by Frank Hyde
May 3, 1975
Long Sports Career Began at JHS
Jim Foti was a short one, all right, but he stood tall in ability as a player in high school and college and even taller in later years as a basketball and football coach.
Presently in his 26th year at Warwood High School in Wheeling, W. VA., Jim is rounding out 37 years of coaching, years of storied victories and phenomenal successes.
"This could be my last," Jim told this writer. "Thirty-seven years is a long time. Maybe I've had enough, but I'll decide for sure later."
Foti came from a Jamestown family of nine boys and one girl born to the late Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Foti.
Only one other Foti was a football player. That was George, now living in Orlando, Fla. Both played for the late, fabled Dent Moon, whose coaching techniques accounted for some fine football teams at JHS during his heyday.
Jim captained the 1930 JHS team which finished with an 8-2-1 record, defeating, among others, Warren, Tonawanda and Binghamton, the latter a charity game at Binghamton.
Jim started his college education at St. Bonaventure, but later matriculated at John Carroll, from which he graduated in 1938.
One of his fondest football memories is participating in a noggin knocker against Manhattan College at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
"Ted Husing (a famous play-by-play radio man) was the broadcaster and Mayor Jimmy Walker threw out the ball to start the game," Foti recalls. The coaching great, Chick Meehan, had the Manhattan club. The teams battled to a bruising 6-6 tie.
"He was little but he sure could move," a local old-timer, talking of Foti, recently recalled.
To bear out his remark, the records show Foti once broke through the line, grabbed the ball out of the hands of a would-be Miami of Ohio passer and scampered 46 yards for a touchdown.
Playing in the first indoor football game ever staged in the mid-west gave the stocky ex-Jamestowner another thrill he never forgot. It was in Chicago with St. Joseph's of Indiana and John Carroll was the winner.
With his playing days eventually behind him, Jim returned to John Carroll as freshman coach but soon reverted to the high school game. Hs first such tenure was at Erie Prep, where he coached two seasons. His best campaign was 6-2.
Foti spent two years as football coach at Bellaire (Ohio) High near Wheeling, where he racked up one 6-3-1 season, and six years at Wheeling Central, a Catholic school. In football, his Central team had a 9-1 campaign, won the Ohio Valley Triple-A championship, and went to the Steel Bowl, where he lost to Rochester, Pa., 20-19.
Rochester, it is interesting to note, had a fine running back named Phil Colella, who later transferred from Note Dame to St. Bonaventure so he could play under his former coach at ND, Hugh Devore.
"He's the guy who beat us with his terrific breakaway running," Foti was to recall years later.
Jim gave up coaching football in 1966, leaving behind him a record of 90 victories, 106 defeats and three ties.
His Wheeling basketball teams became powerhouses soon after Foti took over the pilothouse. From 1942 through 1949, Wheeling Central won five state Catholic school championships, rolling up 117 victories against 28 defeats.
His successes continued at Warwood despite a severe handicap of being overscheduled. The Double-A Warwood club played all four city schools annually, which are Triple-A.
Nevertheless, Warwood rolled to the state Double-A title in 1967 and closed out with a 24-2 record. The Vikings captured nine sectional and six regional titles.
His 1974-75 club (20-5) went to the state Class AA championship game before bowing to unbeaten (26-0) Northfork, 97-85, the defending state champ. The total score was a state record.
Going into this year's tournament, Foti's basketball teams have won 460 times while losing 303.
Foti is married to the former Mary Lepore of Wheeling. They have three daughters, Judy, Sally and Mary Jo.
Among his memories, Foti can recall being the only coach in the Ohio Valley to have won basketball championships in each division - Class A, Double-A and Triple-A. He was also selected to coach the West Virginia All-Star teams both in football and basketball against the Ohio All-Stars. He won in both instances, the basketball stars turning in a 65-64 victory and the football team taking an 18-0 nod over the Buckeye Staters.
Of the ten Foti children, seven are still alive. Anthony, Sam and Thomas are dead. Residing in Jamestown are Joseph, a real estate dealer; Paul, a retired Erie Railroad worker; Ross, who is retired from a position with the city; and Mrs. Sam Armeli. Seery is retired from Art Metal and lives in Westfield while George, the "Big" of the "Big and Little Foti" combination, dubbed thus by local football fans, is in Orlando, Fla. Jim, of course, was "Little Foti."
When Jim Foti steps down, as he has hinted he will very soon, West Virginia high school sports could be the big loser.
This could also be the last time around for Warwood as well as its fine little coach. The school, it is expected, will be consolidated with Wheeling Park High next year.
The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame. We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.