38th Raabe Classic ready for Saturday kickoff

Lori Chase
Port Allegany Reporter Argus
August 4, 2011

After sweating through record heat during the first few days of practice for the 38th annual Big 30 Don Raabe Charities Classic all-star football game, a near-perfect midsummer evening welcomed the Pennsylvania squad to Port Allegany last Wednesday. Following the team photo shoot, Pennsy players and coaches put in a solid two-hour session at Gator Field before packing up for the night.

As his players headed into the locker room, head coach Jason Barner of Kane High School couldn’t conceal his anticipation for the upcoming game, slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday night at Bradford’s Parkway Field.

“The attitude has been phenomenal,” he said. “The kids are working hard picking it up, and we’re very pleased with where we’re at offensively and defensively. It’s been a riot.

“There are things we have to work on, obviously, timing we have to get down a little bit better. But I’m very happy with the running game right now, how we’re blocking up front and how the kids are running the football. Defensively, I’m very impressed with how the kids are picking up the different packages that we’ve put in and how fast they’re responding to it. They’re moving well and they’re playing fast, which is what I want to see. The end-all, be-all is that they’re picking up our system – all different kids from different schools. For them to be picking up our system this quickly, we’re pretty happy.”

Barner’s quarterback in Kane, Alex Anderson, will handle one offensive unit, with Elk County Catholic’s 1,700-yard rusher Ricky Pearsall and Warren fullback T.J. Latimer lining up behind him. The other backfield is an all-Bradford affair, with quarterback Cody Coats handing off to Pat Pascarella – the Big 30 Player of the Year in both football and baseball – and fullback Mark Havers. Port’s Camrin Stuckey is one of three wide receivers who will carry in plays, splitting time between both groups.

Another Gator, Seth Lowery, will anchor one of the defensive units at linebacker. After a discussion by the committee, the game’s mandatory 5-2 formation was scrapped this year in favor of the more widely used 4-3 set. That’s just fine with Barner, the 2007 co-Big 30 Coach of the Year.

“I love it for my coaches and myself,” the sixth-year Wolves mentor said of the move. “It’s what we run at Kane, so for us it’s a natural fit to teach it. But I think it’s better for the kids and will be better for the game, too, I believe. It allows the overall flow of the game; that’s where everything is trending to. So I love the change to it. We’re very excited about that.”

The Pennsy squad should have a definite edge in the kicking game, with the third Gator player, kicker Ken Kysor, and ECC punter David Bojalad both earning All-State honors during their careers.

“We definitely have some pretty good kids there,” Barner said. “They both are kicking well, and the kids respond to that. That’s a big part of the game; I’ve been telling them special teams is 33 percent of the game. So you have to be very solid in those areas, and that’s why we devote a lot of time to it. Tonight, we spent almost 40 minutes on special-teams stuff, because you have to get that down. But they’re doing good; we’re happy with it.”

Barner also feels fortunate that Stuckey, Kysor’s regular holder, is on the team.

“That’s a really big benefit,” he said. “He and Camrin feed off each other, and that’s good. They’re used to it, obviously. Those two know each other, and Camrin’s a very good holder – Kenny’s a very good kicker, but Camrin’s a very good holder – so on a bad snap, he adjusts to it and gets great holds. You can see the mesh they have; there’s no hiccup at all.”

Asked for further insight on the Port High representatives in the game, Barner heaped praise on the three Gator all-stars.

“They’ve been phenomenal,” he said. “Great kids, great work ethic. They picked it up like sponges, they’re very polite, and they’re leaders. You can tell that’s why they’ve had success – because they’re good kids, and they lead. That’s what we need in this game, that leadership, and they’re all standing out and having fun. They seem to be having a riot, always laughing. They’re good kids. This town should be very proud of them, that’s for sure, because they’re good eggs.”

Players from Bradford, Cameron County, Coudersport, Eisenhower, Elk County Catholic, Kane, Johnsonburg, Otto-Eldred, Port Allegany, Ridgway, Sheffield, Smethport, St. Marys, Warren and Youngsville comprise the Pennsylvania roster for this year’s game, while two Chautauqua County schools, Frewsburg and Southwestern, join traditional Big 30 members Allegany-Limestone, Bolivar-Richburg, Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Cuba-Rushford, Ellicottville, Franklinville, Gowanda, Olean, Pioneer, Portville, Randolph, Salamanca and Wellsville to form the team representing New York.

The Empire State currently holds a 19-16-2 series lead. Pennsylvania has won five of the last seven meetings, but will be looking for payback from last year’s game, a wild 46-37 New York victory which marked the second-highest total score in Big 30/Raabe history.

Barner is well aware of both the game’s history and what it means to the area – the first 37 games have raised a total of almost $1.5 million for charities and personal causes throughout the Twin Tiers – and he can’t wait for Saturday night to get here.

“Everybody’s ecstatic,” he said. “The kids are pumped for it, and for me to have a chance to do this in this game, it’s special to have this opportunity to coach these kind of kids that are into it and love it – and for the cause and what it stands for. I’m making these kids fully aware of what the benefit is about, and to represent your community, and they’re picking up on that as well.

“It’s an honor to be asked to do this. Pretty humbling.”

***

Besides Stuckey, Lowery, and Kysor, four more members of Port Allegany’s Class of 2011 – plus two other players with local ties – will also take part in Saturday’s events. Cora Bova, Breanna Foster, and Caryne Healy are all part of the Raabe cheerleading squad, while Renee Edgell will be recognized along with other area Homecoming queens.

Healy continues a long Big 30/Raabe Classic family tradition. Her father, Luke (1981), and older brother, Bryce (2009), were both selected for the game (though Luke was unable to play due to injury), and her mother, Sue, cheered at the 1982 contest.

The rosters also include two sons of Gator football alumni, Bradford’s Connor Borowski (Steve, 1981) and Wellsville’s Aaron Strait (Bob, 1976).

***

Saturday’s festivities kick off at 2 p.m. with a parade through downtown Bradford featuring the two teams, cheerleaders, and Homecoming queens. The route begins at Davis Street and follows Main Street, turning right onto Mechanic Street, then heading out West Washington Street and up Bennett Street to Parkway Field, where events are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.

The pregame ceremonies will include a moment of silence in memory of Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Ken VanGiesen, a Kane native and former Big 30 Game player who was killed in action in Afghanistan on July 18. A three-year letterman for the Wolves, VanGiesen played on the offensive line for Pennsylvania in the 1999 game, a 30-14 New York victory.

SSgt. VanGiesen is the second recent Big 30 Game participant to give his life in service to his country. Sgt. Jason Denfrund, a Cattaraugus Central graduate who represented New York in the 2000 game, died in Iraq on Christmas Day 2006 while serving with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. The Raabe Classic committee retired his No. 90 jersey the following year.

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