By Don Seeley
HERSHEY – Good, sometimes even real good, isn’t good enough.
Countless Mercury-area football players who have competed in the Ches-Mont League or Pioneer Athletic Conference, as well as their coaches, are aware of just good one has to be both on and off the field to be selected to the annual Big 33 Classic.
Fully aware, because since that inaugural game back in 1957, only 25 area players have been selected to play in it.
Raw talent alone, with glaring statistics and a scholarship to a Division I, I-AA or even Division II college football program, surely warrants a nomination. An equally impressive academic transcript and detailed school/community activities resumé packaged in with a highlight video sure helps, too. And being in the right place at the right time – or playing a position that lacks depth (or a position that doesn’t already have a surplus of all-staters and scholastic all-Americans) – can very well be the clincher.
Or what turns a nomination into a selection … that coveted invitation to play for Pennsylvania in the Big 33 Classic, billed year in and year out as one of the very best high school all-star football games in the entire country.
Spring-Ford’s Andrew Scanlan, who’ll be the Mercury area’s lone participant in the 56th renewal of the event Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium, called his selection – or opportunity to be part of the summer spectacle – “a privilege, an honor.”
It is both indeed for him.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Scanlan, who earlier this year accepted a full scholarship from Northwestern University, is the very first selection from Spring-Ford.
All but two area PIAA-member schools – Daniel Boone and Pope John Paul II, which has been in existence just two years – have had at least one representative in the Big 33 Classic. Phoenixville owns the most with seven, followed by Owen J. Roberts with four and Boyertown and Pottstown with three apiece.
The area wasn’t represented in a Big 33 game until 1963, when Boyertown’s Bob Bauer and Phoenixville’s Tom Detwiler – who had committed to Maryland and Kentucky, respectively – were selected. They were part of the game that featured all Pennsylvania players, with the Blue defeating the Gray, 34-6.
In 1966, Upper Perkiomen’s Keith Kleinbach (Florida State) was part of the Pennsylvania team that was thumped by Texas, 34-2.
In 1971, Owen J. Roberts’ all-state running back Dennis Laws (Illinois State) and Pottstown quarterback Tom Shuman (Penn State) were part of the East squad that fell to the West, 34-20.
The following year, though, Pottstown standout lineman John Nash (Maryland) helped Pennsylvania to its first win over Ohio, 27-22.
Perkiomen Valley lineman Bill Neil (Pitt) – a PIAA-Class A state champion in wrestling – was part of the all-Pennsylvania game in 1977. His East squad fell to the West, 12-8. Neil would go on to have an outstanding career at Pitt and then played with the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers in the NFL.
The area was represented by an all-time high three players in 1978 – Phoenixville teammates Greg Bamberger (Duke) and Chris Carr (North Carolina State), and St. Pius X’s Jerry Rogers (East Carolina). The threesome helped the Pennsylvania East team to a 28-6 rout of the West.
Phoenixville’s run of selections continued the next year when Phantom teammates Jack Dettra (Salem) and Rich Kraynak (Pitt) were selected to the East team, which stumbled offensively in a 24-2 setback to their West rivals.
Tony Romano (Syracuse) gave Phoenixville a player in the Big 33 Classic for a third straight year in 1979. However, much like the previous year, Romano and the East squad couldn’t muster any offense, getting blanked by the West, 16-0.
Methacton’s only representative in the game was lineman Mike Ruth (Methacton), who helped the East to a 22-21 thriller over the West in 1982. Ruth later played for the New England Patriots in the NFL.
Three players who helped Owen J. Roberts during its dominant run in the 1980s – Dan Crossman, Mike Beasley and Rudy Glocker – were part of three Pennsylvania teams that lined up against standouts from Maryland.
Crossman (Kansas, Pitt), a defensive back, helped Pennsylvania to a 17-14 win in 1985. He was named to the Freshman All-American team later that year at Kansas before transferring to Pitt, where he was a starting fullback as a junior and a starting defensive back as a senior with the Panthers. Crossman – who would also play in the now defunct World Football League, where he helped the London Monarchs to the WFL title and was named the MVP of the inaugural World Bowl – is currently the special teams coordinator for the Detroit Lions.
The following year, Beasley (Maryland, West Virginia), a running back, helped Pennsylvania make it two in a row over Maryland with a 21-7 win. Beasley was part of the Dallas Cowboys’ organization for several seasons.
Glocker (Penn State), a linebacker, was joined by Phoenixville running back Chris Minor (Temple) on the Pennsylvania team that was edged by Maryland, 26-22, in 1987. Months before the Big 33 Classic, Glocker was the recipient of the Maxwell Football Club’s prestigious John Henry Award as the Philadelphia region’s outstanding high school football player. The fleet-footed Minor, an outstanding back for the Phantoms, played sparingly as a freshman at Temple, red-shirted the next season due to an injury, and was a potential starter for the Owls the following season. However, Minor was killed in an automobile accident on Route 724 in East Vincent Township earlier that summer.
Boyertown lineman Harvey Pennypacker (Syracuse) was part of Pennsylvania’s last game against Maryland in 1992, and it was one of the more lopsided affairs as Pennypacker and his teammates cruised, 38-0.
It would be another seven years before the area was represented in the game. Perkiomen Valley linebacker Grant Wiley (West Virginia) and Pennsylvania came up short in a 21-14 meeting with Ohio – a series that began in 1993 and will mark its 20th renewal on Saturday. Wiley would go on to become an All-American linebacker with the Mountaineers.
Pottstown had its first Big 33 selection in 29 long years when Rian Wallace (Temple) lined up in 2001 and helped Pennsylvania to a 31-29 thriller over Ohio. Wallace had an outstanding career as a linebacker at Temple before becoming part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organization.
Two offensive linemen – Upper Perkiomen’s John Fieger (Pitt) and Boyertown’s Tyler Sands (Illinois) – were part of the 2007 and 2008 games, respectively. Fieger helped Pennsylvania defeat Ohio, 28-10, then Sands and his Pennsylvania teammates made it two in a row over Ohio with a 31-16 victory.
Last year, Pottsgrove’s Terrell Chestnut (West Virginia) was selected to the Pennsylvania team but could not participate due to shoulder surgery. Chestnut red-shirted last fall while recovering from the surgery, but is expected to compete for a spot in the Mountaineers’ secondary this season.
Marty Moore, who guided Phoenixville and Spring-Ford football programs before retiring, owns the honor of having the most appearances of any Mercury-area coach in the Big 33 game. Moore, while the head coach at Phoenixville, was an assistant on the East teams in 1979 and 1980. While at Spring-Ford, he was an assistant on the Pennsylvania team in 1996. … Former Owen J. Roberts head coach Henry Bernat and current Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker were assistants on the Pennsylvania staffs in 1985 and 2008, respectively.
One very hot topic of conversation making its way throughout the Big 33 Classic camp and around the state is the news released earlier this week that George Curry was named the head coach at Berwick … again.
The legendary Curry, who started his career at Lake Lehman, guided Berwick for nearly 20 seasons. He led the Bulldogs to eight District 2 titles and six PIAA-Class AAA state championships. He later moved over to Wyoming Valley West for a couple of years before retiring with a state-record 413-94-4 career mark.
According to reports, Curry accepted the school board’s appointment on a one-year interim basis. He replaces Gary Campbell Jr., who resigned to return to his former position as head coach at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, Mass.