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Brong, Corpora, Blick honored

NORTHAMPTON - For many years, Bill Brong and Jim Corpora had classrooms next to each other as teachers at Lehighton High School.

On Sunday night, the two were side-by-side again.

This time, Brong and Corpora were seated together at the Northampton Community Center as the pair were officially inducted into the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.

Pleasant Valley all-state lineman John Blick was also honored, as were Brock Holland, Jeff Bleamer and Ed Hudack Sr.

“We were door-to-door for a very, very long time,” said Brong. “Since we were in the new high school, which would have been 1993. It’s absolutely remarkable (that we’re being inducted together).

“And then to have an accomplished athlete like John Blick go in too, what a great career he had.”

While Brong, Corpora and Blick shared the honor of being in the latest class, all three entered in different ways - Brong as a coach, Corpora as an official, and Blick as a player.

But no matter which way they entered, their thoughts were similar in becoming the most recent members.

“This is amazing,” said Blick, who went on to play at Penn State, and then spent a year on the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs. “I never would have expected to be inducted into a Hall of Fame like this. When I was contacted a few years ago, I didn’t really believe it at first. I thought they were joking with me, but being here tonight, it’s been a great experience, and I’m very honored to be inducted.”

“I’m extremely humbled and blessed,” echoed Corpora, who became a PIAA official while he was in college in 1974 and is now an official in the Atlantic Coast Conference. “You think back to so many people that helped you along the way and learned from and grew from. It’s very surreal (going in with Brong). Bill and I became friends, colleagues a long time ago.”

Corpora was helped in many ways, but early in his career, the administration at Lehighton was key in it moving forward.

Having to travel to get to JV afternoon games on time, Corpora was faced with some issues.

“When I first started at Lehighton, the last bell was 3:10 and we had to be there until 3:30,” said Corpora. “I went to (principal Gordon Ripkey) and told him about it ... For whatever reason, I think he felt my passion, and we were able to work it out. That was a big help because if you say no to assigners, they start to forget you. I’m very thankful. There were great principals there, and Lehighton was a great place to teach.”

For Brong, it was also a great place to coach.

A longtime assistant under Dave Parsons - and then the head coach from 2001-07 - Brong has many memories of being on the sidelines, but a few stand out more than others.

“I can remember 1987 when we beat Easton, and I was an assistant,” said Brong, who also was an assistant at Nazareth and Pocono Mountain East, and now coaches at Kings College under defensive coordinator Mike Cebrosky - one of his former players. “We got into the game because East Stroudsburg backed out because of Thanksgiving. We really dominated that game from start to finish ... I remember standing on the sideline with time winding down, and thinking did we really beat Easton?

“I also remember 2001 when I was the head coach and we had a title team and a fantastic defense. What makes me even more proud of that team is two members of that team are currently very successful coaches in Vinnie Andrews (at Bangor) and Mike at Kings. That makes you extremely proud when you see a player of yours kind of following in your footsteps, so to speak. To think that you’ve imparted some good things in their coaching philosophies make me really, really proud.”

Blick’s coaches at Pleasant Valley also imparted wisdom into the 6-6 lineman, which helped him grow in the game.

“The coaches really tried to make me tougher,” said Blick, whose most memorable PV moments were defeating Whitehall in a back-and-forth district playoff game, and a win against East Stroudsburg and James Mungro. “It wasn’t just head coach (Tony) Caracio, but Mike Falcone as well. He was a great offensive line coach, and really prepared me well to go on the next level and play at the next level.

“My freshman year, I was a bit immature. I came here from Vermont and didn’t know what high school football was all about in Pennsylvania. I was always kind of laid back and when you’re a big guy, a lot of times everyone is telling you to be careful and go gentle, and I think they really helped to kind of show me what I needed to do to be a football player. You talk about the hard work it takes, and they just really brought that out of me and got me to become the football player that I was able to be.”

Looking back, Blick also benefitted from another sport at PV.

“I have to say throwing shot put in high school also helped prepare me at the next level,” said Blick, who was the first true freshman to start on the line at Penn State under Joe Paterno. “The kick slide out of the shot put really made me good at the kick slide that we used at Penn State for pass blocking, and I think that was one of the reasons I was able to come in and start so early (at PSU).”

While all three were quick to thank the many people that have impacted their football careers, Corpora related a story of someone he admired for years and someone who always had his back - officiating administrator Carl Paganelli, who passed away a few years ago.

“In the Arena League one time, I did a game with the Philadelphia Soul,” said Corpora, who has worked in 28 states and officiated three ACC championship games. “He (Paganelli) was there to observe us. We did the game and the Soul lost late. I had an intentional grounding call against the Soul that pretty much ended the game. The game ended and he came in the locker room to give us a review like all supervisors do and there was a bang, bang, bang on the door.

“He told us to let it alone. Bang, bang, bang again, and he said let it alone. The third time, he got it and it was Ron Jaworski, who owned the Soul, and he started complaining. Paginelli said I’ll be with you in a minute and he came back and finished his critique ... Then he said Jimmy, come with me. So we got outside and Ron Jaworski is still there with a security guy and he walks us down the hall. Jaworski started again and Paginelli said, ‘Mr. Jaworski, I was here, I watched these guys, that was a great call at the end, it was a gutsy call but the right call to make.’

“He said, ‘Now I have one of two questions to ask you. Am I going to call the director of football operations and report you or are you going to apologize to these people in the locker room? So, Jaworski came in and said sorry guys ... and gave us all golf passes since he owns a bunch of golf courses. We were like, what just happened?”

The Lehigh Valley Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame inducted its newest members at a banquet Sunday night in Northampton. Among the recipients were, from left, Pleasant Valley graduate John Blick, former Lehighton teacher and longtime official Jim Corpora, and longtime Lehighton teacher and coach Bill Brong. ROD HECKMAN/TIMES NEWS