Pelini’s Plea for Heat Turns into New Weight Room at Mooney

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When he was named Cardinal Mooney High School’s  associate athletic director for advancement last summer, Carl Pelini had a list of goals he wanted to accomplish.

This week, there’s one less item on the list. Initially, the goal was just to get heat in the building dubbed “The Armory” – Mooney’s weight room for the football team. 

He didn’t expect the speed and level of support his fundraising efforts would garner. The project raised $130,000 in eight months, and the extra money allowed him to come up with more creative ways to use the 6,000-square-foot building.

“We talk about Phase One: the weight room, the locker room, the cardio room, the golf simulator. But there’s room back there to put in a track,” Pelini said. “This building is endless.”

The Armory is one of two red brick buildings that sit on the eastern edge of Mooney’s property. The other is the Ron Stoops Sr. Baseball and Softball Facility.

Over a decade ago, Mooney completed renovations to its locker room, which housed weights and exercise equipment. The locker room was expanded and the old wooden lockers were replaced with metal, but that didn’t leave room for the equipment.

That was the beginning of the Armory’s use as a weight room. But it wasn’t ideal; the facility didn’t have heat for winter use and the interior of the building needed sprucing up.

Alumni came in over the winter to remove the heating system, flooring and other parts of the building to set the stage for the new environment.

Now, The Armory has several bench and squat racks and the north wall is lined with free weights. Penn-Ohio Electrical Contractors, Brookfield, put in new lighting for the building, which shows off the red, gold, white and black horizontal stripes painted on the walls.

“Honestly, it doesn’t even look like the same place or feel like the same place,” assistant football coach John Murphy said. “There’s so much change in this room. We went from barely having straight bars and the bathrooms barely working. The heat never worked. This is state of the art right here. You can’t ask for anything more than this.”

Some of the equipment still hasn’t arrived due to delays caused by the pandemic. More will be added to the weight room and cardio rooms and the golf simulator still needs to be added.

Pelini tapped into his years of experience coaching football at the college level when designing the Armory. He realized there was potential to the building shortly after he took over the program last summer.

“Honestly, this space is bigger than a lot of [NCAA] Division I schools have. Not the major schools, but a lot of the midmajor schools don’t have this kind of space in the weight room,” Pelini said.

Pelini and James Jablonski, Cardinal Mooney’s associate athletic director, want all the sports teams to use The Armory. Pelini said a future phase of the project would expand the building to install a stretch of all-weather track so runners can practice in the winter.

“We want every team here,” Jablonski said. “It’s for every athlete that comes through Cardinal Mooney.” 

Mooney girls basketball coach Jason Baker already asked Jablonski for a set of keys. He said the new weight room changes what he plans to do for offseason workouts.

“When I first got here four years ago, we started talking about lifting and how we wanted to do that,” Baker said. “Girls didn’t even want to come in here. They wouldn’t come in here.”

The past academic year was one of change for Cardinal Mooney athletics. Pelini took over the football program from P.J. Fecko, who coached the team for 20 years. The Cardinals won four of their seven state title appearances with Fecko as the coach.

Jablonski also took over the responsibilities for Don Bucci, Mooney’s longtime football coach and athletic director. Bucci was hired as the football coach in 1966 and became the AD after retiring in 1999. Jablonski assisted Bucci with his responsibilities for the last couple years until Bucci, 87, formally announced his retirement in October.

“I don’t feel pressure to replace a legend because there’s no replacing him,” Jablonski said. “I feel pressure everyday to make sure this is the best place for my students and future students going forward.”

And both Jablonski and Pelini have their eyes on the future. That’s why they wanted to remodel the Armory.

“I’m excited about it,” Pelini said. “Hopefully we’ll put it to good use and it will mean more W’s in all our sports.”

Pictured at top: Cardinal Mooney football coach Carl Pelini set out to raise money to get the team’s weight room heated. Donors gave the school $130,000 – enough to renovate the building.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.