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Paglia: 'Cookie' crumbled against Dragons

| Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011

It was crooner Perry Como who used the following refrain by composer Ray Charles to introduce song requests from viewers on his popular television show in the 1950s and '60s: "Letters, we get letters ... We get stacks and stacks of letters ..."

Were the show still on today, the lyrics, because of the wonders of modern technology, might be changed to "Emails, we get emails ..."

That's the apparent preferred method of communication with inquiring readers of this weekly stroll down Memory Lane. And their messages, which we always welcome, contain questions about a variety of subjects. To wit:

A woman in Donora asks: "What can you tell me about the 1953 WPIAL Class AA football championship between Donora and Har-Brack• Didn't 'Cookie' Gilchrist have a bad day against the Dragons?"

She is referring to Carlton Chester "Cookie" Gilchrist, the legendary Har-Brack fullback who died at age 75 earlier this year.

And she's right about Donora throttling the 6-2, 220-pound runner, who scored 186 points during the regular season to win the WPIAL individual scoring crown.

According to accounts of the championship game played Saturday, Nov. 28, 1953, at Pitt Stadium, Gilchrist was held to a net running gain of two yards. He also missed a field goal in the final moments of the game as Donora and the Tigers settled for a scoreless tie to share the AA title.

The tie was the first for Jimmy Russell's Dragons in title play. They won the championship in 1944 and 1945. Har-Brack previously failed to win the championship in 1926 and 1947.

While Gilchrist and running mates Barry Johnson and Jim Powell were garnering most of the pre-game attention, sports editor John Bunardzya of The Charleroi Mail emphasized that Donora's backs had "the speed, deception and timing" to give the favored Tigers "a run for their money."

In a pre-game story on Nov. 25, Bunardzya pointed to quarterback Ron Bozik, halfbacks Winslow Sloan and Billy Russell and fullback Jim Lewis and the "important fifth man" in the backfield, co-captain Don Crafton, who also toiled at fullback. He noted that in winning all 10 games during the regular season, Donora scored 281 points, rolled up 75 first downs and gained 2,236 yards on offense.

Bozik, Sloan, Lewis and Russell, who won the Big 6 Conference scoring title with 96 points, "also teamed up last spring to give Donora a good track relay team, so they can't be too slow," Bunardzya said.

He also called attention to Donora's strong defense that intercepted 21 passes and limited opponents to 27 points, 75 first downs and only 622 yards from scrimmage in posting a 10-0-0 record.

In addition to secondary specialists Lewis, Sloan and Russell, the defense was led by linebackers Chuck Ross and Crafton and linemen Ed Kearns, Fran Osleger, Bob Gaydos, Dick White, Ed Brletich and Don Ritchie, Bunardzya wrote.

Noting that Gilchrist, who also played middle linebacker, had been touted as "even greater than" former Donora standout Deacon Dan Towler was in his high school hey-day, Bunardzya said, "but that we gotta see."

The hoopla surrounding the championship game brought out the humor of coach Russell at the annual Big 6 Conference reorganization meeting in Charleroi. Russell had his listeners in stitches, Bunardzya reported, as he reviewed the regular season and what he expected when his Dragons faced Har-Brack.

"I hope they don't do what some of you fellas (Big 6 coaches) did when we played you," Russell cracked. "To stop our wide sweeps and pitch-outs, you put one end in Bentleyville and the other in Harrisburg and made us run inside."

Postscript - Gilchrist never played college football, going directly from high school to the professional ranks. He played six years in the Canadian Football League and later for the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos of the AFL before ending his career with the Miami Dolphins.


A man who says he lives "near West Newton" wants to settle a bet with his wife.

"She told me saw The Lovin' Spoonful perform at the Twin Coaches when we were courting in the 1960s. I don't remember that, but the '60s were really a blur for me. Can you settle this?"

Sorry, dear reader, but your wife is correct.

The Lovin' Spoonful appeared at the popular night club in Rostraver Township on Oct. 14, 15 and 16, 1965. That was a big year for the group that turned out such hits as "Do You Believe In Magic?," "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice" and "Daydreaming" over a 12-month period.

Led by vocalist/songwriter John Sebastian, The Lovin' Spoonful had their biggest song, "Summer in the City," which soared to No. 1 on the charts in 1966.

Newspaper ads touting their appearance at the Twin Coaches heralded the group as "stars of Hullabaloo, Shindig and the Dick Clark, Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin shows." The hype also referred to the Spoonful as "MGM Recording Stars" that "appeared on the Mike Douglas Show on October 6.

Also drawing crowds to the Twin Coaches that weekend were The Knight Kaps in the club's lounge and Jess Wilson's Orchestra.

Elsewhere on the area entertainment scene at the time were The Ink Spots at the Trocadero supper club; Ed Olesh and His Quartet at the Stone Castle, and Rogue magazine cover girl Babi Cleo (Dancer of the Nile) at Paddy's Lounge.

If you have memories to share or story ideas, contact Ron Paglia via e-mail or c/o The Valley Independent, Eastgate 19, Monessen, PA 15062.

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