COVID forces Big 30 cancelation

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

Area seniors suffered another disappointment Saturday with the cancelation of the 47th Annual Big 30 Charities Classic. COVID-19 robbed them of final spring sports seasons and now has claimed what may have been the last chance for the Class of 2020 to play a football game. The contest was scheduled for Aug. 1 in Bradford. It was to be a showcase for the Elkers football program. Eight players – Robert Briggs, Conner Grazioli, Hayden Haupright, Paul Gresco, Greg Simon, Jake Wickett, Austin Green, and Matt Dush, the coaching staff – Mark Heindl, Mickey Delhunty, Rick Viglioni, Jack Kifer, and Tony Defilippi, cheerleaders – Emma Cobaugh, Lidia Duffield, and Brooke Thomas, and Ridgway Homecoming Queen Gabbi Rohr and Johnsonburg queen Haylee Cherry. The news was also a blow to the large contingent of Elkers fans who would have surely flooded Parkway Field with maroon-and-white. Teddy Race, Jake Alcorn, Kevin Scharba, Aaron Hottel, Chris Stewart, and Caleb Holt of Kane are also denied a last high school game as are Elk County Catholic’s Stephen Bobby, Anthony Gerg, Leo Gregory, and John Wittman, and Jake Walter, Gage Burford, Forest Cressley, Sam Dush, and Cain Pfoutz of St. Marys. Kane cheerleader Kennedy Himes was also going to be a part of the showcase.
The Big 30 Charity Classic Committee informed players and coaches of the cancelation early Saturday via emails. In the evening they released the following statement. “The 2020 Big 30 Charities Classic has been canceled due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and the restrictions put on the game by the New York and Pennsylvania health departments. The committee has met several times in an effort to do whatever it could to make the game a reality. With time restraints coming upon us and the schools where the practices were to be held still in limbo as to their opening, the committee was really in a tight spot with too many if's and maybes to move into the final stages of the planning. The (game) programs completion, practice locations, pictures, and finally the large undertaking of the safety procedures left us with no choice but to cancel the game for 2020. It is a sad day for us, as we love putting this game on for the kids and their families and fans. With no options to move the game, with kids leaving for school and military obligations and jobs, and with the pandemic still being unstable we truly were out of time and options. To all who have supported our game, we thank you. The committee will meet soon to see what we can do for the players, queens, and cheerleaders in a way to show our gratitude for their willingness to participate in our game.” Last Monday Dave Ezzolo of the committee noted in an email a decision on the use of Parkway Field for the game was going to be made by the Bradford Area School District in early July. That became unnecessary with Saturday’s announcement.
“I feel bad for the seniors. The Big 30 has such a staunch tradition. Kids look forward to playing in the game every year. It’s not only a disappointment to our eight seniors, but to all the 41 kids that were on our roster. Pretty much they lost their last opportunity to play high school football,” Heindl said.
Schools have or will be submitting, health, and safety plans to deal with COVID-19 to their school boards for approval to allow off-season workouts to begin. Ridgway is going to present its plan to its board on July 14. Johnsonburg is holding a special meeting Tuesday to vote on its plan. Kane, Elk County Catholic, and St. Marys have had their plans approved.
Heindl was not shocked by the cancelation and understands the logistical nightmare it would have been for schools to allow Big 30 practices at their facilities “Schools are focusing on just their district and kids in their district and I get that. They're not going to open up to outside organizations and that’s kind of what happened with the Big 30. I think they made the right choice with everything that’s going on. They’re going to make do with it and are looking to have a ceremony to honor all the kids. We’re just not sure where and when yet,” he said. Heindl informed his assistants of the cancelation and noted they also had received the early Saturday email from the Charity Committee. “They’re all on the same page. They’re more [disappointed] that the seniors lost their chance to play a last football game. We get the opportunity to continue coaching down the road but to have a kid lose their last game is [tough]. We were looking forward to not only coaching our kids but some of the best players on this side of the state playing for Pennsylvania.”
While the rosters for the 5th Annual Frank Varsichetti Football game in Brockway have not been released, several of the Big 30 participants were expected to play in the game which is a clash between players from the former Allegany Mountain League schools and the former KSAC schools. The contest was originally scheduled for June 27 but was moved to Aug. 7 due to the pandemic. A request for an update on the status of the game went un-answered.
The 2020 Elker graduates joined the 2019 class with three straight District 9 titles. Ridgway has won the past two District 9 Class AA championships and won the Class A titles in 2016 and 2017. The team has been the first two District 9 Large School Division champs as well. Heindl spoke about his latest class of talented players. “They are a great group. They definitely left their mark on the program. Every year we always want the senior class to leave it better than they found it and this group definitely did that. They set the tone for next year’s group. We’re just hoping the group of seniors coming up gets the opportunity to take that next step.”
Proceeds from the annual Charity Classic are donated to individuals in need and charitable organizations in the Pennsylvania counties of McKean, Elk, Cameron, Potter and Warren, and Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties in New York. While this year’s cancelation will have an effect on the organization’s coffers Heindl feels the committee will continue to do the wonderful job they do. “They’re such a well-run organization. Obviously, it’s going to hurt not bringing the revenue in but knowing those guys they’ll work 10 times harder to make it up next year. Again it’s unfortunate but it was the right decision,” he said.
New York holds a slight 22-21-3 edge over the Keystone state. Last year’s game ended in a 27-27 tie. Pennsylvania had won the previous three contests.

2020 Pennsylvania Big 30 Roster: Ridgway – Robert Briggs (ILB, OG), Greg Simon (OG,MLB), Hayden Haupright (NT), Paul Gresco (QB), Jake Wickett (RB, DB), Connor Grazioli (C, DT), Austin Green (WR, OLB), Matt Dush (Flex, CB); Kane – Teddy Race (RB, LB), Jake Alcorn (Slot/RB, DB), Kevin Scharba (TE, DE), Aaron Hottel (K), Chris Stewart (LG, LB), Caleb Holt (WR, CB); Elk County Catholic – Jered Emmert (T, DE), Stephen Bobby (RB/Ath, SS, K), Anthony Gerg (OL, OG), Leo Gregory (TE, DE), John Wittman (WR, CB), St. Marys - Jake Walter (OG, NT), Gage Burford (DB), Forest Cressley (C, DT), Sam Dush (OT, DT), Cain Pfoutz (RB/P/K - Defense: OLB/DE); (Bradford – Caleb Nuzzo (QB, DB), Derek Sunafrank (RB, OLB), Otto-Eldred – Cameron Magee (WR, S), Colton Gietler (RB, DE/LB), David Wheaton (LT, DT), Cameron County – Caleb Rieder (OT, DE), Ebon Jackson (QB, CB), Port Allegany – Josh Rees (RB, LB), Montgomery Tanner (WR, CB), Eli Petruzzi (G, DT), DJ Michelitsch (C, NT), Smethport – Hunter Lent (FB, DE), Bryent Johnson (WR, S), Sheffield – Walker Kyler (WR/TE, DE/S), Jacob Dishon (WR, SS/OLB), Caden Smead (WR, CB), Coudersport - Logan Rogers (C, LB), Warren - Tony Batiste (OL, DT), Ryan Arnold (WR/RB, DB, P, KR), Alex Anderson (WR, CB), Jamo Douvlos (FB, MLB).

2020 Big 30 PA Homecoming Queens: Gabbi Rohr – Ridgway, Haylee Cherry – Johnsonburg, Alexis Shall – Smethport, Marissa Grubbs – Sheffield, Emma Fox – Port Allegany, Lauren Stimaker – Coudersport, and Aliya Webster – Bradford.

2020 Big 30 PA Cheerleaders: Emma Cobaugh, Lidia Duffield, Brooke Thomas – Ridgway; Kennedy Himes – Kane; Korlie Deming, Arianna Piller, Gabby Nelson, Hali Hahn, Brianna Barger, Elizabeth Zimbardi, Emily Bisker; Kayla Korb, Justice Wiasniewski, Danielle Sloan, Arianna Waterman – Coudersport; Meghan James, Kayla Dubetsky – Otto-Eldred; Liberty Dates, Ashley Skinner – Port Allegany; Chyann Rose – Sheffield; Haley Leet, Morgan Himes, Aurora Dinch – Smethport.