynoldsville, Reynoldsville/Sykesville), Charles Zoffuto – Class of 1989 (Brockway) and Bernard McQuown – Class of 1993 (East Brady, also Indiana and Kane).
Coach Vidunas would be more amazed today, as six more coaches from this small conference have joined them, Clyde Conti – Class of 2005 (Clarion-Limestone, also Slippery Rock and Butler), Larry Wiser – Class of 2011 (Clarion, also Central Clarion Wildcats), Ray Reckner – Class of 2013 (Brockway), Norm Zwald – Class of 2013 (Clarion, also Ridgway and Bluefield State [WV] College), Terry Henry – Class of 2017 (East Brady, also coached at Seneca Valley) and Dave Moore – Class of 2019 (Redbank Valley, also coached at Zuni High School [the Zuni Indian Reservation School] New Mexico). And there are at least three more, (who other than things like not being out of coaching long enough etc.), have met eligibility standards, Ed Conto (A-C Valley, Karns City), Chris Dworek (Brookville, St. Marys) and Ed Wasilowski (Redbank Valley).
With that background, I will now let the coaches who are still with us as well as Coach Vidunas’ son Paul and Coach Zwald’s son Drew and Nick Hoffman share some of their reminiscences. Through reading this, I hope you get a real feel for the great rivalries, the great respect, camaraderie and friendships these “fraternity” brothers have for each other a true legacy of the Little7-12/KSAC. They have set the bar high. And also. please note the love and respect for their players, those involved with their communities, their families and vis versa.
(The quotes are in no particular order.)
Redbank Valley Coach Dave Moore: During my coaching career I competed against five future Hall of Famers just from our little conference. These men all had the same agenda. All loved the game and players they coached. All coached with heart and never mentioned salary or long hours coaching required. I had to work my butt off to compete against these former coaches and future Hall of Famers.
These men made me a better coach and are the reason I was later inducted into Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
I will forever be grateful.
Back in the first ever Redbank Little 12 Championship win on a field goal at the end of game in 1985, I will always remember what icon Rich Vidunas said to me shaking my hand congratulating me. “Well young fellow you just retired me.” He was the man I tried to emulate. I will never forget that moment in his last coaching appearance.
Clarion Area and Central Clarion Coach Larry Wiser: I have been blessed:
1) To have a wife ANN, children Ryan and Morgan that have supported me. 2) Growing up in a family of coaches. Father Jerry Wiser and brother Steve. Support from my mother June. 3) To have been coached by legendary coaches. Joe Humphrey, Al Wilson, Bob Bubb. 4) To have coached in one school Clarion Area my entire career. Positive support from the Clarion community and Clarion Area School District. 5) To work for Clarion head coaches: John Reisch for the opportunity to coach, and Ray Austin for the opportunity to be his defensive coordinator. 6) Great assistant coaches and school administrators over the past almost five full decades. 7) Support Clarion Area boosters and the many people over the years that volunteered to help support the team in a big way. 8) To have competed against many great coaches and programs in District Nine. 9) To have competed and learned from many of the PA HOF COACHES IN District Nine. 10) Most importantly, I have been blessed to be part of many players’ journey in high school football. They are the reason why I have been fortunate to be in the HOF.
Clarion-Limestone, Slippery Rock and Butler Coach Clyde Conti: The athletes I was privileged to coach at C-L remain very special to me. In my coaching experience, any honor I received was simply a reflection of the accomplishments of the players. The game belonged to them, those in the arena of competition. Our players gave far more to me, than I could ever give back to them.
I was also blessed to have high quality men as assistants. Jim Williamson was an outstanding coach. Rick Beggs, Bill Black, Dave Schirmer, Pat Aaron, Mark Jones, Pete Jansen, Todd Smith and a host of others helped to build and/or sustain our program. Our younger athletes learned from the positive work ethic and brotherhood of our older athletes.
Coach Vidunas and others like Red Bevevino set the bar for how to be a successful coach. Terry Henry’s teams at East Brady were powerful, and Terry went on in 1989 to lead Seneca Valley into the WPIAL Championship game against Aliquippa.
Ray Reckner, Floyd Taylor, Bud Stanley, Larry Wiser, Joe Latess, Jackie Quinn, all worked the Jim Kelly Football Camps, which brought several of us together.
Larry’s career at Clarion was phenomenal. I smile when I consider what a combo of Clarion and C-L football players competing together would have been like in yesteryear.
Dave Moore had so many terrific teams at Redbank Valley.
Ed Conto at A-C Valley and Karns City not only had dominating teams, but he is such a terrific human being.
Thank you C-L for the opportunity to teach and coach!
Brockway Coach Ray Reckner: You asked me what it is like being in the HOF. It was an honor, but this was a result of the efforts of so many. First of all, the support of my family. My wife, Pam, and children Krista and Mitch were always there for me, and never complained about late meals, lack of family time and vacations. I coached wrestling and baseball also which means I was busy all year.
Next The Brockway School District. I was fortunate to work in a district that recognized the value of sports in the total development of the student athletes. The district provided all that was needed to have a successful program. Example: they provided a weight room.
Coaches: notice I did not refer to them as assistant coaches because I looked upon them as equals. I had many excellent coaches over the years and too many to mention now but would like to mention a few. Charles Zaffutto who hired me to coach, also a member of the HOF, my first varsity staff, Fred Waldeck, Paul Keller, and Tom Pisarchick, who helped get the program going in the right direction record in the first three years 25-3-2. Also, John DeSantis who was with me for 22 years. I would like to thank all the coaches because this honor belongs to them also.
Finally the athletes: We had good players who bought into our program. Things like interchangeable parts and do what is best for the team. Example: I had a player who as a sophomore was a fullback. His junior year I had a talk with him and explained that if we were going to have a successful year he had to move to tight end. You guessed it his senior year another talk and I explained that we needed a guard and he agreed to play guard.
We had 3 rules which I obtained from a motivational tape by Lou Holtz.
1) Do the right thing. 2) Always do your best. 3) Treat people like you would like to be treated. Good rules for our team and for the rest of their lives. Example: after a tough playoff loss we were getting on the bus and there was a bus stuck in the mud. Right thing to do get off our bus and push the other bus out of the mud and that is what we did.
I have been lucky to have had a successful coaching career but all the people above had a lot to do with it and I am grateful.
East Brady and Seneca Valley Coach Terry Henry: I really enjoyed my 12 years of coaching at East Brady as a youth, junior high and varsity coach from 1972 to 1983. Being a few years older than my players, I established many lasting friendships.
I was the only applicant for the job in East Brady in 1973, the head coach retired, and his assistant went back to Kittanning to coach leaving me as the only candidate. I was so inexperienced that I shortchanged the 1973 and 74 teams, since I had to learn on the run.
For years the Western Division Champion was decided by the last game of the year with Rich Vidunas’s Golden Knights. They were well coached by Coach Vidunas and his longtime assistants John Harris, Bill Eustice and Dan Lewis. We were very lucky to win many of those close games.
I know I am superstitious, regarding my routine during the season, and I have been told that Coach Vidunas, as a passenger in a car, would close his eyes at the top of Brady hill and not open them until he crossed the East Brady bridge.
After we both retired from coaching, I had a chance to speak to Coach Vidunas and he asked me what it was like coaching at a larger school in the WPIAL. I told him the athletes are all the same; we just had more to choose from. I had 76 players on my last team at Seneca Valley. We played a 10-game regular season for varsity, a 9-game season for junior varsity and an 7-8 game season for 10th graders. I had 6 paid assistants and 3-4 booster paid volunteers all coached for 10-12 grades. Nothing like East Brady when we had to half line at times to get ready for opponents.
We always hear about the WPIAL winner coming into the playoffs. For years the WPIAL has had a tremendous playoff system. The boundaries stretch from Interstate 422 to the southern Pennsylvania boarder, from the Ohio boarder to Indiana. It is a large area, and the playoff system brings out one winner from all of the schools.
Karns City always had outstanding athletes. Coaching against Coach Mel Semenko was always fun. Actually, I student taught at Karns City in 1970 and Coach Semenko gave me my first opportunity to coach which started my coaching career.
Coach Conti was one of the best coaches in the Little 12 during my time at East Brady. He always had a good game plan prepared for his team.
I didn’t realize that I would leave East Brady until I received a phone call from the former Redbank Valley Superintendent of Schools, Ron Snyder. I didn’t know Dr. Snyder at the time. He asked if I would apply for the Head Football Coaching position at Seneca Valley a team that went 4-36 in the previous four seasons. I went from a coaching position, in which I coached from August to November, to a program that became a 12-month job. My staff attended winter clinics, visited universities, supervised the weight room, and attended camps to compete with the other schools.
I really didn’t realize how much football dominated my life until I retired in 1995. I saved money since I was always at the school seven days a week during the season. I scheduled my summer vacation around the (football program)
Games I remember: A Win – Union 6-0 – Union fumbled on the 5-yard line at the end of the game. This was 1978 when we had a devastating neck injury that eventually took the life of Carl Stimac. We went on to win the Little 12. A Tie – Clarion-Limestone tied us in 13-13 in the Little 12 Championship in 1976, after we beat them during the regular season. Win – 21-20 – we beat a strong Karns City team at home in 1982 or 83 to go the Championship game. The 1977 team was undefeated and rated number 1 in the state for Classification A.
Paul Vidunas on his father, Coach Rich Vidunas:
Here are some memories about Dad
Union has always been a poor school and I remember stories of Dad bringing home uniforms for Mom to stitch holes from the prior week’s game. Union had just onr game uniform same for home and away. New uniforms were purchased about every 7-10 years.
The candy sales twice a year (Char-val), spaghetti dinners at the Catholic Church, and I suspect anonymous gifts for equipment from George Davis (Archway Cookies), helped keep the team on the field.
My Dad had a way of convincing players that they were better players than they were. Made them feel special! Every year at the first “pep rally” each player was introduced to the student body by way of a Limerick or short poem. He carried a pencil and paper with him all of the time and would jot down notes about unique or embarrassing facts about his players (usually who was caught with a girl) as he would hear them and announced this,in a playful way,to the student body.
Drew Zwald on his father, Coach Norm Zwald: Dad would have been very honored to be in the Hall of Fame.
He would have recognized and thanked my mother for all her love and support. She would often attend practices and every game and ask Dad questions at dinner.
Dad would have recognized each of his assistant coaches for all their support, contributions, and successes. He felt very fortunate to have such a great coaching staff.
Union, led by Coach Vidunas, was our big rival. However, Brockway was the only team that beat us in 1968. Dad always spoke about how competitive and well coached the teams in our conference were. On a regular basis, Dad, his staff, other coaches in the conference, and coaches at the college, would conduct a coach’s clinic and share ideas.
He would have congratulated and supported each of the coaches from the conference in the Hall of Fame.
Nick Hoffman (Chairman of the Frank Varischetti All-Star Game and longtime writer for the Courier Express) on Coaches Ray Reckner and Charlie Zoffuto: I’ve known Ray since he came to Brockway as a teacher when I was in fifth grade, which would have been circa 1970-71.
He’s about as low-key and down to earth as a person can be, which is why he was such a respected coach. He got as much out of most of his players as they could give.
Nick Hoffman (Chairman of the Frank Varischetti All-Star Game and longtime writer for the Courier Express) on Coaches Ray Reckner and Charlie Zoffuto: I’ve known Ray since he came to Brockway as a teacher when I was in fifth grade, which would have been circa 1970-71. In fact, when Ray Reckner came to Brockway to teach, for the first year or two or three that he was here, he rented a room on the second floor of Charlie Zoffuto’s house on 8th Avenue in Brockway. Small world … and they’re both hall of famers!
It’s hard to believe, but Charlie Zoffuto died in 2000 at the age of 85. His last football season was 1977. The Rovers won the Little 12 East and squared off against Terry Henry, Jim Kelly and East Brady in the L12 title game at Redbank. Kelly & Co. won, 27-6 if my memory is accurate. That was my junior year, and I was already writing for the newspaper (I would have just turned 16 a week or so before the game was played). I got to interview Kelly in the locker room after the game.
Charlie Zoffuto was the coach who reached out to me and started the process of “socializing” me in high school. The chapter “Xs and Os” in my book is about Coach. (Note: Nick’s book is “He Was There All the Time” – Westbow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan.)
Coach Zoffuto’s son, Micheal (now deceased), was a decorated Marine Lieutenant who served in Vietnam and later went on to be a State Hall of Fame coach in Texas.
And I’d be remiss not to share something about Coach Bernie McQuown, who passed away last October. Several excerpts from his obituary: “Don’t count the days, make the days count” A motto lived by a great man. Bernie always gave of himself. He was a Make-A-Wish volunteer. Bernie was a man of great faith. was a member of the Fellowship Christian Athletes. He set a Christian example for all who knew him.
It is apparent that Coach McQuown, like all the others, was into coaching for the RIGHT REASONS.
I have not included coaching stats, championships, years each coached etc. Needless to say, if you added all the years, it would be well over a hundred, the victories (though many against each other) over a thousand and championships, many.
But that wasn’t the scope of this article. I guess an alternate title could be: “A Crash Course On Becoming A Hall of Fame Coach.”
Congratulations to all these fine men!!!!
(Thank you to all the Coaches and others for their comments and to all who provided photos.)