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Austintown pays tribute to Coach Annarella

August 28, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

It wasn't your ordinary preseason scrimmage game when Fitch battled Akron Buchtel last Friday night at Greenwood Chevrolet Falcon Stadium.

Although the matchup between the two teams preparing for this week's season opener looked like an ordinary practice tussle, it's what happened following that exhibition that was both chilling and heartwarming at the same time.

After the game ended, the Fitch family paid tribute to beloved former head coach and valley legend Phil Annarella. Coach Annarella passed away unexpectedly in early June leaving a hole in the heart of every member of Falcon Nation. This tribute was the first of what should be many for the fallen Falcon head man this fall.

"It was awesome," said new head coach Jon Elliot, who is stepping up for his longtime friend on the Fitch sidelines. "It was pretty emotional."

Shortly after the battle with Buchtel was completed, the current crop of Falcons ascended to the stadium seats to join family and friends. The original plan was to have the Fitch players fly solo in the stands, but much to the pleasant surprise of Elliot, those youngsters were not alone. Initially, the Buchtel group was supposed to head to the Fitch cafeteria to enjoy some post practice game pizza, but their head coach had a different idea.

"Ricky Powers wanted his kids to watch from the stands as well," said Elliot. "I was so impressed. The (Akron Buchtel) kids were so respectful."

At approximately 8 p.m., the celebration of Annarella's life began with recognition from stadium P.A. announcer Tom Mock of the coach's immediate family members. Following that introduction, Fitch's choir performed led by director Bill Klien. Fitch principal Chris Berni then read a speech entitled "Remembering the Important Things." The Fitch marching band directed by Wes O'Connor then finished the on field festivities. Following the music, a video tribute to Annarella was played on the stadium scoreboard ending the event. That well-designed package was put together by Matt Cowles, who is Fitch's video board specialist. It'll be similar to video tributes planned for the former Fitch coach prior to each Falcon home game in 2019. When the video ended and the scoreboard faded to black, the gathering exited the stands and left the stadium in respectful silence. Elliot couldn't have been more grateful for how the evening turned out.

"It was the first time I've had to be a part of something like that," Elliot said. "It was so well done. The band and choir was fantastic, and the video was great."

Also great was how Elliot's inherited team reacted to the proceedings. Many of the Falcons were not old enough to really get acquainted with Annarella, but the upperclassmen were totally engaged.

"Fortunately, a lot of our kids our young and haven't had to deal a lot with loss," Elliot said. "Our older kids were a lot more emotional because they knew (Annarella) more. I had our captains present flowers to coach's daughter and son. Our seniors went down the (receiving) line. They had a special bond with coach and his family."

Those players will have to wipe away the tears from Friday's emotional evening and start preparation in full force for Week 1 of the regular season. The Falcons will fly up to Erie this Friday to kick off the 2019 campaign. A season that the Fitch family will pay homage to Coach Annarella throughout.

"We reemphasized what coach used to say about work ethic and playing hard every day," said Elliot. "Going forward you can't take losses out of the loss column; this is for keeps. We're ramping it up."



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