SMERAGLIO: Holy Ghost Prep asked for resignation

BENSALEM – Last spring, Holy Ghost Prep (HGP) became winners of the District 1 AAA baseball championship for the second time in the past three seasons. So wasn’t former Firebirds coach Keith Smeraglio surprised when the school asked for his resignation a few weeks after guiding Ghost to states.

Five months later, Smeraglio says he still doesn’t know why he was let go.

“They told me they wanted to go in a different direction,” said the former HGP skipper. “I really wasn’t given a reason for it. I was pretty much stunned.

In July, word spread throughout baseball circles that Smeraglio had stepped down.

“Keith resigned from the program in June and both parties have moved on,” said Holy Ghost athletic director Jim Stewart in a recent interview.

While Smeraglio stepped away from coaching positions both at Newtown American Legion Post 440 and also the Suburban One National/ Bicentennial Phillies Carpenter Cup showcase teams in 2014, he stressed that this however, was not a decision he had made on his own.

“It was a decision THEY made,” said Smeraglio. “I DID resign but I didn’t plan on resigning.

“I didn’t want to make an issue of it. They asked that I resign so I resigned.

“I’m certainly not going to stay anywhere I’m not wanted.”

Smeraglio says he never saw it coming. During his 11 years as head coach at HGP, he guided the Firebirds to a 175-59 record – a .748 won-loss percentage, 10 Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) championships and two District 1 trophies. He was named BAL Coach of the Year in 2005 and more recently in 2013.

But, after taking Ghost to its second district title in three years, many were stunned when the ‘birds were eliminated in a PIAA Class AAA first-round matchup June 3 at Devon Prep.

A few weeks later, the coach hosted the annual Holy Ghost Baseball Camp at the Bensalem Ramblers sports complex. The five-day camp wrapped up on Friday, June 26 and that’s when Smeraglio’s tenure at HGP started to unravel.

“Friday night, I got an email and they asked me to come in for a meeting,” said Smeraglio. “I met with them on Monday and they asked for my resignation – just like that.”

“I have no idea – I was never given a real reason. I really don’t know.

“I still have no idea. I was shocked.

According to former head and assistant coach Ted Grabowski, Smeraglio was the driving force behind the dugouts that were built alongside the baselines on what is now known as Ted Grabowski field.

“He’s the reason why we have dugouts; he pushed for that and for the field improvements,” said Grabowski, who announced his retirement from the program at the end of the season.

Smeraglio says he built Holy Ghost Prep baseball to the point its stands at today.

“We were No. 1 in Southeastern Penna – twice. For a small school, we had about 40 players playing NCAA baseball, lots of titles. We built a very successful program and it just ended like that.”

With pitchers like Tim Brennan, who is headed to St. Joseph’s University and Nolan Jones, who has a year left before playing at Virginia, however, some of the team’s supporters felt the Firebirds should have gone further this year and maybe even last when they were ousted in districts by eventual 2014 state champion Pope John Paul II.

This year, when Ghost fell 1-0 in its state opener to District Three fourth-place finisher Manheim Central, there were rumblings about the lack of a cohesive offseason program and some on-the-field decisions made by Smeraglio. The talk grew louder when folks found out the ‘birds were undone in states on a no-hitter tossed by Manheim senior Blake Reiff, a righthander who struggled to reach 70 mph with his fastball.

Still, Reiff was no slouch. While tendinitis limited his time on the mound last spring, Reiff entered the game with a pitching record of 4-1 and an ERA of 3.50. Throwing splitters and curves, he’d push his won-loss mark to 5-1 by game’s end. Indeed, he retired the first 16 batters in order facing a lineup that included Lehigh-bound Ryan Malloy, Washington & Lee recruit Ben Decembrino and Rider signee Nick Payesko.

And Reiff wound up tossing a complete game. Of the 71 pitches he threw, 43 were thrown for strikes.

Almost immediately after the Firebirds’ early ouster from states, the talk began.

Maybe Ghost should have bunted more in the state playoff. Maybe the ‘birds shouldn’t have had Pete Oline – the first baserunner in the game for HGP who drew a walk – stealing with no outs in the sixth, were just some of the whispers.

“That kid pitched a great game but we were so much better than them,” said a Firebirds booster that did not want to be identified.

Losing that game, the booster added, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“That team was loaded and they weren’t able to make any kind of a run at all in states and that has to fall back on the coach.”

It appears that in this case, it did.

Smeraglio says he hasn’t given much consideration to finding another coaching position though he adds that he would like to.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished there. I’m very proud of what the program became while I was there. I thought it became a first class program. A lot of kids went to college and played in college.

“More importantly, they learned how to be good young men as well as good players.

“We always stressed respect each other, respect for our opponents, respect for the officials and respect for the game.”

“The boys came out of the program better off than when they went in.”

During Smeraglio’s tenure, 38 players including recent graduates Luke Duris, who is headed to Villanova and David Lawall, who is going to Scranton, committed to playing baseball in college.

Now, both righthanded pitchers have moved on.

So to, it appears, has the baseball program at Holy Ghost Prep.

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