Solvay: 'Bearcat pride' runs deep

Solvay High School's former football coach, Al Merola, is the winningest coach in the history of Syracuse high school football. Thanks to "The Bearcat Pride," Merola recently became a member of the Greater Syracuse Area Sports Hall of Fame.

The Bearcat Pride is a group created two years ago by alumni of Solvay's football team. Their primary mission was to garner recognition of Coach Merola's exemplary thirty-four year Solvay coaching career. They sponsored Merola's induction in October of 2007, therefore cementing him as part of Syracuse sports culture. Merola had received several and various commendations for his coaching, including New York State Coach of the Year in 2000. The football team won numerous championships and sectionals. Many former players went on to play Division 1, 2 and 3 in college. Joe Kowalewski, who played under Coach Merola's tutelage, currently plays for the New York Jets.

President of the Board Tom Venturini would like to see increased awareness of what The Bearcat Pride does for the team and the community. They go above and beyond to provide support for the football program outside of what the school budget or booster club can allot. This includes fundraising to provide additional essential equipment or upgrades, pre-game meals, gear, football camp and even $500 college scholarships for the two members of the team with the highest GPA. They endow the team with a passionate, dedicated fan base. The group also organizes charitable and social events to promote a culture of unity and pride within former Bearcat players.

"It's overwhelming. It's a great thing," said Phil Merrill, Solvay football coach. "I'm so proud to be the head football coach. The kids reap the benefits. They're able to put on Solvay t-shirts for warm-ups. They sit down and eat together as a team the night before their games."

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