Last Updated: Fri Jan 07, 2022 - 3:35AM
Just a few years removed from playing at Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class 3A Championship, the Derry Area football program regressed last season. The 2021 campaign was among the most challenging in program history, as the Trojans went winless. To compound issues, Derry Area dismissed head coach Vince Skillings with two games remaining in the campaign.
On Thursday, Derry Area hired its next football coach, as the school board approved Mike Arone to guide the program. Arone, who is an assistant principal in the district, served as a special supervisor for the Trojans for the final two games last season.
“I’m really excited to get started. I’m grateful to the Derry Area School District for the opportunity,” said Arone, a 1993 graduate of Homer-Center who had coached at his alma mater for the past 24 years.
Dating back to his high school days, Arone was a standout quarterback for the Wildcats who went on to play at Gannon University as a freshman. His collegiate career ended prematurely, however, and he began coaching at Homer-Center in 1998 after transferring to Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
He had been on staff at Homer-Center from that time up until this past season, when he transitioned to a volunteer role with the Wildcats.
“I learned how to build a program,” he said of his biggest takeaways from his tenure. “The past 15 years under head coach Greg Page, (I was able) to see how a program is built.”
He began his administrative role at Derry Area in August, and he believes it will pay dividends to see his prospective players on a daily basis.
“The fact that I am in the building in the position that I hold, I see it as a very positive thing – how I can influence kids in their education and on the athletic field,” Arone stated. “I think it gives us a leg up having me in the building.”
Arone inherits a team that went 0-9 in the fall, and was outscored 494-69. Allowing nearly 55 points per game, the Trojans had the worst scoring defense in the entire WPIAL.
Despite the ugly statistics, the Trojans displayed some characteristics over the final weeks of the 2021 season that caught the eye of Arone during his role as supervisor.
“They came together in those last two games under some difficult circumstances. Not outcomes the way they would’ve liked, but they never quit,” he noted. “I got to see that Derry has some really tough-nosed, resilient kids, and that’s something we can build a foundation off of.”
The roster numbers have dwindled over the past few years, dating back to the final season under head coach Tim Sweeney. One benefit, however, is that Derry Area is expected to drop down in classification to 2A for the next cycle.
“It’s going to start from building a roster. The numbers have been down lately,” Arone said. “Every day I walk the halls and I see a lot of kids that look the part – big, athletic – and I wonder to myself why are these kids not playing football.”
While Arone stressed that he will need time to rebuild the program to prominence, he believes that he can instill a winning culture for the upcoming campaign, regardless of the record.
“We’re going to be prepared, and we’re going to give maximum effort every game,” he stated. “I look forward to Friday nights, and hopefully we can build a program that the community can be proud of.”