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Coaching colleague tips cap to Brewer

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Reminiscing about the late Bill Brewer are his sons (from left) Dave Brewer and Scott Brewer, and Sam Smichnick, who served as an assistant to Brewer with the Belle Vernon Vikings and later became a head coach in the Belle Vernon Midget Football League.
Enjoying the festivities of a dedication program at Manzini Field at Brewer Stadium in July 2008 are Joe Lopez (seated) and (standing, from left) Curt McCarthy and his son Curt of New York City. Lopes and the elder McCarthy are former Bellmar High School football players.
Bill Brewer was head coach of the Vikings in the Belle Vernon Midget Football League for eight years before his untimely death at age 41 in 1973.
Bap Manzini mugshot

Part 2 of 2

Sam Smichnick of Belle Vernon remembers Bill Brewer, the longtime community volunteer and advocate of youth sports in their town, for many reasons.

“I can't recall anyone as dedicated to coaching youth sports as Bill was,” Smichnick said. “He went above and beyond the proverbial call of duty. He conducted practices and never missed a game but he also spent countless hours taking care of the field. We used to kid him that he knew if one tiny blade of grass was out of place, but he took a lot of pride in the field and the stadium. To him, it was a community showcase and one of the best stadiums in the area.”

“The field” was known as Speers Field and Bellmar Stadium before being rededicated and named in honor and memory of Brewer, who died at age 41 on July 13, 1973. It is now known as Manzini Field at Brewer Stadium.

Smichnick, a 1964 graduate of Bellmar High School, credits Brewer for getting him involved in coaching.

“I was home on leave from the Navy and was having a cup of coffee at Pat's Dairy Bar in North Belle Vernon when I met Bill for the first time,” Smichnick said. “I learned that he was a coach in the Midget Football League and told him that was something I would be interested in doing. He told me to get in touch with him when I got out of the service. Nine months later, in the fall of 1967, I became one of his assistants with the Vikings. What a great experience that was. He inspired me to stay in coaching and I later became a head coach.”

Now retired from a long career as a millright at the Duquesne Works of U.S. Steel Corp., Smichnick said naming Brewer Stadium in honor of his mentor and longtime friend was “very appropriate.”

“It was the least that could be done for him,” Smichnick, 67, said. “I never heard anyone say a bad word about Bill Brewer. I don't know how anyone couldn't like him. Bill was a jolly guy who loved what he was doing, who loved life — and was revered by everyone who knew him. He coached a number of undefeated teams but it really wasn't about wins and losses. He cared about the kids, worked long and hard to teach them about life as well as football. He was an asset to so many. He symbolized the true meaning of volunteerism.”

Like so many others, Smichnick also agrees with the extended designation of the site to Manzini Field at Brewer Stadium in July 2008. That action was taken to recognize Bap Manzini, the longtime coach and teacher at Bellmar High School who later enjoyed success as head football coach at Thomas Jefferson High School. He was a resident of Belle Vernon when he died on May 9, 2008.

“Bap certainly brought attention and acclaim to Bellmar and the Belle Vernon community,” Smichnick said. “He was deserving of the recognition, and it is fitting that the stadium now carries the names of two men who meant so much to so many people.”

Nancy Brewer Matsick of Belle Vernon, who was only 12 when her father died, said it is very comforting that his legacy continues to be perpetuated.

“It's so nice to hear from some of my patients or people throughout the Mon Valley that they still remember him,” said Matsick, who works as a medical assistant for Primary Care at the Monessen offices of Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services. “It will be 40 years this summer since his death, but he has not been forgotten.”

She also noted that her son, Phil Matsick, is extending his grandfather's memory in a unique way.

“Dad graduated from Brownsville High School, and Phil is now a math teacher and the middle school basketball coach at Brownsville,” she said. “The Brewer spirit, you might say, has come full circle there.”

Matsick also recalled with fondness her father's outgoing nature.

“Dad had an awesome sense of humor and loved to share it with everyone,” she said. “There was never a dull moment with him. He always enjoyed having family and friends around a lot. There were always people over for Monday Night Football on TV, and he absolutely loved Christmas and going to Kennywood. He took (youth) football very serious and stared getting ready for the new season at the beginning of summer. He just loved it.”

Mayor John Perry and Belle Vernon Borough Council proclaimed Aug. 30, 1973, as William Brewer Day in the community. The traditional proclamation adopted by the municipal leaders said the action was taken to recognize Brewer as “one of the original organizers of the Midget Football League ... who served faithfully as head coach of the Vikings team” and to recognize and acknowledge “his many hours of unselfish devotion ...”

Joseph P. Caputo, past president of the Belle Vernon Rotary Club, emphasized the loss of Brewer in a note to Mary Lou Brewer a month earlier.

“Without question Bill will be missed in our community,” Caputo wrote on July 23, 1973. “And it is going to be tough finding someone to replace him.”

An editorial in The Valley Independent on Thursday, July 19, 1973, also offered a fitting and lasting tribute.

“Mr. Brewer helped organize the Belle Vernon Area Midget Football League and he coached the Vikings teams in that youth program,” the newspaper said. “Few people will take the time and effort to work with youngsters as Brewer and others like him have done.

“Bill Brewer wasn't on this earth as long as many of us but he leaves a void in the hearts of those who knew him and were privileged to call him a friend. He gave of himself so others would benefit. We could use more people like him.”

It was, and continues to be, a mandate that transcends time.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer.

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