HERSHEY - Gary Klingensmith has seen a lot of coaches get inducted into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
That's no surprise - he's been walking the sideline at Juniata longer than the association has been inducting members into its honor society. But he's still surprised that he's been invited to the party.
Klingensmith was inducted Saturday as part of the Class of 2012, which was presented during the Big 33 all-star football game at Hersheypark Stadium.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY?KREITZER
Juniata football coach Gary Klingensmith acknowledges the crowd at Hersheypark Stadium Saturday while being inducted into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
"I kind of look at it myself as a plus for our entire program," Klingensmith said. "I'm very humbled about it. It's quite an award.
"It's not something I was really aiming for all these years - I like football for what it is."
Actually, the surprise should be that it took this long for Klingensmith to be honored. After playing high school ball in Brownsville, he moved on to Penn State, where he led the team in rushing and kickoff returns and was a pre-season All-American in 1964.
"Rip Engle was my head coach in college. He was a great man, a great person, a great coach," Klingensmith recalled. And then he offered his thoughts on another coach he worked with while a Nittany Lion.
"Joe Paterno was the quarterback coach and the backfield coach when I was there. He's a great coach and it just aches me to see how it ended for him," he said. "He didn't deserve that. The school didn't deserve that."
After graduating from Penn State, he became the youngest college coach in the nation at 22, taking the reins of the Gallaudet University team in Washington, D.C. Just a few years later, he arrived at Juniata, and has been steering the ship for the Big Red ever since.
In addition to football, Klingensmith coached track, founding the school's program in 1977 and keeping it for 30 years until he was succeeded by his daughter, Kim. He also spent time as an assistant baseball coach, and helped with the wrestling program.
In his 43 years, his football coaching record stands at 252-184-6. His teams posted a 28-game winning streak from 1986-1988 and a 21-game streak from 1993-1994. Those two are special to him because his son Donnie had a hand in both of them.
"The highlight of my career at Juniata probably is the late '80s when we won a District 3 championship. What made it special for me is that my son was on those teams," he said.
Donnie went to Bucknell, playing there, then came back as an assistant to his dad after college.
"We used to joke around that he was 51-1 for his career. Those were great teams," Gary Klingensmith said.
Along with the 1987 District 3 Class AA title - the first District 3 crown won by a Tri-Valley League team - Klingensmith took his teams to the district final again in 1989, 1993 and 1994. His teams won TVL and Seven Mountains League titles, and twice won Eastern Conference championships.
His success, he said, is shared with the people who helped create it.
"I think it's a real tribute to all the people who, over the years, have supported me at Juniata - all the assistant coaches I've had, administrators, players," Klingensmith said. "I've been supported very, very well for 43 years. I think you have to be to last that long anywhere."
He's had assistants who have stayed longer than 20 years, and his current staff averages about 15 years with the program. Along with them, he looks inward to see his biggest supporters.
"I would say a lot of the credit goes to my family," he said. "I have a family who, even if I wanted to quit, probably wouldn't let me. They like it so much. They're my greatest fans."
His wife Linda has to be more than a fan - although not on the roster, she's done as much work during his career as any assistant coach. Klingensmith was quick to recognize the unique role she plays.
"It's as much of an honor for her as for me because she's handled being the wife of a coach who's almost deaf. It isn't easy," he said, describing all the things she has to do on his behalf - things as basic as taking notes, or acting as a go-between during telephone interviews.
"She's been with me through all the years of ups and downs," he said.
High school football, not surprisingly, has changed since Klingensmith began coaching.
"It's more open now. It used to be you could scout someone and come back and say, 'Well, they're in a 6-2. Maybe 5-3 with two or three stunts,'" he said. "But now with people in multiple defenses and the tendency to go now to shotgun, spreads and stuff, it's opening up very much."
One thing hasn't changed - and isn't going to in the near future: Gary Klingensmith is still on the sideline.
"I plan on coaching something like a handful more years and then I'm going to step aside," he said. "Hopefully my health holds up. I love the game, I love the thrill. It's been such a great life."
Klingensmith joins three coaches associated with Mifflin County programs in the Hall of Fame: Alex Ufema, inducted in the second class (1987), the late Gawen Stoker (2000) and John "Jet" Johnston, a 2005 inductee who nominated Klingensmith.