By Frank Rizzo
ELDRED July 6, 2001 For a man who dislikes flying, Phil Marrella of Eldred took the ride of his life last Monday and Tuesday, jetting a total of 20 hours (with a refueling stop in Los Angeles) from New York to Sidney, Australia.
Marrella is staying nearly two weeks Down Under as head football coach of a New York State select team for the Down Under Bowl. The 13th annual edition of the all-star football tournament features 50 teams from every state plus squads from Australia and New Zealand.
The 37-year-old health and physical education teacher at Eldred Central School was unexpectedly tapped to select an all-star squad this past winter.
He assembled nearly 800 names and called and/or e-mailed nearly every one.
The hardest part was contacting all those kids, said Marrella, who throughout the winter and spring months dedicated two to three hours a night to the task.
Eventually, I needed to get call waiting, Marrella chuckled.
Everything started coming together in April, I could finally see the light, he said.
No Practice at Eldred
The original plan sent to Marrella by the International Sports Specialists Incorporated (ISSI), which sponsors the Down Under Bowl, called for a departure date of June 27.
We originally intended to have all the kids here in Eldred for two days of practice, Marrella said.
However, the date was moved back to Monday the 25th and many of the participants had to scramble.
Most of them graduate this weekend, Marrella pointed out on the Wednesday before his departure.
Were going to break the kids up into offensive and defensive squads, said Marrella, noting that there will be two days of practice before the first game.
New York State is represented in the tournament as a team for the first time (individuals previously played on other teams) and will play California first.
Marrella expects his squad to be in a tough bracket.
Marrella hoped to have Billy Reichmann of Sullivan West and Ryan Carlson of Livingston Manor on the squad, but both had other obligations.
Players are expected to raise $3,000 to make the two-week trip, which includes three days in Hawaii for rest and relaxation.
Three players from Section IX are on the select squad, but the names were unavailable at press time.
Marrella was planning to hand out uniforms (with names) on the plane and planned to have the squad wear them.
The New Yorkers will be traveling with the Connecticut team.
Ive sent out the playbook and well look it over on the plane. Well be in the air for 20 hours, so well have the time to study it, Marrella said. Basically, its the same offensive system weve used here, and the same basic defense, with additional things.
Marrella coached Eldreds football squad for the past two years.
One of his Eldred assistants, John LiGreci, was supposed to accompany him to Australia, but had to withdraw.
This is going to be quite an experience, Marrella said as he contemplated the trip. The New Jersey coach, Frank Masters, has been [to the Down Under Bowl] a couple of times and he told me, Phil, once you go, youll want to go back. It depends if I can handle the plane.
Marrella received assurances from ISSI Vice President Brian Pella that he can continue coaching the New York State team.
This is a confidence booster for Marrella, who recently received word from the Eldred School Board that he will not be given the football coaching assignment this coming season.
Instead, veteran coach Frank Kean will return after a six-year absence to take over the reins.
Its bittersweet, said Marrella. At least I can continue doing this [Down Under Bowl]. I love coaching and this will keep me active in something I love to do.