By Frank Rizzo
ELDRED August 3, 2001 When the Hawaiian part of an overseas jaunt proves to be anticlimactic, then the trip had to be special indeed.
It was awesome, Phil Marrella said of his experience coaching a New York State football all-star team in the Down Under Bowl. It was one of the top two or three experiences Ive ever had in my life.
The 13th annual Down Under Bowl in Australia pitted all-star teams from all 50 states plus Australia and New Zealand in a month-long staggered competition. Four or five teams in each division vied for the gold, silver or bronze medal.
The New York State squad, which Marrella selected over the course of several hectic months this past winter and spring, won the bronze, beating New Zealand 18-0.
They beat Kentucky 32-3, Marrella said of the island country team. They had one guy 6-foot-10 and 420 lbs. Physically, they were a much better team but they still lacked understanding of the game.
After a first-round bye, the Empire Staters lost to Minnesota 14-7. The Gopher State went on to beat California 26-6 for the division title.
For Marrella, who dislikes flying, the 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney seemed endless.
I couldnt wait to get off the plane, he said. When I got there, I didnt know if I wanted to do it again. Now I cant wait to get back. It exceeded expectations.
None of the 28 members of the NYS team had ever faced each other, Marrella said. Ironically, a number will now play against each other at the collegiate level.
I was very fortunate with the kids I had, said Marrella. I liked the way they jelled. They were really quality kids, and behaved and carried themselves well.
Marrella cited Colorado, which had a roster of 90 players, some of whom caused disruptive behavior and were sent home.
Two local players Marrella contacted but were unable to commit were Billy Reichmann of Sullivan West and Ryan Carlson of Livingston Manor.
Three Section IX players wound up on the roster: Chris Michalczyk of Minisink Valley, Rich Figueroa of Cornwall, and Brad Bollinger of Goshen.
Though three days of rest and relaxation in Hawaii were among the big selling points of the trip, Marrella and his charges found them a letdown after the excitement of Down Under.
How Good a Coach?
Marrella had some doubts before going. Doubts about going to Australia at all. Doubts about his coaching ability.
I was asking myself, Am I at the level of the other coaches there? Marrella said. In discussions with the other coaches I found out I did belong, did fit in.
He discovered, Marrella went on, that it was exciting to work with high caliber, quality players and also to learn from and compete against my coaching peers.
He credited his wife, Sharon, for helping me out with little things, like room assignments, which meant a lot. Other coaches didnt have that luxury.
Marrella teaches health and physical education at Eldred Central School and coached the football team for the past two years.
The Yellow Jackets had not fielded a varsity squad on the gridiron since 1998 and are slated to return to varsity status this fall.
Marrella, however, wont be coaching. In April, the ECS board denied him tenure and gave him his 30-day notice. The reported reason was his confrontational nature with his students. In May, the board gave him a one-year probationary term.
It was a shock. Its been a hard period, Marrella admitted. But things happen for a reason and maybe something good will come out of it.
As the days near the first football practice, Im starting to get antsy, Marrella said, but added he has accepted his fate at ECS.
Veteran coach Frank Kean was rehired as head football coach. He had guided the Yellow Jackets for parts of three decades until stepping down in 1995.
I can understand Franks position, Marrella reflected. His son is moving up
but it still hurts, after all the time and effort I put into the program.
I need a year off to reflect, to see where my niche is, he added.
Marrella said he has started taking classes that will eventually yield a certificate in administration.
I would like to become an athletic director at some point, he said.
The Down Under Bowl is a product of International Sports Specialists Inc. (ISSI).
According to Marrella, he received praise from ISSI Vice President Ryan Bella and was given assurances that he could coach the NYS Down Under team as long as he wants it.
Thats something no school board can take away.