The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 4, 2012

Harold Raker's column on high school football: Coaches running out of options

Daily Item

---- — After five weeks, one might wonder if the 2012 high school football season is being sponsored by Blue Cross.

And it might be appropriate if some of the teams had hired Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John as their trainers.

OK, one more. Instead of "Hut, hut," football fans have heard coaches yell "Medic!"

Of course, for the athletes involved, their teammates and coaches, the numerous injuries this season, especially those that have sidelined some players for the season and, in the case of seniors, their careers, are anything but humorous.

It has been a nightmare for coaches all across the Valley.

Only one team that I can think of has entirely escaped the injury bug and, for fear of being accused of jinxing that school, it shall remain nameless.

Heading the list of M*A*S*H units disguised as football teams are coach Mark Burrows' Warrior Run Defenders and coach Dan Foor's Shamokin Indians.

When I asked second-year coach Burrows last week how many starters he had lost to injuries, he had to stop and think. He would have needed to remove his shoes to tally them up. Suffice it to say it was in the neighborhood of a dozen.

When I was going over his starting lineup, after yet another lineman had gone down with an injury, Burrows was struggling to come up with a player to fill the spot. After some thought, he told me to put in Robert Hickey. Before I could dutifully add that name to the lineup, Burrows let me know that he was joking. Hickey is the band director.

And so it has gone for a team that was looking to take another step back toward the successful program that Defenders' fans had come to root for several years ago.

In Coal Township, Foor has seen what should have been a carryover from last year's second-half run which had the Indians winning the District 4 Class AAA title as well as a first-round state playoff game, look way too much like the first half of the 2011 season.

Like the Defenders, the Indians started losing starters in the preseason and the hits just kept on coming.

Foor said this week that the team has maintained a high morale and noted that neither the players nor the coaches are going to cry about something they can not control.

Foor told me after a heartbreaking loss to then unbeaten Selinsgrove two weeks ago that there was no more talk about playoffs because, he contended, what happened last year to allow a 3-7 team to get into the D4 AAA playoffs was not going to happen again. Well, guess what? With four teams qualifying, it appears that the same four teams -- Selinsgrove, Shikellamy, Milton and Shamokin -- will be there again. All that is left to be determined is the seeding. This assumes that East Juniata, the only other team with a win, does not pull a couple of upsets in the second half of the season.

Other teams with high hopes dashed, at least in part the result of key injuries, was Mount Carmel, now on a three-game losing streak after entering the season ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AA by Pennsylvania Football News (the Red Tornadoes have lost the services for a few games of standout linemen Mike Scicchitano and Eric Joraskie); defending Heartland Athletic Conference Division I champion Mifflinburg, which has yet to put starting running back/linebacker Michael Wiand on the field, and also lost running back Tanner Bingaman for the first four games; East Juniata, which, under first-year coach Simon Cameron lost several starters, including its best all-around athlete, David Brantley; and Shikellamy, which is still waiting to field the team that new coach Todd Tilford wanted to see open the season.

Here's hoping things go better in the second half.

n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school football for The Daily Item. Email comments to