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Colleges came calling for '62 Charleroi gridders

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 5:54 p.m.
R. James “Rab” Currie was honored as Big 6 Conference Coach of the Year in 1962 after leading Charleroi to an 8-1-1 record.
R. James “Rab” Currie was honored as Big 6 Conference Coach of the Year in 1962 after leading Charleroi to an 8-1-1 record.

Part 3 of 3

Bill Lee, Jeff Petrucci, George Carlock and Pete Gialames went on to successful football careers at California State College (now California University of Pennsylvania) following their experiences at Charleroi High School.

They will be among the 1962 Cougars honored as the CHS “Team of the Decade” Friday, Sept. 5, in ceremonies preceding the 7 p.m. Class AA Interstate Conference game between Charleroi Area and McGuffey.

Don Saunders, center/nose tackle with the 8-1-1 Cougars of 1962, also played briefly for the Vulcans before serving in the U.S. Army and returning to Cal State to earn his bachelor of science degree in teaching in 1971.

He served as head junior high coach and as a varsity assistant at Carlynton from 1972-81, was a varsity assistant at Cal U from 1981-88 and then returned to Carlynton High School as head coach from 1995 to 1998. Among his players at Carlynton in the 1970s was a young man named Bill Cowher.

Quarterback Stan Kemp offered strong sentiments about the optimism that prevailed among the Cougars 52 years ago.

“The '62 team was a close-knit group,” he said. “We had suffered through a tough sophomore season in 1960, going 5-5. We started five sophomores that year and took our lumps. We were more successful as juniors with an 8-2-0 record, losing to Monessen and Uniontown. Our senior season was shaping up to be a really great one. We had a core group of experienced players and several underclassmen stepped up to contribute remarkably during season.”

Joe Barcelona, the lone living member of the CHS coaching staff from 1962, said there were “big expectations” going into the season.

“We knew there was a strong nucleus coming back from the previous season,” said Barcelona, a resident of Dunlevy. “Those kids had a lot of experience under their belts and they had good football minds. Beans Chacko (Charleroi) and John Shelapinsky (Fallowfield) did a great job of teaching them the fundaments in junior high, and they came in well prepared for varsity ball as sophomores. They got better each year.”

Barcelona recalled that some of the Cougars may have been overlooked in some circles for their efforts in 1962.

“Ron Nucci was one of the best backs around that year,” he said “He was a solid runner, but he also was a helluva blocker. He and Marty Nagg of Brownsville were two of the hardest hitters I've ever seen. George Kalamaras and Pete Gialames also were tough kids and made their presence felt on both sides of the ball.”

Barcelona also lauded head coach R. James “Rab” Currie for his intense determination in countering the injuries that plagued him as the result of an automobile accident in February 1962.

“Rab never lost anything,” he said. “He may have been slowed at times, but he was Rab and pressed on every day. He used a (golf) putter as a cane and everyone — the players and coaches — knew he meant business when they saw him coming in their direction. You could see the fire in his eyes and in his heart.”

Ron Nucci, John Hostetler and Kemp paced Charleroi's offense in 1962.

According to figures compiled by longtime Cougar statistician Dom Guzzi, Nucci, a 5-11, 180-pound halfback, was the leading rusher for the third straight year by grinding out 581 yards on 81 carries for a 6.8 average. He also caught eight passes for 89 yards.

Hostetler led all pass receivers with 30 catches for 497 yards and four touchdowns.

Kemp, who picked up 277 net yards rushing, attempted 104 passes and completed 94 for 645 yards and five touchdowns. He scored nine touchdowns, kicked 17 extra points and posted a 38.2 average on 20 punts.

George Kalamaras also contributed to the offense in a big way, rushing for 393 yards on 46 attempts and garnering 148 yards on 11 pass receptions.

As a unit, the Cougars scored 281 points and gave up 96.

Kemp, Hostetler and Nucci were first-team selections on the All Big 6 Team with end Frank Lawson, Donora; tackles Tom Polosky, Brownsville, and Jim Lhota, Monessen; guards Gerald Francia, Monessen, and Jim Julian, Clairton; center Eton “Buster” Karenchak, Monessen; and backs James Frezzell, Monessen, and Marty Nagg, Brownsville. Kemp, Nagg and Karenchak were repeaters on the first team.

Cougars garnering second-team conference honors were center Don Saunders and tackle Joe Hurley. Honorable mention choices were tackle Dave Sink, guards Bob Polacek and Steve Stetz, and backs Bill Lee, George Kalamaras, Frank Gargon and Willie Horner.

Currie was honored as Coach of the Year.

Kemp poignantly recalled the February 1962 automobile accident in which Currie was severly injured.

“I visited him in the hospital and he spoke of the upcoming season and how he still planned to coach, even though he was in a cast that went from below his left leg, encased his hips and torso and ran up to his chest,” Kemp recalled. “You could sense the determination in his voice and see it in his eyes. What a tough man he was, both physically and emotionally.”

Kemp said the players could sense Currie's frustrations over the lingering effects of the injuries from the accident during the course of the season.

“He would throw away his crutches and yell at no one in particular, ‘I don't need these damn crutches to coach you guys!' He got our attention very quickly. When he spoke, no matter what he said, everyone listened. Rab always got the best out of his players, every year, whether he was injured or not.”

Kemp recalled that three seniors from the 1962 squad continued their education and football careers at Division I schools. He went to the University of Virginia, Hostetler starred at Clemson and Gargon played at Oklahoma State before transferring to Kent State. A year later, Paul Yewisiak and Ron Yuss, who were juniors in 1962, received scholarships to Virginia and West Virginia, respectively.

“I have many fond memories of my playing days at Charleroi,” Kemp said. “Athletics played a huge part in my life. Football enabled me to get a free (college) education that led me to a fulfilling career in education and coaching. I was able to teach young men the game of football the way Rab Currie taught us to play — focused and determined.”

Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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