The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 16, 2013

Windber's DeMarco headed to PSFCA Hall of Fame

Mike Mastovich

JOHNSTOWN — Phil DeMarco admits statistics don’t mean much to him.

When DeMarco retired from Windber High School only eight victories shy of the 200 win mark, a reporter asked his brother and long-time assistant coach Ralph DeMarco if Phil realized how near he was to the milestone.

“That kind of stuff doesn’t matter to Phil,” Ralph DeMarco said at the time.

In fact, in a draft of the biography Phil DeMarco submitted for his upcoming induction into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, he didn’t mention records, titles or winning streaks.

The former Ramblers coach preferred to recognize those who helped mold him throughout his career, which started as an assistant at Westmont Hilltop before his successful run at Windber.

DeMarco pointed to the impact of his family, including his wife of 31 years, Donna, and son, Philip, who both played for and coached with him. He credited his late parents and brother, Ralph.

The actions of his Ramblers players and coaches spoke with authority about the job DeMarco did at Windber. Phil might not talk about the numbers, but he indeed has a PSFCA Hall of Fame resume.

“I was totally surprised. I never expected it,” said DeMarco, who will join the Class of 2013 during a ceremony held in conjunction with the June 15 Big 33 game in Hershey. “That’s not something you’re thinking about. It is a tremendous honor.

“I’m not much of a statistic guy,” DeMarco added. “I’m more appreciative of the people who had an impact on my life in my early years.”

Single winging it

Still, there are plenty of worthy statistics and titles to validate DeMarco’s upcoming induction.

Five district championships and a regular-season winning streak that extended over parts of seven years are two of the most telling highlights during the coach’s 26-year tenure at the Somerset County school.

DeMarco also was an innovator who scrapped the successful offense his team used for years in favor of the single wing, a formation first utilized in the early decades of football. The deceptive single wing rejuvenated the 2004 Ramblers and created fits for WestPAC defenses during DeMarco’s final seven seasons.

“People were saying, ‘What the hell are you doing DeMarco? It’s not broken.’ I just felt at the time it was time to try something new,” said DeMarco, who put in the single wing after a 7-3 season in 2003. “I remember going through some of my old coaching magazines and I saw a four-part series on the single wing. I said, ‘That’s it.’

“What’s happening in football today? It’s all shotgun. Call it what you want, but it’s the single wing. They’re still using it at Windber, and I hope they continue to use it. We just thought it was an edge. It takes a lot of preparation, especially pure single wing, which we ran in the early years.”

DeMarco compiled a 192-86-5 career record with 13 district title-game appearances.

From 1985 to 2010, his teams had only three losing seasons.

The Ramblers posted at least nine victories during 10 seasons. Six times, Windber had 10 or more wins in a year, with the 2000 squad going 12-1 en route to a District 5/6 Class A crown.

“Phil was a great coach. His kids were always well-disciplined, always aggressive and played good, clean football,” said retired Conemaugh Valley coach John Jacoby, a member of the PSFCA Hall of Fame whose Blue Jays were a conference rival of DeMarco’s Ramblers. “They were always an adversary of ours. The last couple years I coached, we lost to them by a couple points each time (during Windber’s winning streak). He did a super job. His induction is well-deserved – overdue, I think.”

The streak

From Oct. 24, 1997 to Sept. 12, 2003, Windber won 49 consecutive regular-season games.

“You don’t plan it. It just started to evolve,” DeMarco said. “That took effort, it really did. We tried to keep things in perspective. We made a concerted effort to keep things in perspective. People were assuming we were going to do it again. Can you do it again? We just went season to season.

“No. 1, we had some tremendous athletes during that time period. We had great kids. Dedicated, loyal, hard-working kids. We worked at it.”

When DeMarco took over the Ramblers program,  Windber had a combined two victories in the previous two seasons.

In his second year as head coach, DeMarco led Windber to a 9-1-1 mark and a District 5-AA runner-up finish in 1986.

“It didn’t take long when I became a part of the rivalry for me to realize what an outstanding job Phil did as a coach at Windber, and even before that, when he was at Westmont,” said former Johnstown High and Conemaugh Township coach Jerry Davitch, who was part of the intense Windber-Township rivalry in the 1990s. “We became friends from the get-go. I always enjoyed competing against him or even bumping into him outside of football. We had a lot of respect for each other. I respected how he conducted himself and his program.

“Windber’s kids played very, very hard. You knew they played rugged, disciplined football. You knew you had to be ready to play when you played Windber. Phil came to coach. His kids came to play. It never was going to be easy when you played Windber.”

Title matches

Under DeMarco, Windber won district titles in 5-A (1989, 1994, 2005, 2008) and 5/6-A (2000).

The 2000 title against a powerhouse Bishop Carroll program is among the most celebrated in the program’s history. Windber won 10-7 on a late field goal.

“Obviously, I’m very excited for my brother. My brother is an old-fashion type of coach,” Ralph DeMarco said. “He can ‘X’ and ‘O’ with anybody. He watched endless hours of film when he coached. His attitude was we’d be positive and we weren’t going to be outworked or out-prepared. He’d be the first to tell you we had a lot of quality student-athletes who played for him.”

Phil DeMarco retired as a junior high social studies teacher during the 2010-11 school year. He decided the timing was right to step away from the football program as well.

His final team in 2010 went 5-5.

DeMarco left 17 returning starters and a junior varsity team coming off of an undefeated season to new Ramblers coach Matt Grohal, a long-time assistant who played on DeMarco’s first team in 1985.

Grohal has carried on Windber’s winning tradition for his coach.

Many fans, players and coaches, not to mention media types in the area, thought DeMarco would stay on another year or two to reach the coveted 200-win milestone.

“People forget that Phil coached for 40-some years. He coached at Westmont,” Ralph DeMarco said. “He was in the business a long time. He was a lifer in the business. In his mind, it was the right time to go. 

“He always told me, and I’ll never forget this, ‘When I leave I don’t want to leave out of necessity. I want to leave feeling good and knowing that whoever takes over is not starting from scratch.’ ”

Phil DeMarco’s next football stop will be in Hershey.

“It really makes me feel good whenever we get a local coach inducted into the hall,” said Chuck Sponsky, chairman of the PSFCA Hall of Fame committee and hall of famer who coached at Forest Hills and Bishop Carroll. “Phil is very deserving. It’s a great honor for Phil.”