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'62 football team will be honored as Charleroi's 'Team of the Decade'

| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, 4:54 p.m.
Reminiscing about their 1962 exploits at the former Charleroi High School stadium are (from left) assistant coach Joe Barcelona and players Ron Yuss, Ron Nucci, Pete Gialames, Don Saunders and Bill Lee.

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After a two-year rebuilding program during which they won 13 of 20 games, Charleroi High School's football Cougars were ready to make another strong bid for championship honors in 1962.

Those efforts, which produced major dividends, will be recalled when the '62 Cougars are honored Friday, Sept. 5, in ceremonies preceding the 7 p.m. Class AA Interstate Conference game between Charleroi Area and McGuffey at the CAHS Stadium in Fallowfield Township.

“The '62 Cougars had the best record (8-1-1) of any Charleroi team in the 1960s,” said Tom Jenkins of Fallowfield, one of the organizers of the tribute. “They lost only to eventual WPIAL champion Uniontown and were tied by Monessen on their way to winning the Mon Valley (Big 6) Conference championship. Some of the best players in Charleroi history were on that team.”

Jenkins is coordinating the festivities with Mark Joswick of Montclair, Va., and Roslyn Simonin of Fallowfield Township.

All members of the 1962 squad – players, coaches, student managers – are asked to report to the stadium at 5:30 p.m. for a reception in the Alumni Room. A postgame gathering will be held at Salatino's River House Café in Charleroi.

Jenkins has produced a commemorative booklet with stories about the 1962 season including summaries of all games. Joswick is designing a special poster highlighting the campaign of 52 years ago.

“We are deeply grateful to the administration and school board, (athletic director) Bill Wiltz and (head football coach) Donnie Militzer for their cooperation with this program,” Joswick said. “It should be a big night for Charleroi football in bringing the past and present together again.”

In doing so, the 1962 Cougars will reminisce about how they lived up to pre-season expectations under the guidance of legendary coach R. James “Rab” Currie and his varsity assistants Frank Lee, Frank DeCoster and Joe Barcelona.

It was Currie's 16th year at the Charleroi helm and he entered the season still recovering from a serious automobile accident in February of that year in which he suffered a broken hip and other injuries.

Anticipation grew as the Cougars prepared for their season opener Sept. 7 against Allegheny High of the Pittsburgh City League.

The Cougars were banking heavily on 17 veterans led by co-captains Stan Kemp (quarterback) and George Kalamaras, a halfback in 1961 who was being converted to an end position.

With Kemp, who also handled the place-kicking and punting duties and played safety, at the controls, the Cougars had two-thirds of the 1961 backfield returning. The others were halfback Ron Nucci, who led the team in rushing with a 6.2 yards per carry average year earlier, and fullback Frank Gargon. Currie said Willie Horner, who saw plenty of action as a reserve in 1961, would round out the backfield.

Kalamaras and veteran John Hostetler were set as ends, with junior Paul Yewisiak also in the mix. Seniors Joe Hurley, Sam Ancitano and Rudy Zemko and junior John Heckman got the early nod at tackle, while the guards were Steve Stetz, Ron Williams, Dave Sink, Steve Zemkio and Dwight “Lucky” Williams. Letterman Don Saunders held the center post and was backed up John Valovich and Dennis Riley.

“We were confident coming into the season,” said Saunders, who lives in South Fayette Township. “We had won eight games the previous season, losing only to Uniontown, 13-12, on a punt return late in the game and to Monessen, which went on to win the WPIAL championship. They were both on our schedule again, but I don't think we realized how much talent those two teams had back.”

The Cougars reeled off victories over Allegheny and South of the Pittsburgh City League, Donora, Brownsville and Bethlehem-Center before traveling to Uniontown on Friday, Oct. 12, for a long-awaited Class AA showdown with the Red Raiders. Playing before some 7,500 inspired fans, Uniontown, led by future NFL running back Bennett “Pope” Gregory, won 27-13 to silence any hopes the Cougars had of postseason action.

“In hindsight, losing to Uniontown, with the roster they had, was understandable,” Saunders said. “We did not play our best game, but Uniontown was very good.”

Lee offered similar sentiments.

“The Uniontown game was closer than the final score indicated, but I'm not taking anything away from them,” he said. “They were a well-coached team and had a lot of talented players.”

Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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