Annarella recalls magical season
From the outside, Phil Annarella had a task more difficult than most.
The former Warren Western Reserve coach saw the 1989 football season end with a postseason loss to Cleveland St. Ignatius.
Crosstown rival Warren G. Harding finished with a record under .500.
The two consolidated into one for the 1990 season.
The Raiders nickname and school colors came with Warren Western Reserve. The Panthers brought the school name as the two melded the west and east sides of Warren into the Warren G. Harding Raiders.
The players came together in what was seen as this proud town’s super team. Feelings of being a Panther and Raider still loomed around Warren.
“It was never difficult with the kids,” said Annarella, who is in his 11th season as coach at Austintown Fitch. “The only thing we had to do was battle some of the things they were hearing from the outside. It was the adults that were more of the headaches than the kids were.
“The kids were terrific — both sides of town. That was one of the most unique and most memorable years of coaching I’ve had because of that. The way they responded and came together as group. Being fortunate enough to coach that group of young men.”
The season ended in a 14-0 season and a Division I state championship against Cincinnati Princeton at the Akron Rubber Bowl.
“I was very fortunate they hired me to coach that consolidated team and just blessed in that respect,” Annarella said. “Besides the kids, I would be remiss if I did not mention, I had a tremendous group of co-coaches that coached with me in that consolidated year.
“Besides the kids, I was absolutely blessed to be surrounded by a bunch of guys who were awesome human beings and awesome coaches.”
Annarella, who has more than 230 victories in his tenure as coach, and three other state championship coaches (Joe Novak, Tom Batta and Ed Glass) are the focus of the second annual NFL Legends Reunion and Celebrity Golf Outing, which takes place Sept. 24-25 at the Trumbull Country Club.
Annarella is humbled by the honor.
“Like I told a couple of people who called me about it, ‘You got three good ones and somehow I got lumped in there.’ Make sure you honor those other three guys. They probably did a much better job than I did,” Annarella said.
He occasionally sees former players from that team and they reminisce about that 1990 season.
One day, Annarella would like to meet with all the surviving members of Harding’s last state championship team.
“I’ve kind of thrown it out there to a couple of the guys I’ve talked to,” he said. “I want to get all the guys together privately somewhere, maybe a little hall or something, have a little reunion and let their old coach pick up the tab and we’ll reminisce.
“Still looking to do that down the road.”
Those interested in attending the NFL Legends event can contact Virginia Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-506-6035, or Ray Yanucci at email@example.com or 216-870-1036.