Low numbers concerning, but Jeannette football coach Hall not giving up

Sunday, May 23, 2021 | 5:14 PM

With lower participation numbers than usual at Jeannette, rumors have been swirling around the football program.

Coach Roy Hall has heard them all.

The season might be in jeopardy.

The Jayhawks might not be able to field a team this year.

A co-op with a neighboring district is imminent.

Hall can confirm those rumors are false — for now. But there is something to them.

The veteran coach said it is true numbers have dipped, and offseason conditioning attendance has been spotty. Not to the point of panic, but there is growing concern in the Jayhawks’ camp with heat week less than three months away.

“We had official sign-ups (Wednesday), and we had 29 kids,” Hall said. “Now some may not be your typical ballplayers, and who knows how many stick it out. When we had our workouts (in the winter), we only had nine or 10. Then you see 16 come in, and it’s more encouraging. It’s been up and down.

“Some kids, I think, are panicking because the Birches left, and they don’t think we’ll have a quarterback or whatever. I have never seen anything like it.”

The defending WPIAL Class A champion and PIAA runner-up will look a lot different in 2021. The program with the most wins in WPIAL history (766) and 10 district titles just won’t be the same. Can’t be the same.

Freshman quarterback Brad Birch and junior receiver/defensive back Brett Birch transferred to Gateway.

A promising sophomore, Ryan Kimmel, and junior Taishaum Jamison, transferred to Greensburg Central Catholic, Hall said.

Another junior, Basil Wilson, moved to Texas. And Hall said junior Louis Callaway also is moving out of the district.

Hall said he has heard other players are talking about leaving the program, too. There does not seem to one overriding factor that would explain the exodus or sudden disinterest.

Jeannette lost eight seniors from last year’s roster, which had 33 players.

All you can do is be positive and move forward,” Jeannette athletic director Ryan Hayden said. “It’s obvious that some of the players we lost were great players … but this provides opportunities for other people to step up.”

Jeannette does not want to end up like other undermanned programs in the WPIAL that had to play with a thin bench or had to forfeit games.

Monessen and Avella come to mind.

“It’s one thing to lose five or six two-way starters at a 6A or 5A program, and that hurts,” Hall said. “But when it happens at a 2A or A, it can be devastating.”

Jeannette is one of the smallest schools in Class A. Last year, just 46 seniors graduated — boys and girls.

“We don’t have a ton of kids to pull from,” Hall said. “We have never had this problem before here, not in my 36 years of coaching. WPIAL champs and state runners-up and we lose kids? Who would ever think it? It’s devastating to me. I can’t digest it.”

Jeannette superintendent Matt Jones said there has been a push to get more players out for the team.

“The good news is that as more students and families became aware of low numbers, there has been a bit of an upsurge in student interest in playing football,” Jones said. “(Athletic director) Ryan Hayden, in coordination with coach Hall, have been getting the information out to students, which has an interest in students that may have never played football before or haven’t played in some time.”

With that being said, safety could be a concern for newcomers who already might be behind in offseason preparation. But Hall and his staff want to hustle to get newcomers up to speed and prepared for the summer.

“The great thing about Jeannette is that many students participate in various activities, and there is grace in that from coaches and sponsors,” Jones said. “Everyone understands that our students may play multiple sports or may want to be in the band and play football at the same time. That is one of the things that makes our school so unique and special.

“It may be a learning curve for some, but the chance to wear a Jayhawk jersey in the fall is enough to motivate many students in this community.”

Three assistant coaches, Ryan Reitz, Trevor Petrillo and Doug Phillips, are leaving the program as well. The coaches’ departure is not related to the low numbers.

Reitz and Petrillo are planning to coach at Hempfield, and Phillips is stepping down to watch his grandson, Jake Phillips, play quarterback at Hempfield.

Reitz said he feels for Hall because of the longtime coach’s dedication to the Jayhawks.

“I have known coach Hall forever,” said Reitz, who is primed to be new Spartans coach Mike Brown’s offensive coordinator. “He has played a big role in my life. He held me when I was a baby. I know this has been hard on him. It’s not his fault. It’s not the coaches’ fault. We all want to the see the team do well, maybe take its lumps for a year and bounce back. But it doesn’t look good right now.”

Hall said he plans to weather the storm and do all he can to keep the program afloat.

“Jeannette football is all I know. I am a Jayhawk,” he said. “We’ll do what we can. We’re going forward with who we have. I am not a quitter.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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