Coach Cipriano Celebrates 50 years of Souderton FB

Tony Cipriano was recognized for his 50 years of coaching football at Souderton Area High.

By Mary Jane Souder

Tony Cipriano has put up some pretty impressive numbers.

For the past 50 years, he has coached Souderton’s defense – either as Defensive Coordinator or Defensive Line Coach. The man they affectionately call Coach Cip has been on the sidelines for over one thousand games – which includes varsity, jayvee and scrimmages. He has coached over fifteen hundred players and attended over four thousand practices.

Cipriano hasn’t done it out of duty or obligation. He’s done it because he loves the game – and the athletes who play it. Just how much he enjoys it was underscored anew to athletic director Tom Quintois when he stood on the sidelines of last fall’s Souderton-North Penn game.

“I’m on the North Penn sideline, and I see this energy from this 24-year-old kid coaching, - he’s coaching his players up, and his players are energetic, they’re in, they’re passionate,” Quintois recalls. “I go to our sideline, and I see the same energy, and I look up, and who is it? Tony Cipriano.

“The guy is 71 years old. You couldn’t tell the difference between him and the 24-year-old kid coaching on the North Penn sidelines. I struggled as a coach to have that energy, and this guy has been doing it for 50 years. To have that energy for 50 years year in and year out is unbelievable.”

Cipriano was recognized at halftime of last week’s Souderton/Central Bucks East boys’ basketball game. Not because he’s retiring – because he’s not – but because of what he has meant to the school and its football program.

“As somebody who supervises him, I want that as a model,” Quintois said. I want the rest of my coaches to model that.

“Not just firing the players up – there was an element of that. There was a motivational element and then there was a coaching element. You have 16 and 17-year-old kids, and they’re following that guy’s lead. A 71-year-old man. That’s what I know about coach Cipriano, and that’s why that night was really important to me.”

***

Tony Cipriano had plenty of teaching options when he graduated from Kutztown University in 1965. Back then, teachers were in short supply.

“I had 16 job offers in schools,” he said.

His first offer came at Kutztown High School where he’d done the second part of his student teaching.

“A couple of days before I got there, my master teacher had a heart attack and died,” he said. “I had already (student) taught nine weeks, and the principal told me I could just teach, and he would act as my master teacher.

“I graduated in May, and they offered me a job, but they didn’t have football.”

A first team All-PSAC first team selection as a junior and senior and a second team all-state selection as a senior, the standout defensive lineman, who received honorable mention recognition on the 1964 Little All-American team, had football in his blood.

“I always wanted to coach football,” he said. “That’s why I came here.

“I liked (coach) Drew Darrah for one thing, and I liked the area and school district.”

Cipriano considered job offers in Miami and Piscataway as well as from his alma mater, Upper Merion, and neighboring Norristown.

“I came from an entirely different background,” he said. “I came from a Bridgeport/Norristown background to a community that was entirely different.

“When I first got here, this mainly was an agricultural and industrial/manufacturing type community.”

His initial interview was with Darrah and the school’s athletic director, the late John Myers. That was followed by an interview with the late Dr. William Maxwell, the principal of the high school.

“One of the things he said to me, which you would never say now, was ‘I’d really like to hire you, but I don’t know if I can.’ I said, ‘Why’s that?’ He said, ‘You’re Italian, and there aren’t a lot of Italians around here,’“ Cipriano recalled. “I said, ‘Let me take care of that.’ I ran into him a lot over the years, and we always laughed about that.”

Although he was teaching, Cipriano continued playing football.

He played for the Richmond Rebels and the Charleston Rockets in the Continental Football League, and he also played for a semipro team, the Conshohocken Ironmen. He had two tryouts with the Philadelphia Eagles and one with the Los Angeles Rams and played in several preseason games.

“The pro thing was different than it is now,” Cipriano said. “The Eagles practiced behind a hotel on (Route) 202.

“A lot of guys were car salesmen, insurance guys. I basically was looking for a job. When I first started teaching, I started at $3,900, and I got paid once a month.”

An injury ended Cipriano’s hopes of an NFL career, but he had found a new home on the sidelines, and it was a perfect fit.

Jim Henning, the master of ceremonies at last week’s celebration, was the sophomore quarterback when Cipriano joined Darrah’s staff.

“He’s got a unique personality – funny as can be and sometimes a little bit sarcastic,” said Henning, who went on to coach with Cipriano at Souderton. “He only gets on kids that he sees potential in. He’ll ride them to get the best out of them.

“He’s been great at that for 50 years. He hasn’t changed a bit that way.”

Just as players responded to Cipriano back in Henning’s playing days, they do the same today. Henning had to look no further than the team’s recent banquet when one of the players made a special presentation to Cipriano.

“He actually broke down giving Cip an award – and what’s Cip – 71?” Henning said.

Coach Ed Gallagher tried to put Cipriano’s career in perspective for his players.

“I said, ‘Okay, guys, I’ve been coaching for 25 years. None of you were born when I started coaching. If you want to put this into perspective, I wasn’t born when Coach Cip started coaching, and I turned 47 today,’” the Indians’ football coach said. “We’re honoring Tony for the 50 years of service he’s put in for our kids and our community.

“He’s not done. He wants to keep coaching, and he’s going to keep coaching as long as his body allows him to. He’s got a really good demeanor with the kids. He’s got a little bit of an ornery personality, but the kids just love him. The young ones, the old ones – they somehow respond to him, and he loves it. I think it keeps him young being around kids.”

***

Ask Cipriano what he looks for in a player, and he makes no mention of size or speed.

“To me, what makes a good football player is their work ethic,” he said. “You’re not going to win championships all the time.

“I look for a kid with a good work ethic – they show up to do the job every day and they’re basically coachable.”

Cipriano points to 2014 graduate Ricky Young, who is now playing at Villanova University.

“The first day I ever met Ricky he was a ninth grader, and he said, ‘Coach, what do I have to do to improve?’” Cipriano recalled. “I gave him a set of things he could do, and if you ever watched him, he would be the first one out there at practice. He would do the drills that I gave him, and after practice, he would do them.

“He’s the only player I’ve ever coached who – at the end of the season – came to me with a piece of paper and handed it to me and he said, ‘These are the things I think I’m strong at. These are the things I think I need to improve on. Can you help me improve on those, and what do you think I need to improve on?’

“There was not anyone exactly like that, but there were a lot of players over the course of time that weren’t the greatest athletes but were willing to work hard and become football players. The most rewarding thing is to watch them grow and become good football players and go on..”

Cipriano points to the many Souderton players who have gone on to excel at East Stroudsburg.

“East Stroudsburg is like the gateway to the Poconos for Souderton, and I see a lot of players who have played for us,” he said. “I have a landscaping business, and a guy like Chris Kelly has worked for me, Keith Bussom has worked for me. You become part of the community and you’re threaded in. That’s the nice thing about it.”

Cipriano taught biology during his 46 years in the classroom at Souderton,

“When I first came here, there was no tech school,” he said. “When the tech school started, I think it was 15 years straight I taught a lot of tech kids when they came back here.

“When I go throughout the community, a lot of the people who were in the tech school have businesses. I’ll make a phone call and someone will show up to work at my house, and it will be somebody that I coached. That’s the amazing thing.”

When it comes to memories, Cipriano has too many to count. He’s been part of more than 70 percent of the program’s total wins.

“Obviously, we’re having trouble winning (right now), but winning is not the thing,” he said. “It’s the connections you make with all different age groups.

“I have players say to me – ‘How many championships did you win?’ I said, ‘That’s not what’s important. If you win a championship, fine. If you win five games and you weren’t supposed to, that’s a great improvement.’”

Cipriano is entering his 51st year on Souderton’s sidelines.

“He told me one day, ‘If I stop coaching, I’m going to be hanging around people my own age and I don’t want to hang around people my own age. It’s depressing,’” Gallagher said. “He gets to be around these kids, and I think he feels young again.

“He feels refreshed when he’s around these kids and spending time with them. He has a wonderful wife Rita who allows him to continue with his passion. I think it ‘s a great thing.”

And for 50 years and counting, it has been a win-win for Souderton football and the many they call Coach Cip.