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Guido: Remembering the 1939 Avonmore football team

| Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010

For a small town and a football team, it was a dream season.

In 1939, Avonmore High School went 9-0-0 and gave up just 12 points the entire season.

It was small-town football at its best.

The Class of 1940 had only 20 graduates, and just about all able-bodied males were on coach Bob Livengood's football team.

The school was so small the team basically used 11 uniforms for game day. When a player came out of the lineup, he had to change red-and-black jerseys with his replacement.

Home games were played where the current Little League baseball field sits adjacent to Akers National Roll.

The season started with a 7-0 victory at East Deer, a school that was making its debut.

In Week 2, Avonmore defeated Laura Lamar High School, now known as Homer Center, 20-6.

The Redskins hosted to Saltsburg in Week 3 and earned a 13-0 win.

Two more shutouts followed, as Avonmore topped Bolivar and Elders Ridge by 7-0 scores. Bolivar is now part of the Ligonier Valley system.

The Redskins soon began to think about WPIAL title in an era when teams had to be undefeated and untied to merit championship consideration.

Avonmore's unblemished record appeared in jeopardy against Franklin Township, as the game remained scoreless into the final minute. But linebacker Charles Catania picked off a pass and ran for a touchdown.

"I was playing on the left side of the line, and I had a hunch the ball was coming my way," Catania said. "I caught the ball about a foot off the ground and ran 40 yards."

A fall drought finally ended the week of the Washington Township game, as the Redskins won, 13-0, on a muddy, clay field.

A tough encounter at Blairsville followed. Blairsville had more players in uniform that Avonmore had in its entire school.

After a scoreless first half, Catania intercepted two more passes, and Chester Debick, Charles Sharek and Tony Trzeciak scored touchdowns, paving the way to a 20-0 win.

"We heard the coach was so humiliated that he went back to the school with the band before the game ended," Catania recalled.

The final game of the season was against rival Bell Township. More than $2,000 reportedly was wagered on the game, a huge total in the final days of the Great Depression.

Avonmore had a 12-0 advantage when Bell scored at the end of the game as fans came on the field. Police had to be called to clear up the chaotic scene.

Westmoreland County teams Avonmore, South Huntingdon, Youngwood and Penn Claridge were undefeated, but the WPIAL focused on Glassport and South Huntingdon and delayed the Class B title until Dec. 2 so South Huntingdon could finish its schedule.

But when South Huntingdon lost to Centerville, 39-0, the WPIAL awarded the title to Glassport without having a playoff game.

"I still, to this day, don't know why we didn't play for the championship," Catania said. "But we had a banquet after the season at the Lutheran church, and we got nice jackets."

Avonmore fielded football teams from 1928-49 and compiled a record of 37-52-11 (.416). The roster often was so small the Redskins played junior-varsity teams from other schools.

In 1951, the school was combined with Bell Township and named Bell-Avon. In 1962, Bell-Avon became part of the massive Kiski Area jointure.

But the 1939 team remains part of Kiski Valley folklore.

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