With Tony DeMarco at its helm, the Riverbend High School football team typically would enjoy a single week’s respite between the end of the season and the onset of winter weightlifting.
The Bears’ summer practices spanned three hours a day, four days a week. Such is the requisite time commitment for relevance in the largest classification of high-school football the state of Virginia has to offer.
Unsure of his desire to offer that commitment for another year, DeMarco resigned Friday as the Bears’ head coach. He informed his players of the decision at Riverbend’s end-of-the-year banquet on Monday evening.
Hired to succeed Todd Campbell in January 2012, DeMarco compiled a 33-34 record in six seasons, including a 4-8 finish in 2017. The Bears advanced to the second round of the postseason in each of the past three seasons.
“Looking back, I really was able to make Riverbend a respectable team that a lot of teams knew, that when we played them, it was going to be a tough, hard-fought game,” DeMarco said.
Under DeMarco, the Bears’ notched their first playoff victory in program history—a signature win over Colonial Forge in 2015—and finally upended Spotsylvania County rival Massaponax this season.
For activities director Tim Stimmell, DeMarco’s contributions to the Riverbend community transcend xs and os.
“He put a lot of time into his character program, and trying to develop these guys beyond the field,” Stimmell said. “That was important to him and certainly to us. He also helped a lot of young men play at the next level. He was really promoting our kids to be able to play in college. He did some really good things.”
Stimmell wants DeMarco’s successor to build on those things. The head coach opening will be posted within the next few days, but Stimmell envisions a measured hiring process.
“I think we’re in really good shape to go to the next level,” Stimmell said. DeMarco has “gotten us to the point where there’s no reason for us to go backwards. I think whoever comes in here has a really good foundation and program to take over.”
Riverbend isn’t far from producing a winner. After finishing 8-4 in 2016, the Bears held their own against a grueling gauntlet of a 2017 schedule that featured eventual Class 5 state champion Highland Springs amid a slew of other contenders.
“We won a few, and we lost a few,” DeMarco said, “but over the years we were very, very competitive playing some of the toughest teams in the state.”
When DeMarco ponders a suddenly-unencumbered autumn, his thoughts turn to his wife, Tracey. The two were high school sweethearts back in Elizabeth, Pa., and for 28 out of their 32 years of marriage, “she’s taken a backseat to football,” DeMarco said.
In that vein, DeMarco plans a lengthy period of rest and reflection before considering any sort of return. But he’s not willing to commit to being absent from the sidelines for too long.
“I think I’ve still got some coaching in me,” he said.