Sto-Rox football team is stressing winning title, not district woes
Sto-Rox opened training camp in opposite fashion of how the Vikings envision finishing the football season.
There was little fanfare in McKees Rocks Monday for the first practice in full pads for high school football programs across the state.
Instead, Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley took a businesslike approach to a season his Vikings hope to be historic.
“It's Day One of a long season,” Sto-Rox senior tailback/linebacker Brendan Blair said. “This camp is bringing us together. Winning a championship is key.
“We all know Sto-Rox is going downhill. We try not to think about it. We all know there's no point in bringing it up. We try to be that heart and soul of the school and the town. We're trying to bring more attention and more money to the school.”
The financially distressed district has been divided since late June, when the Sto-Rox school board voted, 8-1, to eliminate the baseball and softball programs for the 2013-14 school year.
When cutting programs that cost $25,000 is a solution to balancing a $24 million operating budget, it reduces the sense of security of every sports team in the district. The softball team, after all, won 10 WPIAL titles and a state championship.
“I had a good feeling football was safe,” Sto-Rox senior guard/defensive end Jesse Rippole said. “I think it'll be here until there's no school anymore.”
With that an ever-increasing possibility, the Vikings believe winning a WPIAL title is a now-or-never proposition for a program running on a shoestring budget of $5,000 this fall.
Sto-Rox has played in the WPIAL Class A final at Heinz Field the past two years, losing both times to Clairton, which boasts a nation's-best 63-game winning streak. Where Clairton has won five consecutive WPIAL football titles, Sto-Rox hasn't won one since 1987.
“We're starving,” Blair said. “We're trying to put a banner up for the people in school and in town.
“I play for them.”
Now, Blair is playing for teammate Lenny Williams by taking snaps at quarterback. Williams, a senior who is on pace to become the WPIAL's all-time leading passer, severed a tendon and chipped a bone on the index finger of his left (non-throwing) hand last week in a hedge-clipping accident.
Rippole recounted how the Vikings had just received their equipment for PIAA-mandated heat acclimation practices when a coach informed them of what had happened to Williams.
“Knowing that a lot of teams think we're the team to beat, having that target on your back makes you work harder,” Rippole said. “Every year, we always have some adversity. It makes us better, having something to deal with.”
Bradley said the Vikings will not alter their goals — or their offense — while Williams is sidelined.
“You take a deep breath and hope for the best,” Bradley said.
“It's a rallying point, an opportunity for some kids to step up and take a leadership role while he's gone. But we're anxious for him to get back.”
Bradley has used the school's adversity as a teaching tool, instructing his players to focus on what they can control: attitude and effort.
“We use it as a defining moment,” Bradley said.
“You never know when it's going to be your last play. You have to value your opportunity, and make the most of it.”