BY JEFF FALK
During the middle of the recently completed scholastic football season, someone with knowledge of the situation asked me if I thought Cedar Crest head football coach Tom Waranavage would be fired at the end of the season. What I told that person is that I didn’t believe that high school coaches in Lebanon County get fired for not winning.
But if there is pressure to win surrounding any local scholastic program it’s Cedar Crest football.
Waranavage almost certainly felt pressure to relinquish his position as the Falcons’ head coach. What we’ll never know is the source of that pressure, whether it be from within his character, within the program itself or from sources outside the program.
Waranavage recently did resign his position, after five tumultuous seasons in South Lebanon. While there are many things unclear about Waranavage’s time as the Falcons’ boss, what is apparent is that he cared deeply about the Cedar Crest football program and that there were answers about its success that eluded him.
When things were going well, the topic of Falcon football was one of Waranavage’s favorite subjects on which to expound. When they weren’t, Waranavage chose to keep his thoughts to himself.
One of the things I heard over and over again from Waranavage over the last five years was ‘You’re digging again, Jeff’.’
So it wasn’t with total shock that Waranavage declined to be interviewed over the phone by Lebanon Sports Buzz for this piece. I even offered to e-mail him a set of questions concerning his resignation and the Cedar Crest football program, and informed him he could answer only the questions he saw fit, in any way he saw fit – thus relinquishing total control of the interview to him.
What I received back is what follows: “Jeff, I appreciate your position. I have moved on. I enjoyed my opportunity to coach at Cedar Crest and wish the boys future success. I appreciate the support from the faculty and staff. ”
Cedar Crest went 3-7 in 2013, Waranavage’s fifth straight losing season. Under his guidance, the Falcons compiled an overall mark of 11-39.
The game that changed the course of the Falcons’ 2013 campaign occurred at home on October 4th against Manheim Township, a team coached by Cedar Crest graduate Mark Evans, who was at one point overlooked for the job Waranavage ended up with. In that one, Cedar Crest led 20-0 early in the second half, only to lose 28-26.
The Blue Streaks’ second-half turnaround was attributed to adjustments made by Evans at halftime, and the whispers outside the program said that Waranavage was out coached by Evans on that night.
After the game had ended, I waited outside of the Cedar Crest fieldhouse for ten minutes for Waranavage to emerge. But when he did, he declined to comment, instead he shook my hand, but never made eye contact, he lowered his head and walked away peering at the dark ground.
Waranavage came to Falconland in 2009, following successful stints at Biglerville and Susquehannock. But Waranavage had abruptly left Susquehannock in the middle of the 2008 season, providing no public reason for his departure.
At CCHS, Waranavage succeeded Mike Robinson, another coach brought in from outside Lebanon County to head the Falcons. Cedar Crest has not enjoyed consistent success in the sport since the early 2000s, when Gene ‘Spike’ Fuhrman was running the show.
“It’s a process,” Waranavage told Lebanon Sports Buzz before the start of the 2013 season. “And sometimes it takes a little longer. But before you can win it, you’ve got to be in it. Once you do, it’s a pretty neat thing because you see maturity happening right before your eyes.
“Is winning important? Sure it is,” Waranavage continued. “We’re keeping score for a reason. We have de-emphasized competition so much in our society. A public performance is expected each week from these kids. What I want our kids to know is to keep plugging along, and if you fight the good fight, good things are going to happen.”
Waranavage’s biggest triumph as a Falcon came at the beginning of the 2012 campaign when Cedar Crest went to Lebanon and spanked the Cedars 67-0 in the Cedar Bowl. Ironically, only years before, Waranavage had tried to down play the importance of Lebanon County’s most important football game by portraying it as just another game.
“Everything went our way,” said Waranavage at the time.. “Early on we got a turnover, got a short field and scored. I don’t think it was anything more than that. I thought their (Lebanon’s) kids played hard. I thought we played pretty hard on defense all night.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Waranavage continued. “I’m happy for our coaches. It jut happens that way sometimes. We’ve been on the other side of that and you can’t stop it.”
A private person, one must earn Waranavage’s trust to be accepted into his inner circle. Apparently I never earned that trust, but I did learn something about Warnavage by being around him.
He was very traditional, very loyal and very family-oriented. Some members of the Cedar Crest program were said to have shed tears when informed by Waranavage of his decision to step aside.
For now, Waranavage has chosen to remain at Cedar Crest High School and continue to perform his duties as a social studies teacher. Waranage’s wife also teaches in the Cornwall-Lebanon school district, at Union Canal Elementary, and the couple and their two children reside in the district.