Brian Sullivan: PHS-St. Joe grid rivalry in jeopardy? I hope not
Is the nearly 100 years of high school football that is the Pittsfield High and St. Joseph's rivalry at risk of falling off the city athletic cliff? I sure hope not, but at this point there are few reassuring words on this important matter.
Gary Bianchi and Jack Quinn remain the keepers of the flame that is St. Joe football. The pair will remain in that role despite a minor shuffling of duties and titles announced last week. Bianchi will step down as head coach after 25 years and will be replaced by Quinn, who has been his top assistant in recent seasons. Bianchi will now become Quinn's top assistant.
Both played varsity football for the Maplewood Avenue school, Quinn going on to become an All-American defensive back and captain at Springfield College. His son, Brodie, will captain the Springfield College team this year as a redshirt junior.
The coaching shift was noteworthy, but the decision by the school to drop out of the Berkshire County League and seek an independent schedule begged an obvious and important question. And that was whether Pittsfield High -- and Taconic for that matter -- would remain city opponents on the new St. Joe schedule.
A couple of trophies will gather some dust if those games don't continue to be played. The three schools play for a city title trophy, while a separate trophy is given to the winner of the annual PHS-St. Joe game, which, again, has a century-old history.
"If there is any way that we can play the Pittsfield High game, then we will," said Bianchi, who is hoping that possibly it could be a Thanksgiving Day close encounter.
"Those are the hopes," echoed Quinn, about keeping the Pittsfield game on the schedule.
Taconic? Bianchi and Quinn both pointed out that since the inception of the Taconic program in the fall of 1969, there have been years when the two schools didn't play against one another. The history and sense of rivalry doesn't burn neither as hot nor sweet as the game with PHS.
It's a two-fold punch from which St. Joe reels. The overall numbers within the football program ebb and flow as does the overall talent level. Both are going to be at low tide in the upcoming years. It's a talent issue, but it's also a safety issue, Quinn said.
The immediate concern, however, is reconfiguring an independent schedule that may or may not include Berkshire County teams -- PHS and Taconic included -- and may or may not include home games depending upon what will surely be a tedious process of crafting together a season against teams that from a talent perspective fall within the parameters of what St. Joe is seeking.
St. Joe Principal Francis Foley, school Athletic Director Jim Stimpson, who jumped on board during the fall and who will reportedly replace Buddy Pellerin as the softball coach, and coaches Bianchi and Quinn have a lot on their respective plates as they move the football program forward.
With the state's new scholastic football playoff system in place for the fall of 2013, teams will be mandated to open with two independent games before embarking on a six-game league season. Those who qualify will continue forward with hopes of reaching a divisional Super Bowl contest that will crown a true state champion.
St. Joe, as an independent, can still qualify for the postseason. They would be wise to try and keep Lee, Drury and Monument Mountain on its schedule and hopefully find a way to maintain games with PHS and Taconic. That would leave just three slots to fill.
But starting from scratch will be difficult. When the dust settles, I'm hoping that a football game between St. Joe and Pittsfield remains intact. I can't believe the powers that be would fumble away 100 years of city tradition.
But the end result, Quinn added, may not be totally in the hands of St. Joe.
"We may be at the mercy of these other schools," Quinn said. "I don't think there's a quick fix."
That we have a Bianchi and Quinn in the middle of some PHS-St. Joe football drama shouldn't surprise anyone.
Travel back with me, if you would, to that overcast Saturday afternoon in November 1944, when the city rivals played one for the ages on the turf at Deming Field. It was the famous game that featured St. Joe's Frankie Koldys returning a late-game interception 102 yards, the key play in what would be a St. Joe victory.
On the field that day were John Quinn and Al Bianchi, who were playing for St. Joe and Pittsfield High, respectively. It was Jack's dad who threw the key block on Gary's dad that helped spring Koldys on his scoring run to glory.
All became good friends over the years and the running gag continued to be Al's claim that John didn't "block" him but instead "held" him.
Jack Quinn and Al Bianchi would later become teammates on the Golden Bears and Tyler Aces, two of Pittsfield's more famous semipro football teams.
Taconic High's head football coach Vin Barbarotta, his staff, and some THS players together attended a University of Connecticut football game. Good idea. Someone bought a beer. Bad idea. So, Barbarotta and his staff were not retained, ending a two-year 4-14 run.
So, don't feel bad for Vinny. He has been a Pittsfield giant for decades. His hours of volunteer work in the arena of youth sports and the city in general has a Hall of Fame feel. We just need to find a Hall of Fame to put him in. A fixture at Wahconah Park, whether it's working the chains during a football game or grooming the field for baseball, Vinny deserves a huge tip of the hat for all his extra efforts.
The Barbarottas and Bianchis are all related, Vinny and Gary are cousins, and in the day the Barbarotta house on lower Parker Street was a great neighborhood hang-out for St. Joe types. A lot of pasta, a lot of sports talk and a lot of fun. The Barbarottas were a big family and if you didn't know a Barbarotta growing up in the 1960s and 70s, then you weren't trying.
If the city were ever to consider a commemorative coin, then you could do much worse than to put Vinny's face on the front side. I don't know many with more Pittsfield DNA in his body than he. Vinny remains one of the good guys.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.
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