By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Coaching a PIAA Final Four football team two years ago was one of the highlights of Tim Scarvel’s athletic career. And while leading last year’s 9-loss team probably was as painful as the 2005 season was the pinnacle, 2006’s disappointment pales by comparison to what Scarvel is enduring in 2007.
The 100-member Reynolds Education Association collectively walked off the job Tuesday morning over contract negotiations that have lasted since January 2006. One of those REA members is Scarvel, a school guidance counselor and the Raiders’ head coach.
While Scarvel loves coaching — an approximate $4,000 part-time position — he values his livelihood more and won’t be crossing the picket line to mentor his team. His decision, and that of his assistants to honor the strike, could mean the end of his coaching days at Reynolds.
According to Wednesday’s edition of The Record-Argus, Scarvel said he was notified, via a Sept. 28 memo from Reynolds High principal Joseph Torok Jr., of the following:
“ ... In the event that a head coach or head advisor is an REA member and chooses not to coach or advise, it is expected that non-union coaches — those not members of the REA — fulfill their individual coaching obligations and continue their coaching duties. It is expected that the assistant coaches or advisors will perform all duties necessary to maintain the events, games, practices or activities. Failure to complete your individual coaching obligations may be considered job abandonment, and appropriate measures will be taken by the district.”
None of Scarvel’s varsity assistants — his father, Don; brother Frank, and Dan Gill and Josh Mull — are full-time Reynolds School District employees. However, in an interview with The Record-Argus, Scarvel said, “ ... The school issued them a veiled threat of some kind. (A letter) said that if they didn’t cross the picket line and coach, that disciplinary action would be taken. (But) they still chose not to cross the picket line.”
In a prior conversation, according to Wednesday’s published report, Scarvel said Torok told him, “ ... that if I didn’t go on (coaching) and didn’t encourage my coaches to go on and keep the program going, that I would never ‘survive.’ Asking Torok to elaborate, Scarvel told The Record-Argus Torok told him, “ ... you won’t be able to keep your job because too many people will be upset at you ... ”
In Wednesday’s Record-Argus, Torok denied making the remark. Contacted Wednesday evening following football practice, Torok said, “I can’t comment on Mr. Scarvel and any of the current coaching staff.”
However, regarding Torok’s published denial, Scarvel said, “That’s a lie, an out-and-out lie. He didn’t come out and say it (survival) specifically to me, but the words were, in effect, to my face that ‘You won’t be able to keep a job.’
“I’m tremendously caught in the middle,” Scarvel said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone conversation with The Herald. “As much as I love coaching, it’s not paying the bills. I had to take a look at my livelihood, the guidance counselor position.
“It’s a decision I’ve never had to make, but I did what I thought was the right thing to do at that time,” continued Scarvel, who started as a social studies teacher at Reynolds High in 1997. “I had to do it. I don’t make a living coaching; I make it from 7:30 to 3 o’clock every day. And my job’s being threatened — not as far as not having a job anymore — but seeking a fair wage.
“Coaches are caught in the middle, and I just had to make a decision I wouldn’t wish on any coach: To have to walk away from his kids,” Scarvel said.
The 34-year-old Scarvel, a Farrell High graduate, and his wife Adrienne have two children, Ashton, 4, and Braden, soon to be 3. He is in his fourth season as head coach and 10th overall with Reynolds’ program, and said regarding his Raiders’ players,
“They’re like my second family. I’ve spent, in the last four years with these (10) seniors who came in with me when I became head coach, countless hours. People don’t realize, but football season is not Aug. 15 to the end of October or beginning of November. You’re in the weight room in January, passing drills in the summer. It’s a 12-month activity for a lot of these kids, and I’ve spent time with those kids every day,” Scarvel explained, admitting, “You go to battle with them every Friday night, so you want to be there for them, but I can’t. It’s a real tough situation.”
Scarvel spent Monday at practice with his team — there were no classes in observance of the Columbus Day holiday — but has only briefly talked with a few players since an 11th-hour REA/school district negotiating session lasted until 1 a.m. Tuesday, but proved fruitless.
Torok told The Herald Wednesday evening former Reynolds head coach John Sibeto, currently Reynolds Elementary’s principal, has been named acting head coach. Reynolds Athletics/Activities Director Steve Waleff is Sibeto’s first assistant, and Torok — who years ago coached wrestling and football at a Pennsylvania private school he chose not to identify — along with some parental volunteers, conducted practice Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sibeto coached Reynolds from 1993-96. His teams ended 2-6-1, 2-7, 6-3 (with season-ending losses to Hickory, Grove City and Sharon) and 2-7, respectively. He previously coached at Wilmington, and Torok said Sibeto recently has served as an assistant coach at some unnamed Lawrence County schools.
“The kids are pretty upbeat,” Torok reported. “And we’re happy to be able to extend this opportunity to them, despite this adverse situation. ... We’re prepared to finish out the remainder of the season.”
“Absolutely killing me. Absolutely,” Scarvel admitted regarding his new-found free time. “I met with the seniors last week when we realized this (strike) was coming to a head. This is the first group I had as head coach, and we talked about a half-hour. It was one of the hardest conversations of my life. It’s killing me. They’re caught in the middle, and it’s through no fault of their own, yet they’re the ones who’re suffering,” Scarvel emphasized. “It’s really bad.
“I’ve been trying to remember the last time on a Tuesday and Wednesday in October that I wasn’t at football practice ... I think it’s been about 20 years,” Scarvel reflected.
Now he’s uncertain if he’ll ever return to the Raiders.
“I don’t know if I won’t want to coach there again; I’m not sure that’s the right choice of words,” Scarvel began. “But I could easily see where I would not be coaching there again. It could be a situation where it’d be difficult to go back — to be wanted back.
“But I’d go back right now,” he emphasized. “If I got a phone call I’d be there in 10 minutes.”
Though speculative, if the current job action results in a protracted strike, it could conceivably last until Nov. 1. Reynolds’ season is scheduled to end Nov. 2 at Allegheny-Clarion Valley.
“I’m not in the middle of that (negotiations), but that’s what we’re being told,” Scarvel related. “We all hope it doesn’t last that long, but ... ”
However that’s not the worst-case scenario, to Scarvel’s mind. Rather, it’s this coming Saturday when Reynolds welcomes Hickory at 6 p.m.
“I don’t know,” Scarvel admitted. “I’ve thought about it quite a bit, obviously, the last couple days, but I’m not sure if I can go and watch that. A big part of me wants to, but another part of me doesn’t know if that’s the best idea. I don’t know if I can go there and not want to run out and interject myself into the game. I’d want to be with the kids, but I haven’t come to a final decision yet.”
By Ed Farrell