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Shea, Longtime Warren Football Coach, Passes Away

John William Shea passed away Friday at the age of 87.

WARREN, Pa. — It’s been nearly 45 years, but I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that Saturday in November 1976 when the Warren High School football team made the short trip north to Jamestown to meet the Red Raiders.

First of all, the Dragons were unbeaten and ranked No. 6 in the Commonwealth when they arrived at College Stadium on a brilliant, sunny afternoon on the city’s east side.

While the weather was perfect, the field was anything but.

An overnight snowfall that left several inches of the white stuff on the ground by morning ultimately gave way to sunshine, turning the field into a quagmire. By early afternoon, the field was a complete mess.

That’s when — from my vantage point in the packed bleachers — I saw for the first time a guy I later learned was John William Shea. He was wearing a knit cap and a navy blue sweatshirt with “W-A-R-R-E-N” stitched across the chest in white letters. He was also the guy who was carrying on a conversation with Joe Sanfilippo, Jamestown High School’s legendary coach. Because I was a sophomore member of the JHS marching band rather than the football team, I had not been educated about the man known affectionately as “Toby.”

Upset by the conditions, Shea, according to a report in The Post-Journal, refused to let his team take the field until moments before the scheduled 1:30 p.m. kickoff, and that only happened after there was an idea floated about the possibility of a forfeiture if Warren didn’t decide to play.

For the record, the Dragons won 16-7 — Dave Ward took an end-around 58 yards for a touchdown, Joe Wozneak scored the other TD on a 93-yard burst up the middle in the slop, and quarterback Kelly Fredericks converted a pair of 2-point conversion runs — to improve their all-time record against their New York rival to 41-35-4.

I had to look those stats up. I didn’t, however, have to be reminded who Warren’s coach was from that era. Shea, who passed away in his Warren home Friday at 87, had a sterling athletic resume.

In fact, during his tenure at his high school alma mater, Shea posted a 7-3 record against Jamestown, part of a career won-loss record at Warren that would balloon to 117-55-3 by the time he retired after the 1984 season. The highlight, of course, was the fall of 1976 when he led Warren to an undefeated campaign and a ranking that reached No. 4 in the Commonwealth by season’s end.

Before coaching football at Warren, where he also coached softball and track, Shea led Youngsville to back-to-back undefeated gridiron seasons in 1965 and 1966.

All of those accomplishments landed him in the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and, in 1993, he was a charter member of the Warren County Sports Hall of Fame.

Deserved honors for a man who devoted his life to athletics.

Peace be to his memory.

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