A Night for Geno

A Night for Geno

(by Bob Urban, Lehighton Times-News, September 2, 1995)

John "Junior" Parfitt asked if it would be a problem to secure a reserved parking place for his van, near the back door.

John's a quadriplegic, but he gets around thanks to a motorized wheelchair and a specially equipped van. And the former tackle and place-kicker wants to be there tonight.

Jerry Donovan scribbled a note and sent it along with his check. Another former tackle, he apologized for being so difficult to track down. But he moved since the last list was updated and it took awhile for the committee to catch up to him.

But he can;t wait to see some of his old buddies tonight. He wouldn't miss it for the world.

Faye Lewis talked about how close her class (Coaldale, 1948) was. So she sat down and wrote letters to all 37 of her remaining classmates, urging them to be there tonight. The response she got was good.


The local high school football season kicked off this weekend. It has always been an exciting time in the coal regions, filled with anticipation and fan loyalty.

But for a group of former high school players, all slightly on the north and south side of the big 5-0, their thoughts are on games past, not present this weekend.

Tonight, the guys who wore the Orange and Black of old Coaldale High School from 1960 through 1963 will honor their head coach, Geno Poli, and his wife Peggy, in a testimonial dinner at Costello’s Restaurant and Banquet Hall in Coaldale.

The former players are the "official hosts," but the banquet is also open to family, fans and friends of Poli, who earlier this year was inducted into the Carbon County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

“We thought with Geno going into the Hall of Fame this year the timing would be perfect for us to take the opportunity to thank him for all he did for us,” explained Jack Evans, a rugged fullback for Poli's 1961 team, and a former PIAA football official.

Evans and Thom Terry, a guard, linebacker and fullback on the 1962 and 1963 Coaldale teams, are co-chairmen of the event.

Poli did a lot of good things, as an athlete, coach, educator and long-time public official. But his legacy will be the four years he spent as Coaldale's last football coach, before the school merged with its neighboring rivals Lansford, Summit Hill and Nesquehoning to form the Panther Valley Jointure in 1964.

Geno took over a program that couldn't sink any lower. In 1959 the school experienced its first winless season (0-10) in the long and glorious history of the school.

For a town held together by coal miners, neighborhood churches, bars and its football tradition linked to the high school Tigers and the professional Big Greens, an 0-10 season couldn't be fathomed, let alone tolerated.

So in came Poli, a hometown boy who not only knew about the town's football tradition, but helped form some of it, playing on outstanding Coaldale teams in the mid-1940s.

His presence was felt immediately.


Latching on to his own former mentor, legendary Coaldale coach Tom Raymer, as his only assistant, Poli's first squad, 1960, included many of the same players who agonized through the 1959 debacle. They improved to 5-5, the school's first non-losing campaign in four years. Football was fun again in Coaldale.

Stripped by graduation, the 1961 squad had only six seniors, and only two had significant varsity experience. In August, the vultures were already circling the carcass. It was supposed to be a lean year in Tigertown. Surprise! The Tigers roared to a 7-3 season, including a five-game winning streak. Football continued to be fun.

Building on that success, Poli produced a juggernaut in 1962 that no other Coaldale team could match in half a century. The school went 11-0. Ed Kassak, a spectacular halfback, led the area in scoring and became the school's first Big 33 selection. Four members of the squad received service academy appointments.

Poli's final year, 1963, was almost as spectacular as the Tigers went 10-2 in their swan song. But three things cast a pallor over the year: the Tigers were beaten 6-0 by arch-rival Lansford in their final game; the Orange and Black would no longer be a team because of the merger; and Poli was overlooked by the Jointure's new board of directors to become Panther Valley's first head coach.


One player from each of the four Poli-era teams has been designated to speak at tonight's banquet. I was selected to represent the 1961 squad. It's an honor I'm not taking lightly.

The two years I spent playing for Coach Poli were among the best times of my life. He taught me about friendship, and teamwork, and loyalty. Last but not least, he taught me how to have fun, and how to win.

Tonight I'll join my ex-teammates – Punch and Cooj, Moe and Tucker, Bogie and Perky, Babe and Pig Lip, and the rest of the guys, and we will finally get to say thank you, Geno.