Last week, the Butler County Community College Board of Trustees spoke loudly. Members unanimously approved an early extension of my contract to lead the college.
To say that I was overwhelmed by their support would be an understatement. Just like when I was appointed to the position in August 2007, my appreciation of the board, faculty, staff, students and entire Butler community is sincere.
On Monday evening, a new member of the community was welcomed to Butler. Ironically, just five days after the college renewed its faith in me, one of the individuals responsible for my success was named the Butler High football team's head coach, Jim Rankin.
My grandparents taught me courage as immigrants to this wonderful country. My father taught me work ethic as a manual laborer who gutted it out in the steel mill. My mother led by example when she cared for my terminally ill father and owned her own business.
And Coach Rankin taught me to believe in myself. Taking over a fledging football program is nothing new for Rankin. In 1979, he took the helm of the Ellwood City High School program, which hadn't enjoyed success since a 7-3 season in 1969.
Several coaches came and went during the decade of the 1970s, but still there was losing football in a town, just like Butler, where football reigns king.
Rankin started slowly with a 1-9 mark in his first year. But immediately, he set the tone. He benched the starting quarterback from a well-known family. Two players who had long established roots in Ellwood City transferred to a private school.
But an offseason weight program was established. I was a clumsy eighth grader, he invited me to the workouts.
He established fundraisers like an annual football lift-a-thon, jewelry sales — yes, jewelry — and suntan lotion sales.
All benefited our football program and built togetherness in the process.
Through 1-8-1, 2-8 and 4-6 seasons from 1980-82, one could sense the momentum building. Players and members of the student body donned T-shirts that read, "Ellwood City Guaranteed Tough" and "Big Team, Little Me."
Then, in 1983, my junior year, we did it — a winning season with a 6-4 record. We even beat defending WPIAL Class AA champion Beaver.
Before my senior year in 1984, I overheard Rankin say, "He's going to be successful in life" as he pointed to me. Yeah, my relatives would say the same, but that was Coach Rankin. The impression is still etched in my mind.
I can reflect on those hot summer camps, brutal practices and never-say-no weightlifting sessions and know they prepared me for life's battles. My former teammates said the same when we honored Coach Rankin after he entered the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Football Hall of Fame.
I was one of more than 70 former players who did so in 2006.
We finished with another 6-4 record in 1984, the first such Ellwood City team to be part of back-to-back winning seasons in more than 20 years. A win over WPIAL Class AA runner-up and archrival Riverside capped the season.
In 1985, Ellwood City qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1944 by winning seven games. A year later in 1986, my brother Mike's senior season, Ellwood City captured the MAC championship and won a playoff game before injuries ended a 10-2 campaign.
When Rankin left for North Allegheny High School, he amassed a 37-44-1 record at Ellwood City. From 1983 to 1986, Ellwood City achieved a 29-14 mark. His team's records never worsened during his tenure. Each year, we got better; from 1-9 in 1979 to 10-2 in 1986.
He even set the stage for Ellwood's 11-2 record in 1987 and two 7-3 records to end the decade in 1988 and 1989.
Of course, his greater success came at North Allegheny High, where he won PIAA and WPIAL Class AAAA championships in 1990. Overall, he earned a 144-62-2 record at North Allegheny with three WPIAL Class AAAA runners-up.
There are striking similarities between the situation Rankin faces at Butler and what he faced in Ellwood City 30 years ago.
He changed a culture of losing to winning. He did it his way. He did not let parents interfere.
As players, we abided by his rules — no exceptions. He worked us, drilled us and disciplined us. Like Bear Bryant or Bobby Knight, he was "old school."
Look no further than the president's office at Butler County Community College for a person who knows Jim Rankin will do the same at Butler High.
By NICHOLAS C. NEUPAUER
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