Sharpsville has been one of the dominant small-school football teams in District 10 over the last two decades.
And Cambridge Springs coach Walt Nottingham, whose retirement announcement that was made public Sunday capped a legendary 28-season tenure that included two D-10 titles, a state championship appearance and 167 wins, might be partly to blame.
In 1996, coach Paul Piccirilli, in his first year at Sharpsville, brought his team to Cambridge Springs for a regular-season game, which Cambridge won.
“They beat us in a close game,” Piccirilli said. But the Sharpsville coach said his team struggled with the 5-3 defensive scheme Cambridge Springs was using.
“We went home, studied that and changed to 5-3,” Piccirilli said.
Later that same year, Cambridge beat Sharpsville, 13-10, in the District 10 title game. The Blue Devils are the last team from Crawford County to win a District 10 football title.
But in 1997, on its way to the Class A state championship, Sharpsville, which is fourth in D-10 history with six titles, beat Cambridge, 14-7, in the district championship. During that game, Sharpsville kept Cambridge out of the endzone on 15 plays inside the 5-yard line.
“I’ll never forget that game,” Piccirilli said. “His teams were similar to mine. Obviously, he made the playoffs year-in and year-out, (but) more importantly he’s one heck of a nice guy. He’d help you out anyway he could.”
It’s one of many moments that might never be forgotten that have Nottingham’s stamp on them.
Cambridge’s athletic director Clint Rauscher, who was an assistant coach for Nottingham from 1992 to 2003, said among his memories were the 1992 game when both Cambridge Springs and Linesville were state-ranked and unbeaten. Linesville won that game, 22-20.
“That was when only one team (from the area) got into the playoffs,” Rauscher said. “I just remember there were so many people at that game.”
In 1996, Brad Wheeler, who was the quarterback on the last district championship team, said he remembers playing on a field that was a soupy mess.
“I’ve never been so muddy in my life,” Wheeler said.
Rauscher said the PENNCREST School Board will vote at its Thursday meeting to accept Walt Nottingham’s resignation.
In 28 years, Walt Nottingham had consecutive losing seasons on only two separate times and had just seven losing seasons. In 2006, the Blue Devils went 5-6 and in 2007 they were 4-6. In 2004, Cambridge was 1-8 after going 3-5 in 2003. He has coached the only county team to appear in a state championship football game. In 1988, Camp Hill beat Cambridge Springs, 18-7, for the state title.
“That says a lot. Small schools go through (talent) cycles,” Linesville football coach Pat Gould said. “He battled through those cycles.”
Only one other active coach in county history has coached in 200 games (Ken Achenbach, 217 games).
Achenbach coached against Nottingham during Achenbach’s four-year run at Saegertown.
“I didn’t know Walt well until I had to coach against him,” said Meadville’s all-time winningest coach. “He always had his teams well-prepared on both sides of the ball. He taught values. He always had the best interest of his players at heart. I think Coach Nottingham is a throwback, it’s kind of rare that you see a coach stay in the game for as long as he did. He saw football and the field as a bigger classroom.”
The next-highest active coach is Cochranton’s Tom Haynes with 140 games coached.
Haynes has spent 15 seasons coaching against Nottingham. He said he enjoyed talking football with Nottingham.
“Coaches trade (game) tapes. With some coaches those are just five-minute conversations,” Haynes said. “With (Walt) it would be an hour ... when you are around him you try to eat up everything he has to say.”
Only four coaches in county history have reached the 100-win plateau. Merle Darcangelo leads the way with 180-95-7 record. Nottingham has a 167-105-4 record.
Gould, who replaced Dan McCullough at Linesville in 2005, said it is going to be difficult to fill Nottingham’s shoes at Cambridge Springs.
“It is going to be weird to see someone else standing on the sidelines for Cambridge,” Gould said. “It’s hard to follow somebody of that stature and keep up with what they did.”
Rauscher said school officials will be soliciting applications once the resignation is accepted. Rauscher said there is someone in place running the weightlifting program. Rauscher said school officials will not rush the decision.
“(Nottingham) was somebody who was in it for Cambridge,” Rauscher said. “He wasn’t looking to go be a Quad-A football coach. He was developing and making this program happen. This wasn’t a stepping stone.”
Wheeler, who is an assistant coach at General McLane, said he watched a Cambridge Springs game this year when McLane had a Saturday game and thought he still had the same passion for the game.
“I was surprised to hear he retired. I thought my kids would come up and be coached by him. I thought he would be there for another 100 years,” said Wheeler, who lives in Cambridge Springs. “He was always passionate, teaching kids to play the game and play it right. He still had a passion for the game and a passion for the kids.”