Saturday, March 22, 2003
Lowellville was 24-9 in three years under Protopapa.
By BILL SULLIVAN
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
EAST PALESTINE -- Sometimes a football coach just has to move on.
Everything seemed like a perfect fit at Lowellville High School for football coach John Protopapa, but when the East Palestine job opened, he had to apply.
About a dozen candidates were considered, but Protopapa was offered the Bulldog position. He accepted and the East Palestine board of education will meet Friday to make it official.
"It's something I wanted to do -- teach and coach in the same building," the 1979 Wilson High graduate said.
Now a Struthers resident, he's been teaching social studies at Chaney while coaching football at Lowellville.
The vacancy began to unfold when then-East Palestine football coach Brian Blevins took a job coaching at Kettering Fairmont after leading the Bulldogs to the Division IV playoffs last fall.
"It's a nice-sized school," Protopapa said of his new employer. "The community is great. There's a lot of hospitality there. It's a good school district in terms of academics."
In 2002 East Palestine reached the playoffs for the first time in school history, falling to Ursuline in the second round.
Lowellville, meanwhile, has been on the upswing under Protopapa.
The Rockets were 24-9 in three years under him, reaching the Div. VI playoffs the last two seasons.
After a 6-4 record in 2000, Lowellville went 7-4 in 2001 (lost to Mogadore) and 11-1 last fall.
Last year Lowellville played its first home playoff game and won its first in the postseason.
"It was a very hard decision to make," Protopapa said. "Of the seniors-to-be at Lowellville, there are 16 excellent football players. The kids have worked real hard."
After graduating from Wilson, Protopapa played football at Oberlin for a year. Then he transferred to Youngstown State where he played guard for Bill Narduzzi for three seasons. He graduated from YSU in 1984.
Protopapa gained over a decade of experience as an assistant at Struthers, Girard, Campbell, Canfield and Rayen high schools.
In 1993, after South and Rayen combined, he was the head coach at Rayen for a year, leading the Tigers to a 2-5 record in a strike-shortened season.
After weighing all the options, he knew it was time to move on.
"The facilities at Palestine are beautiful," he said.