The Annual PSFCA East/West Game is Much More Than Just a Football Game
Written by: Billy Splain on Friday, May 5th, 2017
This Sunday at Altoona’s Mansion Park, at 2 pm, 68 players will step on to the field to play high school football. Most of them for the last time. The Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association has been holding their annual East/West All-Star game since 2001. Garry Cathell is Executive Manager for the PSFCA and talked about the history of this game. “We put this game together 16 years ago, the idea was to have another big all star game for players to get the experience other than the Big 33 game. I sent a flyer to a lot of people in the state asking if they’d be interested doing this and the response was all positive.”
“The challenges are I guess for any all-star game is the advertising and budgets, it’s acquiring the funds to run the game. You want the kids to get a lot of gear, and you want the kids to have a great experience. You have local and national organizations who run games also that you’re up against. There’s just a lot of work to be done.”
Garry was the Head Coach of the West team the first year the game was held. “It was a blast to be the coach of the first game. After getting through all the start up process, it was fun. We felt so comfortable with the group running the facilities at the game and we had some great players on that team. Some of them went on to play in the NFL and that’s neat running into those guys once in a while. ”
Jeff Slatcoff of Windber remembers that first game. “I remember getting a call from a coach on the selection committee. I didn’t really know what it was about. The guy told me this was all about the guys that weren’t selected to play in the Big 33 game. I thought it was great, he was rattling off the names of kids you see on those highlight shows on Friday nights, that’s pretty big.”
The starting quarterback for the first ever West team was Seton LaSalle’s Bruce Gradkowski. Bruce went on to attend Toledo, then was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Initially I worked out with the wide receivers. At some point one of the Qbs left and all we had was Bruce Gradkowski, the number 1 qb.”
“I mean yeah, we lose our number 2 qb during camp so during practice I ask “does anybody else have any experience at qb.” said Cathell. ” Slatcoff says “I do” so we tell him he’s the new number two but we aren’t worried. We have Gradkowski.”
“I was supposed to be the emergency, #3 qb” said Slatcoff. “Well the game starts, we’re driving down the field and down goes Bruce. As I said, I worked out with the wide receivers, I was supposed to be the emergency only #3 qb. I only had one day of the camp (early on players spent the week with host families) to go over some reps as qb but I spent the last 3 ½ quarters of the game at quarterback. We eventually lost, but the memory is lasting. The premiere game in the state is the Big 33 game, but there’s a lot more elite players in PA than there are spots on that roster. This game has a lot of talented players and this is a great way to celebrate their career and accomplishments. I was also honored because I was the only player from Somerset county chosen to play that year.”
Patrick Irwin of State College was the quarterback in the 2014 game. “Being selected to this game meant this I represented State College in a positive and effective way. It wan an honor” said Irwin. I was playing with and against very talented athletes who were able to play at the next level and it was pretty cool that I was part of it. It’s not every day that someone from State College gets to play with other athletes from Pittsburgh so it was pretty cool getting to practice and play with them. “ Irwin is now a receiver for Stony Brook.
Irwin’s team lost to the East team that year 35-25. The game was halted for a while due to an altercation on the field. This is a game with rosters full of very competitive players, most of whom are going on to play for teams like Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Boston College and many other elite college teams. Emotions run very high due to the pride and competitive spirit these players have.
Berwick’s CJ Curry was the East QB that year. “It was an incredibly honor to be picked out of so many great quarterbacks in the eastern part of the state to represent my team, my town, my conference, and the state. Playing with my teammate Dain Kowalski and being able to carry on the legacy of so many former Berwick football players who had the opportunity to play in a Big 33 game was a big deal to both of us. “
Curry, who threw 4 touchdown passes in that game, now plays for Kings College in Wilkes-Barre. “The thing that stood out to me the most was how fast our team meshed and became a family. We only practiced for two or three weekends before the game and everyone was a stranger when we met for the first time. That’s why football is so amazing though, in a few short weeks we all became great friends and I still talk to most of my teammates from that game. The memory that stands out the most to me is standing in the middle of the field holding up the trophy with late coach Danny Algeo and celebrating the win. Being able to be a part of Coach Algeo’s final win is something that is very special to all of us who played.” The East MVP award is named after Algeo and West after coaching legend Gowen Stoker.
The theme for all players interviewed for this article seems to be the same: playing against elite level athletes seems to be an honor and building relationships with those players lasts forever. That theme also runs true for former Blackhawk running back Cole Chiapialle, who first went to Penn State then transferred to Shippensburg.
“The game meant a lot to me, playing in a All-Star football game with the best players from western Pa against eastern Pa. It’s always talked about who’s better, east or west football in PA, so getting a chance to go against the east was a cool experience. What stood out the most was the competition of the game. This wasn’t a mess around game. Both teams came out and played hard and had fun doing it. I think overall the whole experience of the east/west game is my favorite moment. Getting to hang out with players that you have heard about but never played with before and get to see some of the best and go against some of the best players in Pa. Any time you get a chance to put on the pads and play this great game you gotta take advantage of it and the east /west game was a great experience and i will always remember it. “
Josh Kibbie of Kane played in the 2012 game and also holds those sentiments. “I was the first one to play in it from my school so it was a pretty good feeling. It’s for sure something I won’t forget. The different types of athletes. Being from a small school you don’t get to see to many big time athletes. When playing in this game I played with multiple D1 athletes so that’s what stood out to me. I thought it was pretty crazy that you have however many guys come together in a two week span and put a team together. It’s hard to remember back to a specific memory from that game. I would say the game itself. I met a lot of guys that I still talk to, also played against a lot of them college .”
This years squad is no different. Players like Amadou Barry, Tyshaun Pollard, Zach Gilbert, Brycen Mussina, Quinton Hill, Noah Woods and many more will line up against some of the best players from Pennsylvania one more time before moving on to play for their new college teams. For those of you hungry for high school football after the last five months without a game, Sundays PSFCA East/West All-Star game is sure to be a treat and something you shouldn’t miss out on.
EasternPAFootball.com and WesternPAFootball.net will provide extensive coverage of this game including real time instant replays via twitter all game long. Follow @epafootball and @wpafootball on twitter whether you’re at the game or can’t make it to Altoona.
For rosters and more info go here: http://www.westernpafootball.net/news/2017-psfca-eastwest-all-star-game-rosters-released/
Follow WesternPAFootball.com on Twitter @WPAFootball