By John Knebels
ROYERSFORD – At some point, the sparkle associated with a brand new school will fade. The beginning of the academic year will no longer induce sporadic visits from media, and rivalries will start to be forged as opponents become more familiar.
But that’s in the future.
For now, the student-athletes and adults who comprise the just-opened Pope John Paul II High School (PJP) in Royersford are basking in the uniqueness of being a part of history amid state-of-the-art facilities.
“It has been special for all of us,” said junior Dave Cotellese, who is quarterback of the football team. “We came together from two different schools to become one. It is now a very exciting mood for all of the players. It’s like we have known each other for years now.”
Most of the 900-plus students at the 83-acre Montgomery County campus attended either Pottstown’s St. Pius X or Norristown’s Kennedy-Kenrick High School last year. After the two venues closed in June because of declining enrollment, hundreds of students opted to combine forces at PJP.
Athletically, the school competes in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (PAC) and their mascot is the Golden Panther.
The first week of competition already has been completed, and understandable jitters may have influenced some outcomes. The girls’ soccer team dropped a 2-0 decision at Phoenixville while the field hockey team lost 3-1 at Cardinal O’Hara.
In Pope John Paul II’s first-ever football game Friday night, Sept. 3, against Reading’s Holy Name High School, the visiting Golden Panthers fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter before the offense got on track by scoring two of the next three touchdowns to trim their deficit to 21-14 by halftime.
But Holy Name dominated the second half en route to a 49-21 victory.
“I definitely think we were nervous,” said Conor Myers, a senior and former standout at St. Pius X. “We did better as the game went on but made too many mistakes.”
Myers enjoyed the distinction of scoring the first-ever touchdown in PJP’s history, a six-yard run with 11:14 remaining in the second quarter. He also caught the school’s first touchdown pass, a nine-yard completion from Cotellese before halftime.
The Golden Panthers would add another score thanks to a 19-yard strike from Cotellese to Jared Siejk to climb to 28-21 entering the fourth quarter, but Holy Name responded with three unanswered touchdowns.
Cotellese, who played for St. Pius X last year after graduating from Limerick’s Blessed Teresa of Calcutta School, was disappointed by the result but encouraged nonetheless.
“Even though the outcome didn’t come out the way we would have liked, it helped us learn what we need to work on and it will prepare us for our first PAC game (Friday against Pottsgrove),” he said. “We have to be prepared to play for four full quarters.”
The historic significance of scoring the first touchdown and throwing the first touchdown pass was not lost on Myers and Cotellese.
While Myers said it hit him on the sidelines shortly after his initial scoring jaunt, Cotellese described his TD toss to a wide-open Myers as “an amazing feeling.”
Cotellese hopes to add more of the same over the next two years. In addition to football, he plans to play basketball and baseball.
And there are plenty of options for his peers as well. In the fall, boys’ sports include football, cross country, soccer and golf, while the girls can compete in field hockey, cross country, soccer, volleyball and tennis.
In the winter, basketball, indoor track and bowling are offered to both genders, along with wrestling and club ice hockey for boys and cheerleading for girls.
In the spring, both genders can run track. The boys can play baseball, lacrosse, tennis and club rugby, while the girls can play softball and lacrosse.
“There’s definitely something for everyone here,” Cotellese said.