WILMINGTON – Joe Wright just finished his fourth season as a member of the coaching staff at St. Elizabeth High School, his first as the head man. He wasn’t looking to leave – and wouldn’t have – unless one specific position opened up. And it did.
Wright was named this week as the new head coach at St. Mark’s High School, from which he graduated in 2004. He replaces his former coach, John Wilson, who stepped down after 13 seasons at the helm.
Wright had a decorated career as the Spartans’ quarterback; as a senior in the fall of 2003, he was first-team all-state and Delaware’s offensive player of the year. The Spartans reached the Division I state championship game in his junior and senior seasons.
The pull of his alma mater was the only one strong enough to pry him loose from St. Elizabeth, where he spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before taking the reins prior to the 2017 campaign.
“I was happy with my job and the direction of the program at St. Elizabeth’s,” Wright said. “I never thought that (the St. Mark’s) job would open up, but when it did I just thought, why not take a chance. It is where I played and have so many great memories. I told the administration that this is the only place I would leave St. Elizabeth’s for because I have such deep ties to the school.”
Wright will be bringing assistant coaches Jim Petruccelli and Mark VanKerkhoven with him from the Vikings. They are also alumni of St. Mark’s. Wright said they have great memories from their days as Spartans, and they hope to impart the same to current students.
“I want to continue building the football program, but, more importantly, help the young athletes grow into men. It means a lot to me and the other coaches that are alums to get back to campus and continue to build this program and take it to the highest level,” said Wright, who also enjoyed a successful college career as a quarterback at West Chester University.
The goal, he continued, is to have a team that can compete in every game and that plays late into the postseason. He also wants to develop players who can compete at the next level. Most of his staff, he noted, played in college and are experienced coaches.
Of course, there is the matter of the team he is leaving. Wright said the decision was not made lightly and came only after serious consideration and discussion with his wife.
“The one thing I kept coming back to was the young men that I built relationships with over the course of my time there,” he said. “I will never forgot the memories and friendships I forged at St. Elizabeth’s. I will be pulling for them for nine weeks this year. Whoever becomes the next head coach over there is going to have a great group of kids and a team that will work hard through whatever is thrown at them.”
In a statement, St. Elizabeth School president and athletic director Joe Papili said, “We would like to thank Coach Wright for his time here with our football program and wish luck at St. Mark’s. We will be opening the search for a new head coach in the near future.”
The man Wright is succeeding, Wilson, won the 2010 Division I state championship, the Spartans’ first since 1978, and he was named the state’s football coach of the year that season. He began his football coaching career at St. Mark’s, working as an assistant from 1992-2000 and again from 2003-04. He spent the 2001 and ’02 seasons as an assistant at William Penn High School.
Wilson said it was not an easy decision for him to step down from the Spartans’ top job considering the relationships he had built and the length of time he had spent on the staff.
“Being an assistant coach with St. Mark’s for so long provided me with an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher and coach,” he said. “However, an opportunity presented itself to me, and I felt it best to step down in order for St. Mark’s to prepare their search for a qualified candidate.”
Wilson said he is “a lead candidate” for a position, but he declined to say where that was until he has been approved for the position by that school’s board.
He appreciates the support from his colleagues “who make St. Mark’s such a great place to work and coach. They have been very supportive and respectful of my decision to step down as the football coach. I want nothing but the very best for St. Mark’s, and I’m confident Joe Wright and his staff will do a great job with the program. A big part of me will always belong to St. Mark’s.”