By Jennifer Kim, Patch.com
Last week, Marple Newtown High School‘s football coach and physical education teacher Ray Gionta was awarded with the 2011 Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award by the Philadelphia Chapter’s National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
“It’s a huge honor,” commented Gionta about the award. “To get singled out as a coach among all the coaches in the area…it’s quite an honor.”
But this isn’t Gionta’s first time being recognized for his contributions to high school football. In 2009, he was inducted into the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame as football coach of the year.
This year marks Gionta’s 36th year coaching football. Since his first stop as an assistant football coach at his alma mater at St. James Catholic High School in 1975 to becoming head coach in 1986 at St. John Neumann, where Gionta compiled a 15-15 record, Gionta has had his share of coaching several football teams. But his most recent stint has been coaching the Tigers for the past eight years.
“You have to like kids; you have to like working with kids and being around kids. I have a love for the game, and the game has been good to me,” explained Gionta about his passion to coach football. “Most of the things I learned in life can be contributed to as a football player. You just want to provide the kids with the same experience you had and that’s what keeps you going.”
Just as how seniors fall into that excitement before graduation of ending a memorable chapter in their lives only to being a new one, that’s how Gionta sees every football season. “It almost seems like every year is my senior year–it’s fun,” Gionta described.
Football has always been a part of Gionta’s life as far back as he can remember. In fact, “I wouldn’t know what to do without it,” he said in all seriousness.
At the age of 10, he joined the Folcroft Boys Club in 1963 and then played three years on his junior high team.
“I remember playing on the front lawn and playing King of the Hill and throwing the ball up in the air. My father played in the service so football was always around me,” recalled Gionta about some of his fondest football memories growing up.
It wasn’t until his freshman year in high school when his talent really showed and others began to notice. St. James Catholic High School’s varsity offensive line coach at the time, Joe Howanski, came down to the freshmen practice one day and noticed Gionta. From there, “everything kind of blossomed,” said Gionta. Gionta went on to play offensive guard/defensive tackle for West Chester University after high school.
His memorable experiences playing football and the coaches who made an impression during his youth is what he hopes to bring every football player he comes in contact with.
“Football is a great sport in the pure fact that it teaches you to be a member of the team than any other sport–you can’t perform individually without the help of others,” said Gionta. “Football teaches you to do well in life and life is the matter of getting along with other people and being a part of a team–whether it’s in life or when you get a job.”
Although football never really stuck with his own three sons, Gionta is teaching life lessons to the boys football team at Marple Newtown and honing them to become great leaders whether they’re on the field playing or volunteering at local community events.
“We’d like to instill self-discipline, persistence, dedication and sacrifice,” said Gionta about coaching the team. “You don’t always get it the first time–it’s about persistence. You have to stick with it. When you get knocked down, you have to get back up.”