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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

ONCE A FALCON, FOREVER A FALCON

By TJ Parker

 

Before I was a father, a husband, teacher, and coach, I was a kid growing up in Austintown, Ohio. I didn’t have much, which is to say that I grew up without many of the material things most of my friends were fortunate enough to have. But what I lacked in possessions was more than made up for in love and attention from my parents. My mom hunted for deals at TJMAXX and Gabriel Brothers so I could look good at school. My dad, who was my first coach and mentor, shared with me the West Side traditions he grew up with, most of which centered around Chaney Football. That’s right, I grew up a Cowboy. I was transfixed by the brotherhood my dad’s friends and former classmates had. However, I lived in Austintown and wouldn’t be attending Chaney, so I felt like my dad’s experiences would be his alone. That all changed when I went to my first Austintown Fitch football game. It was the West Side Rivalry itself, kicking off a new season under those Friday night lights in front of a crowd of 10,000. I walked into the game a Chaney fan ready to cheer them to victory, but my mind soon changed. I noticed my friends running around in the same Austintown Colts jersey I had on, playing on the practice field alongside our friends and rivals on the Little Falcons. We collected shredded newspapers to celebrate every touchdown, waved our towels and threw our mini footballs.  From that moment on, I was enamored with Fitch Football; not necessarily because of what was happening on the field, but because I was with all my friends, going through this new and exciting experience together. This feeling persisted throughout elementary and middle school until I finally arrived at Fitch my freshman year and could finally wear that red and blue jersey. This was made even more memorable by finally joining forces with my friends from AMS, and that year we ended the season by beating Boardman with a last-second field goal to win the Steel Valley Conference. That was the year that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and everything I’ve accomplished since was with that future in mind.

 

An old proverb states that it takes a community to raise a child, and those words never rang truer than they do for me. Nobody gets there alone. I’m a product of my environment, and owe my well-roundedness to a number of families besides my own. When not at home with my parents, I was at my friends’ homes with their families and was looked after as if I was one of their own. Those around you at the beginning, the ones who help see you through trials and tribulations, are often the ones that are most impactful and memorable later in life. The Bokesch’s, Dockry’s, Howley’s, McGlynn’s, Polish’s, Roche’s, and Sterling’s were surrogate families to me and all played roles in shaping me into who I am today, and to them I am forever indebted. If you asked me twenty years ago where I saw myself in the future, my answer would have been working as a teacher in Austintown, married with kids, and the head coach for Fitch Football. Fast forward to today, I’m finally living the dream I had all those years ago. I’m married to the love of my life (Fitch c/o 2006) and we’re raising our three children (Fitch classes of 2034, 2036, and 2039). I’m grateful beyond words for where I am, but I know that it’s time to speak another dream of mine into existence.

 

 

Now I look around me and can’t help but notice the pride that was once prolific in our individual local communities has faded; the brotherhood I experienced growing up has all but disappeared, broken down into cliques of people that seem to have their own interests atop their list of priorities. I interviewed for this job believing that its scope would go far beyond football. This was about rediscovering the pride students, residents, & alumni once had for Austintown, and football was and is going to be the catalyst. The pride I know still exists, simply waiting to be brought back to light. This is something that will not happen overnight. But Falcon Nation, in a pretty short time, we’ve all felt it! That energy, although just a small taste, is growing. I want resident families to be proud of sending their kids to Austintown and not worry about them getting “lost” in such a big school, and trust that their kids are being looked after and guided in the same selfless manner in which I was raised.  To know that Austintown is a microcosm for our real world melting pot and believe that their children will be better adults for having walked these halls. Regardless of on-field success or failure, our students will succeed in life because they understand what it means to be committed, to compete, and to be elite not just for themselves, but for each other, so they can all succeed together. That is what Austintown has meant to me and that is what I want to bring back to this community. Now I realize I am not for everybody. Whether you share my personality or not doesn’t matter.  However, if you don’t strive to be your best self in life, or if you don’t have dreams and aspirations that motivate you everyday … I’m not for you.  But if these things do drive you and rule you, Austintown, and more specifically our football program, then we will be a good fit.

 

Austintown will be great, and we will get there with fully committed people- people that want excellence for themselves, their families, their friends, and this town. Please understand that none of this equates to wins, but the pride will be as strong as it ever was. Our kids will continue being pushed to become the best versions of themselves, both academically & athletically. Even now, Austintown is a place where students are provided opportunities to achieve, opportunities they won’t find comparable anywhere else. Where a student is so much more than a player on the football team, part of the speech and debate team, or a member of the band; they are FALCONS! This is at the core of what “Feed The Nest” embodies. I want those people on my team, in my community, and around my family. The best will be developed here.

 

Thank you Austintown, and thank you to all the coaches who have impacted my life:

Mickey Hians, Jim Penk, Kopp Family, Marc Presley, Tom Moss, Kevin Snyder, Bart Dockry, Don Sherwood, George Budaker, Justin Walters, Don Dobrindt, Jake Corbett, Mike Cefalde,  Brad Clyde, John Hudson, Joe Paris, Rob Santee, Chris Inglis, Brian Beany, Gary Conroy, Jeff Leeper, and Wally Ford.

TJ Parker
Head Coach
Austintown Fitch Football

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