Columnist focusing on Mon Valley sports trivia
You can always count on readers of The Valley Independent to come up with questions and answers on myriad topics.
A case in point is the picture of a youth baseball team that appeared in this newspaper's popular Yesteryear feature. We asked that anyone who could identify the players in the photo to contact us.
It didn't take long for Terry Peck of Roscoe to respond. He was one of those shown as a member of the 1958 California Little League All-Stars managed by veteran baseball figures George Sepesy and Judy Letrick.
In addition to Peck, who grew up in Coal Center, the 1958 California All-Star squad comprised Pepper Sealy, Larry Christinis, Gene Mussar, Tom Stapulis, Pete Fedeli, Mike Horwarth, Bernie Spada, Chuck Brigode, Mike Konek, Jim Buvit and Tom Digon. Only one player in the Yesteryear photo remains unidentified but Peck's alertness solved a big part of the mystery in fine fashion.
A reader in Roscoe asked this question: “Did California or East Pike Run Township high schools ever beat Charleroi in football?”
Because California and Charleroi were original members of the Mon Valley Conference when it was founded by the late Floyd France, sports editor of The Daily Republican in Monongahela, in 1925, the teams met many times. And, yes, California did defeat the Red and Black.
California – the team was called the Cubs in those days – and East Pike Run Township handed Charleroi setbacks on successive weeks in 1934.
East Pike's 7-0 victory over coach Steve Stepanian's Charleroi team came on Friday, Nov. 2, 1934, and was considered a “major upset.”
The Charleroi Mail emphasized that point in its post-game coverage this way:
“East Pike Run Township, a small Class B team, made its presence felt on the area football front by upsetting Class AA Charleroi 7-0 in a night game at the latter's stadium. The inspired East Pike Run Township football team, which played heads-up ball, brought further woe to Charleroi High by handing Stepanian's eleven a stunning defeat.”
The Cubs scored on a pass-run play from Podany to Bill Bagshaw and Hormell plunged through the center of the line for the extra point.
Jim Underwood was in his first season as a head coach in 1934, taking over the top spot after serving as an assistant in 1933.
California had edged Charleroi, 8-6, the week before Stepanian's crew lost to East Pike Run.
Charleroi, beset by injuries to key players throughout the season, finished with a 1-8-2 record that year. The Red and Black defeated Centerville, 32-5, in the second game of the season after battling Ellsworth-Cokeburg to a scoreless tie in the opener. A tie with Clairton and losses to New Castle, Monongahela, Pittsburgh Catholic, Donora, New Kensington and Monessen completed the ledger.
East Pike Run Township, which became part of the newly created California Community School District when it merged with cross-town rival California in 1948, also figured in a memorable game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 1945. The Buccaneers notched one of the biggest wins in the school's history as it upset highly favored Jefferson, 26-7, under the portable lights at the East Pike field.
The Charleroi Mail account of the game read, in part, as follows:
“A scrappy East Pike Run Township High eleven became the envy of the scholastic football world Saturday night by coming back strong in the second half to defeat the mighty Jefferson High gridders 26-7. The defeat ended a 42-game winning streak for the Jeffs and handed them their first football loss in five years. The East Pikers were determined to humble the mighty Jeffs early in the game when they smashed over a touchdown as Mensi took a pass from John Vitchoff to score. The Pikers went ahead with a touchdown in the third period, Mensi scoring again. Vitchoff and Lacotta scored in the final period when the Jefferson defense fell apart to allow the East Pike backs to enter payland.”
Underwood was head coach at East Pike Run until 1948 and was then elected to a similar position with the new jointure. He remained in that capacity until he resigned after the 1955 season but continued as an assistant coach until 1961.
The first year of the merger, 1948, California reeled off straight wins and was undefeated going into the last game of the season. A berth in the WPIAL championship game was at stake the night the Trojans went to Stowe Township to play Clark in the rain and mud. The game ended in a scoreless tie.
The 1949 Trojans also were undefeated (10-0-0) and won the WPIAL Class A championship to extended the school's winning streak to 19 games. The streak, longest in the WPIAL at the time, ended at 22 games in 1950 when California lost 34-6 to Canonsburg.
Speaking of streaks
The attention – locally and nationally – directed at Clairton High School's long winning streak in football has prompted numerous inquiries about Braddock High's string of 56 successive victories in the 1950s. “What team ended Braddock's streak?” is a typical question.
Hopewell High of Aliquippa did it on Saturday, Sept. 24, 1960, when it upset Braddock, 7-6.
Charlie Lundy kicked the extra point that proved the difference in the game that ended the Tiger's 56-game winning streak, which was the longest in the country at the time. Lundy also provided the finishing touch when he blocked Braddock's extra point attempt after the Tigers had moved to within one point of tying the game.
Another ironic twist to the Hopewell-Braddock story that season is the fact that Hopewell coach Bill McDonald was a top assistant to Chuck Klausing several years earlier when Braddock initially embarked on its impressive run of wins.
Bob Teitt, also an assistant to Klausing for many years, was Braddock's head coach in 1960. He succeeded Klausing, who resigned after the 1959 season to become an assistant at Rutgers University.
Klausing came to Braddock in 1954 after a brief stint as head coach at Pitcairn High School. His Braddock teams posted an incredible 55-0-1 record from 1954 through 1959 and won five WPIAL Class A championships along the way. The only blemish on the Tigers' record under Klausing's guidance was a 7-7 tie with Midland in the 1954 WPIAL title game.
During that historic run, Braddock passed the 49-game winning streak of Abilene (Texas) High and set a record of 52 straight victories with a victory over Canon-McMillan in 1959 to eclipse a 51-game streak by Paul Brown's Massilon (Ohio) Tigers.
Klausing's 46-year coaching career also included tenure as head coach at Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Kiski Prep and assistant positions at West Virginia University and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media. If you have memories to share or story ideas contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.