Sports Obituary: Football lifer DiPaolo was South’s first baseball coach

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 14, 2023

By Mike London

LANCASTER, Pa. — Anthony Berarado DiPaolo, a football lifer who also had the distinction of being South Rowan High’s first baseball coach, died at 89 on Feb. 7, at his home in Pennsylvania.

Known as Tony, DiPaolo’s game was football. He played at a high level and coached the sport 43 years. He was good enough to be inducted into four hall of fames, including the Catawba College Sports Hall of Fame.

DiPaolo went to Berwick High, starred as a lineman and was part of the graduating Class of 1952. He was famed as the first four-year starter in the history of a football-crazy town.

He was a freshman starter at Bloomsburg State, a Pennyslvania college, but he didn’t finish there.

He joined the U.S. Marine Corps for a four-year hitch. He got married while he was in the Marines.

He spent a good chunk of his service time playing on the Virginia-based football team known as the Devil Dogs that represented the Quantico Marine Base. He made “All-Navy” when that was a very big deal. He competed against future NFL stars such as Ollie Matson and played in the Poinsettia Bowl, the national championship game for service teams.

He arrived at Catawba after his military service, mature and a grown man who already had started a family. He was smart and tough. He dominated on the football field on both lines for the Indians from 1956-58. He was mostly a guard, but also played some center. In 1958, he was Catawba’s Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the North Carolina All-State team.

In a story in the Post, Clyde Biggers, who was the head coach at Catawba from 1953-58, called DiPaolo the best lineman he ever coached.

In the spring of 1959, shortly before he graduated from Catawba, it was announced that DiPaolo would be joining the coaching staff at China Grove High. Coach Bob Lee was leaving the Red Devils to take a job at Veterans Administration Hospital in Salisbury, and China Grove head coach Lope Linder, who had played at Catawba, tabbed DiPaolo as Lee’s replacement.

DiPaolo began his high school football coaching career that fall, coaching the China Grove linemen for Linder. He taught P.E. and science classes. He coached the girls basketball team in the winter and the baseball team in the spring. He had been a three-sport athlete in high school, starring in basketball as well as football, and he’d been a starter for the baseball team.

The China Grove girls basketball team had quite a season in 1960-61. Sara Anthony averaged 27.2 points, including a 40-point effort in a loss to Asheboro. Judy Jones scored 30 in a win against Albemarle. Ginny Smith averaged 15.3 points for a 16-5 team that went 11-3 in the South Piedmont Conference and tied for first place. That team won a ton of close games, swept A.L. Brown, beat Concord three times and edged rival Landis 39-37 and 46-44.

When South Rowan opened in the fall of 1961, consolidating former rivals Landis and China Grove, Linder became South’s first head football coach. DiPaolo was still on the staff with him.

DiPaolo coached South’s first baseball team to a 4-8 record in the SPC in the spring of 1962.

In 1963, Linder coached the baseball team while DiPaolo coached the track team.

When DiPaolo was inducted into the Catawba Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, he remarked, “I figured if I was going to stay in coaching I’d better go where the money was. I was making $2,700 a year in North Carolina. They were paying $3,100 in Pennsylvania.”

He announced his move back to Pennsylvania in the spring of 1963.

He coached two seasons at Solanco High School, but the bulk of his coaching career was spent at Lancaster Catholic, where he became a legendary figure as a no-nonsense leader. He had two stints at Lancaster Catholic — from 1965 to 1980 and an encore from 1993 to 2001.

When the program had fallen on hard times, they asked DiPaolo to come back in 1993 — and they promptly started winning again.

His teams won with discipline and defense. His Lancaster Catholic teams built a record of 156-97-6. He had winning teams in 18 of his 25 seasons. His 1998 and 1999 teams advanced to district championship games.

For the 12 years in between his two head coaching stints at Lancaster Catholic, he was linebackers and special teams coach at Franklin & Marshall College. During those years he coached in college, he continued as a presence at Lancaster as a science teacher and/or vice principal of student affairs.

He was inducted into the Berwick High Hall of Fame for his playing feats in 1983 and was inducted into the Lancaster Catholic School Hall of Honor in 2002 for all of those wins and for all of those lives that he impacted.

He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaching Hall of Fame in 2008 and entered Catawba’s Hall in 2011.

DiPaolo survived heart trouble and a triple by-pass operation during the 1999 season. His son, Dino, one of his six children, coached the team when he was hospitalized, and famously won a double-overtime playoff game.

DiPaolo bounced back to live a long life. He spent winters in Florida as he got older, but his heart was never far from the football fields of Pennsylvania.

Services are set for Thursday in Lancaster, Pa.