Guido: Freeport celebrates 50th anniversary of title team
Freeport has always been a good place to live, work, worship — and play football.
The Yellowjackets, by far, have won more football games than any other local school — 524. That's 141 more wins than any other area program.
Despite many great teams since Freeport inaugurated football in 1922, no team ever made the WPIAL's championship game until 1963, when the team posted a 9-0 regular season.
As the 50th anniversary of that great Yellowjackets season takes place, many still have fond memories of that outstanding season.
The 1963 Freeport team finished the previous campaign with an 7-1-1 record in coach Bob King's first season.
While expectations were high, no one was taking the potential of an undefeated season for granted.
“The competition up and down the Valley was so good,” halfback Chip Young said. “Everybody knew everybody else, and there were lots of good athletes.”
As opening night approached, rival Ford City was the first team on the schedule.
Freeport won that one on the road, 13-7.
“For me, this was the toughest game, since they had Ron Dilliard,” Yellowjackets quarterback Ron Canterna said. “The was probably the only game I felt unsure of. Once we beat them, I felt confident that no other team would beat us.”
A 27-13 Week 2 victory at Tarentum set the stage for a big, early season showdown against Arnold in Freeport's home opener.
Young ran for touchdowns of 8 and 41 yards and hauled in a 38-yard pass from Canterna as the Yellowjackets prevailed, 20-13.
“Arnold was definitely the toughest team we played, but we knew that going in,” Young said.
A 21-12 victory at Plum was followed by a 34-0 romp over Kittanning.
Freeport went to 6-0 with a 28-12 win at Springdale before returning home to defeat West Deer, 39-19.
In the only Saturday afternoon encounter of the season, Freeport won in Week 8 at Richland, 41-7.
In that era, the two undefeated and untied teams with the most Gardner Points played for the WPIAL title. Freeport was accumulating a considerable number of Gardner Points.
All that stood between the Yellowjackets and the WPIAL title game was a date with rival Leechburg.
“Leechburg was our biggest rival, it was so intense,” Young said.
“I remember vividly the week of practice before the game,” Canterna said. “It was tense, unnerving and quite stressful.”
Before an overflow crowd of 6,000 at Freeport, two Chip Young touchdowns propelled the Yellowjackets to a 21-7 victory and a berth in the WPIAL title game against Montour at Jeannette's McKee Stadium.
Freeport finished a regular season undefeated for the first time since 1931. The halfback on that team was Charles W. Young, father of Chip.
As 8,630 packed 7,000-seat McKee Stadium, things were looking good for the Yellowjackets. Leading 6-0 with time running out just before the half, Young burst into the end zone and had the ball dislodged.
Montour recovered the loose ball, preventing Freeport from taking a two-touchdown advantage.
“It would have been a touchdown nowadays,” Canterna said. “I wanted to protest the call, but Bob King wouldn't hear of it. He was too much of a sportsman and gentleman to argue with the refs.”
Montour seized the momentum after that and rolled to a 29-12 victory.
Future NFL hall of famer Ted Kwalick caught two extra-point conversions for the Spartans.
“Bob King was an awesome coach,” Young said. “He was very demanding, and we had a lot of respect for him.”
King, now 82, lives with his wife near Saxonburg.
His son, Mike, has been the Knoch coach for the past 16 seasons. His grandson, Kraig King, is a Knoch senior lineman and indicates he'd like to get into coaching some day.
That would make it three generations of Kings prowling the sidelines.
Young, who led the A-K Valley in touchdowns with 20, and lineman Al Yates both attended William & Mary and both are members of the Armstrong County Sports Hall of Fame. Young lives in Mt. Lebanon and has been in the insurance business for a number of years.
Yates lives in the North Hills area and is a Pittsburgh-based attorney.
Canterna is now retired and living with his wife in Italy.
Another key 1963 team member, Lou Pukal, is in the Armstrong hall.
George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.