After years of turnover, York-Adams League finally sees stability with football coaches

Patrick Strohecker
York Dispatch
  • South Western was the only team to bring in a new coach for the 2017 season, hiring Chris Heilman in March.
  • Between 2014-16, the Y-A League saw 20 coaching changes, with a couple schools making two changes in that span.
  • All three winless teams from 2016 return their coaches for the 2017 campaign.

Sitting in a Hanover office on Tuesday, Aug. 1, during his first-ever York-Adams League Football Media Day as a head coach, South Western's Chris Heilman acknowledged that he was a bit nervous.

Dallastown head coach Kevin Myers (left) is seen here talking to his team during a practice. Myers is just one of three York-Adams League coaches that's coached his current team for more than 10 years, with 2017 being his 13th season in charge of the Wildcats.

Entering his first season as the team's head coach, Heilman is still learning the nuances that come with being the man in charge.

"It's kind of nervous at times," he said. "But, I've been with most of these guys in January and February, when I got hired, and then in March. It's not that new, but talking about certain things and having to explain myself, that's a little different. Dealing with the press, that's also a bit different."

Regular turnover: In past years, Heilman would've been joined by about five or six other guys who were also experiencing the annual media day as new head coaches.

Tuesday, however, he was all alone in sharing his feelings. It may have been intimidating to him, but it was a sign of overall improvement for the rest of the league.

Over the course of three offseasons from 2014-16, the Y-A League saw 20 coaching changes. Of those 20 changes, some coaches jumped from one team to another (Russell Stoner from Spring Grove to York High), while other schools made multiple moves in that span (Kennard-Dale, York Tech).

Currently, the longest-tenured coach is Jon DeFoe at Bermudian Springs, who is entering his 19th season in charge of the Eagles. At the moment, of the 23 teams in the Y-A League, 16 of them have coaches that have been with their current teams for five or fewer years, while only three — Bermudian Springs, Dallastown and Littlestown — have a head boss that's been with the team for more than a decade.

First-year South Western head coach Chris Heilman.

"It really starts at home," said Wildcats head coach Kevin Myers, who's entering his 13th season with the team. "Your family needs to be supportive of you. My children don't know any different. I've always been a coach. It's what they grew up with."

Finding stability: For guys such as Myers, DeFoe and the Thunderbolts' Mike Lippy, it's been easy for them to stick around at one place for a long time with the winning tradition they've created.

However, not all programs can say the same and it's becoming harder and harder for coaches to want to put the time and effort into trying to resurrect a down program. 

Last season, each of the three divisions in the Y-A League had a team that didn't win a game, but all three head coaches returned. Chris Grube is entering his second full season at Kennard-Dale after taking over as a co-head coach midway through the 2015 season. The Rams are coming off a winless season in 2016, but for him, it's not about the record, but trying to build relationships with his players and showing that he's there for them and won't leave just because of one bad season.

"Last year, I was the third head coach that last year's seniors had in their four years," Grube said. "So, having three guys over four years is really tough and they looked at me like I was just another coach, but halfway into the season, I could tell the kids had bought into what I'm doing."

Kennard-Dale coach Chris Grube speaks to reporters at the York-Adams Football Media Day at the York Newspaper Company Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Hopeful for success: Around District 3, it's no secret that the Y-A League has had the least amount of success come postseason time out of the other leagues in the area.

A large part of that can be traced back to the constant turnover with coaches. It's hard to maintain any level of success when there are new ideas and philosophies being implemented every few years.

It's something not lost on the coaches around the league, too, who all battle for their own team's success, but then like to see the league as a whole do better come playoffs.

"All the coaches in the York-Adams Association, we compete fiercely," fifth-year Red Lion coach Jesse Shay said. "But, we all want to see each other be successful come postseason. ... I really think one of the keys is to not have the turnover that we've been having so that you have established coaches with established systems and the kids coming up through know it. I think that's how programs become successful."

While the coaches are the people who tend to fall on the sword after a bad year, or are the ones always looking for the next big opportunity, ultimately it always comes down to the athletes.

Stability at the top makes playing for a team more enticing for the players and will eventually lead to more winning.

The hope around the league is that this past offseason becomes the trend and that after one offseason of minimal change, next year doesn't resort back to what was taking place.

Red Lion vs South Western football, Friday, October 7, 2016. Jesse Shay, head coach of Red Lion football, is entering his fifth season with Red Lion, one of 16 coaches in the Y-A League to be with his current team for five or fewer years. John A. Pavoncello photo

"These young kids need the consistency," Heilman said. "Programs need consistency to build. As long as you're doing the right thing, for our league I think it's good because we as a group need to be able to talk about things and make sure we do what's right for football in our area."



QB battle at York High: The Bearcats have all of a sudden found themselves with a number of options at quarterback heading into 2017 after a series of transfers.

Stoner said that there's a three-way competition in camp for the starting quarterback spot between three new faces to the program. Junior Seth Bernstein, senior Josiah Smallwood and senior Micah Anciso will compete for the starting QB spot, while the guys who don't get it will be put at other positions.

Bernstein started for Eastern York last year, Smallwood started for York Tech, finishing second in the Y-A League in passing, and Anciso is a transfer from Dallastown.

Sanderson tabbed as starter for Bobcats: With Shannon Valenti graduating last year for Northeastern, the Bobcats had a big hole to fill at quarterback.

Without wasting any time with a quarterback battle in camp, head coach Jon Scepanski revealed that sophomore Zech Sanderson will be the team's No. 1 option heading into the season.

Scepanski said he's been pleased with Sanderson's development from his freshman to sophomore year through team camps and realized his potential last year as only a ninth grader, bringing him up from the freshman team to the varsity team to prepare him for this season.

Trojans searching for three-peat and more: After winning the Division II title in 2015 and 2016, it's clear that York Suburban is the team to beat in the division for 2017.

However, the Trojans have bigger plans for this season. On top of making it a three-peat in Division II, Suburban wants to break through in the district playoffs. The Trojans have been one and done in the last two years in the playoffs, but want to add a district victory to this year's resumé, along with divisional success.

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at