The SportsTalk Shop: Football Poll Preview 2016

With an earlier than normal start to the scholastic football season, the time to unveil the first “RCN SportsTalk” High School Football Poll for the Lehigh Valley is almost upon us!

I’ve remarked in previous years how comprehensive and diverse our poll is compared to other publications and media outlets, and we are using the same formula for the fall 2016 season.

Our voting panel consists of local media members from different outlets, along with local coaches and athletic directors from across the entire district.  The voters are not identified so they can give their honest impressions without any worry of outside pressures or “bulletin board” material, and we rotate different pollsters from different schools each year, including guests from our biggest to our smallest schools.

As in previous years, we take the 400-male enrollment number as the cutoff for schools within the District XI/RCN footprint.  All schools above that number qualify as “big schools” in our poll. These schools consist of Parkland, Liberty, Allen, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty, Dieruff, Freedom, Stroudsburg, Pleasant Valley, Northampton, Nazareth, E. Stroudsburg-South, Whitehall, Southern Lehigh and Bangor.

“Small schools” (below 400-male enrollment) consist of Saucon Valley, Central Catholic, Bethlehem Catholic, Northwestern, Wilson, Palisades, Palmerton, Salisbury, Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Nolehi and Catasauqua.  Each pollster will identify their top five teams in each group—the top school gets five points, the second team gets four points and so on, with an average score determining the order of teams in the poll.

Before we get to unveiling our 2016 Lehigh Valley football poll (we’re going to announce it on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show—also available here on the website via podcast on Friday), let’s take a quick look back at last year’s poll and evaluate how we did:

2015 BIG SCHOOL FB Preseason Poll (10 pollsters)
1) Parkland – 50 total votes ( 10 -1st place votes)
2—tied) Easton — 28
2—tied) Freedom — 28
4)  Liberty — 16
5)  Whitehall – 11
Other schools receiving more than one vote:  Emmaus, Stroudsburg

                Our panelists pretty much nailed the 2015 season before the first game was played, despite us getting some early season grief about having Freedom and Easton tied for the second spot—and not just from Red Rovers fans).

               Parkland was clearly the best team in the area, and came within a few minutes of winning a PIAA state title.  Freedom and Easton split a pair of games against each other last year and Liberty was the fourth team that advanced to a district semifinal matchup.  Whitehall—with nearly everyone returning this year—was one of several teams that finished a step below the first four, along with Emmaus and a faster-than-expected rebuilding effort from the Nazareth Blue Eagles.

 2015 SMALL SCHOOLS FB Preseason Poll (9 pollsters)
1) Bethlehem Catholic – 43 total votes (8  -1st place votes)
2) Saucon Valley – 36 (1 – 1st place vote)
3) Northern Lehigh — 20
4) Central Catholic — 11
5) Northwestern – 10
Other schools receiving more than one vote: Notre Dame, Pen Argyl, Salisbury
                This wasn’t our best year as far as pre-season predictions for the smaller schools, as Saucon topped Becahi in the 3A District XI title game.  Both Northern Lehigh and Central Catholic struggled, while Notre Dame had arguably its greatest season ever, and Salisbury showed strong signs of improving that will probably continue into 2016.  However, let the record show that, by the time we did our first “in-season” small school poll, the teams shook out this way (which nearly mirrors the final standings):

 2015 SMALL SCHOOLS FB Poll (10 pollsters)
1) Saucon Valley (5  -1st place votes)
2) Bethlehem Catholic (4 – 1st place votes)
3) Notre Dame (1 – 1st place vote)
4) Northwestern
5) Central Catholic/Salisbury (Tied)

How will our 2016 preseason poll look?  Find out over the next week as we will bring you an unprecedented THREE BIG HOURS of high school football previews, predictions, insights and interviews with head coaches and players themselves.  On both the “RCN SportsTalk” program and on our podcasts (, we will present three, one hour-long shows featuring the Lehigh Valley media’s top football insiders breaking down the different leagues, top match-ups and players to watch.  Our first show will be broadcast live on RCN-TV this Thursday at 7pm, followed by two additional live program broadcasts from the Allentown Fair’s RCN Farmerama Stage area next Tuesday and Wednesday, 6-7 pm.

Then on Thursday at the Fair (7:30 – 8:30 pm), we’ll feature the 50th anniversary/reunion show featuring the first undefeated football team in Parkland High School history, with players from that historic team, great stories from the golden years of high school football, and those players’ thoughts on current football issues and how today’s athletes compare.

We hope you’ll join us in person for these special shows from the Fair!

Last but not least, make sure you tune in for the season premiere of high school football this Friday, featuring Central Catholic versus Freedom, live at 7 pm on RCN-TV.  Plus, check out the RCN broadcast schedule here on the website for upcoming games.

The SportsTalk Shop: Paul Bunyan Lumberjacks


“Paul Bunyan Lumberjacks”

I must admit–when I was a kid, I always thought it would be fun to work at a fair.

Going to the Allentown Fair and other local carnivals always seemed like a fun place to hang out, and I thought it would be neat to travel around the country to new locations for a week, meet new people, host games or do some shows for several days, and then move on and do it again in another new area.

When I was first asked several years ago to do our live “RCN SportsTalk” show from the Farmerama Stage, I didn’t know how a live, local call-in show would work at this venue, especially since the Fair occurs at the absolute WORST time of year to do a show with sports celebrities—both local and national. While it’s certainly no bed of roses to plan and prepare for our three shows from the Fair, preparation actually starts in late winter. I think after a few years of putting it together (and being blessed with some wonderful guests), I begin to look forward to these programs. Aside from working hard trying to coordinate and ensure that we have the best possible shows, I’ve actually learned to have some fun myself.

In recent years, we’ve had former NFL players Chuck Bednarik, Artie Owens & Bo Orlando on our show, race car drivers and experts from Grandview Speedway racing, and awesome performances by local cheering squads to name just a few. However, I never had an experience like we had in 2012, when I had the honor of hosting our show featuring Lee LeCaptain and the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show. It was completely unrehearsed (HONESTLY!). I really didn’t know what to expect and had great anxiety—especially when I went to do an on-the-spot interview, on live television, with a man I knew was going to make me throw an ax in front of a large crowd.

I was happy with the result (the clip is below) and the RCN-TV crew (which is not an easy group to impress), actually was shocked that I hit the target while not striking any innocent bystanders in the throwing process (which is what I thought would happen).

We are honored to have Lee and his crew back for an expanded role on this year’s “SportsTalk” show at the Allentown Fair, featuring a new live demonstration along with an interview with Lee. Lee truly impresses me with his conversations and vast experience from performing all around the world, in addition to his team. We’re also pleased to have Randy Kane, Mike Feltenberger and race car drivers (and their cars!) back with us again, plus more cheerleading groups and other special shows at the Farmerama for our “SportsTalk” shows on August 27th, 28th and 29th starting at 6pm.

We hope to see you out at the fair! Please post comments below on what you would like to see Joe Craig perform for this year’s demonstrations (you’ll notice on the clip, that he claimed a ‘hip injury’ to stay on stage and steer clear of my throwing lane, which we’ll not accept for this year’s events).