Fitch stepping down at Sheffield
Most high school athletes imagine at some point, what it would be like to be a head coach for a sport they love, but for Sheffield’s Dave Fitch, that didn’t just become a reality, but a large part of his life. For the past 25 consecutive years, the 1984 Sheffield graduate has coached sports from tee-ball to high school track. However, it is his time as the Wolverines’ head football coach that has earned him respect throughout the athletic community.
Fitch, who’s football coaching career began at Eisenhower under then coach Conrad Danielson, fittingly will hang up the whistle following today’s game at home against the Knights.
“The staff and town have supported us a great deal, and I thank them all for what they have done,” said Fitch. “To the players, give the next coach your best and next year will be a very important year for longevity of the program.”
Two years ago, Fitch lost his father, a man cherished throughout the community, during the 2015 football season. This year, Fitch’s wife, Jodi, became ill during the season. In both instances, Fitch was torn between family obligations and preparing for the next game.
“It hit me pretty hard to drive back from Pittsburgh, that I spent most of my visit with my wife sitting next to her working on football, when I should have been spending time caring for her,” said Fitch. “I also now have four grandkids that I have not been able to devote enough of my time with, especially on weekends. The time just felt right to realign my priorities.”
Sheffield football has only managed four seasons of five wins or more since 1981, therefore, naturally Fitch made it a point to focus an equal amount of time on the other benefits of football, besides just earning a victory.
“Success does not always hinge on wins and losses,” he said.
From coaching flag-football to coaching a team recognized by Sports Illustrated, Fitch has always tried to positively influence players and create memories with them and fellow coaches.
“Every year and every sport, I have vivid memories,” said Fitch. “I remember a flag-football team going to the ‘Super Bowl’ and drawing up a hook and ladder play, which they ran to perfection. Beating Smethport, while being a defensive coordinator under coach (Scott) Park and figuring out their offense in time to teach the kids on the bus ride over. Then having them pull off one of the biggest upsets in our program.”
Fitch’s time under former head coaches Bryan Gould, who is an assistant at Blairsville, and now Brookville head coach Scott Park, helped him to learn that as a head coach, you are constantly evolving, especially given the co-op with Abraxas. Fitch developed a knack for adaptation, knowing very well, that what worked this year may not work even next week.
“His passion for the game was off the charts,” said Gould. “Dave loved football. Every aspect of football. X’s and O’s to motivation. His rapport with athletes was tremendous. I think in the three years we were together, I think I might of said something twice to him about defense. It was awesome to have Dave as defensive coordinator.”
One of the difficulties with the Sheffield program is the ever-changing environment from week to week. In 2017 alone, Fitch said that the team did not have one week with the same personnel. Fitch gives credit to both Park and Gould for preparing him to be three or four steps ahead. But it was his own natural ability to connect with players, that Gould says made Fitch a good coach.
Along with his report with players, Fitch was a versatile player himself, when he played football in the mid-80s, which helped him to develop young players on both sides of the ball as a coach. He was a member of the last Sheffield team to earn six wins in a season. So, it comes as no surprise that Fitch was the head coach when the Wolverines were able to make the playoffs twice, along with winning the Allegheny Mountain League North in 2013.
“That group of kids came back in six games and were down two TD’s at halftime of the game against Smethport,” Fitch said. “That team never quit and worked very hard to achieve one of the best seasons in the past 50 years. But even more than those moments, I know Sheffield football has changed lives and that is way more important than any victory we have ever achieved.”
What separated Fitch from the pack, weren’t just his successes as both a player and coach, but his unique position with both sides of the Sheffield-Abraxas co-op due to him being an employee at Abraxas. Fitch saw this as both a positive and a negative.
“It helped to manage the players there,” Fitch said. “But not being involved at Sheffield during the day hurt. I would love to see the next coach tied to the school in some fashion. It helps so much when you can see the kids during the day to build relationships and help recruit players.”
And the next coach will almost certainly have to recruit players. It is no secret that, like many small school in the area, Sheffield’s numbers have been dwindling over the past decade-plus. Fitch hopes the program can survive and flourish as it did in the past. He encourages the next head coach to be both a coach and a recruiter, stressing that flexibility is a key attribute for whomever takes over his role.
Despite his walking away from the sidelines, Fitch would be more than happy to be there for guidance for the new Wolverines’ head coach.
“Not too many people out there will understand the co-op and how it works,” Fitch explained. “There are more behind the scenes things that change frequently. You will have to have multiple plans in place.”
For the next coach, Fitch not only hopes the coach fits and the players continue to come out, but that the support system remains strong through the highs and lows that can come with Sheffield football.
“Parents please understand that coaches try their best,” Fitch stated. “Support is much better than negativity from the stands or at the dinner table. You have the influence to have your sons or daughters work harder to get better. The next coach will need your support to get started on a positive note.”