All of Youngstown focused on bowl

2009-12-14T00:00:00Z All of Youngstown focused on bowl Opinion by Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 14, 2009 12:00 am  • 

Youngstown, Ohio, simply doesn't do silent auctions or black-tie dinners or golf tournaments with shotgun starts.

Instead, the last weekend of June for the past eight years, Cardinal Mooney High School alumni and fans have flooded the gritty former steel town for the Golden Cardinal Bocce Social.

Ron Stoops Jr., the eldest son and defensive coordinator at Mooney, just like his late father, runs the fundraiser. His brothers Mike and Mark and Bob come home, as do Bo and Carl Pelini, the brothers who will coach Nebraska against the Arizona Wildcats in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30.

People plan their vacations around it. Families or former classmates will team up together. Participants have a few drinks and play bocce into the night at the Mahoning Valley Restaurant. At the end, autographs - some from the Stoopses and Pelinis and Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, the former world champion boxer who grew up near the Stoops family - are auctioned off.

The proceeds go to Mooney, whose enrollment of about 600 is maybe one-third of what it was before the steel industry there went bust in the 1980s.

"Is anyone there a professional bocce player? No," said P.J. Fecko, the current Cardinal Mooney head football coach who knew the families growing up. "Do most people who go play once a year? Yes.

"Once you get there and you're laughing and joking, then that competitiveness of everyone kicks in a bit.

"It's very unique. I don't know that you could pull it off most places. Everybody cares that much - 'The last Sunday in June, we better go there.'"

Neither Mike Stoops nor Bo Pelini - the head coaches in the Dec. 30 bowl - nor their defensive coordinator brothers are treated any differently than the other more than 400 participants.

"It's more 'Bo the Mooney alum' than 'Bo the Nebraska coach,'" Fecko said.

Lost in the hubbub surrounding the familiar family ties is this more meaningful fact - everybody in Youngstown knows someone involved in the game.

"Our entire town gets excited and does pull for all these guys," Ron Stoops Jr., said.

Mike Stoops is one of six children whose father coached hundreds of Mooney kids, either in baseball or football. Bo Pelini is the youngest of eight children.

The kids went to different feeder schools - the Pelinis attended St. Luke's, the Stoopses St. Dominic's - before reaching Mooney.

Their nephews attend the same high school, too. Ron Stoops Jr. coached his two sons and one nephew, as well as Bo Pelini's nephew, on this year's state championship football team.

"Youngstown has got a lot of pride and its people have a lot of pride," Ron Stoops Jr. said. "We've been hard-hit economically and sometimes the hard times lead to some crime. We've been painted in a bad light by some.

"But this is something the whole community is proud of."

Their personalities stay true to the blue-collar area, he said. The Stoops boys, after all, grew up playing a game called "hide the strap," where the kid who found a belt hidden in the yard got to whip his siblings with it as they ran toward home base.

"Mike and Bo and Mark, to a certain extent, and Carl, they wear their emotions a little bit on their sleeve," Ron Stoops Jr., said. "They have reputations and legacies - and don't apologize for it."

Youngstown residents embrace it. Southern Park Mall carries T-shirts and hats for Ohio State and other Big 10 schools, but also for schools coached by their favorite sons.

"There's not a Mooney person that doesn't own some kind of Oklahoma shirt or Nebraska shirt or Arizona shirt," Fecko said.

The awkward thing is, members of the Cardinal Mooney family will have to decide which shirt to wear Dec. 30.

"Unless you're from one of those two families," Fecko said, "there won't be much cheering."

Ron Stoops Jr. will make the trip to San Diego, and knows he'll see some familiar faces.

"I would say it will be more awkward than cool," he said. "I guess we will put a positive spin on it and make it fun."

The winner, after all, gets bragging rights in June.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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