BROOKVILLE — Decades of appreciation was displayed on a T-shirt.
Longtime assistant coach Bob Fye was surprised to see a picture of himself displayed on a shirt given to him by the Brookville Raiders football program. It was part of a heart-felt thank you from the current crop of players, but it certainly reflected thoughts past teams as far back to at least his first year with the Raiders as a junior high coach in 1996.
But it’s been 40 years since Fye began coaching youth football, the first several years as a flag football coach in Brookville.
Following this season’s finish by the Raiders in the District 9 playoffs, Fye said he was stepping away from the program.
“It definitely keeps you young and that’s why I lasted so long,” Fye said last week. “Both my boys (Eric and Zach) went through the system and I just didn’t want to give it up because I loved it so much. It does keep you young.
“It’s my honor to be with all these kids I’ve seen through the years and coaching their dads. I coached Brayden (Kunselman) and Jackson Zimmerman and Brayden’s dad Louie and Jackson’s dad Doug back in flag.”
Fye’s coaching tenure with the Raiders began with Chris Dworek’s first year in 1996.
“Through the years, he did anything I asked him to do,” said Dworek, now the head coach in St. Marys. “He helped coach varsity and I remember him coaching the defensive backs and doing a good job for us. He’d do anything that was asked of him and the kids loved him too. It was cool to see that.”
Fye then continued his service through to current coach Scott Park, who will certainly miss Fye on the sideline next year.
“I can remember he was coaching back when my brother Matt was playing flag football and that’s been ages ago,” said Park, echoing Dworek’s words. “He’s just one of those guys I could call up and ask if he could drive some guys to 7-on-7 and he’s there. During the summer, we’d have the weight room open and he’d cover a time slot. He was willing to do whatever. The last couple years, he did a lot with the special teams.
“You can’t replace a guy like that. He gets along with everybody and when he gets frustrated or upset, he’ll explain himself and apologize. He’s a great guy and you hate to lose someone like that.”
It all started in 1975 when Fye, a North Clarion graduate who didn’t play football in high school, learned the sport while serving in the Army, playing on a service team. His sergeant had a son playing Pop Warner youth football and he talked Fye and a couple of his buddies into helping coach with that as well.
Bitten by the coaching bug, he applied it locally when he landed back in the area where his reserve duty station was in Brookville. He got a job at Beverage-Air and worked their for 42 years before retiring recently. Naturally, he gravitated to coaching as his sons went up through the system.
In 1981, it was the Brookville Flag Football League and it started from there.
“Bill Thompson was coaching junior high and I asked him if the team needed anyone to film and he checked with Chris and he asked me to join the staff his first year in 1996,” Fye recalled.
From there, he was a head coach for some years in junior high along with offensive coordinator duties and on varsity game nights, he spent several seasons in booth with head phones. He was on the sideline in recent years, again filling whatever role and duty needed.
“Bob was a lot of fun to work with,” said Raiders assistant coach Jim Rush, who graduated from BAHS in 1997 then joined the staff in 2000, coaching with Fye and working with him at Beverage-Air. “Bob’s a pretty mild-mannered and easygoing guy, so when Bob got worked up, you knew it was something serious. He was always level-headed and was well-respected. The kids in the program meant everything to him and he’d do anything for any of them. Anytime anything was needed, Bob would drop anything and do whatever was asked.
“To me, he’s been a father figure. It’s just been a great time working with him. The last few years, he’s been just so vital with the little things, helping with the 7-on-7s and being their for workouts when other coaches can’t make it.”
“Jimmy is the best guy I’ve ever worked with in my life,” Fye praised. “He’s an extra son and best friend.”
Fye impacted many players, including Bill Morrison, a 2002 BAHS graduate who went on to earn a PSAC All-Conference honor while playing at Shippensburg University. He’s now on Dworek’s staff at St. Marys.
“I was the same age as Zach and we played on the same flag football teams and Bob came along with us when we went into junior high and he was with us until we graduated and he obviously stuck around ever since,” Morrison said. “He was a really good guy and being around the kids meant a lot to him. If it was a 6 o’clock practice, he’d be there no later than 5:30 getting things ready and he’d be the last to leave after practice.
“We had fun and learned how to play football and he was very much like a mentor, somebody you knew cared about you. I remember my senior year, Paul Pysh did the radio for our games and we did senior spotlight interviews and when it was my turn, when asked about who your football mentor and I actually said Bob. Every year up to that point, he was around. I was fortunate to be one of he kids he cared about. Now, I’m in a role where I get to do that kind of stuff.”
It’s a new season for Fye now. The Clarington resident puts in time with the Sigel Volunteer Fire Department as a trustee and lieutenant on the fire police.
“It’s been good,” Fye said. “I’ve enjoyed coaching very much, but it’s time for me to move on. We have a lot of good, young guys who could step in. I’ve tried my best and had a good time, but it’s just time. I’ll be still be at all the games.
“The payoff of the whole thing is that I love it and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. There’s so many kids I’ve been around and the best part is when they still call me coach. I have 40-year-old guys calling me coach and I love that.”
Rush assured that he’ll still be tied to the program, somehow, even he’s not at practice filling an important task or duty.
“This is the third year I’ve tried to work on a way to get Bob to come up to St. Marys and he keeps reminding me of that too,” Dworek laughed.
He probably won’t.
“He bleeds blue and white,” Rush said. “100 percent.”