Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Phoenixville impressive in downing Exeter

PHOENIXVILLE — Bill Furlong liked to think this year was like most other years when camp opened back in mid-August ... a meet-and-greet with a handful or so of veterans and a lot of newcomers.
Huddled in the Washington Street Fieldhouse were five returning lettermen from the offense, four more on defense, and a kicker. But don’t let the numbers fool you, either, because five of those nine were actually the same players — as in Cole Luzins, Ryan Pannella, Ryan Yenchick and Tom White, along with punter-placekicker Ian Harrigan — were double-duty starters last season.
“I don’t really know if (preseason) was any different for us,” Furlong explained. “We felt we had some certain anchors to build on what we accomplished last year (in getting to the District 1-Class AAA final). But we also wanted to establish who we were, too. So to a certain extent, I guess we were looking for our own identity.”
The Phantoms may have established exactly who they are — or what type of team they’re to be reckoned with — after last Friday night’s 28-20 win over Exeter. That sure helped make up for the season-opening setback to Great Valley, especially knowing Delaware-bound Kyle Yocum was under center for the Eagles, who are expected to contend for a Berks Football League section title this fall.
“I don’t think we played that badly against Great Valley, which I think is going to be a pretty good football team this year,” Furlong said. “We had opportunities to win that game, but we just didn’t play within ourselves, within our confines, within our system. I think the guys were just trying to do too much.
“Against Exeter, we played with more passion, more enthusiasm. I think that certainly contributed (to the win).”
Furlong, as well as the Phantom faithful, have come to expect consistent play from the veteran gang. Luzins surfaced as one of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s top underclassmen a year ago; Pannella is an outstanding tight end and is quite adept at getting to the ball on defense; Yenchick’s talent mirrors Pannella’s on both sides of the ball; White is the reliable but unsung lineman every team needs; and Harrigan’s kicking is arguably the most consistent of anyone in the area.
But what Furlong and his staff has gotten thus far, and especially last weekend, is performance and production from a number of others who saw a little time last season or ample time due to injuries.
Among that group are Zack Gallow, Sean Hesser, Brian Hyland, Donnie Jackson, Kyle Karkoska, Brian Madden and Colin Mea, a mix of linemen and skill people. And then there’s new quarterback Chris Demey. Even though he’s gone up top just 14 times thus far, the senior has completed 10 of them for 237 yards with one interception and two touchdowns. For the record, that translates into an off-the-chart 237.2 passing rating.
“Those guys add to our core,” Furling said. “Our older kids really worked extremely hard during the offseason and in camp, and our younger players saw that, saw that was expected of them.
“Our seniors want to continue what we’ve done, and I think because of that, because of their leadership, they’ve gotten the attention of our underclassmen. They’ve all bought into what we expect of them, and the youngers have been stepping up.”
That was evident during the win over Exeter ... a particular win that could go a long way in defining this week’s game against visiting Methacton, and quite a few others that follow.
“Right now I think we’re on the edge,” Furlong said. “The win will help, definitely help our confidence. But we also don’t want to get over-confident, either. We have to continue to play within our selves, within our system.”
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Speaking of quarterbacks, Pottstown’s Sage Reinhart is the area’s passing rating leader (154.2) after two weeks of play. The Trojan quarterback is 21 of 32 for 298 yards with two touchdowns against one pick. Owen J. Roberts’ Jarred Pinelli (141.3), Pope John Paul II’s James Bleming (the area’s runaway leader in yardage with 524 and touchdown tosses with five), Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne (116.8) and Boyertown’s Griffin Passik (114.1) are second through fifth, respectively, for quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts through the two games. Only two quarterbacks (Bleming and Pinelli) are averaging over 150 yards a game right now. ... The Mercury’s complete weekly leaders chart begins next Tuesday.
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It seems as though there are way too many high school football rankings anymore ... and do some ever reveal contrasting opinions as to who’s who in the respective leagues, regions and state. Locally, Pottsgrove is sixth and Spring-Ford is 11th in Channel 69’s Big School Top 15. Pottsgrove is the only area team appearing in any statewide rankings — listed sixth in AAA by Pennsylvania Football News and 10th by the Harrisburg Patriot News (our personal choice for accuracy or accountability).
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A salute and standing ovation to both Phoenixville and Upper Perkiomen programs for honoring members of the U.S. armed forces last Friday night, and to Methacton for its fund-raising effort Saturday that will benefit local families with financial difficulties as a result of their battle against cancer ... just a few more reasons why you gotta love (and hopefully support) high school football.

Plenty of surprises on opening night of high school football

Opening week of the high school football season always produces a lot of surprises, as well as a lot of incredible individual plays and games that raise the eyebrows. And 2012 – or last weekend – sure had its share.
Problem is, where does one begin?
As far as surprises, it would be hard to imagine anything topping what one group of Panthers did to another group of Panthers, or how Imhotep Charter stomped on Strath Haven, 68-13. The District 12-AA Panthers ran for 383 yards and amassed 492 overall in dealing the District 1-AAA Panthers the worst loss in their otherwise storied program’s history that includes eight district and two state championships.
The previous mark for Strath Haven – formed in 1984 with the merger of Nether Providence and Swarthmore high schools – was a 47-0 setback to Ridley in 1988.
Another surprise was how three-time defending champion Clairton, riding the longest winning streak in the nation (48 straight wins), had to recover an onsides kick and run out the clock in a 22-20 thriller over Chartiers-Houston, which hadn’t come anywhere close to beating Clairton in four previous meetings. The Bears haven’t lost since their season-opener in 2009, and hadn’t really been tested since … or at least until last Friday night out in Washington County. Another unbeaten run this season would lead to the Bears’ breaking C.B. West’s state-record of 59 straight wins.
As far as big plays and games, it would be hard to imagine anyone topping what Trinity’s Danny Jackson, Lancaster Catholic’s Roman Clay, Glendale’s Doug Twigg and Eastern York’s Alex Cooley did over the weekend.
Jackson returned a punt 46 yards for a touchdown, brought back a kickoff 99 yards for another, and took an interception back 53 for a third score to help the Shamrocks defeat District 3 rival Delone Catholic.
Also out in District 3, Clay – who a year ago rewrote his school’s record brook with 1,899 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns – debuted Friday with a district-record 442 yards and six touchdowns in the defending state champion Shamrocks’ 41-33 win over Dallastown. Clay, with 3,885 career yards and 58 touchdowns, and his teammates will be at Governor Mifflin this Friday.
Twigg did his share of work on defense by coming up with four interceptions for Glendale. But it wasn’t quite enough as the Vikings lost to Northern Bedford, 20-13. Cooley could sure relate to Twigg’s disappointment. He ran for 337 yards and five touchdowns in a 52-36 loss to Columbia.

Bad Knight: No. 5 ranked North Penn may or may not drop a notch or two in the state rankings after falling to No. 2 La Salle College High School, 20-7, in the teams’ annual showcase game.
Making a point: The most points (83) scored in the entire state last week were produced in Penncrest’s 48-35 win over Upper Merion.
Defenseless: Three of the four highest-scoring District 1 games last weekend involved Pioneer Athletic Conference teams – Upper Perkiomen (51-20 loss to Quakertown); Owen J. Roberts (49-21 loss to Conestoga); and Boyertown (48-26 loss to C.B. East).
On target: Downingtown East’s Kyle Lauletta was one of four quarterbacks in the state to throw for more than 300 yards. Lauletta passed for 301 in the No. 9 ranked Cougars’ 42-18 blitz of Bonner.

New era: Lansdale Catholic, which left the Pioneer Athletic Conference following the 2007 season and became a member of District 12, gave new head coach Tom Kirk his first win – 27-26 over Prep Charter down at Ocean City High School in N.J. It was the first time in 45 years that LC played a football game without the legendary Jim Algeo calling the shots from the sidelines. … Speaking of District 12, three of five games involving district schools were decided by one point last Saturday. The difference in all five games was only a combined 13 points.
Old era: Well, what better two words to describe the return of George Curry to the Berwick sidelines. Because of the late departure of its previous coach, the 68-year-old Curry – who guided the Bulldogs to four straight AAA state titles (1994-97) and five overall, and owned a state-record 413 career wins before retiring a couple of years ago – stepped in as the interim coach this season. He re-debuted with a 48-21 rout of Crestwood for win No. 414. Curry is now coaching his third generation of players at Berwick, including his grandson C.J. Curry, the starting quarterback.
Top Ten: Three of the state’s four top-ranked teams opened with wins (AA’s Aliquippa played Ambridge on Monday night). Clairton held on as previously mentioned; AAA’s Archbishop Wood blasted Bensalem, 44-7; and AAAA’s Central Dauphin defeated Manheim Township, 21-7. … Lancaster Catholic, which won the AA title a year ago but is now up a bracket in AAA, will likely move up from No. 7 since No. 5 Franklin Regional was upset 21-17 by Mars.
Defensive-minded: Pequea Valley returned an interception and two fumbles for touchdowns in a 45-16 rout of York County Tech.
Turnaround: District 7-A’s Avella, which went winless a year ago, opened last weekend with a 65-0 romp over Vincentian Academy — which kicked off its first season of football.

Still at it: Summerville (S.C.) head coach John McKissick picked up his 595th career win last weekend when the Green Wave bumped off Berkeley. McKissick is the nation’s all-time leader in career wins.
Streaking: Clairton actually shares the nation’s longest winning streak with Layfayette Central Catholic (Ind.), which won its 48th in a row last weekend. … The nation’s longest regular-season winning streak belongs to Webb City (Missouri), the two-time defending Class AAAA state champion, which has won 83 in a row.
You go girl: Tecumseh (Okla.) sophomore Jenni Goethe booted the game-winning 22-yard field goal in overtime to end a 16-13 thriller against Noble. The 5-foot-7 Goethe is a standout soccer and basketball player, too.
Efficient: Dayton Christian (Ohio) senior Heath Harding made the most of his five carries last week. Those five careers added up to 263 yards – 52.6 a carry, no less – and each one ended up in the end zone in a 72-40 runaway over Preble-Shawnee. Five carries, 263 yards, five touchdowns …not a bad night.
Going a bit too far: Notre Dame (Calif.) defeated Hamilton (Ariz.), 27-15, across the big pond in Dublin, Ireland. The airlines lost (or misplaced) most of the two teams’ luggage before recovering it, forcing the teams to go without pads for two days of practice. … On a brighter note, Philadelphia’s Father Judge had no trouble getting to County Meath, Ireland, or beating Notre Dame Prep (Ariz.), 20-6, once there.
Big bucks: Allen (Tex.) christened its new $59.6 million stadium with a 24-0 upset of the No. 8 ranked Southlake in front of 22,000-plus fans last weekend.

John Calcinore was a boxer, gentleman and friend

Maybe it was his stature, but he wasn’t even six feet tall. Maybe it was that jutting jaw, but his face looked like it came right off a page in an Italian model magazine. Maybe it was his hands, as big as an anvil and as strong as a vise, but so soft to the touch.
Fifty-some years after meeting John Calcinore, and less than a month after whispering a personal good-bye at his funeral, I realized what it was.
John Calcinore was one of the greatest men I was ever blessed to have known.
A loving husband, caring father … a family man.
A gentleman. And, above all, a friend.
All that and, if possible, more.
I learned that and never once forgot any of his engaging qualities, from the first time we met — a long, long time ago in a Royersford barbershop when my late father introduced him to me as a former heavyweight fighter (which actually scared the living daylights out of me), until the last time we talked — on a recent sun-splashed spring morning in his backyard, then later in his living room, to chat about his fight with cancer.
Years ago, as that impressionable pre-teen, John Calcinore was a big, big man. Today, as a hard-to-impress senior, John Calcinore is still a big, big man with an even bigger heart.
A giant of a man. Very real, genuine … honest.
So much so, I remember, my curiosity got the best of me back in the early 70s. While researching old football clippings from a local newspaper, I glanced at a headline that had absolutely nothing to do with the story I was hoping to find: “Calcinore wins again.”
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John Calcinore was indeed the boxer my dad said he was. A good one, too.
How he got into the fight game certainly piqued my interest. So I forgot about football that day, read everything I could about him and, of course, eventually got around to talking to “The Gladiator” about his career — often for hours and hours at a time.
Calcinore enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1944. He was only 17, still a feisty teenager when he arrived for basic training up on Manhattan Beach in N.Y. So when the boxing-fanatic base commander offered 48-hour weekend passes to anyone who participated in his camp fights, Calcinore — with no more training than the occasional neighborhood scrapes — was front and center.
He fought, and he got more than his share of weekend furloughs.
Calcinore never lost while in New York, and by the end of 1945 — after “just fooling around on the canvas” as he once said aboard a destroyer escort ship in the North Pacific — he won both the Coast Guard’s light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. He owned a spotless 61-0 record when he received his honorable discharge the following year, but didn’t leave the ring.
He joined the Pen-Mar Boxing Club in Philadelphia and soon after would win all of his eight bouts on a swing up and down the West Coast. After returning home, he won the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, ending the title bout just 20 seconds into the first round.
Calcinore was 23-0 with 18 knockouts as an amateur. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “(Calcinore’s) very popular … through his fistic powers and aggressiveness.” The former Daily Republican in Phoenixville wrote, “(Calcinore’s) a local gladiator with a pile-driving left hand and a right hand full of dynamite.”
Sure enough, Calcinore decided to move up into the professional ranks.
His light-heavyweight debut, against Trenton’s Ossie Sims at Hamid’s Pier on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, ended 40 seconds into the second round. That’s all the time Calcinore needed to deck Sims.
He picked up a couple of nicknames early on — like “Farmer John” and the “Blackhaired Belter” — and because of knockout after knockout, 61 wins without a loss as an amateur and pro, the 170-pound Calcinore ran out of opposition. Neither his trainer nor manager could come up with an opponent. The 23-year-old Calcinore, who Ring Magazine hailed as the “most outstanding light-heavyweight prospect in the country” simply could not get a fight.
So he moved up to the heavyweight division and, after undergoing surgery for appendicitis, lost for the first time. Dan Bucceroni, a towering presence, outlasted Calcinore for a 10-round decision. They would battle again, before an overflowing crowd at the former Shibe Park in Philadelphia, and despite knocking Bucceroni to the canvas, Calcinore lost another 10-round decision.
“We fought wars,” Calcinore said of the bouts with Bucceroni, who would soon become and then remain one of his closest friends until the Philadelphia native’s death four years ago.
In 1951, after three straight wins improved his professional record to 34-4, Calcinore decided to step out of the ring for good.
“I don’t know why I quit when I did,” he once said (and often repeated when asked through the years).
There were some people who could believe Calcinore was a boxer after he walked away from the ring and strolled into area paddocks to became a farrier — a specialist in equine hoof care.

“Some big words, but I was just a blacksmith who shoed horses,” Calcinore said, breaking into a laugh during a casual conversation several years ago.
It was a job Calcinore took as serious as a title fight. It was a job that required a blacksmith’s skills (fabricating, adapting and adjusting metal shoes) with a veterinarian’s skills (knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the lower limb) to care for horses’ feet.
Calcinore was as good, if not better, working the thoroughbred tracks around the Delaware Valley as he was working a roundhouse in the ring.
But what struck everyone who knew him was how his big hands — the ones he used to fight his way through an outstanding career as a boxer and the ones he used to shape a very respected and successful career as a farrier (which included serving as president of the Blacksmith Guild) — could ever sculpt a slab or slice of steel, iron or any other imaginable metal into a piece of art.
Whether it was gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures or an iron fence around the house; the perfectly-fitted shoes for the many horses he and his family and friends rode in fox hunts; or the meticulously shaped necklaces, bracelets, lockets and rings … John Calcinore used only an anvil and hammer – along with an obsession to use both the best he could – to create a masterpiece.
It was oh so similar to the passion he had for life.
As a loving husband, caring father … as a family man.
As a gentleman.
And, above all, as a friend.