KANE, Pa. — Being a Sheffield football player has been tough for the past several years.
On Saturday, a pair of Wolverines will have one final opportunity to leave the gridiron with a win.
Cooper Traister and Tony Richards will be two of 41 Pennsylvania senior all-stars taking on New York’s best in the 49th edition of the Big 30 All-Star Charities Classic.
“It’s nice to have. It’ll be fun to play in,” said Traister, a defensive back who will be attending technical school in the future. “I don’t want it to end.”
“I’m glad Cooper and I are here playing for the Big 30,” said Richards, who will be majoring in secondary education and history when college starts at Saint Vincent College in a couple of weeks. Richards also intends to play basketball for the Bearcats.
“At the beginning of the football season, I had no intention of playing in this game,” Richards added. “My coach told me he thought I could play in the Big 30 game and then about a month later, our athletic director called Cooper and I into his office and tossed us the letters. … We read them together. It was a pretty humbling feeling.”
Two seasons ago, the Wolverines lost their co-op with Abraxas for a season and after an 86-0 Week 1 loss to Keystone, players were forced to make a decision: join up with Warren’s football team for the remainder of the year or go without the sport in their lives.
“We did get blown out and it sucked, Traister said, “but I did have fun playing in that one game.”
Richards, who was injured during tryouts his sophomore year, didn’t play in 2020.
Traister decided against making the nightly trips to practice in Warren and did not join the Dragons.
“A few of us practiced for a while and some of them stayed,” Traister said, “but for me personally, it just wasn’t the same.”
Last year, Mike Barr took over as Sheffield’s head coach. Both Traister and Richards decided to don the Wolverines’ black-and-orange helmet for their senior seasons.
The team was able to play all nine of its games, but was outscored 496-28. Traister was unable to finish the year due to a broken ankle.
“It was good to get a full season in,” Traister said. “We showed a little bit of improvement and hopefully this year they show some more improvement.”
“I wish I played all four years because my senior year I fell in love with it,” Richards added.
Port Allegany’s coaching staff will lead the Pennsylvania team into Saturday’s game at Bradford High School’s Parkway Field.
Justin Bienkowski has been the Gators’ head coach for seven years after serving as an assistant for 11. Port Allegany coached the North team in the Varischetti All-Star game last year and Bienkowski was an assistant for the West team in the 2016 East/West All-Star game. Bienkowski also was an assistant coach for the Pennsylvania team in the 2013 Big 30 game, played in the 1998 Big 30 game and was a referee for the 2017 game.
“It gives them an opportunity to play with some stellar teammates and against some great competition,” Bienkowski said when asked about student-athletes from less successful programs playing in the all-star game. “They are part of a 49-year tradition of Big 30 players who have played for a charitable cause. They deserve to be here just like the other 39 guys do.”
Bienkowski will be assisted by his defensive coordinator Chad Saltsman, junior high coach Cliff Fillhart, line coach Brian Neal, assistant defensive coach Kyle Bachman and offensive coordinator Seth Lowery.
Traister and Richards will be joined by Eisenhower’s Gannon Jaquay, Mike Jones and Drake Vanderhoof as well as Warren’s Justice Greene, Easton Hultberg, Gage Shaffer and Kody Vega as players from schools in the Times Observer’s circulation area.
“It’s bittersweet. I never thought I’d put this helmet on again,” Richards said. “It’s a good opportunity to represent our school and even our county with the Warren guys and the Eisenhower guys.”
Other players on the Pennsylvania team include: Bradford’s Dalton Dixon, Elijah Fitton, Nolan Gonzalez and Brett Thompson; Cameron County’s Derek Cherry, Taylor Geitner, Dylan Rieder and Kaden Blaniar; Elk County Catholic’s Joe Geci; Kane’s Shane Ackley, Jake Costanzo and Harley Morris; Otto-Eldred’s Jacob Coffman, Chance Palmer and Cohen Walker; Port Allegany’s Davon Cromer, Payton Spencer, Chase Weimer and Anthony Wiley; Ridgway’s Eric Salberg, Tyler Merritt, Dan Park, Hunter Wall, Camron Marciniak and Kenny McKenna; Smethport’s Travis Cooney, Brandon Higley, Noah Lent and Alex Ognen; and St. Marys’ Connor Bullers, Christian Coudriet, Conner Straub and Colton Swanson.
“You can tell the kids who separate themselves versus the kids who are just happy to be here,” Bienkowski said.
Both teams will attend a banquet tonight at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford before final “walk-through” practices Friday at Sheffield for the Pennsylvania team and at Southwestern for the New York team.
A parade will kick off Saturday’s festivities at 1:30 p.m. Gates to Parkway Field open at 5 p.m. Tickets for the 7 p.m. game are available at this week’s final practices or at the ticket booths for $7 apiece.
Historically, both teams are an even 23-23-2 in the 48 games.
“That’s been our driving force since we met in May and at media day over at UPB, playing for bragging rights against the bordering schools,” Bienkowski said. “We just focus on not getting wrapped up in the trash talking. … We’re not doing a street fight, we’re playing a football game.”