For Mount Carmel graduate and head coach Carmen DeFrancesco, tonight's District 4 Class AA championship game is another homecoming trip of sorts, and it is one he will never tire of making.
Not only did DeFrancesco coach the Danville Ironmen, tonight's opponent, for five seasons (1995 through 1999), he lived in Danville for 11 years. After he left the Danville job for Shamokin, he continued to live in Danville, only finally moving (to Sunbury) after taking the head coaching job at Upper Dauphin High in Elizabethville.
DeFrancesco's first time back to coach against Danville came two years ago in the D4 AA semifinals. "They beat us, they had a heck of a team that year, and it was a good game," he said.
He recalled going to the Danville-Lewisburg final a week later and feeling bad for his former team. "Danville dominated that game. Lewisburg should have never won."
Now he comes back for another chance to beat the team that his former community holds dear.
"That was without question the best years of my life, and I mean that professionally and personally," DeFrancesco said about his time in Danville.
He said the one thing that kept the previous game at Danville and tonight's contest from being a problem for him emotionally is that the Ironmen no longer play in F.Q. Hartman Stadium, their home for his tenure there. Now they play at Danville Ironmen Stadium.
"It's a good thing F.Q. Hartman is gone. That was a special place. That's where I have so many memories, and that great run we had was all down by the river. So when I stepped on that field out there two years ago, it was just another football field and I was really happy about that. I had no emotional tie, and it was an easy transition."
He added, "The older I get and the longer I am away, it gets easier, but, if they would still be playing at F.Q. Hartman, I would definitely have an emotional struggle there, because of the great time I had there," he said.
Nevertheless, he will always recall Danville with fondness. "I know so many people, it's always nice to go back. Yes, we are playing an away game (tonight) but, for me personally, it's like a home game," he said.
Having grown up in football-crazed Mount Carmel, DeFrancesco knows a thing or two about great football communities. That is what he sees in Danville.
"I love that place. What a lot of people don't realize is that it is a big football town and it was an exciting five years for us."
He was referring to his son and himself.
He coached his son, Carmen III, who left his mother's home in Mount Carmel and moved in with his father in Danville.
"He was an eighth grader at Mount Carmel and he wasn't sure whether he wanted to stay with his mom or come with me and play here. We went through a horrible divorce and he decided to come with me. My son had a great experience, got a great education and I ended up living there for 11 years, and I really made that my home. I still consider it my second home. I love that place."
He said he would probably still be there had he not taken a job so far away, after the Shamokin tenure was over.
"I was planning on making that place my home. I have a lo of friends there." he said.
But tonight, Danville's one-time adopted son will try to break their hearts, by ending the season for their beloved Ironmen.
n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.