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West Leechburg man scores big with football game

| Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011

When teacher Howard Nolen retired in 2008 after a 34-year career, he was expecting to be able to relax a bit more.

The West Leechburg resident, who taught social studies at Freeport Junior High School, wasn't anticipating that life was about to become a game.

A coach for 40 years in a variety of sports throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley, he was considerably less well-known for what he has become: an inventor.

Nolen, 65, who grew up in Brackenridge, is about to market a board game that has been approved commercially for manufacturing and distribution by Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Alabama and Temple.

The colors and graphics are changed for each school.

He will showcase his Slyder Football, which the public can view and play for free, in a storefront (No. 220) at the StrongLand Chamber of Commerce Home Expo weekend at the Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer, Feb. 11 through 13.

He also plans to fire up the ongoing campaign for a return to a Penn State-Pitt football rivalry with players who want to take part in a Slyder tournament.

The name is a spinoff of the word "slider." In the game, a token is slid across the board surface toward the goal hole.

A demonstration video of how Slyder Football works can be seen at . The video features New Kensington's Christie Bonk, a former Valley High School and Pitt cheerleader; and Jeff Christy of South Buffalo, a former student of Nolen's whose 11-year career in the National Football League included a Super Bowl victory and three Pro Bowls.

"I was one of the first ones to play the original game he had at his house and thought it was a great idea," Christy says. "My 8-year-old daughter plays it; the rules are pretty simple. It's neat and very competitive. Howard's a great guy with a great mind. The sky's the limit for this."

Bonk, beginning a marketing internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers, says, "I think the idea of the game is amazing. All of the graphics and details on each school's specific game board are completely realistic, and it makes it that much more entertaining."

Alle-Kiski Made

Nolen is proud the game is being manufactured in the Alle-Kiski Valley. General Press in Natrona Heights handles the graphics, submitted by former Nolen student and graphics artist Megan Prazenica, a Freeport High School graduate, now working out of Los Angeles. "I'm proud to be a part of it. Howard puts a lot of heart into what he does," she says.

CCF industries in Apollo and Allegheny Design Management in Vandergrift are producing the game.

Nolen sees it as an alternative to high-tech video and electronic entertainment. "We hope it brings back the idea of spending quality time with the people we care about, like the old days," says this father of three.

Fun yields scholarships

Along the way, he says he would like seeing Slyder Football become a tool with which schools and other organizations can raise money.

A campaign has been organized through Penn State Alumni Association's local chapters with a goal to raise more than $1 million in scholarships, distributed locally. Nolen plans to offer a similar plan to universities.

Jason Rupp, immediate past president of the Penn State Alumni Association Chapter in Michigan, says it is that plan and the pure enjoyment of the game that attracted his attention. He was introduced to Slyder Football at a Penn State football tailgate. "The concept was great, and the game was extremely addictive," he says. "With the visual appearance of the board, it's also a great conversation piece. I've not seen anything like this."

He believes Nolen has found something unique that has the potential to grow beyond a football game. "I don't see any reason why versions of this game couldn't be done for hockey, basketball and baseball," Rupp says.

Nolen has a depth of sports experience, including coaching at Freeport, Springdale, Highlands and St. Joseph high schools; coaching American Legion baseball and a traveling baseball team; and in Natrona Heights and Freeport Little Leagues.

Penn State Proud

The idea for Slyder Football developed out of Nolen's passion for Penn State University. He built, tested and refined it while tailgating at Nittany Lions' games.

"The theme of 'simple fun' was the only guideline we used, and the popularity of the game grew each week," he says.

"One of the first things I was advised by SCORE, an organization of successful entrepreneurs, was to get good people to help me," he says. "It dawned on me I know a lot of great people: former students, players, coaches, etc., who I could begin building my company around."

It was easy to embrace the project, says Dennis Montgomery of Jefferson, the game's licensing director. "I have learned a lot about staying positive and motivated just watching Howard on a day-to-day basis," he says. "His game just seems like a winning formula."

Tim Rodgers, who works for a collegiate retail store selling Alabama sports memorabilia, agrees.

He tried the game prior to the Penn State at Alabama grid contest last fall.

"I was so impressed," he says. He convinced Nolen that Alabama needed its own version.

"His idea will spread through each state that has a love of football and a passion for a competitive and fun atmosphere at any college campus," he says.

Jim Callender of Meridian, Slyder football's web master and photographer, admires Nolen for "taking an idea, developing it and actually going for it." "I also admire his wanting to use the game to raise scholarship money," he adds.

"There are so many possibilities for the product to grow," Callender says. "On top of that, the game is fun."

That, Nolen implies, is the real bottom line.

Slyder Football

Cost: Game Day edition, $95; Gameroom edition, $105

Available at: . During the Home Expo at the Pittsburgh Mills, running Feb. 11-13, the Game Day edition will be offered at the special price of $75.

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