Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Springdale Coach a Winner on and off the Field

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Springdale Coach a Winner on and off the Field

Article excerpt

The Springdale Dynamos have enjoyed a football resurgence that had them make the WPIAL Class A playoffs last year for the first time since 1973.

At the beginning of 2002, there was talk that Springdale might drop football, just as there was when veteran coach Chuck Wagner took over the program in 1993. This year, the Dynamos may be the consensus pick to win the Eastern Conference.

Such a revival is the accomplishment of a tough job for Wagner. But he is used to dealing with tough situations on and off the field.

Wagner's mother died when he was 4. His first wife, the former Winni Thomas, died in 1958 after complications from childbirth. His second wife, the former Nancy Gaines, succumbed to cancer eight years ago.

Compared to that, how tough can turning around a football program be?

Wagner knows how to win football games. Entering his 38th season, he has a 194-173-11 record.

He was a running back for Elmer Gross at Oakmont High School in 1950, then went to Kiski Prep in Saltsburg to improve his academic standing.

After making the decision to play at Washington & Lee, a member of the Southern Conference in 1954 and a school that had earned a Top 20 ranking just three seasons earlier, Wagner became an innocent victim of a cheating scandal that hit the Generals during Wagner's last semester in high school. After that, Washington & Lee decided to eliminate athletic scholarships and de-emphasize football.

Wagner ended up at Louisville

"I was in the same backfield with John Unitas," he said. "Being a Pittsburgh guy from St. Justin ... I went there because of him."

His stay at Louisville was short lived. Wagner liked the academic challenge of Bucknell and decided he wanted to be closer to Winni. So he transferred to Bucknell, got married and played for the Bison for three years.

Then came Winni's death during his senior year of college, shortly after the birth of his son, Tommy.

"I wasn't sure what I was going to do," Wagner said. "But at the time Bob Odell, who won the Maxwell Trophy at Penn, came to Bucknell from Wisconsin to coach. He said 'Why don't you come back, finish your education and coach the freshmen.' "

After his graduation, Wagner had an opportunity to play for Hamilton in the Canadian Football League, but took a position as a teacher back at Oakmont. …

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