High School notebook: Good sports all around

Coaches bond on football staff at West Allegheny

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The head football coach, head basketball coach and head baseball coach have a coaches summit every day on the football field at West Allegheny High School.

And then they all coach together.

You can bet there aren't many high schools in the country where the football, basketball and baseball head coaches all have important jobs on the same coaching staff, but that's the way it is nowadays with West Allegheny football. Dan Marshall, 35, was hired in the spring as the basketball coach. He is the offensive coordinator for the football team.

Bryan Cornell, 38, has won three WPIAL titles in baseball the past eight years at West Allegheny and is the defensive coordinator of the football team.

Marshall and Cornell both coach under Bob Palko, 54, who has won more WPIAL titles outright (seven) in 19 seasons than any football coach in the history of the WPIAL.

This is a change. These are the days where, at a number of schools, coaches don't get along with coaches of another sport because they tug at athletes. Maybe the football coach doesn't like the basketball coach because he wants his players to concentrate on football. Or vice versa. That's what makes this West Allegheny coaching triangle so refreshing.

"It's awesome," Palko said. "What people don't understand is we're like a family here and I really mean that. These two guys are like the brothers I've never had."

Cornell, a West Allegheny graduate, is in his 17th season coaching football and Marshall, who played football and basketball at Circleville High School in Ohio, is in his 15th season with the West Allegheny football staff.

Cornell said: "I can promise you that not many places are like what we have here -- and it's really all because of [Palko]."

Palko wears many hats at West Allegheny, including physical education teacher. Palko teaches an elective class at West Allegheny for physical conditioning.

"He works with athletes, non-athletes, it's unbelievable," Marshall said.

Cornell and Marshall use the class to condition their baseball and basketball players. The three coaches regularly schedule player workouts around each sport in the offseason.

"What's nice is we're all in this together," Palko said. "And it takes the pressure off a kid for having to choose a sport because we work together. Like, say a kid wants to concentrate on basketball and quit football. I'll say, 'Go ahead, even though you stink at basketball.' "

Palko laughed. The three coaches seem to have a special relationship, regularly throwing verbal jabs at each other.

"We try to get kids to play more than one sport because there are different aspects to get better at," Marshall said. "Like baseball is more of a thinking-man's game, which is why I don't know why [Cornell] would coach that."

Cornell said: "Hey, just when you do this article make sure baseball is put before basketball because I can't take having basketball mentioned first."

Around preseason camps

Some notes, quotes and anecdotes from the first week of football preseason camps:

• Stop at Pine-Richland's practices and you will likely hear music playing throughout the stadium. Coach Eric Kasperowicz started having the tunes played last year and the Rams play music throughout all practices.

"Just for distractions," Kasperowicz said. "We're an up-tempo, no-huddle team. We do all our coaching from film afterward. We're just trying to create as many distractions as we can to get used to it."

• West Allegheny parents and football boosters cook lunch for the team in the school cafeteria every day at preseason practices. Most days, there will be an 88-year-old woman cooking in the kitchen. It's Laverne Palko, mother of Bob.

• First-year Charleroi coach Donnie Militzer wonders if 6-foot-9, 255-pound junior John Arnold is the biggest player in the WPIAL this season?

• Central Catholic has four players who are sons of former NFL players. Gunnar Frerotte is the son of former NFL quarterback Gus Frerotte. Gunnar, a junior, might be Central Catholic's starting quarterback. Gus, who was a head coach for two years at a St. Louis high school before moving to the area last year, is Central Catholic's quarterbacks coach.

Three former Steelers have sons at Central Catholic. Grant Foster is a Central Catholic running back and the son of Barry Foster. Braxton Swann, son of Lynn, is a receiver. Jamain Stephens Jr. is an offensive lineman and the son of the former first-round draft pick.

"The funny thing is they all play the same positions as their fathers," said Central Catholic coach Terry Totten.

• Also, Liam Sweeney, son of longtime NFL offensive lineman Jim Sweeney, is a starting fullback/linebacker at Seton-LaSalle.

Rowan might leave

Maverick Rowan is a talented basketball player at Lincoln Park. He already has accepted a scholarship to Pitt and was on the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 last season as a sophomore. But there is a chance Rowan might not finish his career at Lincoln Park.

Rowan is contemplating attending Montverde Academy, a private school in Florida. Montverde has a strong basketball program that is recognized nationally. Montverde has a high school team and also a prep school team that will be coached this season by former Blackhawk star and University of North Carolina player Dante Calabria.

Rowan's father, Ron, said his family has not yet made a decision on whether Maverick will stay at Lincoln Park.

More transfer news

• Paris Ford, who started on Central Catholic's basketball team last season as a freshman, is now at Seton-LaSalle and will likely start at defensive back. "He looks as promising as you can look for a sophomore," said coach Damon Rosol.

• C.J. Thorpe was a varsity lineman last year as a freshman at Shaler. Now he is a lineman at Central Catholic. Thorpe's older brother, Niko, followed a similar path. He left Shaler after a sophomore season in which led the Titans in rushing. Niko ended up as a standout linebacker at Central Catholic.

• Shawndale Jones averaged 19.5 points a game last season as a sophomore at North Hills, but is no longer at the school. He has enrolled at Kiski School, a prep school in Saltsburg, and has "reclassified" to be a sophomore again. He also is expected to play football at Kiski. Jones would have only two years of eligibility if he stayed at North Hills, but Kiski is a prep school that doesn't follow PIAA or WPIAL rules.

What lies ahead

Most WPIAL football teams will scrimmage Friday night and the first games will be played the following Friday. Looking ahead to the first Friday night, some of the top contests are North Allegheny at Seneca Valley, Upper St. Clair at Penn Hills, Ringgold at Thomas Jefferson, Central Valley at Montour and Monessen at Greensburg Central Catholic.

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.

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