Thousands turn out to pay respects to Annarella

Annarella impacted community

By Tom Williams


Phil Annarella’s impact on the Mahoning Valley was displayed in full force on Friday.

Admirers of the Fitch High school head football coach began lining up for his calling hours at the school about 105 minutes before the session began.

“There’s been a couple of thousand, easy,” said Jim Penk, the Fitch athletic director, of those paying respects during their six-hour observance at the school. “There were people here at 12:15 waiting to come in.”

Annarella, 70, died on June 8 of natural causes. His funeral will be today at 10 a.m. at St. Stephen Church in Niles.

Ray Hartsough, incoming president for the Fitch band parents, said Annarella was more than a football coach.

“Just a great man, somebody who really cared about making sure that the kids who were out on the field were good kids, period,” Hartsough said. “He took it really seriously that [his players] had a good relationship with the band.

“He would regularly come up to [band director Wes] O’Connor before football games and wish him luck on the Battle of the Bands,” he said. “He said that even though ‘we’re not keeping score, we know that you guys are the best.’

“Coach Annarella really went out of his way to make sure that our band felt like we were included and that it was a team effort.”

After games, Annarella’s players gathered in front of the Falcons band.

“We’d play the fight song on a win and we played the alma mater when we lost,” said Jeremy McClaine, an assistant band director. “Win or lose, [the players] were always there.

“He was a big believer in values, hard work and discipline,” McClaine said. “And he saw that in what we do.”

Hartsough said the bonding “was something that made the band and the football team realize that we’re all one school and we’re all in it together. And that’s not always how it was in Austintown.

“He really changed the culture.”

Thirty minutes before calling hours, members of the football team walked arm-in-arm from the locker room to the auditorium.

“Everybody kind of parted away,” Penk said. “It was [emotional] to watch. They were carrying presents for the family. They had a couple of helmets signed by former players.”

Not long after, members of the band, choir and cheerleaders paid their respects. They were joined by many former players and coaches.

“It was very nice to see Boardman [coaches] and especially Warren [Harding],” said Penk, explaining that Steve Arnold’s Harding contingent numbered at least 15. “Every head coach under the sun, [and] athletic director we’ve seen come through.”

During his 47 seasons of coaching, Annarella also was head coach at The Rayen School, Warren Western Reserve, Warren Harding, Hickory and Niles. He spent the last 12 years at Fitch.

Jon Elliot, Fitch offensive coordinator the past two seasons, also coached with Annarella at Harding, Hickory and Niles.

“I’d trade anything for him to just be here right now so none of this was taking place,” Elliot said. Elliot wasn’t surprised at the turnout.

“I know how many people he touched and how many people loved him,” Elliot said. “There have been a ton of coaches [here].”

Elliot said more than football defined Annarella.

“He’d always talk about what was happening in baseball — Indians, Pirates,” Elliot said. “And he’d talk about basketball.”

Among the former players attending were twins Chris and Demetrious Davis, 2012 graduates.

“Hurtful feeling,” Demetrious Davis said of when he heard of Annarella’s death. “My first thoughts were of all the things he taught me, how he was a second father figure to me.

“It’s going to be weird not seeing him come out of that tunnel this season,” he said. “I thought he would coach forever.”

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