Poli Has Had Hall Of Fame Sports Life
July 20, 1995|by RUDY BEDNAR (A free-lance story for The Morning Call)

Ligenza, Poli among SCFCA inductees
Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Poli Has Had Hall Of Fame Sports Life
July 20, 1995|by RUDY BEDNAR (A free-lance story for The Morning Call)
Mighty nice things are happening to Geno Poli of late.

Only a couple of months ago, the one-time Coaldale High football coach was inducted into the Carbon County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

A most deserving distinction, indeed.

Now he is about to be honored again. A testimonial dinner program is being arranged by many of his former players.

The fete is set for Sept. 2 at Costello's Banquet Hall in Coaldale.

Letters have gone out to as many of his former players who can be located, according to co-chairmen Jack Evans and Tom Terry who also point out the event is open to the public.

Reservations are being accepted by Evans at (610) 261-2730, Terry at (717) 645-7169 and Bob Urban at (717) 645-8498.

The idea to honor Poli was first kicked around after his Carbon Hall of Fame induction last May. Those who proposed the testimonial felt it was an appropriate time to pay tribute to a special person who meant so much to so many.

Poli enjoyed a storied career, first as an athlete and later in coaching.

He was already playing football and basketball for the legendary Tom Raymer at Coaldale High when I arrived at The Morning Call sports desk in 1946.

A rugged competitor who loved the winning tradition of Coaldale High football, Poli was a two-way performer, playing fullback and linebacker for the Orange and Black for three years.

The Tigers finished 5-4-1 in his first year on the squad in 1945, then wound up 7-2-1 the next season and finally produced an 8-3 mark in his senior campaign.

He scored twice that year smashing through the line but the team's top guns were Charlie Hontz, Bob Praskac and Mike Gregus.

The 11 touchdowns and 67 points posted by Hontz were good for third place behind Nesquehoning All-Stater Lou Higgins and Palmerton's Bob Romig in the area scoring race.

Poli graduated in 1948 and went on to play semi-pro ball with the Tamaqua Indians before enrolling at New York University where he was a starting guard for three years until the school's grid program was dropped.

After serving in Korea with the Army where he was a member of the division football team, he completed his college studies at East Stroudsburg University, graduating in 1958.

Poli coached briefly in New Jersey but returned to Coaldale to teach and coach at his alma mater.

He was named assistant football coach under Bill Roller and also was the Tigers' assistant basketball coach. He volunteered to help Raymer coach track, as well.

The 1958 grid team won five of its first seven games, but dropped the last four to finish 5-4 for the second straight year.

George Greiner took over the coaching reins in 1959 for one year -- but what a year! The Orangemen were winless (0-10) for the first time ever.

It was the worst finish since the start of the school's football program in 1921. Actually, the Tigers had only five losing seasons in their 42 years of grid play. Three occurred in the 1950s.

Enter Poli.

The change was swift, sparked by the unexpected return of quarterback Don Popik who suffered a knee injury playing baseball and was advised to forget sports.

Blanking McAdoo in the 1960 opener under their new head coach, Poli's Tigers ended a 15-game losing streak and went on to split their 10 games that fall.

That was for starters.

The 7-3 ending in 1961 showed ever more improvement and finally in 1962, the finest season of all -- an 11-0 record.

Much of what will be talked about during this testimonial dinner program, I am sure, will be about that triumphant team. (Four of its stellar players won service academy appointments and another, Ed Kassak, was a second team AP all-stater and played in the Big 33 game in Hershey.)

There were a few other unbeaten teams in the school's history -- 9-0-1 in 1949 which was sandwiched between a pair of 9-1-1 marks in 1948 and 1950.

Also a 9-0 record in 1934 and then 10-0 in both 1930 and 1922.

But 11-0 was tops.

In fact, this was a banner year hereabouts because both Coaldale and Tamaqua duked it out for the Carbon County-Panther Valley area championship from the very start of the season.

There was a time (1921-1959) when these two teams faced each other in a great rivalry, but unfortunately not this year.

Tamaqua finished 10-0-1 which included a victory over Blakely for the Eastern Conference title.

But it was to be a Tiger year. Kassak and his Coaldale teammates dominated. The shifty halfback outscored Tamaqua's George Barron (first team All-State and Big 33er) 122-91 to become the first Tiger back to capture area scoring honors since Ed Shubeck edged Lehighton's Mike Ebbert 68-67 in 1950.

Kassak scored 18 touchdowns and 14 running conversions.

Quarterback Bill Edwards bested Lehighton's Dave Werner for passing laurels as he connected on 11 touchdown throws.

His favorite receiver was Rich Miller who led the area's pass catchers with six TD grabs.

Coaldale also set the area pace offensively and defensively, amassing 353 points while allowing only 54.

But, Poli's teams weren't finished yet.

In 1963, in what would be the school's final football year before joining Lansford and Summit Hill to form the Panther Valley High jointure, the Tigers retained their area crown by winning 10 of 12 games.

The Orangemen bowed out in a blaze, seizing almost every scoring and statistical department for the second straight year. Bob Winsko scored 109 points to win the area's individual point race.

Coaldale lost to Tunkannock early in the season and dropped a 6-0 decision to Lansford in the season finale on Thanksgiving afternoon.

While Poli wonderfully revived his alma mater's grid program, compiling a 33-10 mark in four years, he chose to move on afterward.

He coached at Ashland in 1964, then introduced football at Hamburg High in 1968 before going on to Shenandoah in 1969 for a five-year stint.

Finally, the easy-going, mild-mannered, quiet mentor returned to his roots, to coach track and assist in football at Panther Valley High and also at Marian High before retiring five years ago to end a 32-year career in education.

Since 1987, when he was named to the Panther Valley Recreation Commission, Poli has turned his attention to community affairs. He was elected to Coaldale Borough Council in 1981 and has served as president since 1987.

But what I'm sure he enjoys the most now, are the recollections from his home across the street from the Coaldale High Stadium where he lives with his wife, recalling those bygone days of gridiron glory there.


Ligenza, Poli among SCFCA inductees
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Three former coaches of current high schools and one at-large inductee from a former school comprise the Schuylkill County Football Coaches Hall of Fame 2013 Class that was announced Wednesday at the organization's preseason media luncheon at Roman Delight, Route 61, Orwigsburg.

Induction ceremonies will be held Wednesday, Nov. 27, during halftime at the organization's annual all-star game at Rotary Field, Schuylkill Haven.

Representing current schools are Richard "Dick" Ketz, Blue Mountain ; the late Walter "Walt" Ligenza, Tamaqua; and the late Joseph "Joe" Willinsky, Minersville. This year's at-large inductee is the late Geno Poli, Coaldale.

Geno Poli

Poli, who was 69 when he died in 1998, was a standout athlete for Coaldale High, having served as head football coach for his alma mater, Shenandoah, Ashland and Panther Valley.

He is most remembered for the 33-10 record he compiled in four years at Coaldale, highlighted by an 11-0 season in 1962 and a 10-2 season the final year before it became part of the Panther Valley jointure. He was also a member of the Marian High staff when the Colts won the PIAA title in 1990.

A graduate of New York and East Stroudsburg universities, Poli was a teacher in the Panther Valley School District for 33 years before retiring. An Army veteran who saw service in the Korean War, he and his wife Peggy were married for 44 years and were the parents of sons Louis and Anthony and daughter Marie.

Above article abridged: