High school notebook: Wagner, Boulton set for classic reunion
From their youthful one-on-one battles that often lasted until darkness fell over the local church playground, to their head-to-head coaching showdowns that personally upped the ante on some exhibition games of the '60s, Chuck Wagner and Don “Pappy” Boulton have an unbreakable competitive bond.
“It was murder ball,” Wagner said with a wry smile. “We'd play one-on-one tackle football and basketball. We would do anything to beat each other.”
Friends and foes for more than six decades, the venerable coaches will face off from opposite sidelines again Saturday at a field on which they once played as teammates.
Wagner, now as assistant at Riverview, and Boulton, a long-time assistant at Springdale, have been looking forward to this game for months.
Neither Springdale nor Riverview qualified for the WPIAL Class A playoffs, but their noon game at Oakmont's Riverside Park will carry unique meaning for the 78-year-old comrades.
“We're so close but we're so competitive at the same time,” Boulton said. “We've always been best buds.”
Wagner came out of retirement after stepping down in 2011 as Springdale's head coach, a position he held for 19 years. Boulton was his defensive guru for 13 of them.
Wagner' coaching career began in 1958 when he was an assistant at Oakmont.
Boulton left the game when Wagner did, but came back this season and returned to his familiar post as defensive coordinator under new Dynamos head coach Dave Leasure.
“He came back because I did,” Wagner said, another smile forming.
Wagner and Boulton, who lived a half-block away from each other as kids, played high school football together at Oakmont High and Kiski School. Wagner played college football at Bucknell, while Boulton played at Slippery Rock after a stint in the Air Force.
Wagner coached at Oakmont and went against Boulton, who served as head coach at East Deer-Frazer and West Deer, several times, the first in 1964.
Boulton's team once upset undefeated Oakmont, and Boulton sneaked a game ball — emblazoned with the final score — into Wagner's game room.
“We had some good games,” Wagner said. “It always made for a rivalry game when we got together; but the schools really weren't rivals.”
Wagner and Boulton said they always dreamed of coaching with each other, seemingly as much as against each other.
“One year we didn't have a game scheduled so we set up a scrimmage,” Boulton said. “His kids drove to the 2-yard line. I was so into it. Chuck looks up, and I am in a four-point stance on the sideline. I had to fake it and make it look like I was demonstrating to a player.”
The last time Springdale and Riverview did not make the WPIAL playoffs in the same season was 1993, Wagner's first year at Springdale.
Wagner still keeps a watchful eye on the Dynamos. He has been invited to the Dynamos' year-end banquet.
Like father, like son
When Knoch senior Adam Albert pulled a hamstring and missed a scrimmage in late summer, he helped the Knights on the sidelines.
“I was holding a clipboard, and people commented that I acted a lot like my dad.” Albert said.
His father, who has plenty of in-game mannerisms, is Highlands coach Sam Albert, whose Golden Rams travel to Knoch on Friday to play against a now-healthy Adam Albert and the Knights.
Coach Albert, a health and gym teacher at Highlands, lives in the South Butler School District.
With it being Knoch's senior night, he'll spend a portion of his pregame walking Adam across the grass field at Knoch Stadium.
“When it comes to football, my dad and I have more of a joking relationship,” said Adam, a starting wide receiver and safety. “We never get too serious. We exchange comments here and there. He'll say, ‘Have a good practice, but not too good.
“Having him walk me out (on senior night) is one of those moments we have been thinking about since I started football in sixth grade. It's finally here and it will be special.”
Last year, Adam caught a 71-yard touchdown pass in Knoch's 41-7 win at Highlands. But Highlands is favored to win this time, a Greater Allegheny Conference co-championship on the line.
There are only two WPIAL games in Week 9 that will match a pair of undefeated teams. One is Kittanning (8-0) at Shady Side Academy (8-0) in Class AA; the other is Thomas Jefferson (8-0) at West Mifflin (8-0) in Class AAA.
The WPIAL playoff pairings meeting will be 7 p.m. Monday in Green Tree. First-round games will be Nov. 1-2 at home sites. Neutral sites will be used for the quarterfinals and semifinals.
All four championship games will be Nov. 23 at Heinz Field.