Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

Student newspaper of Strath Haven High School

Panther Press

Two Haven coaches inducted into Delaware County Athletes Hall of Fame

Football Coach Mike Connor and Baseball Coach Brian Fili were inducted into Delco’s Sports Hall of Fame 2024.
LEFT%3A+Varsity+baseball+head+coach+Mr.+Brian+Fili+%28Kelly+Montague+25%29+RIGHT%3A+Assistant+varsity+football+coach+Mr.+Mike+Connor+%28Strath+Haven+Youth+Football%29
LEFT: Varsity baseball head coach Mr. Brian Fili (Kelly Montague ’25) RIGHT: Assistant varsity football coach Mr. Mike Connor (Strath Haven Youth Football)

“Dedicated, hilarious, mentor.”

These were the three words senior and varsity baseball player Matthew Kane used to describe varsity baseball coach Mr. Brian Fili.

Coach Fili and assistant varsity football coach Mike Connor led their students into Districts victories in the Central Athletic League during the 2022-2023 seasons.

They will both be officially inducted into the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame at the 2024 Induction Dinner on Sunday, April 21—Fili, for his accomplishments as a baseball coach, and Connor for his record as a football player.

“I think I speak for a lot of people that [Fili] has been the greatest coach that I’ve ever had, and I’m really excited for this year with him,” Kane said.

Fili was inspired by other mentors he had.

“For example, my college baseball coach was also a teacher, he was a high school teacher,” Fili said. “I originally wanted to be a pre-med major at Villanova, and when I decided that was going to be really tough, to play baseball at Villanova and also be a pre-med major, I switched my major to education and wanted to become a teacher because of the teacher and coach that I had.”

Fili recounts the moment when he found out that he got the award.

ON FILI: “They play harder for him than other teams [and] kids play for their coaches, he’s just able to bring that quality out of his players.”

— Dr. Christopher Matsanka, Middle School Principal

“In my classroom, teaching math, I got a phone call, and at first I didn’t recognize the number, so I didn’t answer it,” Fili said. “I was in the middle of a lesson.”

He appreciates his assistant coach, Mr. Kane, who he commends for helping him manage and run the team.

“I was a baseball player, but also now to get inducted as a coach,” Fili said. “I think it’s really cool. And it’s a lot of credit to the players that I’ve had. I’ve had a lot of talented players, but a lot of great kids too, and that’s important.”

According to Kane, Fili’s upbeat personality is why the team loves playing for him.

“Honestly, just a really fun guy,” Kane said. “He’s very extroverted. He makes a lot of jokes, which I think also makes him a really good coach. He’s open to all the players. He’s very accepting of all of us.”

Strath Haven Middle School Principal Dr. Christopher Matsanka also noted the way Fili lights up his team.

“What I really noticed is that I think his kids play hard for him. And they play harder for him than other teams [and] kids play for their coaches, he’s just able to bring that quality out of his players,” Matsanka said.

Matsanka was also impressed with how Fili paid respect to people even if they weren’t on his team during a 2021 game against Marple Newtown.

“I think at our home game, he honored a student from the opposing team, who I think was having some health problems,” Matsanka said. “And I just thought that’s an amazing thing to do at our home game: to honor a student from an opposing team who’s having some struggles.”

A.J. Grande was a student at Springfield High, whose last game of the season had been played on the Strath Haven field after a cancer diagnosis. Fili gave a speech during the game stating the Central League’s support of Grande. He also let Grande throw a pitch home.

“I just remember watching that game, it was when we honored him at the start of the game,” Matsanka said. “And it just was a very classy thing to do, and it just showed how much he cares about kids and how much he cares about the game of baseball. I just think he has a huge heart.”

Fili has continued to inspire. Last season, the baseball team was undefeated 5-0, until they played Ridley at home. They lost that game 10-0.

“He brought us in, and we kind of expected him to be mad,” Kane said. “But it was kind of the opposite. It was kind of like, ‘Hey, you guys thought that you were this good, but you’re not’, he kind of just set it straight to us. He’s like, ‘We have to work a lot harder in practice. We have to focus more,’ and I think after that game, we really turned it around. We’d won, I’d say, 14 out of our next 15 games after that.”

This optimistic yet tough outlook drives Fili’s coaching style.

“As a coach, I believe you can win every game and that’s how you got to approach it, too,” Fili said. “Like, if I go into a test, I want to get the best I’m going to get on the test. I’m gonna do well. If I’m pushing a game, we’re gonna go in, and we’re gonna win. And your players feed off that if your players see, ‘Coach thinks we’re going to win,’ then they’re going to have that same thought process.”

To Fili, success isn’t just measured in athletic talent.

“Not only do I have good players, but they’re also awesome kids, and you can’t be successful unless you have both of those,” he said.

Some of Fili’s favorite moments are visiting his old baseball pupils, and watching them play for colleges. Most recently, he went to Penn State and visited Strath Haven alumnus Alex Pak ’23.

Fili teaches a baseball camp during the summer and can watch kids grow from learning basics to being varsity athletes.

“Some of these kids were in my camp since they were in first grade, which is incredible to see,” Fili said. “And I love kind of seeing some of these kids that were on [the] state championship field last year. They were in my camp when they were first and second graders, which was kind of cool.”

Kane was one of those kids.

“I was the bat boy when I was four or five, and he kind of brought me into the team when I wasn’t on the team,” Kane said. “It kind of made me have the first sense of what a team was back when I was young.”

As in many sports, the idea of a team is synonymous with family. Fili also has three words to describe them.

“Gritty, smart, competitive.”


The students who played for football coach and former quarterback Mike Connor, who also teaches at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and is the Strath Haven Youth Football Director, described him in similar terms, and emphasized that Connor is one of the most determined people they’ve ever met.

“Every day, all day, he always was persistent. He always had something for us to do, and he’s just determined,” senior offensive starter Carter Law said.

When Connor was a student and quarterback at Strath Haven, he won two PIAA state championships as well as three Central League and a District 1 championship. He went on to play for the University of Delaware, leaving Strath Haven with a record of 43-1.

ON CONNOR: “I undoubtedly think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not surprised one bit that he’s in it.”

— Carter Law ’24, Offensive Starter

Law recalls his first impression of Connor from his sophomore year, highlighting the coach’s inclusivity.

“I remember that even when you weren’t participating in the game the next day, he still critiqued your form, he still critiqued everything you did,” Law said. “And so I always appreciate his idea of everyone should be as perfect as they can, no matter if they’re going to play or not.”

Having been a star player for Strath Haven himself, including being the 2001 All-Delco Football Player of the Year, Connor echoes that idea of self-betterment when reflecting on his coaching techniques.

“I try to hit the right buttons for each kid because every player is so different in what motivates them, and where they’re at from an ability standpoint,” Connor said. “So I try to know the kids as well as I can so that I can reach them as best I can, with the ultimate goal being to help them be the best player they can be as a football coach.”

Senior and quarterback Jake Kitchin, another player for Connor, was positively affected by his coaching methods and admired his skills back when he played for the Panthers.

“He’s fixed a lot of dumb things I’ve done, and he’s made me more mature by just realizing how to play the game,” Kitchin said. “Also I watched film of how he played, and I kind of idolized the way I played because of him.”

According to Law, Connor is also an extremely organized coach.

“He did just about everything. As our head coach, Coach Clancy used to say that if he were to just get sick and not show up one day, he would 100% have a job,” Law said. “He was always on top of everything, and he never missed a step. It was very impactful and it showed how much he cared.”

Connor’s time playing on and coaching the Strath Haven team has impacted him in turn, something he reflects on after being inducted into the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame for his role as starting quarterback.

“It’s given me a lot of time to find appreciation for the people that helped me,” Connor said. “The coaches I had, the players I played with, I’ve just come to appreciate them even more.”

Another achievement for the Strath Haven Football team was making it to the State Championship Semifinals during the 2023 football season. Even so, Connor emphasizes that the team was the most important part.

“Whether it was the state semis we made or whether, you know, maybe it’s just being a 500 team,” Connor said. “It was more special just to be part of that group and watch them just work and compete and be so humble but also not be afraid of any opponent, not be afraid of any environment, not be afraid of any challenge.”

It’s because of this attitude towards coaching that Kitchin expresses his appreciation for Connor.

“He’s one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had. I’ve been playing football since ten, he’s top two, top one to be honest,” Kitchin said. “He’s just a great coach, great guy, and it really sucks I’m done playing with him because I loved just speaking with him because he’s a great guy to talk to. Hopefully, I’ll see him down the road.”

Law shares similar sentiments about his former coach and congratulates him on his induction.

“I undoubtedly think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not surprised one bit that he’s in it,” Law said.

As for words to describe the well-respected football coach and admired former player, Kitchin sums it up in three.

“Definitely passionate. He’s very intelligent and inspiring.”

 

 


CORRECTION: In the print edition, the photo caption listed the incorrect name for Mr. Connor. We regret the error and have corrected the caption in the online publication.

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Kaitlyn Ho '26
Kaitlyn Ho '26, Managing Editor of Web
Kaitlyn Ho is the current managing editor of web and the health and sciences editor of The Panther Press. Her first article was on the German Exchange Students. There was no turning back after that. She loves to learn about communicating complex science in simple ways, reading, dancing, artificial intelligence, and playing (badly) the piano and cello. Her future self can confirm that she will laugh at and enjoy every single thing her past self wrote.
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Mia Fagone '26, Contributor
Mia is a sophomore at Strath Haven and a contributor to the Panther Press. This is her first year on staff and she hopes to write some interesting stories. In her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music, and learning new songs to play on her guitar.
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