A half century on the gridiron
By BUBBA KAPRAL
Executive Sports Editor
WOODSFIELD — The year was 1968.
LBJ was winding down his time in the White House. Star Trek made its TV debut. And sadly, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
It was also marked the year Jay Circosta launched his football coaching career.
Remarkably, Circosta is still going strong on the sidelines a half-century later.
Legend is an overused and all-too often inaccurate-applied noun. There is no question, however, Circosta is a high school football coaching legend.
The Shadyside High grad is entering his 47th season as a head coach. He has accumulated 330 wins, 14 OVAC championships and a like number of state playoff berths.
All staggering numbers.
“When I began coaching I had no timetable on how long I planned on doing it,” Circosta said. “When I got to 100 wins I never thought I would see 200. Then I never thought 300 was possible.
“It’s (300 wins) a milestone. But not for myself. It’s a milestone for the program,” he added. “A lot of people made that happen. I have been blessed.”
Circosta cut his grid coaching teeth at Woodsfield High in 1968. He served as an assistant for three seasons under the auspices of former Ohio State grid star Bob Butts.
When Butts moved on to become head coach at Union Local for the 1971 season, Circosta took over as the Redskins’ boss.
“My first year as a head coach I tried to create a lot of excitement. I was young and energetic and I wanted to generate enthusiasm for the program,” he said.
His game plan worked.
Inheriting a team that went 1-7-1 the previous season, the affable mentor wasted no time in flashing his coaching magic. His first squad improved to 3-4-2 followed by a 5-4-1 campaign.
Amazingly, he guided Woodsfield to an unbeaten campaign in 1973, and a coaching dynasty took root.
The Redskins repeated their unbeaten ways in 1976. Those two seasons were extra sweet for Circosta as his two daughters (Jayne Lynne Vinskovich and Susan Jaye Snively) were born in those years.
All told, the 72-year-old coaching icon has directed six unbeaten teams. His 2001 Monroe Central squad captured the regional championship, eventually losing to Bedford Chanel which featured future University of Virginia star running back Tony Franklin.
One of the exclamation points on his brilliant resume came in 1976. That season his Redskins were crowned Associated Press state champions.
Circosta’s first 46 years as a head coach were evenly divided 23-23 between Woodsfield and Monroe Central. He noted that few problems resulted when Woodsfield and Skyvue were merged, even though the latter yielded few football players.
“The transition went really well. The kids made it real easy, But we didn’t have many Skyvue kids contribute,” Circosta reflected. “I would have loved to have some of my Woodsfield teams competing in the smallest division in the state over the years.
“The only real problem we had with the consolidation is when Florida State threatened to sue us over our uniforms. They were really pushing the issue,” he added. “It all played out in April, so we had to rush very quickly to get new uniforms.”
While Circosta relishes the success he and his grid teams have achieved, he takes a greater sense of pride in the human element the coaching profession offers.
“I have coached more than 500 kids. I would like to think that I have touched their lives in a positive manner and made them better as individuals,” said the West Liberty grad. “It is special when they grow up and they maintain their friendship with us. I prided myself on the kids who didn’t play much but still became lifelong friends.”
Coaching honors have gravitated his way over the course of five decades. Now the second winningest coach in Ohio Valley and OVAC annals, Circosta has been enshrined in both the West Liberty and Ohio High School Football Coaches Halls of Fame.
Moreover, he has been the recipient of 10 Dapper Dan awards, including being named the Dapper Dan Man of the Year in 2005, to go with his countless district and state coach-of-the-year honors. Moreover, his team is housed in the Jay Circosta Fieldhouse while the road through Monroe Memorial Park is named Jay Circosta Boulevard.
Such consistent winning, done in class fashion, has attracted suitors from countless schools.
“I have had many offers to go elsewhere, but only two did I really consider seriously. Shadyside, being alma mater, and Dover, with good friend Bill Zanders as superintendent, were tempting,” Circosta said. “But my wife (Donna Sue) and I had so many ties here we never wanted to leave. We have never regretted staying.”
What has changed since his first foray into coaching in 1968?
“A lot has changed in 50 years. The kids and parents have changed in what they feel is important. That is why our football numbers are so low,” Circosta said. “Kids find easier ways to entertain themselves. Many of them want to put forth the effort. They just don’t do it.”
Circosta embraces people more so than wins when looking back at his career.
“Number one has to be the players. We were never overly big or fast but we had tough and dedicated kids,” Circosta said. “I have also been blessed with a great group of coaches. For the most part, we have kept a lot of those guys intact. We had great continuity and they were extremely loyal.
“And our booster groups are outstanding. The Sideliners and Football Moms have done tremendous things over the years,” he continued. “They have both bought us so much needed equipment over the years and been so instrumental. It is one big family. A lot of people have been part of it.”
And the saying goes, “behind every great man, there is a great woman.”
Circosta has been married to a special woman for 51 years.
“I couldn’t have done this without my wife. She gave me the opportunity to do what I have the passion for,” Circosta said. “Football calls for a lot of hours, so Donna Sue took care of our daughters and our home. She also spearheaded the Football Moms and has been with me every step of the way.
“I also was blessed to have two great parents,” he added. “I have been surrounded by a lot of good people.”