After passing out game jerseys to the players from the North and South on Sunday, the game manager for Friday’s 6th Annual Frank Varischetti All-Star Football Game, Nick Hoffman, took time to reflect on the event he’s been part of since its beginning.
“Time sure does fly. I remember seven years ago we started talking about and asking how do we put on an all-star game. We wanted to bring recognition to District 9. The schools and sponsors bought in. Once we got it going, it sort of has taken care of itself. The kids are familiar with it. The coaches are familiar with it, and that makes it so much easier,” said Hoffman as players assembled with their coaches.
According to the game manager sponsors who give out $1,000 scholarships prior to the contest have grown from eight in 2016 to 17 today.
The game is played between graduates from teams in the former Allegany Mountain League (AML) and the former Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference (KSAC). The two leagues disbanded in 2018, and the district was split into Large School and Small School North and South divisions.
There is a change in format for the 2021 game. This year it will be the North vs. South – based on where schools played last fall. The North includes the teams that played in the IU9 Bubble – Ridgway, Elk County Catholic, Kane, St. Marys, Bradford, Coudersport, Otto-Eldred, Port Allegany, and Smethport. The South comprises players from Brockway, Brookville, Curwensville, Central Catholic, DuBois, Karns City, Keystone, Moniteau, Punxsutawney, Redbank Valley, and Union/AC Valley.
“It just made sense to make the changes. Curwensville is leaving, so we brought in DuBois. St. Marys played in the North and Brockway down here. We had to go with what was in existence. When we started planning this, we didn’t know how much freedom we’d have to shuffle things around, so we tried to give ourselves a possible buffer for any eventuality,” said Hoffman.
The district will return to non-bubble play for the upcoming season.
Due to COVID-19 cancelling the 2020 spring sports seasons and the uncertainty of playing in the fall, last year’s game was moved from late June to Aug. 7. It was played minus fans in the stands. Hoffman talked about the decision to hold the event.
“It wasn’t easy, but we were able to get the game in. We decided we were going to play the game unless we reached an obstacle we couldn’t overcome. Our thought the whole way through was as long as we could maintain the integrity and protocol put in place to protect the kids and coaches, we were going to do everything we could to play,” he said. “We were able to do that. I think the 2020 class needed it. At least something was normal even though they graduated; it was something that hinted maybe we could get back to the way we were.”
Hoffman, who serves as the Community initiative coordinator for Varischetti Holdings, LP in Brockway, enjoys his involvement.
“I’ve never had as much fun as I have with this game. I was a trainer and statistician in high school and have been around sports all my life. I have a lot of friends that played. I love being a part of this. To see how much it’s grown is incredible.” he said. “We now have 13-to-14-hundred people coming to watch a football game in June.”
Fans attending Friday’s game will see the many improvements made to and around Varischetti Field.
“To see the complete rehabilitation done here over the past two years is incredible. This is the centerpiece for the district, and all roads lead to Brockway for football,” said the game manager.
Hoffman discussed the cooperation needed to pull the event off.
“I might be the point guy, but believe me, there are so many other people involved like athletic directors, coaches, suppliers, sponsors, principals, superintendents, business people, media, and on and on. It takes everyone to make it work,” he said. “I can’t say enough about all the people that have pitched in and made this possible, especially here in Brockway with the Gridiron Association, the school district, the Frank Varischetti Foundation, businesses, and the borough.”
More from Hoffman and Friday’s game will appear throughout the week.
Alex Bon, Ben Briggs, Dominic Cherry, Ricky Delhunty, and Jake Kunselman will be representing the Elkers.
Tickets will be available at the gate.
The AML (North) has won four of the five games – including 24-6 last season. The KSAC (South) won the 2019 game – 20-7.
Friday's action will be broadcast on WKBI – 93.9 FM – B94.