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Marsh Leads NY in Big 30 Classic

With high school football season just over a month away, the area's top football players (along with cheerleaders and homecoming queens) from last season have one last showcase for the fans, as they will head to Parkway Field in Bradford to play in the Don Raabe Big 30 Charities Classic August 1 at 7 p.m.

The classic, now in its 36th year, provides recent New York and Pennsylvania high school graduates a final chance to play the game they love in an 'All-Star Game' type format against one another before they head to college, where some of them will continue their football careers while others will not.

"For some guys, this will be the last game they ever play," New York coach Jason Marsh of Salamanca said. "Some guys will be moving on and playing college ball, but for some of them this is the last time they may ever play organized football, so it means a lot to some of them; one last time to play high school football."

All the players in the game on both sides graduated from their respective schools in June. The 'Big 30' title comes from the areas from which the players come - the now 31 high schools in New York and Pennsylvania that make up the Big 30 area, a notation given to the relative coverage area of The Olean Times Herald.

The New York team is comprised of 41 total players from Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties: Allegany-Limestone (5), Archbishop Walsh (4), Bolivar-Richburg (3), Cattaraugus-Little Valley (3), Cuba-Rushford (2), Ellicottville (3), Franklinville (3), Gowanda (1), Hinsdale (3), Olean (1), Portville (4), Randolph (1), Salamanca (4), Wellsville (3) and West Valley (1).

Marsh has four of his personal players in the game - QB/DB Derek Whitcomb, RB/LB Adam Jacobs, G/LB Chris Myers and C/DE Stephen Jacobson - and Marsh had nothing but kind words to say about those four in addition to the players from the other schools.

The Pennsylvania team is comprised of 41 players from Warren, McKean, Cameron, Potter and Elk Counties: Bradford (2), Cameron County (3), Coudersport (2), Eisenhower (2), Elk County Catholic (3), Kane Area (5), Johnsonburg (3), Otto-Eldred (3), Port Allegany (3), Ridgway (3), Sheffield (2), Smethport (2), St Marys (4), Warren (2) and Youngsville (2).

The New York team this season will be coached by Marsh, who will be joined by Allegany-Limestone coach Paul Furlong (a Salamanca alum) and his personal assistants with the Warriors, Chad Bartoszek and Todd Faller. Head coaches are chosen on a rotating basis among the eligible schools.

"It's a great honor," Marsh said. "Eighteen years ago (1991), I got to play in the game as a safety. At that time, I thought that it was going to be it for me for football because I was going to college to play basketball. I thought that was my last game, like some of these guys. We won 31-14 that year, and that experience ranks right up their as one of my best football experiences. We just had a really good time playing in that game, and it means a lot. It was something I dreamed about as a kid, playing in the game, and I never thought I'd be coaching it."

The Pennsylvania team will be coached by former Ridgway head coach Mark Morelli, who will be joined by Cameron County assistant coach Aaron Bowes, and Ridgway assistants Joe Roseto and Sheldon Lindberg.

According to Marsh, the player selection process starts with each high school coach in the area submitting six of their players (or as many as eligible) and ranking them 1-6 based on their level of play. Each school is guaranteed two players if they have them. But some schools don't always have two, and some players have other commitments and drop out (which has hurt the New York team a little bit as four players needed to be replaced on the roster, while Pennsylvania lost two players due to surgeries), so the coaches must fill in where needed position-wise.

Most players at the high school level are listed at more than one position, but as per the rules of the game, a player can only play on one side of the ball and equal playing time will be given to all players so substitutions will occur often. However, with the roster the way it is, some players playing spent the season as backups, and some will be forced to play out of position, which Marsh said they have been open to.

The game is named for the late Don Raabe, who was the head football coach at three Pennsylvania schools in the 1950s and 60s. According to the game program, it was his dream to have an all-star football game which put the best high school players from the northern tier of Pennsylvania against their counterparts from the southern tier of New York. Later, Don's son Bill played an active role in continuing the legacy of this game. When Don passed away in 1993, the game was named in his honor.

In the previous 35 contests, New York leads the series 18-15-2, with the ties coming in 1985 (16-16) and 1996 (13-13). New York won the first five games in the series (1971-96) but Pennsylvania has shown recent dominance, winning four of the last five contests, including last year's 27-0 win.

Perhaps the 'charity' aspect of the game makes it most appealing. According to the Big 30 Web site, the last two years the organization was able to reach out to an average of 55 charities and personal causes throughout the Twin Tiers. Overall, there has been more than ,1.2 million raised for charities throughout the Big 30 area in accordance with the game, where all money is kept local for people in need.

The first Charities Classic was played on August 3, 1974, between graduated senior athletes from 15 Pennsylvania and 17 New York high schools, according to John Place, chair member of the Big 30 committee. That game raised about ,6,000, which was donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association through a check to the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and it has since grown.

Prior to the game, both teams had two weeks of practices occurring at schools through their respective areas.

For example, the New York team practiced at Allegany-Limestone, Ellicottville, Portville, Olean and Salamanca over the two-week period, which gives the teams a short time to prepare, but according to Marsh, "things got better and started coming together ever day. These kids are going to go out there, do their best and win this football game."

Tickets are available at Parkview and Myers Hotel and are ,5 for adults and ,2 for kids 12 and under. To get to Parkway Field, take Route 86 East to Exit 23 (Bradford/Limestone). Take 219 South and get off at Route 346 (Forman St.) and turn right. Turn left at Davis St., right at Boylston St., a slight right at Washington St. followed by a right onto Interstate Parkway and follow it to the high school.

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