Looking Back at Sixty-Five Seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football
Written by: Billy Splain on Friday, February 26th, 2016
Written by: KMac on Friday, February 26th, 2016
Part 1 of 30
“Here’s a look back at 65 – seasons of Pennsylvania High School Football through the eyes of Kmac”
I was 11 days past my 10th birthday on October 27, 1951 when my older cousin from down the street suggested I go to the local high school football game that night. It was in then bucolic Morrisville, Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware River from bustling Trenton, NJ, about as far to the east as you could go in southeastern PA. The athletic field was about 7 blocks walking distance through residential neighborhoods and streets lined with trees.
Morrisville was playing their closest geographical rival, Pennsbury. The Pennsbury School District completely surrounded Morrisville, north, west, and south; with the Delaware River being on the east. And the Pennsbury Falcons used Morrisville’s field for their home games, playing Friday nights while Morrisville played Saturday day or nights normally. At 10 years of age I had been playing sandlot baseball, basketball, and football of course, but had not quite realized yet that I was not an athlete. I was too short for basketball, too skinny for football, too slow for any sport, and would give Little League Baseball and Midget Football a shot in the next few years; but soon realized that I was not an athlete.
But this night football game got my interest locked tight from this first game. There was something about the lights (portable with a generator truck humming outside the end zone), the live, vocal crowd, bands on both sides blaring, cheerleaders leading yells printed in the program for students to follow, and a camaraderie among the crowd to whom I was soon introduced.
Morrisville won 21-14. That was the important thing. And in this small school, supporting your athletic teams if you didn’t play was an activity in which many of the student body participated; along with the townsfolk in general. There was just a “feeling” about it you could not escape.
The Morrisville Bulldogs were 2-1-2 after the win and the next game with Bangor was cancelled, probably a good thing for the Bulldogs in those days. I next saw the game at home against Neshaminy in the mud, cold and slop on November 17th at 2:00 PM. A Morrisville player recovered a Neshaminy fumble in the Neshaminy end zone and it was all the scoring; final 6-0 Morrisville, and little did I know that I had seen the last time the Bulldogs would beat Neshaminy. I do have mental images of this game, now 65 years ago; but not of the initial game. There was a different “feel” about a daytime game, but it was still positive; I enjoyed it also.
Morrisville ended the season 4-2-2, and in a two-way tie with Bensalem for second place in the league at 4-1-1. Bristol won the league championship at 5-1-0 league, 5-5-0 overall.
My initial feelings about the games were based on the home team winning or losing. We yelled, cheered, and even started our own yells as a group, “push em back, shove em back; way back!” Only old timers will remember this; especially some Neshaminy elders, a group of fans standing on the top row on the home side at Neshaminy always yelled this in the late 50’s, early 60’s.
Everything was centered locally, at home games. I knew nothing of offensive and defensive schemes, the importance of the offensive and defensive lines; and of course, I became a “ball watcher” ignoring good blocking and basics such as tackling. Local teams did not pass much.
I had no knowledge of football around the state. I didn’t know that Ridley was posting another 11-0 season in 1951; and that Lower Merion, that now struggles mightily, was 8-1 with their only loss to Ridley 28-14. The LM Aces had come off of a 9-0 1950 season. I had no knowledge that Berwick had gone 11-0, 10-1, 10-0-1, and 10-1 for 1941 through 1944. Statewide recognition had no meaning for me then, but at least for the eastern side of the state recognition would come along as Neshaminy started to schedule big name eastern PA opponents in the late 1950’s. Ambler, Easton, and Allentown were among them.
I had no concept of western PA football or the WPIAL. The late Dr. Roger B. Saylor, who developed a pioneer ranking system for Pennsylvania high school football-playing schools, was not known to me. I did not know that Farrell 9-1-0, and Aliquippa 11-0-0 won his 1951 and 1952 rankings top spots; and both appeared in 2015 state championship games.
Little by little I gained better knowledge of the game and officiating. I learned that Morrisville was part of the Lower Bucks County League that seems to have existed since 1935. It consisted of seven teams in 1951 – Bensalem, Bristol, Council Rock (formerly Newtown), Morrisville, Neshaminy (formerly Langhorne-Middletown), Pennsbury (formerly Fallsington and Yardley), and Southampton (in 1955 to become William Tennent).
Through the 1950’s Morrisville and Bristol were slowly relinquishing their “big school” (small schools but organized earlier and more urban) mantels as the construction of Levittown, Fairless Hills, and the Fairless Steel Plant were bringing massive migration to the lower Bucks County area that had primarily been vast farms and woodlands.
Following my alma mater through the fifties, first as a young fan; then from my freshman year (1955-56) as a high school band member, I got to see almost all of the games. The Bulldogs could hold their own in the league most seasons, although as with Bristol, they were slowly and surely being outgrown and would someday not be able to compete with other local schools.
Some examples from the fifties were that Morrisville held Council Rock scoreless for five consecutive years 1954 through 1958 winning 20-0, 33-0, 27-0, 33-0, and 13-0. Morrisville was 5-4 with Pennsbury 1951-1959. Neshaminy beat Morrisville 14-12 in 1955 and 6-2 in 1957.
In my senior year during the 1958 football season I began to keep handwritten records for all of the teams in the Lower Bucks County League, which by then included Delhaas (Bristol Township) that had entered the league in 1953.
As luck would have it, with my love of high school football, Morrisville gained the only undefeated season in the school’s history to date (2015) at 8-0-1 in my 1958 senior year. A 6-6 tie with Neshaminy prevented 9-0, but the two teams shared the LBCL Championship. Though my records are now computerized, I still maintain the written records in 3-ring binders; 65 years worth to date.
Through an older Morrisville fan/student I met at early games, I also started to visit other games besides my Morrisville Alma mater in 1958. Just two, Bristol-Council Rock and Delhaas-Neshaminy, but it was the start of an expansion of my football interest beyond my alma mater.
While not all events can be cataloged into even time frames, it is easiest to tell my story in decade blocks for the early years, with a shortened 1951-1959 the first block, because I only started in 1951. Later when I made notes of each game I saw I will have to go yearly and even less. It will take me 30 installments to tell my story.
There was no statewide recognition in the early 1950’s for the local teams. Neshaminy was growing the strongest, and Pennsbury was beginning to climb. And in 1958 Bishop Egan Catholic High School opened just outside of Tullytown, lower Bucks County. As with most starting programs, they played an independent schedule – all Catholic Schools, and ended 0-8-1, the tie 7-7 with Pottstown Saint Pius X. But the Egan Eagles would also grow to a strong program. Malvern Prep and Bishop Kenrick were on the Eagles original schedule.
Another new school came in 1959 and it was Woodrow Wilson High School in Bristol Township and a sister school of Delhaas. They played just the 8 LBCL teams in 1959 and went 1-7. They also ran the single-wing offense just as Neshaminy and it was the only other team doing so in that era. Simpler times; most teams ran T-formation, full house backfield offenses in those days.
The top wins record of the 1950’s decade was Old Forge High School at 80-17-11 up in coal country while locally Ambler 78-17-4 in Montgomery County was tops. At the time, I had no idea of such stats; at that time it was just root for the alma mater.
But a lot of that coal country talent was, or would be, moving into our local area, either favoring steel mill employment, or assisting in filling the services that were needed by local communities due to the population explosion; teachers and coaches for example.
Neshaminy gained coaches’ John Petercuskie from Old Forge, Peter Cordelli from Blakely, and Jack Swartz from Carbondale. Al Matuza came to Pennsbury in 1955 from Shenandoah High School and from the Chicago Bears (1943).
There is no doubt that starting in 1952 Neshaminy was the lower Bucks power football school with a 9-1 season and a LBCL Championship (6-0). Their lone loss was non-league to Ambler 7-25. The 1953 season saw co-champs, both Bensalem and Neshaminy 6-1 league. Neshaminy won the title outright in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959, and 1960.
In 1957 Neshaminy and Pennsbury shared co-championships and in 1958 Neshaminy and Morrisville shared co-championships. Shared or outright, Neshaminy was in every LBCL title 1952-1960. But they were not recognized by Dr. Saylor until the 1962 season.
The start of a new decade in 1960 was a transition year in many ways now that I look at it in retrospect. Morrisville’s long-time coach Gordon Davies, I believe also an upstate product, but well before the recent influx, retired after the 1960 Morrisville season.
The Bulldogs posted a 7-2 slate, losing only to Neshaminy (0-42) and Bensalem (13-19). This followed an 8-1 and the 8-0-1 seasons, making the 1958-1960 era, one of the best in school history at 23-3-1 for the three seasons. I saw six of the Bulldog games that 1960 season, and it was the last time I saw my alma mater that many times in one year. They have only met with a scattering of success here and there since that time, and have struggled mightily most of this century, and the last four decades of the prior century.
A second transition was that in 1960 Pennsbury opened the first field of their own; the first Falcon Field behind the Charles Boehm school in Lower Makefield Township. Prominent was the bright orange wooden press box.
1960 was also the final season of a unified 9-team Lower Bucks County League. For 1961 the league would be split up into big school and small school divisions, Section I and Section II.
And state recognition came to lower Bucks County for the first time when Neshaminy’s Harry Schuh was named second team all-state Fullback (AP) for 1959. This would be followed in 1960 by Neshaminy RB Jack Stricker (UPI); and John Carber (T) first-team all state 1961.
And it continued in 1962 and 1963 as well with Redskins’ Bob Cummings (C) and Bob Baxter (HB) making all-state respectively. In 1964 Pennsbury joined the ranks of local all-staters with two selections – Dennis Woomer (T) second team and Joe Fiorvanta (G) third team.
And Dr. Saylor accorded Neshaminy as 9th in the state at 10-0-1 in 1962, and the Skins appeared on his list for the next three seasons – 1963 (3rd), 1964 (5-way tie for 4th), and 1965 (5th).
Neshaminy and Pennsbury were bringing state recognition to the area and I had the pleasure of seeing those athletes play. Dr. Saylor had Pennsbury in a 3-way tie for 10th in 1966; and then Bishop Egan tie for 9th in 1967. I was still oblivious of this in my early to mid-teens.
I eschewed college after graduation in 1959 to go directly to work in banking from high school (in three weeks actually), and purchased a used car and began more serious dating.
But I continued my interests in hobbies and music, joining a community marching band in nearby Hamilton Township, New Jersey and joining a hobby group I was interested in. In 1961 I joined a field competition senior drum & bugle corps.
I think the decline of Morrisville football (1-7 in 1961) along with all of my other continued interests, temporarily stifled my high school football interest for a year or two. While I got to 18 games in 1959, my first season out of high school, and 12 in 1960; I made a low of 7 in 1961. But I still continued to log the records of all the teams that I had started with, plus the newcomers in lower Bucks County.
The big school Section I of the LBCL was Neshaminy, Pennsbury, William Tennent, and Woodrow Wilson; while the Section II of smaller schools was Bensalem, Bristol, Council Rock, Delhaas, and Morrisville.
Neshaminy added their big concrete stands for the 1963 season and I saw the first game there that year when the Redskins hosted the Central Dauphin Rams. In a defensive struggle the Skins won 7-0. I saw 8 of the Skins 10 games that season, 7 at Neshaminy and one at Tennent. I had begun to realize the pleasure of watching well-executed high school football, and Neshaminy was the place to be for me.
I also got out to Falcon Field for 4 Pennsbury games, including a 65-0 drubbing of Morrisville in the last game between those two schools whose programs were going in different directions. I also saw the Falcons away twice that season.
I saw all 9 LBCL teams plus Bishop Egan in 1963, a total of 21 games, a new record total for a season to that time.
There was motivation to see as many games as I could in 1963. In early 1963 I had received my military draft notice with a pending entrance date of January 1964. For once I would be on a team, a vast military team; I did some research, talked to recruiters, and chose to enlist in the Army for four years, at the time the only 4-year hitch in the Army; the ASA or Army Security Agency. Among many thoughts about such a venture was “missing high school football”.
After basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, in late March 1964 I motored to Fort Devens, Massachusetts and the ASA Training Center and School. This article is for high school football, and I say only that I remained for all 4 years of my hitch at the School, eventually as Administrative NCO of the data processing division.
It was a 6-hour ride home and once I was permanent party at the school by the 1964 football season, I could get home for games on weekends. I was able to take in 16 games in 1964 and 14 in 1965 in this manner. Included in 1965 were two games between Massachusetts teams up there and Bergen Catholic (NJ) at Bishop Egan. This was a competitive, close game going to Bergen 14-7. Egan was growing powerful and was 9-3 in 1965. Also included was the first game ever for Archbishop Wood and it was on a field behind the school sans bleachers as I remember. It was with Morrisville and the Bulldogs won 13-7. The Wood website only includes their first PCL season 1966, but they did indeed play an independent schedule in 1965 and were 0-9; and I saw the first game they ever played.
By the 1966 season I was married and living in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. As a result I saw only a Massachusetts high school all-star football game Lawrence versus Lowell, 21-18 Lowell.
The year of 1967 is the only year in my 65-year high school football hobby, 1951-2015, that I did not see any games. We had been moved from an apartment in Fitchburg, Mass onto post at Fort Devens, and I was preparing to leave the service in early 1968 and had much to do, and of course had no reason to come back to Lower Bucks County in 1966 or 1967 to a greater degree.
On January 15, 1968 I returned to being a civilian, a banker, and in May a first-time homeowner in Fairless Hills, PA not very far at all from the new Falcon Field of Pennsbury, dedicated in 1968. The Falcons first game there was against (then) Bishop Neumann, won 42-0 by Pennsbury. I did not get to that one. But Pennsbury held the stadium dedication the second week when Altoona was in and I had to get to that one and did. The Falcons dispatched the Mountain Lions 33-20 on the way to a 10-1 season, losing only 12-13 to Easton all season. Frank Dykes (T) was second team all-state (AP) from that Falcon eleven.
Before the season started I had made an appointment at the Bucks County Courier Times newspaper building in Tullytown to search their records for the 1966 and 1967 local football seasons so I could keep my written records intact. I was fortunate and treated very nicely there in completing my mission. Some years back from our present time a murder at the building made such research visitation off limits; and I couldn’t do that now.
I only saw two games in 1968 and three in 1969 as I adjusted back into civilian life, home ownership, job requirements, and in ways a restrictive marital regimen.
I basically missed some big doings in the 1966 season. Background: Neshaminy had grown mighty, known state-wide, but had a massive coaching change after their 10-0-1 1965 season. Pennsbury had grown strong losing only to Altoona 26-28 and Neshaminy 0-7 and going 6-2-1 (tie Wilson 0-0). And Bishop Egan went 9-3, losing the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship to West Catholic 13-28. All this was in 1965, a season in which I did see 14 games; and a preview to the 1966 season.
John Petercuskie left Neshaminy after compiling an on-field 59-1-5 record 1960-1965.
There was an ineligible player issue costing all or some of the 1962 season officially, but I list the on-field accomplishments as I know for fact the ineligible player did not play often and was not involved in any win in any way. In 1966 the Skins went 2-6-2, their first losing season in 15 years (since 2-5-3 in 1951).
Meanwhile in 1966 Bishop Egan went 12-1 and won the PCL and City Championships. A regular season 0-6 loss to LaSalle was their only blemish. They beat Neshaminy 41-0 in the season opener. Pennsbury went 8-1-1 and Wilson went 8-1-1. Yes the tie was with each other. Pennsbury lost only to Allentown Allen 13-20 and Wilson lost only to Egan 0-9. Pennsbury beat Neshaminy 60-0 in the final game of the season for each team.
Additionally, starting in 1966 both Pennsbury and Neshaminy played in a second league commonly called the Eastern Big Eight, although in 1966 it only contained 6 teams. Easton and Pennsbury shared the title in this league at 4-1 each in 1966. Other teams were Allentown Allen, Allentown Dieruff and Bethlehem Liberty.
As I said above, I missed the 1967 season entirely while living in Massachusetts. Getting the local team’s records in 1968, I learned that I missed some good football. Among it was perhaps one of the best Bristol squads ever that went 9-1 with their sole loss to bigger Bensalem 13-14. They averaged 32.7 points per game while allowing 12.3. Among the Warrior’s wins: 35-0 over Archbishop Ryan and 35-7 over Lansdale Catholic.
Pennsbury put up an 8-2 season losing their opener 0-14 to Altoona out there, and also to Easton 14-34 at home, which would have been the last season of the old Falcon Field near Charles Boehm. Neshaminy was still slumping with a 3-7 slate.
Bishop Egan was again only plagued by one upset loss 25-27 to Bishop McDevitt, while posting a slate of 11-1 and including PCL and City Championships. While I cannot locate his name in any all-state teams, Larry Marshall played for Egan around this time and he went on to Maryland and then 75 games in the pros 1972-78 with four different teams.
Although I only saw two games in 1968, I did see the best local team as Pennsbury went 10-1, losing only to Easton 12-13 at Cottingham.
I saw the Altoona stadium dedication game mentioned above and I also saw the final game, the annual Neshaminy-Pennsbury tussle, won by the Falcons 17-13. Neshaminy bounced back somewhat to 7-4 for 1968.
In 1969, the end of the 1960’s decade I only saw three games, two Morrisville and the Neshaminy-Pennsbury affair again, this time at Heartbreak Ridge. It was Bucks County Courier Times icon Dick Dougherty that dubbed the Neshaminy stadium “Heartbreak Ridge” in 1965. The Falcons again prevailed 13-7. They finished 8-2, the best local public team record.
By the end of the 1960 decade I was in a slump of four years, 1966-1969 having been to only 6 games over the four years. I missed it greatly; but it would get worse before it got better.
Because 1965 was the last of what I would call my first continuous cycle of high school football 1951-1965; I was not really tuned to the results of the period of the 1960’s as to league championships and local teams in the Eastern Big 6, 7, or 8, depending on the years.
In the LBCL, section I Neshaminy continued to dominate, winning the league in 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1965. Pennsbury had taken the lead in 1966, sharing the crown with Woodrow Wilson that year, then winning the league outright in 1967, 1968, and 1969.
The Eastern Big 8 (probably called Big 6 in the first season) only started in 1966 when I saw no games locally in the LBCL and this happened again in 1967. I remember being aware of it from news accounts and the local Neshaminy and Pennsbury schedules though. Easton and Pennsbury shared the first 1966 title at 4-1 each in the league. Easton won it outright in 1967 and 1968 and Pennsbury was second in both years. In 1969 a three-way tie for first at 4-2 occurred among Allentown Dieruff, Neshaminy and Pennsbury.
As the league started the year that Neshaminy tanked, they were last in the league in 1966 (1-3-1); and in 1967 (1-4). The Skins sat in fourth place in 1968, and were in the three-way tie for first at 4-2 mentioned above in 1969.
There were 6 teams in this Eastern Big league 1966-1968; and 7 in 1969 when Bethlehem Freedom entered. The league continued through the 1975 season and Reading entered in 1973 finally making it the “Big 8”. As I did not get to return to very active high school football until the 1976 season; I basically missed the entire existence (1966-1975) of this second league for the two local teams.
I was still “localized” in my views of high school football. I did not know that Harrisburg John Harris won the 1960s decade for wins at 95-7-3; or that locally Ridley went 78-12-3 for the best record in District One. I didn’t know that Mike Pettine Sr., who graduated from Conshohocken, had become coach at Central Bucks High School in Doylestown, PA in 1963. I didn’t know that Easton had one of those rare losing seasons at 3-7-1, after a three year run at 28-1-1 the prior three seasons.
High School Football was going on without me and I didn’t like it!
Don Black’s various individual high school record books.
Pennsylvania Football News annual resource guides.
Neshaminy Football website – history.
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