Longtime equipment manager is heart and soul of Latrobe football program

Thursday, November 3, 2022 | 1:33 PM

Search the downtown streets or the outskirts of the Chestnut Ridge. Check the terminal of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport or the campus of Saint Vincent College.

You can try, but you aren’t going to find anybody happier to see the Latrobe football team winning again than Jim Feather.

The man everyone knows as “Fez” has been a part of the Latrobe football game day staff for 52 years and a fixture around the school’s athletic teams.

He began working on the chain gang in 1971 and took on more job duties over the years as a volunteer before officially becoming equipment manager in 1994.

He replaced Jack Frowen, who was the main equipment manager from 1975-94.

“I started out on the sticks,” he said. “I never imagined I would be doing this for so long, but I love it. It’s not work to me.”

Feather has seen countless games — more losses than wins, he figures — but he has never seen the Wildcats win in the WPIAL playoffs.

Could it finally happen Friday night?

Latrobe (6-4) plays at Highlands (9-1) in a Class 4A first-round game.

“We haven’t won six games since 2001. These kids have bought in to coach (Ron) Prady and his system,” Feather said. “We won that (WCCA) 7-on-7, and that was the start of things. They started believing. Like coach says, you’re guaranteed 10 games, but you have to earn the 11th. We earned it. We definitely have a chance.”

Feather, 70, will be the biggest cheerleader — literally, he’s a towering 6-foot-5 — but in a professional manner, of course. He will make sure the uniforms and helmets are in order with the help of his dependable student managers, and he will add his two cents to the pregame pep talk.

His fist-pumps will be subtle but pure.

Again, try to find a more devout Latrobe supporter.

“There has never been a better pump-up guy than Fez,” Wildcats senior tackle/defensive end Ray Dupilka said. “He gets us fired up. Fez is great.”

A former steel worker, Feather said his goal is to make the daily routine easier for the coaching staff.

His greatest joy is seeing the team succeed, whether it be at venerable Memorial Stadium or on long road trips.

“I don’t have kids, but these kids here are like my own,” Feather said. “For me, it’s about the camaraderie with them and the coaches. None of this is work. I go to work all week, and I get paid on Friday nights.”

Prady considers Feather a part of his staff and a key member at that. Prady is the ninth head coach Feather has worked under.

“He just bleeds black and orange,” Prady said. “He loves the kids like they’re his own.

“People don’t see all that he does for the program. He gets the laundry done. He gets the decals on the helmets done. He gets the helmets and pads reconditioned. He makes my job a lot easier.”

A 1971 Latrobe graduate, Feather wanted to play varsity football, but knee injuries hindered and ultimately ended the aspiring tight end’s playing days. His first knee injury came in an outdoor pickup basketball game.

“Bothered me the rest of my life,” he said. “I have two bionic knees now.”

When he graduated, he got a call from then-athletic director Gary Garrison, who offered him a job holding the sticks and measuring first downs.

Feather, who has carried the nickname with him for 40 years but does not recall how it started, became enamored with the goings-on of the sidelines: the sights, the sounds, the finer details of the game.

He went on to help around the team, gathering dirty uniforms to be cleaned and taking inventory of shoulder pads and helmets.

“I even filmed games for six years,” he said. “And I was the call-in guy for game reports to Ralph Conde’s (WHJB) ‘Fifth Quarter’ show.”

Feather began adding female student managers in the 1990s, and the tradition stuck.

“Age hasn’t slowed him down one bit,” student manager Kenzie Johnson said. “He has such a good relationship with the players. I never even knew his name was Jim Feather. I saw that name on the door, and I was confused. He’s just Fez.”

Players seem to instantly warm up to Feather, whose tell-it-like-it-is mentality pairs well with his quick-witted sense of humor.

He’s often zipping around campus on his orange Gator tractor.

“You can always joke with him,” senior tight end/linebacker Corey Boerio said. “If you lose (a piece of equipment), he is going to heckle you, but it’s all in fun. I am sure every player who has come through here has a Fez story.”

Feather was a sophomore when Latrobe won the 1968 WPIAL championship, which remains the team’s only playoff win. Although, Feather does not see it that way.

The win is a point of contention with him.

“We’ve never won a playoff game here,” he said. “In ’68, Latrobe and Kiski Area had the top Gardner Points, so they played for the championship at Forbes Field. There was no playoffs leading up to that. In my mind, that wasn’t our first playoff win.”

The largest helmet Feather ever saw belonged to former Wildcats standout Tom Cawowski.

“Double extra large,” Feather said. “He also made the greatest play I ever saw here. In 1984, it was a late-season game and we were trailing Southmoreland at home, 10-7, with eight seconds left. Tom takes off, and every Southmoreland kid hit him, but they couldn’t stop him. He scored, and we won.”

One player required a specially tailored uniform.

“We had to take two pair of pants and split them to make one,” he said. “It was like a 60-inch (waist size).”

Latrobe added to the job of Feather and his crew when it began using three sets of uniforms: white, black and orange.

Feather, who worked in central receiving at Greater Latrobe High School from 2001-19, also has been the boys basketball scorekeeper for 35 years, works the clock at girls basketball games and keeps pitch counts and operates the scoreboard for baseball.

He was one of the first members of a game personnel crew to institute the use of a scoreboard in junior high and junior varsity football games.

“The refs were keeping the time by hand,” Feather said, “and they were shortening the 8-minute quarters. The games were ending in like an hour and 15 minutes. Something wasn’t right.”

But always, Latrobe’s uniforms were clean.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.


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