Quaker Valley's gridiron success fuels memories of 1938 Sewickley team
Richard Start was his father's shadow.
“There wasn't anywhere my dad went that I wasn't right behind him,” Richard Start said. The Sewickley-based attorney and partner at Amato, Start & Associates admired his father, Bill Start, for as long as he can remember. Some of their fondest memories were from local football games. And Bill Start knew football.
He was, after all, a member of the 1938 Sewickley High WPIAL co-champion football team.
Quaker Valley will head to Hershey on Saturday, where they will face off against Middletown Area High School in the first PIAA championship game for the Quakers.
In 1938, Sewickley High tied Glassport in the district finals, becoming co-champs. In 1942, Leetsdale was defeated by Bridgeville.
Quaker Valley School District formed in 1956 and hasn't charted territory this deep since. In true Cinderella style, coach Jerry Veshio emerged from retirement just a week before the start of the 2017 season, after the resignation of John Tortorea. Veshio has helped the Quakers defy odds.
But in 1938, Sewickley High was defying its own odds, putting up a season total 179 points to their opponent's mere 20 points. Bill Start, who played right end, shared a story with his son Richard Start when recollecting his football days, and it's a story told to this day.
“They threw the ball to my dad in the Coraopolis game (in which Sewickley defeated Coraopolis, moving on to the finals against Glassport); my dad's running down the sidelines for a touchdown, and someone came out of the stands and punched him. His one chance for a touchdown was taken away,” Start said, throwing his hands in the air.
A Sewickley Herald article from Nov. 19, 1938, references the incident: “a former Razorback star and a stellar end, (Bill Start) undoubtedly played his best game at Glassport when his fighting blood was stirred to a fury.”
Postponed a week due to inclement weather, the final WPIAL game against Glassport ended in a tie, when games were played only through regulation. Last month's WPIAL final that saw Quaker Valley defeat Aliquippa, 2-0, resembled the 1938 game, Richard Start said.
Frequently “playing up” to larger division teams, Sewickley High was a force to be reckoned with, Start said. His father often mentioned a few of the tough players — most of whom Start knew as a child.
“Hunk Ford was a fullback. Hunk was 170 pounds, which was big for back then. Moreover, they didn't wear helmets with masks — they wore the leather hats. Hunk chewed tobacco. Well, Hunk would go through the line and spit tobacco in each of the tackler's faces.
“They would each go to the refs and say, ‘hey, he spit tobacco at us.' And the refs would say, ‘it's Hunk Ford,' with a shrug,” Start said. “There was a guy by the name of Bobby Lee. A halfback, they said, that was quicker than lightning. And his son went to school with me and he was quicker than lightning.”
With triumph comes a degree of tragedy though, and Bill Start was no exception. He dropped out of Sewickley High to help support his parents and four siblings —two sisters and two brothers — working in a local milk factory before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps. on Dec. 8, 1941 — the day after Pearl Harbor.
While deployed in England, Bill Start met Royal Airforce member Irene Helene Adams in 1943, and the two married shortly thereafter, settling in their home on Hill Street in Sewickley.
Bill Start began working for the Sewickley post office, working his way through every job there, eventually becoming postmaster. His secret of being a high school dropout was something he carried with him until his retirement in 1975.
“He never told anyone that he didn't graduate from high school because he was afraid people would say that the postmaster of Sewickley didn't know how to read,” Richard Start said of his dad. “But everyone — all of the merchants and business owners — wanted Bill Start to deliver their mail. They knew it would get there on time.”
While holding the role of postmaster, Bill Start maintained his love for football and sports in general, coaching different teams and leagues in the area.
Since many of the semi-professional teams and leagues were in Pittsburgh, Richard Start said his father would've had to take a bus or train to attend.
“He was an offensive line football coach at St. James here in Sewickley, a Little League baseball coach down in Leetsdale and Pony League coach in Sewickley,” Richard Start said.
On Bill Start's Pony League team? None other than 1970 Quaker Valley graduate and current football coach, Jerry Veshio.
Always bonding over football, Richard Start recalls the importance of football in the Start family.
“I played junior high football under Coach Pucky Perry, a Quaker Valley legend. I broke my leg very badly in ninth grade, so I didn't play high school ball. Because my dad was always very involved in football, I was also involved in football. So, every Friday night, my dad and I would get in the car, just the two of us, and go to the game of the week in Beaver County. Beaver County was — then — and still to a degree ... a leader in high school football.”
Retiring as postmaster in 1975, Bill Start often said to his son, “when you stop working, you start dying,” Richard Start recalls. Bill Start was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and died in 1988.
The current team resurrected many of Richard Start's childhood memories of his father's stories of Sewickley High's 1938 team.
There are similarities that bridge the two teams, Richard Start said.
“Heart,” he said. “I'm no expert. I've seen this team play; it's clear. It's heart. These boys today would beat the 1938 boys. But if they played each other back then it would've been a close one. With Hunk, and Bobby Lee. And this Ricky Guss kid. Who knows? Maybe my dad would've caught a touchdown pass. They don't get to this point without being skilled.”
Christina Sheleheda is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.