First Quaker Valley football team to be inducted into school's Hall of Fame
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Not only was the 1956 Quaker Valley football team the first in school history, it may have been one of the best.
The team finished its first season playing together with a 7-0 mark, bringing the area it first undefeated football team since the 1909 Sewickley High School squad, and is the only undefeated Quakers squad in history.
The team will be inducted to the Quaker Valley Sports Hall of Fame on Sept. 22 at a brunch and awards banquet at Sewickley Heights Golf Club.
“It is going to be very special,” said Denny O'Neil, who was a junior end on the squad. “It is nice being able to think back on that successful season and the impact it may have had on launching a joint school. I am truly honored, and I know a lot of the guys feel the same way.”
When the 1955 high school football season ended, the players at Leetsdale and Sewickley high schools were planning on returning to their respective teams in 1956. But a late decision to start the jointure brought the former rivals together.
“I went to Marine Corps Reserves training that summer,” said Ralph Sommers, a senior end on the 1956 team. “There were two boys from Leetsdale and two from Sewickley. When we came back, we found out the merger went through.”
Having the former rivals come together obviously came with some hesitation, as players prepared to fight for their spots on the roster.
“It was difficult for me,” said Roger Stonfer, a senior tackle on the team. “At the end of my junior year, I figured I had it made. I had my position. After they announced the merger, we had to figure it out again. I had to compete for my position with all new people and new teachers. It was a little disturbing.”
Any idea of being Leetsdale or Sewickley players came to an end during the first day of summer practice. The players separated into two groups on the opposite sides of the room from each other. When head coach Joseph Dobrick, formerly of Leetsdale, saw this, he made sure it was the last time it happened.
“He told us we had the opportunity to show the student body and the community that this joint venture was going to be successful,” O'Neil said. “During the two-a-day practices, all the animosities went away. It wasn't Sewickley or Leetsdale. We became Quaker Valley.”
The former squads were expecting to both return a great deal of talent for the 1956 season and combining the two made for a strong Quakers unit.
The team picked up a five-point win over Coraopolis in the season opener and a nine-point win over Neville Island in Game 2. But from that point on, the Quakers dominated the competition. The team gave up an average of only 2.8 points per game during the final five games — including three straight shutouts to end the year — while scoring an average of 29.4 points per game as it finished with an unblemished record.
“I don't know if we knew what to expect heading into the season,” Sommers said. “But we started clicking on offense and defense. After a few games, I got the feeling going undefeated was a (realistic) goal.”
While the team finished 7-0, it didn't have a chance to play for a WPIAL title or even be considered for it. Due to the late formation of the school, it was not entered into the WPIAL.
As a Class A (now Class AAA) program it played an exhibition schedule of Class B (now Class AA) squads originally set up for Sewickley High School.
The Quakers did not start official WPIAL play until 1957. The team did finish ranked sixth in the Class A rankings.
“I know I was a little upset because we beat Coraopolis and they finished one step ahead of us in the standings,” Stonfer said.
While the team might have been a few spots behind other teams, it is in the front of the line in Quaker Valley history.
While an unblemished record easily qualifies the 1956 team for the hall of fame, what it did by bringing together the student body and community may be its greatest achievement.
Principal Robert McNamara captured the team's achievement at the football banquet that year when he said “the teamwork and spirit of cooperation displayed by our football squad have set the pattern for the successful future of Quaker Valley.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.
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