NEW CASTLE — (Video screen appears below the story.)
Joe Cowart is living the dream.
Cowart, whose wife, Meghan, gave birth to the couple’s first son Wednesday night, was named the new head coach of the New Castle High football team last night at a special meeting of the New Castle Area School Board. Cowart was chosen by a 5-3 vote. Board member Marilyn Berkley did not attend the meeting.
Cowart, 31, is a 1999 New Castle graduate who starred for the Red Hurricane as a quarterback and safety. He went on to play at Allegheny College, again as a quarterback and safety. He spent two years at Clarion University as a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, where he also handled strength and conditioning duties, then came back to New Castle, where he served as an assistant coach for four seasons, taking over as defensive coordinator the last two years.
Cowart called this his “dream job,” but admitted he has other things on his mind at the moment.
“This was a big deal tonight, it was a huge deal, but to me, this pales in comparison to what happened to me last night when I had my son,” said Cowart of his newborn baby Colt. “I had a baby last night, so really, I’m floating on Cloud Nine right now. This whole event was awesome to see how passionate people are about it, but I’m going to be honest with you, I’m thinking about getting back to the hospital and seeing my son right now. That’s what’s in my heart and on my mind right now.”
There was a lot to digest at the meeting, where the board’s decision didn’t come without some controversy.
SUPPORT FOR CLARK
Cowart replaces Frank Bongivengo Jr., who resigned in March after charges were filed against him and his wife, Karen, following an incident involving money linked to a youth football program.
About 70 people attended last night’s meeting and seven spoke on behalf of candidate Bruce Clark, a former New Castle High and Penn State University standout who went on to play in the National Football League. The Rev. David Young Sr. and Evelyn Ward, the president of the New Castle NAACP, both said they felt Clark was more qualified for the job.
The 54-year-old Clark, who didn’t possess the same amount of coaching experience as Cowart, said he felt a bit disrespected by not getting the job, but he did congratulate Cowart and wish him the best.
“It’s funny, you’re accepted all over the world — literally, United States, Canada, Europe — but you’re not welcome back in your home. How does that work? But, I’m free now. People can say, ‘Bruce, what have you done? What can you do?’ I asked and I offered. I feel free now. ... No one can say that I didn’t come back and try to contribute to my youth and my community.”
Board president Allan Joseph said a committee interviewed and analyzed the final eight candidates (Cowart, Clark, Pat Cain, Pat Cuba, Sam Holmes, Nick Marmo, John Protopapa and Stacy Robinson). The committee was made up of board members Mark Kirkwood, Karen Humphrey, Maryann Tofel, Stacey Fleo and David DiGiammarino.
Joseph, Kirkwood, Fleo, Humphrey and Tofel voted yes, while DiGiammarino, Anna Pascarella and Barbara Razzano voted against Cowart’s hiring.
Kirkwood was the chairman of the committee that recommended Cowart as coach, and said he based his decision on the fact that Cowart, who is a junior high math and high school video teacher at New Castle, is in the school on a daily basis and has a strong rapport with the students.
“A big factor is being in the building — it’s huge,” Kirkwood said. “We did that before (hire a person outside of the district) with the basketball coach. He taught at a different school and it didn’t work with our kids. You have to know our kids, you have to be with them every day — it’s just too hard.
“I don’t know if you noticed after the meeting, all the kids that were here went over and shook (Cowart’s) hand. He’s a great guy with good character. We’ll be fine.”