By BOB YORK
It’s like heaven on earth: Arrival is indicative of a job well done – even if it meant having to rely on a Hail Mary from time to time.
We’re talking about the New England Prep School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, which has been honoring this band of brothers since 1999. Unlike most havens of history, this hall has no busts nor pictures of its inductees lining its walls, because it doesn’t exist in a structural sense. There are no bricks … there is no mortar. Instead, this hall lives in the abstract but pays tribute to its inductees by reaching out to the athletic arenas throughout New England where these mentors became legends of the fall.
These coaches achieved their lofty status by not only winning way more games than they lost but perhaps more importantly, by successfully teaching their charges that plenty of life’s lessons could be learned from playing the game of football. So, for the past two decades, the hall has gone to where these coaches earned their reputations to affix their names to their ultimate definition of achievement: The NEPSFCA bowl games.
“We thought that rather than designating a bowl game as the Class A Bowl … or the Class C Bowl,” which is the way NEPSFCA had been labeling the games during the first 11 years (1989-2000) of their existence, “it would be a nice way of honoring the inductees by attaching their names to these games,” said John Mackay, the veteran St. George’s School football mentor, who serves as the NEPSFCA secretary and treasurer. “The only criteria … besides having been very successful … is that you can’t be coaching any more.”
These latest honorees make up the fourth group of coaches to be so honored since NEPSFCA began its name-that-game process in 2001, “because we usually wait three or four years between inductions to make sure we have enough new names to cover all our bowl games,” explained Mackay. “Besides, we were cautious in the beginning. We didn’t want to dilute the process … we wanted to bring people into the hall who really belong in the hall, and we still do.”
The seven coaches whose names will be linked to this fall’s bowl games will be Mark Conroy of Williston-Northampton School (2000-16), Dave Coratti of Trinity Pawling School (1987-2012), John “Moose” Curtis of Hebron Academy (1975-2014), Kevin Driscoll of Avon Old Farms (1985-2013), Ken Hollingsworth of Tilton School (1980-2016), Todd Marble of Kingswood-Oxford School and Kent School (1985-2013) and Mike Silipo of Deerfield Academy and Tabor Academy (1970-2015).
Conroy coached football at Williston-Northampton for 17 years and during that span his teams chalked up a record of 84-46 and earned three bowl invitations. He is also the school’s athletic director. He served as NEPSAC’s president from 2008 to 2010 and still sits on the board as the director of classifications. Coratti, meanwhile, patrolled the sidelines at Trinity-Pawling for a quarter century, with his stay there being highlighted by his teams winning the Class A Championships in 2005 and 2007. Coratti, who is the school’s associate headmaster, was recently honored by the school when it named its new turf football field in his honor. He was also the Trinity Pawling wrestling coach for 20 years, during which time his matmen won more than 200 matches and captured several Western New England championships.
Curtis was the head coach of Hebron’s football program for a 40-year stint, during which his teams rang up 117 victories, including an 8-0 mark in 1994 that culminated in a Class D Championship. He also led Hebron to bowl appearances in 2005 and 2006, captured five Evergreen League crowns and won nine “Maine Prep” titles based on the outcome of games played against Hyde and Kents Hill. He also coached lacrosse and skiing at Hebron.
Driscoll served as head football coach at Avon for 28 seasons, where his teams produced a 140-89-2 record, capturing seven Erickson League titles and making three bowl appearances. He proved to be a truly versatile mentor there as he spent his springs serving as track and field coach for 16 years while his winters were taken up by being an assistant hockey coach for 15 seasons. Hollingsworth’s 37-year gridiron career featured five undefeated seasons, including the 2007 campaign that was capped off with a New England championship. In 2015, meanwhile, he won NEPSAC’s Distinguished Service Award, which is annually given to the individual who contributed significantly to the New England Independent Schools Athletics and Physical Education through enthusiasm, dedication, leadership and vision.
Marble, who is the athletic director at Kent, spent 28 years at the helm of the Kingswood Oxford and Kent football programs and tutored five of his clubs to bowl berths throughout the years, winning three of them. Silipo, meanwhile, chalked up 207 victories over a 45-year career on prep school gridiron. The first 119 of them came while coaching at Tabor, where his team won the 1993 Class A crown. The next 88 can be credited to his Deerfield teams, with the 2002 squad ringing up a Class A crown.
“Getting to where we are today with the bowl games proved to be a rather lengthy process,” said Tom Flaherty, a 2008 hall inductee, who coached at Milton Academy from 1984 to 2008, and who, along with fellow coaches and hall inductees Jack Etter (Buckingham, Brown & Nichols, 1956-94) and Rick Delprete (Hotchkiss, 1977-2000), proved to be the instigators behind the movement.
“We first came up with the idea of playing bowl games back in the mid 80s, with the idea that it would serve as something teams could strive for and would be a reward for teams having good seasons ... nothing more than that,” added Flaherty. “For many schools though, it proved to be a tough decision whether they would play or not. For many, participating in such a bowl game provided a conflict with their exam schedules.”
Despite the fact that most other prep school sports teams were actively pursuing postseason play as well as New England championships by the late 80s, it took a while for football’s postseasons to get up and running full tilt. A 1989 debut featured just two games, while the 1990 edition upped the game count to three. The number dropped to two in 1991, before four games became the trend from 1992 through 2004. The next nine seasons, 2005-2013, the count grew to five games, with seven serving as the magic number the past four years.
As for the idea to name the games as a way of honoring the NEPSFCA Hall of Fame inductees, that came about during the late 90s, and was put into place for postseason play in 2001.
“The idea was Norm Walker’s,” said Flaherty of the late Holderness School (1984-2007) mentor who was inducted into the hall in 2010. “During one of our meetings he simply suggested that we name the bowl games in honor of the coaches who had made it into the hall and everyone just fell in love with the idea.
“Everyone respected Norm … he enjoyed a great deal of success on the prep school level while he was at Holderness and prior to that, he proved to be an outstanding public school coach as well,” added Flaherty of Walker’s successful 17-year public school career at Wayland and Newton North high schools, that made him the seventh winningest football coach in Mass. high school history.
This year’s batch of inductees brings the number of mentors who have received hall-of-fame credentials to 36. It’s been a rather slow process throughout the years to drive the numbers up, but not because of a shortage of resume-ready coaches. The holdup has been due to the shortage of games to affix their names to.
Back in the fall of 1999, the first year the NEPSFCA began honoring its brothers in arms, just four bowl games existed – which doubled the number of postseason games when they were first introduced a decade prior. That initial group of honorees consisted of Jim Smith (Deerfield, 1960-96), Steve Soroka (Andover, 1936-78), Otto Monahan (Hotchkiss, 1896-1938), Larry Stone (Taft, 1963-98), Robert ‘Pop’ Foster (Middlesex, 1920-43), Ford Hinman (Holderness, 1932-74), Jake Congleton (Groton, 1957-94) and Herb Stokinger (Milton, 1928-72).
A second wave of inductions took place in 2004, which featured nine former coaches. Those honored were Tom Austin (Bridgton, 1974-86), Alan Clark (St. Mark’s and St. George’s, 1964-94), Rick Delprete (Hotchkiss, 1977-2000), Bill Eaton (Loomis-Chaffee, 1968-97), Alan Estey (Exeter, 1969-93), Rick Francis (Williston-Northampton, 1958-2000), Joel Lorden (Kingswood-Oxford, 1961-1984), Bob Sampson (Brunswick, 1985-2002) and Louis ‘Cy’ Theobold (Kent, 1967-2002).
Four more mentors joined the hall in 2008, as Jack Etter (Buckingham, Brown and Nichols, 1956-94), Arthur Valicenti (Thayer, 1959-90), Dan Rorke (Brooks, 1984-2004) and Tom Flaherty (Milton, 1984-2008) received invites, while Norm Walker (Holderness, 1984-2007) soon followed in 2010.
The 2012 inductions saw seven mentors take their places among the best of the best. That list included Kevin Fleming (Belmont Hill, 1989-2011), Sean Brennan (Salisbury and Brunswick, 1997-2009), Bill Glennon (Phillips Exeter, 1981-2012), Hugh Caldara (Gunnery), Mike Atkins (Northfield Mount Hermon and Vermont, 2005-12), Ken O’Keefe (Worcester, 1978-84) and Wayne Sanborn (Cushing, 1974-84).
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