Niles seeks return to glory

NILES — Jim Parry felt the cement steps guiding his path, history surrounding him among the red painted metallic bleachers incrementally moving up toward the top.

The direction was clear as he made his way more than halfway up the west (home) side of Bo Rein Stadium, just off to the right of the two-tiered press box.

Parry found the particular area, sat down and reminisced.

“My dad (Jim) was a season-ticket holder for 30 years here,” said Parry after being named Niles McKinley High School football coach. “I sat down in his seats for a little bit and soaked it all in.”

Parry spent his childhood three streets away from the historic Bo Rein Stadium, remembers the late 1970s before he was 10 years old — Massillon, Canton McKinley and Warren G. Harding.

“I can remember the streets wouldn’t empty for about an hour after the game,” Parry said.

Fall in Niles — blue, red, white — the team colors swirled around as much as the pride for the Red Dragons teams.

The fandom was electric in this town which reveres its past triumphs, just hoping for the kind of spark Parry felt when he watched Warren Western Reserve come south to play in this historic venue.

Niles scored late in the game and the stands were actually shaking.

“I had heard stories of that, but that’s is the first time I’ve ever been part of that,” said Parry, a 1990 Niles graduate.

The responsibility is his to carry on the tradition. Red Dragons pride, a tradition constantly perpetuated by the Niles Frontliners — a booster group which maintains the upkeep of the program and stadium.

The fastest 10 weeks in the fall are under Parry’s command, a life he lived and thoroughly enjoyed during the late 1980s.

He stepped on the field for the first time this summer, exiting the concrete tunnel, climbing a few stairs to the field turf. Parry’s whistle hung from his neck as his wide-brimmed bucket hat shaded his view from the sun beating on the field.

“To me that was the feeling of the responsibility of this job, trying to make the community of Niles proud,” Parry said.

He started coaching under Bill Bohren at Niles almost two decades ago, but found his first head coaching opportunity — a seven-year stint at Mathews as the Mustangs made their first-ever playoff appearance. Stops at LaBrae and Harding followed and a quick stint back at Niles as an assistant before taking over the Red Dragons program. Bohren is on Parry’s staff.

Parry showed a picture on his iPhone of when his nephew Chris was young and around a huddle of Mathews players taking a knee. The younger Parry was in the background hanging on his uncle’s every word.

I’m fired up for whatever reason,” Jim said. “Half the kids aren’t listening to me. If you pan in the background, there he is standing there listening to every word. I’ve always said his attention being around football is what made him the player that he was.”

Chris, who is a student assistant with the Youngstown State football team, volunteers his time with the Red Dragons.

Chris was a non-scholarship wide receiver at West Virginia, whose 288 yards in a 2013 game against Canfield is a school record. His hard-hitting nature on defense, seemingly popping the opposition out of their cleats, feeds into his helping the YSU defensive backs.

“He’s kind of that bridge for us,” Jim said. “He was a throwback player back then. We want about 50 more throwback players like him.”

Chris teaches these young, wide-eyed players about the storied traditions and prepares them for the fever pitch to overcome Bo Rein Stadium on Aug. 23 against rival Girard.

He can’t wait to see his uncle take the sidelines as the new Niles coach.

“That is definitely going to give him some chills,” Chris said. “He’s always wanted it forever. I know he’s been dreaming about this since he was little.”

Traditions. He keeps them alive as the ghosts of the Niles past hover around Bo Rein and what used to be called Riverside Stadium.

The workouts involved some helmets, no pads though. Some are wearing yellow stretched caps covering the white stripes in between the blue. Parry refers to them as wings, a right to be earned if those young Red Dragons players want to sport the full-fledged helmet.

“I think they should feel privileged to play football at Niles McKinley,” Jim Parry said. “However you believe that comes about, that’s how I grew up thinking about it. I want them to have that same feeling.

“One of our team goals is to always to be the most excited to play. That’s not a win or loss kind of thing. We want it to be known at the end of the day they just got done playing Niles McKinley.”

It’s a proud tradition, one Jim’s father and mother, Jean, would be happy their son is continuing as they watch from above.