Wilson finds hope in football

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Wilson High football office isn't much to look at.
It's a combination equipment shed (pads and jerseys are scattered on the floor), video room (basically, a TV on a stand with a VCR) and storage room for mail, attendance sheets, benches, tackling dummies and just about anything else you can fit.
For the past 50 years, Wilson football hasn't been much to look at, either. And the man with the area's toughest coaching job knows it.
"The biggest problem is that you have kids with no reference to success," first-year coach Dan DiGiacomo said. "You're asking kids to spend an enormous amount of time and effort for something with almost no payoff. That's tough."
Since 1927, the Redmen have won three City Series football titles. The last came in 1951 when they shared it with South and East. They won outright titles in 1942 and 1946.
You don't need to tell DiGiacomo the numbers. He already knows.
"Throughout history, Wilson has never had a good football program," he said. "I think the only reason they won it in 1946 was because they got some 21-year-olds back from World War II. After fighting a war, what the heck are a few football games?"
Sharing success
But DiGiacomo loves football. He knows success. He played for Dave Hartman at Fitch in the 1980s when the Falcons were winning Steel Valley titles and going to the playoffs.
"We had great coaches at Fitch," DiGiacomo said. "I always wondered why we were so good. Now I realize. It was the coaches."
And the booster club. And the players. And a whole host of other things.
Wilson went 2-8 last year, beating Canton Timken and gaining a forfeit win from Ursuline. The Redmen have started this season 0-3, getting outscored a combined 150-6 by Boardman, East Cleveland Shaw and Poland.
Problem is, many of Wilson's best players go elsewhere. Shaun and Ben Lane transferred to Hubbard. Maurice Clarett played at Hillman Middle School before transferring to Fitch, then Warren Harding.
"Mooney and Ursuline leech off the best kids in junior high," Wilson senior quarterback Ryan Baily said. "But I can't blame them. They're just trying to better themselves."
Baily (5-foot-8, 170 pounds) stayed. He's a two-year letterman and one of the few bright spots for the Redmen.
"It's worth it to stick through the season," he said. "I love playing football. Football is supposed to be fun. But playing these big schools takes the fun out of it."
When asked why smaller schools won't play Wilson in football, DiGiacomo said, "It's a combination of a lot of things."
He didn't elaborate. He didn't need to.
"The thing is, after losing so much, the wins don't feel all that much different," Baily said. "But I played with the Little Redmen in youth leagues when we'd make the playoffs. I know what winning feels like. I'd like to feel it again."
Uphill climb
Wilson has gone 20-76 over the past 10 years. Its best season came in 1993 when a teachers strike wiped out three games and the Redmen finished 4-3.
Most of the school's good athletes don't play football, and some even ridicule Baily for playing for a losing program.
"I don't even reply to that," he said. "Those guys are usually the ones sitting at home not doing anything. If more people came out and had a better attitude, we could turn this around. Our coaches do a great job. I've learned a lot this year."
Rayen has similar problems. Many hope that consolidating the schools will solve some of the problems.
"When you take the two programs, you might be able to fill in some of the gaps," DiGiacomo said. "Maybe one school has backs and the other has lineman. You could get a complete team.
"I think something really positive could come out of it. I hope so."
Me too.
XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at scalzo@vindy.com.

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