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Banquet program book sparks fond Donora memories

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 7:17 p.m.
A capacity crowd gathered in the St. Dominic Social Center to honor Donora High School’s 1953 football team that shared the WPIAL Class AA championship with Har-Brack. The photo is part of the archives collection of DHS coach James K. (Jimmy) Russell presented to the Donora Historical Society by Russell’s daughter, Judy Russell Smith of Texas.

St. Dominic Social Center in Donora has been the setting for countless celebrations over the years.

One of the major events held there took place Monday, Feb. 22, 1954, as a capacity crowd gathered to honor the 1953 Donora High School football team that shared the WPIAL Class AA championship with Har-Brack.

The Dragons posted a 10-0-0 regular season record before battling to a scoreless tie with Har-Brack in the title game at Pitt Stadium.

The banquet program book is part of another excellent collection of personal memorabilia of Donora's legendary coach, James K. (Jimmy) Russell, presented to the Donora Historical Society by Russell's daughter, Judy Russell Smith.

A tribute in the program book emphasized the significance of the 1954 festivities. It read:

“Donora is proud to present another champion, the 1953 Donora Senior High School football squad, to the impressive list of champions who have given to our community the nationally known title of The Home of Champions.”

Keynote speaker was Herman Hickman, an All American guard at the University of Tennessee who played for the NFL Brooklyn Dodgers and then was a college football coach, including being head mentor at Yale University. He later became a television analyst and broadcaster, a writer and a professional wrestler.

“He dazzled the crowd with humorous and serious anecdotes about his career as well as poetry,” newspaper accounts of the banquet said on Feb. 23.

Pittsburgh sportscaster Bob Prince turned in another stellar performance as master of ceremonies. Other speakers were head coaches Ted Nemeth of California State Teachers College, Joe McMullen of Washington & Jefferson College and Ken Karl of Har-Brack High and assistant coach Bob Friedlund of the University of Pittsburgh.

The banquet featured a unique All Senior Menu in honor of seniors on the football team. It comprised:

●Joseph “Pete' Bozik fruit cocktail, Charles “Billy” Russell roast turkey, James “Country Jim” Lewis mashed potatoes, Robert “Butch” Gaydos gravy, Donald “Creeper” Crafton waxed beans, Edward “Burly” Brletich lettuce with French dressing, Edward “Killer” Kearns butter, Winslow “Habit” Sloan rolls, Donald “Wretched” Ritchie olives, Conrad “Boo Boo” Buchak celery, Charles “Heavyhead” Ross cake, Francis “Hoss” Osleger ice cream, Robert “Bob” Mihalko coffee, Louis “Lou” Welsh tea and John Payton milk.

A primary photo inside the book showed head coach Russell, assistant coaches John P. “Moon” Clark, and George “Jake” Kovalcik and faculty manager Dr. Michael Herk.

Also featured in photos were longtime team physician Dr. M.H. Heatter and cheerleaders Trudy Ann Supp, Edith Romantino, Shirley Anderson, Shirley Debnar, Regina Mauser, Eunice Amicucci, Marlene Janasin, Beverly Haberman and Dianne Nelson.

Members of the football team including student managers received commemorative sweaters with the WPIAL championship emblem. Special bracelets were presented to the cheerleaders.

Heatter, who had served as team physician for 38 years, was honored with a gold wrist watch.

U.S. Savings Bonds of $300 each were presented to Russell, Clark and Kovalcik, as well as Arnold Galiffa of Donora High and Army football fame, who at the time was playing professionally with the New York Giants. Galiffa was among the special guests at the event.

The Fifth Quarter Club, a group of sports-minded Donora fans headed by borough council president T.H. “Hank” Garde, also presented the coaches with savings bonds – Russell, $100; Clark, $75; Kovalcik, $50.

The program book also offered some interesting statistics.

Those marks included reference to Donora's regular season victories over Pittsburgh Westinghouse, 12-6; Greensburg, 27-0; Charleroi, 39-7; Latrobe, 45-0; Redstone, 15-0; Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 35-0; Brownsville, 20-0; Monongahela, 34-0, Washington, 20-7, and Monessen, 34-7, as well as the scoreless tie with Har-Brack in the WPIAL Class AA championship game.

Donora won the Mon Valley Conference championship in 1953, marking the school's eighth MVC title for the Dragons since the conference was formed in 1925. Others came in 1928, 1929, 1932, 1934, 1941, 1944 and 1945.

The co-championship with Har-Brack represented Donora's third WPIAL title. The others came in 1944 and 1945.

Statistics compiled by Bill Leutunger of Johnstown showed these records for the last 10 years (1944-1953) for Mon Valley Conference teams:

Donora, 98 games, 71-21-6, ranked fourth among WPIAL teams; Brownsville, 98 games, 60-33-5, 14th;

Monessen, 97 games, 58-36-3, 16th; Charleroi, 95 games, 52-40-3, 23rd; Redstone, 100 games, 44-49-7, 31st;

Monongahela, 96 games, 40-54-2, 33rd.

The book also noted that six Donora players had won the Mon Valley Conference individual scoring championship up to that point in time. They included: 1925, John Martak, 55; 1944, Roscoe Ross, 127; 1945, Dan Towler, 152; 1948, Willie Mitchell, 83; 1951, John Thomas, 97; 1953, Billy Russell, 96.

Another distinctive note emphasized that Donora, which ranked 35th in enrollment among the 36 Class AA schools in the WPIAL, had sent well over 100 players to colleges and universities across the nation during Russell's 23 years at the helm.

His assistants during that time included Dr. Michael “Ki” Duda, who had become superintendent of Monessen Public Schools, and the current staff of Clark and Kovalcik.

The list of former Dragons who made their marks on the next level is far too long to present here but the schools included Pitt, Penn State, the U.S. Military Academy, Columbia, Cornell, Notre Dame, Harvard, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Xaver, Miami, Villanova, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky and Duquesne among many others.

The program book also acknowledged sponsors who purchased tickets for the honorees and helped defray other costs with their generosity. They were:

Attorneys Anderson and Anderson, American Legion Post 212, Artuso's Shoe Store, Harry Ayers, Badzik Print Shop, Balis Service Station, Attorney Paul N. Barna, Bindi Brothers Garage, Boston Shoe Store, Boston Store, Dr. D.E. Brown, Brown & Son, Carson's Esso Station, C.B. Charles, Central Pharmacy, Clan Grant No. 215, Clement's Appliance, Club Billiards, Colgan and Binns Real Estate, Crafton's Home Appliance, Cy's Men's Store, Diamond Cleaners and Dryers, Donora CIO Local 1758, Donora CIO Local 1757, Donora Chamber of Commerce, Donora Furniture Company, Donora Hardware & Electric, Donora Lions Club, Donora Lumber Company, Donora Motor Company, Donora Rotary Club, Donora Southern Railroad, DuVall's Ax Drug Store, Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 502;

Attorney George O. Frazier, Les Gallatin, Grazzini China Shop. Dr. M.J. Hannigan, Abe Hayes, Henry's Sport Shop, Herald-American, Hill Top Bus Line, Keystone Beverage, Lawson Funeral Home, Dr. H.J. Levin, Lieber's Store, Macik Funeral Home, Matway Garage, Miller's Clothing Store, Mellon National Bank & Trust Company/Donora Office, G.C. Murphy Company, J.C. Penney Company, Inc., Perri's Shoe Store, Polish Falcons No. 247, Dr. William Rongaus, Leon Rongaus Tavern, Sadowski Garage, Siegel's, Sun Wall Paper & Paint, United Steelworkers of American Local Union 3030, Paul Vayansky/P.X. Tavern, Cpl. Charles H. Allen Post 977 Veterans of Foreign Wars, Linn R. Wickerham, William's Dress Shop, Al Zeffiro Transfer & Storage.

Cy Rosenberg served as general chairman of the banquet committee and co-chairmen were Jacob W. Cox, Edward “Red” Gray, Dr. Michael Herk and Alfred Zeffiro. Others recognized for their efforts with the committee were J. Preston Carson, Thomas O. Hauck, Abe Hays, Robert Cowie Jr., Joseph Polkabla,

Ed Cerutti, C.B, Charles, Thomas K. Clark, W.L. Corbett, Albert Delsandro, Hank Garde, Thomas H. Garde, Ignatius Hokaj, Albert Kovalak, Frank J. McCue, Fancis McCue Jr., Henry Perlut, Steve Posey, “Happy” Sanchez, Harry W. Steck and Andrew Sukel.

The Feb. 22 banquet opened with the singing of the National Anthem. The Rev. Richard Schered, assistant pastor at St. Charles Roman Catholic Church, offered invocation, which was followed by group singing led by Al Zeffiro and Helen Wilson as the piano accompanist. Rosenberg welcomed the gathering.

The festivities concluded with the singing of “God Bless America” and benediction by the Rev. Harry C. Coleman Jr., pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

It was, like so many others in Donora's storied history, a night to remember.

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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