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Brewer symbolized spirit of volunteerism

| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Mary Lou Brewer (seated, center) reminisces about her late husband Bill Brewer with their daughters (from left) Nancy Matsick, Debbie LaRew and Pam Pendland.
Bill Brewer is shown with some members of the 1965 Belle Vernon Vikings of the Belle Vernon Midget Football League, his first squad as a head coach in the circuit. The players are (seated, from left) Ricky Ritson, Larry Hackenson; and (standing) Tim Ferencz, Ange Suppa, Donny Sullenberger. The photo is from the Brewer family archives.
This sign calling attention to Manzini Field at Brewer Stadium is prominently displayed above the refreshment stand at the recreational complex in Belle Vernon.

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She never scored a touchdown there, but Nancy Matsick may have known what was then called Bellmar Stadium as well as any football player who toiled at the venerable recreational complex in Belle Vernon over the past 90-plus years.

“I was a cheerleader for the Vikings team that my dad coached in the Belle Vernon Midget Football League, so I spent a lot of time at the stadium,” said Matsick, the former Nancy Brewer. “Not only did I go to the games to cheer, I often went to practice sessions with my dad or when he would go there to cut the grass or something else to take care of the field. I have so many lasting memories of being there with him.”

Matsick's father was the late William Lee Brewer, a founder of the youth football organization and one of its first coaches. The Bellmar site, located at Vernon and Columbus streets, was renamed Brewer Stadium and dedicated in his honor and memory following his untimely death at age 41 on July 13, 1973.

“Dad enjoyed working with young people,” said Matsick, a lifelong resident of Belle Vernon, who has worked 25 years as a medical assistant for Primary Care at the Monessen offices of Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services. “He was dedicated to doing the best job possible for and with the kids who played for him as well as players and coaches on the other teams. He was truly committed to the community.”

Dave Brewer, Matsick's brother, who also lives in Belle Vernon, offered similar sentiments.

“Dad and I were inseparable when I was growing up,” said Brewer, 55, a 1976 graduate of Belle Vernon Area High School. “I was with the team for eight or nine years. I started as a ballboy, graduated to manager and then became a player. We spent so much time at the field, even during the summer. The coaches would cut the grass and the players were assigned to go around the stadium and pick up paper and other debris. (Dad) wanted the place to be spotless.”

Brewer, a lab technician at Universal Stainless Inc., a specialty steel company in Bridgeville, recalled that his father and the other coaches invested a lot of time in their duties.

“It wasn't like we practiced a couple of days a week and showed up for the games,” he said. “Dad would come home from work, eat supper and then go to the field. And there were the strategy sessions at the restaurant on Broad Avenue where they would have coffee and discuss the team and our opponents. I can't tell you how many times I enjoyed sitting there listening to my dad, Ron Evans and Sam Smichnick.”

Brewer emphasized that the coaches had an impact on their young charges that went far beyond the football field.

“They taught us so much about life – discipline, loyalty, teamwork, all the qualities that young boys should learn,” he said. “You didn't hear much about kids getting into trouble in those days. Dad and the others insisted that we be a credit to our team and, more important, to our families and the community. I'm not sure that enough people understand the important role that coaches of youth sports teams play in the development of kids who go on to play in high school or college. Many of the things we learned from them have remained with us throughout our lives.”

Brewer also credited his mother, Mary Lou Brewer, for her guidance and patience.

“She and my father were devoted to each other and she supported everything he did when it came to the sports programs,” he said. “Dad was away from home a lot with work, coaching and taking care of the stadium, so Mom had her hands full with five children at home. But she never complained. She was our biggest fan and encouraged us. My sisters and brother and I were blessed with loving parents.”

Bill Brewer died of a massive heart attack July 13, 1973, while working at the Gibsonton Yard of Southwestern Railway Co., a subsidiary of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. He had been severely burned in an industrial accident several months earlier but returned to work only a few days before his death. He was officially pronounced dead at the Charleroi Division of Monongahela Valley Hospital in North Charleroi.

“It certainly came as a shock,” Mary Lou Brewer, who lives in Belle Vernon, said of her husband's death. “Bill was determined to get back to work, and he was looking forward to the upcoming football season. We said goodbye that morning, and that was the last time we ever talked with each other. The kids and I still miss him every day; he was a special man in so many ways.”

Mary Lou and Bill were married 20 years at the time of his death.

“Bill graduated from Brownsville High School, where he played football, and was living in Lowber when we met,” said Mary Lou, who worked in the composing room at The Daily Independent in Monessen and later for Westmoreland Intermediate Unit 7 in the Belle Vernon Area School District. “We were both just out of school and were introduced by mutual friends. We hit it off right away, got married and had 20 unforgettable years together.”

They also became the parents of five children, all of whom still live in Belle Vernon — Pam Brewer Pendland, Debra Brewer LaRew, David Brewer, Nancy Brewer Matsick and Scott Brewer.

Mrs. Brewer, the former Mary Lou Basits, said her husband was “a very likeable person who had a lot of friends.”

“He enjoyed being around people, especially those involved with the midget league football program,” she said. “He was at the field almost every day doing something. He was one of the men who started the league and devoted so much of his time over the ensuing years to keep it going.”

She also emphasized that her husband was “a very humble man” who would have been surprised by the action establishing Brewer Stadium.

“He probably would have been blown away and wondered why all the fuss,” she said. “I'm sure he would have appreciated the gesture but it wasn't something he would have expected. He wasn't involved in coaching or anything else for personal attention. He did it because he enjoyed it and felt an obligation to the kids.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.

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