DISTRICT IX HONORS OFFICIALS ADAMS AND
Larry “Lum” Adams and Frank Palaggo went back a long way. Earlier this fall, Adams and the late
Palaggo were honored by District 9 for their 50 years of PIAA officiating.
For Adams, it was 50 years of football officiating that finished up in 2017. Palaggo, honored posthumously,
worked 53 years as a football official and 43 years in basketball. Both from New Bethlehem, of course the two
were linked through the years on the gridiron.
Palaggo, a Reynoldsville native, landed in New Bethlehem in 1954 when Adams was a junior. Adams played
baseball, football, wrestled at Redbank Valley. Palaggo was an assistant baseball coach while Adams played.
But it was some years later when Adams, after serving in the Navy and then working at Hawthorn Manufacturing,
was recruited by Palaggo.
“I was at the Little League field and Frank was out there leaning over the fence watching his son Andy playing and
my son Kevin was three or four years younger than Andy and he was just starting and we were talking about refereeing,”
Adams said last week. “I thought at that time you had to be connected with the school or be a teacher because that’s what
most of them were at the time. A normal guy couldn’t do it because of work hours.”
Palaggo clarified the process and the job description.
“He said that you didn’t have to be a teacher. You had to send for an application and that was the end of the conversation,”
Adams said. “Lo and behold, I get an application in the mail. I talked to Frank about it and I had to go to Ridgway to take the
test. I went up and passed it and joined a chapter, the one Frank was in at DuBois. The guys were good to me, Frank, Jesse
Caldwell, Gene Rutkowski.”
It didn’t take long for Caldwell — Redbank Valley’s first wrestling coach — to recruit Adams to be a wrestling official as well
and Adams wound up officiating that sport for 27 years, getting invited to work at the PIAA Championships five times and
working three tournaments. Adams is in the D9 Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Adams’ state final in football was in 2000 and his crew included two other officials who were honored for 50 years of service
this fall — DuBois’ Barry Abbott who reached 50 in basketball and Punxsutawney’s Dick Neese. Also on the crew were Don
Walters, Tino Genevro and another New Bethlehem native Kevin Doverspike.
D9 also honored Bradford’s Frank Langianese for his 50 years of football officiating.
“They all have the same makeup,” said Doverspike, a D9 Committee member helping with the awards project. “They have a
love for the game and a passion and desire to help other officials fill the void when they leave or left. They wanted to pass it
forward and help breed other officials. For Frank and Lum, them being from New Bethlehem like me, those were guys who I
looked up to.”
From his start in football in 1967 through his final game in 2017, Adams saw quite an evolution in the game. The players
and coaches over the 50 years got much less cordial and respectful, and then the game on the field got a whole lot more
wide open with an aggressive passing game.
“We had a four-man officiating crew,” Adams said. “You had the head referee, the umpire, linesman and the line judge. Some
time you had three and one side of the field wouldn’t be covered. And back in the early days, one or two passes in a game were
a lot and a lot of times it was the halfback throwing a desperation pass. Total yards for the whole game might be 100. But that changed.”
The money doesn’t weigh nearly as much now for an official as it did in the 1960s. Adams and Palaggo both noted that it helped
with the family budget.
“We needed a supplemental income,” said Adams, whose wife is Barbara and the two raised two sons, Kevin and Kyle. “I felt I could
make a couple dollars on the weekend and it helped pay the bills and I loved it. I liked to be around the athletes and doing it. Every night
wasn’t a good night, but some weekends we did three games, Friday night, Saturday afternoon and sometimes Saturday nights.”
Adams reached the state finals in football in 2000, working the Class A final between Rochester and Southern Columbia. Rochester won
the game, 22-14. Adams was part of a crew that had a combined 137 years of officiating. Adams and Neese led the way with 34 and 31
years of experience at the time. Abbott also worked that game.
Adams said that the crew got high ratings by their evaluator, current Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi.
“Because it was so muddy on the sideline (in Hershey), they tried putting something down on the field to help with that, but at halftime I
told Dr. Lombardi that they had to get that out of there. I know what they were trying to do, but I can’t run up and down with that and my feet
are getting tangled up,” Adams said. “So he wrote on my evaluation about me working under adverse conditions.”
Adams mentioned the late Rich Vidunas, longtime Union coach, as one of his favorite coaches who made his team better from the beginning
of the season to the end.
Adams recalls his 77 years of combined officiating service with fondness.
“It was my privilege to do that with kids for that long,” Adams said. “I was at the Monroeville Mall one time and a kid came up to me, not long
after the season, and asked if I officiated wrestling. I said yes and he said he was from an Indiana County school and he named the match he
was in that I wrestled.
“What I’m most proud of probably is that I made people realize that you don’t have to be connected with a school and can be a person off the
street who can officiate,” Adams said.
FRANK PALAGGO EARNED the unofficial label of being the Godfather of District 9 officiating with his decades of work within District 9 and
the PIAA at the state level.
In a March of 1998 interview after his 43rd and final season as a basketball official, Palaggo and I were able to talk mostly about his years on
the hardwood. But it obviously applied to his years as
football official. He started as a football official in 1950 and then seven
years later in basketball.
Palaggo’s last basketball season came in 1998 when he was 69 and his final football season was 2001 three years later. He was planning to continue,
but he died not long after suffering a heart attack in the fall of 2002.
Palaggo was a 1946 graduate of Reynoldsville High and graduated from Clarion State Teachers College in 1952, then getting his Master’s Degree
from Penn State in 1955. He taught at Redbank Valley for 11 years before returning to Clarion where he served as a supervisor of student teachers
for 26 years until he retired in 1990.
While his real job was paying the bills, his passion centered around officiating.
“That was his job at Clarion, but I’ll be honest with you, his real job was officiating,” said his son Andy Palaggo. “Especially with football and basketball,
just being involved and he really enjoyed working with the state, Dr. Lombardi, Brad Cashman and even Charles McCullough years ago. He enjoyed
being the officials rep for the state of Pennsylvania and felt he had a sincere duty to elevate officiating to its highest level it could be and be respected too.”
Palaggo married his wife Donna while teaching at Redbank Valley and he recalled those early years where officiating money came in handy.
“I can remember coming back from our honeymoon and our rent was paid for the month,” Frank said in the 1998 interview. “Teachers got paid just once
a month then and I had $21 in my pocket. I said to my wife, ‘Don’t worry, we’re in business. I have to referee in football this weekend. I’ll get $10 for one
and $12.50 for the other. We’re in business.”
His son confirmed where the ref money usually went.
“Dad usually never spent the officiating money,” Andy said. “He just put it in his drawer in the bedroom and it just kept accumulating and if he needed to
spend it on something he had it, but it was more for mom for her to reach in there and grab some if she needed it for something.”
While still teaching at Redbank Valley, Palaggo was accepted to Bill McGowan’s School of Umpiring in Florida. He was nearly ready to head south before
principal Joe Kata talked him into staying. So instead of a possible career as a Major League Baseball umpire, he stayed home.
“I agreed I’d stay until January,” Palaggo said. “Needless to say, I never made it to Florida. I enjoyed teaching and coaching and made it my life.
I’m not sorry at all.”
Neither were all of the officials he instructed, promoted and encouraged, nor the PIAA itself.
“He’s an official’s official,” Dr. Lombardi said back in 1998. “He has a good handle on the sport (basketball in that story) and overall context of the rules
and applications. He also understands the players’ and coaches’ rules. He has a good perspective on how to handle ballgames.
“Frank’s a great asset because he’s an advocate for athletes and how important officials are fitting into the equation and the educational process.”
Rubbing shoulders with both Adams and Palaggo in his officiating career, Doverspike cherished the opportunity.
“It was an honor and a privilege to have shared the field with each of these two legendary officials,” he said. “I don’t know if either of them would have
ever realized how much of an influence they would be, not
only to me, but countless other officials whose lives they’ve touched along
their journey of officiating.”