Cassadaga Valley Central School 50th Anniversary book

Mr. Joseph Annarella

I first heard of Coach Joe Annarella in the fall of 1954. My two older brothers, Ben and Howard, played football for him. It was Coach’s first year at Cassadaga Valley – he tied one game and lost the other four – which wasn’t a spectacular beginning for a man who soon became a legend at Cassadaga Valley.

Howard had been the starting quarterback the year before Annarella’s arrival, But Coach didn’t start him, the first game he coached. There was some grumbling at home about this new coach but, by the second game Howard was starting so Coach was soon accepted by my family.

Coach Annarella was a tough young man fresh out of school at Ithaca College where he had majored in physical education. He had dark hair with olive skin and wore glasses. He had attained experience in football and lacrosse when he played at Ithaca. He also had been in the Navy and came from the St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania area.

Athletics have always played a very important part of the physical and character development of the students at Cassadaga Valley. With Joe Annarella’s arrival in 1954, as a replacement for Neil Bradigan as elementary physical education teacher and football and basketball coach, a new expanded program began and a new style of coaching emerged.

In illustration of his strong will and game strategy, I remember one Cassadaga Valley football game when Ben injured his wrist. However, Coach insisted that Ben continue to play because he was the “key” to the game. “Ben, you have to play, you’re the key, the key, Ben.”

Coach always had a catchy phrase or a captivating story to tell. One that always stayed with me when I was playing and I still remember today is, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”

All five of the Nichols brothers played football for Coach Annarella and one of the brothers’ sons. Ben – one year (Coach’s first); Ben’s son, Benny (coach’s last year); Howard, three years at quarterback, halfback and linebacker; and Oscar, offensive and defensive guard. Bob played on the championship and undefeated Cassadaga Valley football team in 1966 as a guard and linebacker.

I played four years of football as a linebacker and fullback, 3-1/4 years of wrestling and three years of table tennis for Coach. I also had him for a physical education teacher in gym class.

The Nichols boys loved Annarella’s brand of football; the harder you hit, the better Coach liked it. “I want to see some blood on the practice field tonight,” he stressed at many a practice.

Another illustration of his tough coaching techniques was experienced on the whim of a practical joke. When the football team was readying for practice, one of my teammates came into the locker room and told us that we didn’t have to wear pads on the field. We were elated since wearing pads is an added inconvenience. Little did we know that Coach had never said such a thing. When we ran out on the field to practice, we were met with a barrage of angry words. “Who told you that you didn’t have to wear pads? If you want to run, you’re going to run!”

He screamed at us throughout the duration of the hour and one half of practice in which he made us run sprints the length of the football field. Four guys quit that day.

Coach started the wrestling team in the Fall of 1955 at Cassadaga Valley. He had a classmate at Ithaca College who wrestled whom he used to watch. Annarella thought it would be a good sport to start at Cassadaga Valley although he had never been on a mat before. We would look up all the wrestling holds in books. Sometimes, Don Turner, the guidance counselor at Cassadaga Valley, who wrestled in college would stop in while we were practicing and show his expertise with holds.

Coach was always a master of putting the right guy at the right weight. Once, he has my brother Oscar wrestle in the 177-pound weight class although he usually wrestled at 145. Coach thought the team would have a better chance if the second string 145-pound guy wrestled and won; then maybe Oscar wouldn’t get pinned by the 177-pound man; therefore, handing Cassadaga Valley more points on the board.

I think Joe Annarella wanted to do as much for the school as he could and winning was high on his list of priorities. He wanted the best for the Cassadaga Valley Cougars through and through. Coach always seemed to say the right thing at the right time to get the most out of the players and he knew how to handle each kid.

When we wrestled in the Section 6-B Wrestling Championships at Gowanda in 1959, when I was a senior, he said to me, “Remember what happened last year, don’t you?’

That’s all he had to say to spark me to win because the previous year I was beaten in the final round. He took the whole team out for a steak dinner after we won the tournament. Coach Annarella won the Section 6-B crown nine times in the nine years he coached wrestling which wasn’t bad for a man who ha never wrestled in his life. This demonstrated his sensational coaching ability – after only watching a couple of wrestling matches, he could coach the sport.

When my son Marty was just beginning to wrestle and play football on a team, we stopped by the Red Bird Cemetery at Red Bird Corners to see where Coach Annarella was buried. I wanted to tell Marty about this coach that I had looked up to while playing sports throughout my years in high school. Maybe I was wishing Marty could have had Joe Annarella as a coach.

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.