Jun 26, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
To Al Merola, the foundation for the success he enjoyed as Solvay High School’s varsity football coach was rather simple.
“Longevity, dedication and knowledge in your coaching staff are always an asset to developing a winning program,” he said.
All those assets led to 210 victories on the football field, a long list of championships — and this week, the announcement that Merola is one of the newest inductees into the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame.
Merola joins a Class of 2007 that includes high school coach/administrator Dick Bader, basketball coach Dave Brodsky, broadcaster Doug Logan, speed skater Patricia McCarthy, and golfing great Jim Roy. They will be formally inducted at a dinner Oct. 22.
For Merola, the dedication to football began in his Syracuse youth. He attended North High School and played tailback there, earning all-league status.After graduation, Merola went into the United States Air Force, serving at Great Lakes Naval Base and also doing a stint in Alaska.
During that time, Merola began college, attending the Citadel and the University of Alaska before returning home and getting his degree from Syracuse University in 1964.
Certified as a physical education teacher, Merola immediately took a teaching job at Pleasant Street Elementary School in the Fayetteville-Manlius district. It didn’t take long for him to get back into football, as he was hired as a varsity assistant coach at F-M under Al Vedder, where he stayed for the rest of the decade.
When the Solvay varsity football head coaching job opened up in 1970, though, Merola took it, beginning a remarkable tenure that would stretch more than three decades.
In just Merola’s second season at the helm, in 1971, the Bearcats won its league title. And 16 more league championships would follow, the last six of them in a row from 1998 to 2003. This helped Merola earn Coach of the Year honors eight different times.
Even though, for a while, Solvay was a Class C-sized school facing the large-school likes of Fulton, Oswego and Central Square, the team kept winning, 23 in a row at one point. Its home field at Earl Hadley Stadium, better known as “The Pit”, became one of the toughest places for any visiting team.
Overall, Merola’s teams earned 210 wins, against just 75 losses and nine ties. That averages out to more than six wins per season, and a percentage of .739. The steady contributions of assistant coaches like Fred Schuler, Tom Anthony and Phil Merrill played a big part in the team’s continued success.
Solvay won the Section III Class B championship in 1979, the first year of the current sectional format. After a 23-year wait, the Bearcats won another sectional crown in 2002, as Merola earned CNY Coach of the Year honors. Two years earlier, he had earned a similar honor from the New York State Coaches Association.
By that time, Merola had retired from his teaching post at Solvay, but he would continue coaching until 2003, when he left the sidelines and Merrill assumed the head coaching position. Merola’s son, Jeff, serves as an assistant coach with the Bearcats.