Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Frymoyer’s heart pumps up holiday spirit

It’s hard not to argue that Jim Frymoyer, Sr. is a big man. A few years ago, while manning the chains for Pottsgrove High School’s football games, he’d tell anyone (actually joke with anyone) willing to listen that he’s probably wider than taller.

But does the man ever have a big heart.

Arguably as big as any in Pottstown … if not the entire area.

Despite dealing with more than his own share of adversity through the years, including life-threatening health issues with his wife, Jim Frymoyer has never once refused to open his arms and his wallet – or that heart – to help others.

There are rarely any days, weeks or months off on his lend-a-hand calendar, but Frymoyer’s generosity is never more evident, nor more appreciated, than it is in the months, weeks and days leading up to Christmas.

And this weekend, if Pottstown has ever been blessed to have its own genuine Santa Claus, he’ll be at the Moose Lodge on High Street.

Friday, for the 20th consecutive year, Frymoyer – the Community Service Coordinator of the Moose Lodge – and his devoted staff of volunteers will be out and about town distributing more than 30 holiday food baskets to needy families with young children. Saturday afternoon, Frymoyer and his devoted staff of volunteers will distribute gifts to more than 85 disadvantaged children during the Moose Lodge’s annual Christmas party.

For those who sometimes wonder why Frymoyer works as hard as he does year in and year

out, especially for this particular Christmas celebration, well, all they need to see are the bright eyes and smiles that light up the room when the gifts are given to the children, and the joy that warms up the room when the children unwrap them.

Frymoyer does.

And he struggles to keep a dry eye throughout the two days.

“I don’t know of anyone who cares more about children, children who aren’t as fortunate as we may have been when we were young, as Jimmy does,” said Tom Reed, the general manager of Piazza Honda of Pottstown and one of Frymoyer’s longtime friends. “But the one thing that troubles him is that he isn’t able to help more children and their families.

“There aren’t too many people who realize just how hard he works to help others, and how important it is to him to help others. And it’s never about Jimmy Frymoyer, either … it’s always about kids and their families.”

And it’s never “I” when Frymoyer talks.

“We really derive a great deal of personal satisfaction in working hard to raise the money and food donations to make this commitment to the community every year,” Frymoyer said recently. “We reach out to the businesses and civic organizations in the Pottstown area in order to get the resources we need to meet the children’s and families’ needs. We’re so grateful for their support.”

But the holiday spirit – and so many other happy moments delivered throughout the year thanks to a variety of other projects – wouldn’t be as joyful or as meaningful without Frymoyer.

An active member of the Moose Lodge for 25 years, Frymoyer has held several offices in the association and has been honored by the Moose’s state and national organizations. He has pioneered countless community service projects in Pottstown; has been a coordinator in the Youth Awareness Program; has helped high school students selected to participate in the Severity of Drug & Alcohol Abuse program train to make presentations to young children; and, among many other endeavors, was an integral part of a project that raised $10,000 to help a local man cover the medical costs of a liver transplant.

Frymoyer has also worked with the Pottstown Area Seniors Center, the United Way, and the Cluster of Religious Outreach.

What makes him so successful in his work in the community is his sincerity. That engaging personality is genuine. There is no agenda other than that of helping others.

“Jimmy is devoted to making the Pottstown community a better place to live and a great place to raise a family,” Reed said. “He’s committed to that … and he works as hard as anyone I know in hopes of making it happen.”

* * *

Anyone wishing to make a financial contribution or a donation of food and gifts to the Moose Lodge’s community projects can do so by calling Frymoyer at 610-327-3806.

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Way of the Warriors

Dennis Kellon knows a thing or two about history. He taught American history in the Methacton classrooms for nearly 40 years, and helped create a storied wrestling history in the Methacton practice rooms for all but five or six of the 47 years the sport’s been in existence there.

So no one, perhaps, was as happy — or proud — as Kellon was last Saturday afternoon when the Warriors recorded the program’s 500th win during the Bill Fretz Duals at Perkiomen Valley High School.

“That’s it, we got it … yeah,” Kellon said after watching 112-pound Rob D’Annunzio’s major decision create an insurmountable lead that led to the Warriors’ milestone 40-21 victory over William Tennent.

Kellon, of course, isn’t quite the same as he was back in 1966, when he was hired a month or so after graduating from college to teach at Methacton. The hair is a little thinner (with a shade of gray here and there) since he was introduced to head wrestling coach William Berardelli, who literally begged him to start up and coach a junior high school team that winter.

But the energy he injected into Methacton wrestling, for three seasons at the junior high school, then for 30 more at the high school as both a head coach and assistant, hasn’t diminished … nor has his allegiance, his loyalty.

“It’s always been fun,” Kellon said.

Berardelli, who lost a very courageous battle with cancer this past summer, as well as Kellon, the late Nelson Stratton, Chris Lloyd, Tony Haley, Billy Moser, and current head coach A.J. Maida, along with a number of devoted assistants like Tony DeMeno and Bruce Childress, have all made it fun.

They have all made it challenging.

And they have all made Methacton wrestling successful … one of the most successful in all of District 1.

Berardelli, a state champion in swimming at Norristown High School and later a highly touted swimmer as well as a guard on the football team at the former West Chester State Teachers College, never wrestled in his life before starting Methacton’s program in 1962.

“Bill was already a (football) coach at Methacton, so they needed someone to start it up, and he did it,” Kellon explained. “I remember when I got hired he was so happy. ‘This is great, now we have a wrestler,’ he said one day.

“I was very fortunate. When I interviewed at Methacton, ( the district) needed two wrestling coaches and three history teachers. I kind of fell into it.”

Kellon took over the high school program in 1969, went 7-6-1 in his first year, then experienced growing pains the following three winters that ended with 2-12, 5-9, and 5-9 records.

Ironically, Methacton hasn’t had a losing season since, and that covers 35 years, if you’re counting.

Kellon was matside when the Warriors got win No. 100 in their final match of 1978; was an unpaid assistant sitting next to Stratton for win No. 200 in the next-to-last dual in 1986; was an assistant to Stratton for win No. 300 three matches into the 1992-93 season; and was matside when Lloyd closed the 1999-2000 season — his first — with win No. 400.

Kellon, now chairman of the District 1 Wrestling Steering Committee, was seated in the bleachers — right behind the Methacton team, of course — last Saturday for win No. 500.

Taking his first coaching position at the junior high school sure seemed like a long time ago, Kellon admitted. It was. But other than the new faces showing up every winter in that practice room, little else has changed.

“When I got there, I remember scheduling practices over the Christmas vacation, and when the athletic director found out, he told me I couldn’t do that,” Kellon recalled, breaking into a laugh. “Heck, when I called practice one Thanksgiving morning, I thought I was going to get hit with a drumstick.

“It didn’t take long before the kids started to enjoy it. They started to realize that if they were going to be good at (wrestling), they had to work at it.”

In 1968, Berardelli’s final season at the high school, Kellon started an elementary school program. The youngsters’ season consisted of three Saturday morning workouts, then a tournament on the fourth Saturday.

Two of his aspiring wrestlers, who knew little if anything about the sport, were Stratton and Jeff Madden. “Nelson was this little chubby kid, and Jeff looked like Opie on the Andy Griffith Show,” Kellon recalled.

Both would later impact Methacton’s program. As seniors in 1974, Stratton and Madden helped the Warriors put together their most successful season (12-2) up to that point. Stratton would return to coach for 17 years, the last 12 as the head coach, and was 173-33-2 overall before he died in the summer of 1995. Madden would take over the Wissahickon program and win well over 200 matches before retiring. This winter, he returned to take over the program at Pottsgrove.

But, as Kellon has said time and time again, it was Stratton who led Methacton into the wrestling spotlight.

“I always felt if we were to go to the next level, (Stratton) was the guy who would take us there,” Kellon said. “He knew far and above more than I knew, and you could see that by what he did.

“What made Nelson so special was that he expected you to do your best, expected you to work hard, expected you to learn. He set the bar so high, but he made you get that high. And he always had a knack of getting the kids to have fun doing that.”

Stratton was the first District 1 coach to take his team out of the Philadelphia region in search of the best competition.

“You’ll never get better unless you wrestle better competition,” Stratton once said in an interview with The Mercury.

Methacton got better, and became one of the premier programs in the district. Kellon, who was back as the head coach for four seasons after Stratton’s death, eventually handed over the duties to Lloyd. Haley, and Moser followed. Today, it’s Maida — another former Warrior himself.

“We’ve always had great coaches,” Kellon said, naming those before as well as after him. “Dave Kyler was an excellent junior high coach for us at one time, and you just can’t say enough about what Tony DeMeno and Billy Moser did for us all those years (as assistants). All of those guys … we were nearly inseparable.”

Moser, of course, is just one part of Methacton wrestling’s so-called First Family. Oldest brother Rick was the program’s first district champion; Billy was the first regional champion, and younger brother Jon was the first state champion. Even the little fella, youngest brother Eric, is still coaching in the Warriors’ midget program.

“And one other big thing that helped us along the way was the opposition, the coaches we faced,” Kellon explained. “Guys like Lonny Moore over at Phoenixville, Bill Saltzman at Cheltenham, Alray Johnson at Downingtown, Mike Lunn at Boyertown, Mike Fabel at Spring-Ford, and Jim Tsakonas at Pottstown … they were great. We were all fierce rivals. But in the wrestling community, we were all willing to share what we were doing.

“When we wrestled their teams, even if we got hammered, we didn’t go back thinking it was horrible or make excuses. We wanted to know what they did, how we could do what they were doing to get better ourselves.”

Kellon, and those who followed him, learned quickly … and learned well.

The 500 wins more than prove that.


Northampton, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 nationally, ran off four wins in five bouts to survive a 32-24 thriller with Cumberland Valley, ranked No. 3 in most state polls and No. 11 nationally. … Boyertown, North Penn, Oxford, Penncrest, Pennridge, Quakertown, and Springfield-Delco are part of the 87-team field for the Beast of the East Classic down in Delaware this Saturday and Sunday. Among the mighty ones there will be No. 1 Blair Academy (N.J.), No. 3 Central Daughin, No. 10 St. Mark’s (Del.), No. 11 Cumberland Valley, No. 12 Eastern Regional (N.J.), and No. 15 Wyoming Seminary. … The 10th annual King of the Mountain Tournament gets under way this weekend at Central Mountain. Council Rock South and Hatboro-Horsham are the lone two District 1 entries in the 37-team field, which features nationally ranked Central Mountain (No. 6). … Council Rock North will be the only District 1 team at the 42nd renewal of the Powerade at Canon-McMillan on Dec. 29-30.


OJR’s Nick Fuschino tacked on four more wins over the weekend to pass the 100-win career mark and become the 78th area wrestler to achieve the feat. … Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti (83) and Tim Feroe (81) will look to add to their totals over the weekend at the Beast of the East Classic at the University of Delaware, while Upper Perkiomen’s Jared Bennett (84) will attempt to do the same when the Indians hit the road later this week for the four-day Reno Tournament of Champions in Nevada. … Boyertown senior Ryan Kemmerer now owns 138 career wins to move by Methacton’s Jeff Albano and into 13th place on The Mercury’s all-time chart. Four more wins will push Kemmerer into a four-way tie for 10th place with Upper Perkiomen’s Austin Reed and former Hill School teammates Zach Doll and Ty Willman.

Ridley’s Carl Schnellenbach (663), Oxford’s Scott (384), Pennsbury’s Joe Kiefer (357), and Radnor’s Skip Shoemaker (343) are District 1’s only active coaches who opened the current season with 300 or more career wins. … Easton head coach Steve Powell, a graduate of West Chester Henderson, upped his career total to 397 with two wins last week. Powell will attempt to hit the coveted 400 mark after the New Year during his own Easton Duals, which features Wilson Area, Allentown Allen, Council Rock South, Bethlehem Freedom and Caesar Rodney (Del.).


Boyertown wastes no time proving its worth

Unless your headgear has been on a bit too long (and snapped up a little too tight), or you have been traipsing through the malls in a week-long trance because of Black Friday’s hypnotizing sales pitches and prices, you’ve likely heard by now that Boyertown will be the class of the Pioneer Athletic Conference this season.

Boyertown … no one else, just Boyertown.

That’s a first, too.

The first time there’s been no mention of those two others — Upper Perkiomen and Spring-Ford — who along with Boyertown have either won or shared all but three of the league’s 22 championships.

And after one week, or shall we say one weekend, it sure does appear as though Boyertown may be the high-and-mighty of the PAC-10 … unquestionably one of the area’s best teams, and perhaps even one of the better teams in all of District 1.

The Bears swept four of five matches in their own Bear Duals last Saturday, losing only a nine-point decision to St. Mark’s, Del., which was No. 18 in Amateur Wrestling News’ preseason national rankings. They got a little bit of a test from Council Rock North, but when they met again in the third-place final, the earlier six-point differential ballooned to 18 points.

Pete Ventresca, who has lost just two league matches (one each to Upper Perkiomen and Spring-Ford, naturally) in his first three seasons as Boyertown’s head coach, has heard how the Bears should run the PAC-10 table this winter. He prefers to let all that talk fall on deaf ears, too.

And one weekend a season does not make.

“We’ve heard it all,” Ventresca admitted. “Our goal every year is to win the PAC-10. However, there are still a lot of tough teams again this year, and we will never underestimate anybody.

“(People) can say what they want, but Upper Perkiomen will be tough again; Spring-Ford is always good; Owen J. Roberts looks very good; and a few other teams could present some problems. I do feel good about our team, absolutely. But after last year, with all those twists and turns, you realize nothing is ever written in stone.”

The one thing Ventresca does have this season is depth, or flexibility. The inability to move people up, down, and around to get favorable match-ups hurt the Bears since teaming up in the PAC-10 six years ago. It was never more evident than in those showdowns with Upper Perkiomen and Spring-Ford, the only teams to have beaten the Bears — an otherwise impressive 44-5 against league rivals.

“We do have a lot of balance,” Ventresca said. “That’s something we haven’t had in years past. But this year, we seem to have decent kids and decent back-ups, the kind of balance that gives us a lot of options when it comes to moving kids around to get the best match-ups.”

Boyertown exposed that last Saturday.

“I definitely think we came out of (the duals) well,” Ventresca said. “The kids performed well. I was happy with their performance.

“But what really pleased us was how the team stepped up. If one kid went down, the next kid picked him up. Everyone was just pulling for one another, and that’s a good thing to see.”


The District 1 Steering Committee has approved a major change in the district’s Class AAA Team Duals, expanding the field to 24 teams.

According to Dennis Kellon, chairman of the committee, the first through eighth seeds will draw byes in the first round. And except for the losers of the first-round pigtail matches — who are eliminated — the tournament will feature complete wrestlebacks.

The first two rounds will be held Thursday, Jan. 22. The survivors return for the final two days, Friday and Saturday, Jan. 30-31, with the AAA championship and third-place final, along with the Class AA final, set for 4 p.m. that Saturday.

The first round sits will be Upper Perkiomen, Radnor, Hatboro-Horsham, and Pennsbury, with the final two days of the duals held at Council Rock South.


The 23rd season of PAC-10 wrestling opens Wednesday night with Boyertown traveling to Perkiomen Valley and Phoenixville visiting Upper Perkiomen.

Fans bringing four canned goods to the Upper Perkiomen match will be admitted free. The canned goods will be accepted by representatives of the Upper Perkiomen National Honor Society, which will deliver the donations to the Open Line Food Drive just before Christmas.

Sure sounds like a great reason to take in the Phantoms-Indians match … and to give a little back to those less fortunate to brighten their holidays.


OJR’s Nick Fuschino upped his career win total to 97 with a perfect 5-for-5 last weekend. Pottstown’s Eric Daniels will begin his season Saturday at the West Chester Tournament with 83. Boyertown teammates Alex Pellicciotti (82) and Tim Feroe (80) pushed their totals up by five each last weekend, too. Upper Perkiomen heavyweight Jared Bennett debuts Wednesday night with 79.

Among active coaches, Ridley’s ageless Carl Schnellenbach is back for his 49th season and owns a state-record 663 wins. Danville’s Ron Kanaskie is a distant second with 601. … District 1’s only other active coaches with more than 300 wins entering this season are Oxford’s Scott Gold (384) and Pennsbury’s Joe Kiefer (357).

Around the state, Waynesburg (793) and Easton (786) are both expected to move of the 800-win mark this season. Canon-McMillan is the state’s all-time leader with 922 wins in the history of its program. … Easton head coach Steve Powell, a graduate of West Chester Henderson, owned 395 of Easton’s victories before beginning his 25th season last weekend.


Lehigh University, which features Andy Knerr (Norristown) and Brian Tanen (Souderton) on its roster, is celebrating its 100th year of wrestling this season. … The University of Pennsylvania, which features four former District 1 standouts – Harriton’s Marty Borowsky, Upper Perkiomen’s Zack Kemmerer, and Council Rock South brothers Mark and Rick Rappo – owns the nation’s oldest college program and is already into its 105th season.


It’s generally regarded today that the Walsh Ironman is No. 1 or No. 1A when ranking high school wrestling tournaments. Last weekend, Blair Academy (N.J.) won the team title with a 282.5-234 edge over runner-up St. Paris Graham (Ohio). The teams are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, by Amateur Wrestling News. Pennsylvania’s Central Mountain (third), Blue Mountain (sixth), Reynolds (seventh) and Wyoming Seminary (eighth) all had Top 10 finishes, while Shadyside Academy was 11th.


Wrestling season starts with a flurry

Trace the history of wrestling, and you’ll likely run out of lead (or ink, if you’re into BICS or upscale pens). Cave drawings, dating back 15,000 years, show wrestlers using a lot of the holds still taught in practice rooms and used on the mats today.

It’s actually been 120 years since the first organized national wrestling tournament was held in this country … and tonight marks the 75th anniversary of sanctioned wrestling in District 1.

The field has certainly grown since that inaugural 1933-34 season, when just over a handful of teams — among them Abington, Cheltenham, Lower Merion, Upper Darby, and Upper Merion — featured the sport in their athletic programs and represented a then very young district in the PIAA’s postseason.

There are a heck of a lot more teams now, 74 to be exact (502 statewide) … and considerably higher expectations — among wrestlers, coaches, and a devoted fan base — throughout the district in particular and locally to be specific.

Last year, like many before it, had its share of drama. In the Pioneer Athletic Conference, few expected Spring-Ford to bounce back from its first loss ever to Perkiomen Valley with its first win over Upper Perkiomen in more than 10 seasons just three days later and a narrow decision of Boyertown four more days later, leaving both the Rams and Bears with a share of the PAC-10 title.

But there was little if any drama — and a lot of disappointment — down the stretch, or as the postseason wound down.

Yes, the PAC-10 threw its share of knockout blows in three sectional and two district tournaments. But it was missing at the Southeast Regional … and hardly noticeable at the PIAA Championships in Hershey, where just Pottstown’s Seth Ecker, Boyertown’s Alex Pellicciotti, and Owen J. Roberts’ Nick Fuschino sparred their way to the awards podium.

Ecker has graduated. But Pellicciotti and Fuschino, who will be together in the Boyertown gym Saturday morning for the Bear Duals, and a long list of others will be on the mats this weekend determined to erase last year’s woes and pin down the respectability that escaped the PAC last March.

The warm-ups actually begin tonight down in Royersford for newcomer Methacton, Perkiomen Valley, and Spring-Ford in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Classic, a two-day affair that winds down late Saturday afternoon.

The two-day grind also begins for St. Pius X, which is at the New Hope-Solebury Tournament. Then on Saturday, while Boyertown and Owen J. Roberts share the spotlight at the Bear Duals, Phoenixville makes its annual trek to Frazer for the Great Valley Tournament.

Four teams in the PAC-10 lineup don’t have much time to relax, either, because the league’s 23rd season opens next Wednesday evening.

Boyertown, nearly everyone’s favorite to make it a hat trick — three titles in a row — is at Perkiomen Valley, and Phoenixville visits Upper Perkiomen, which may have its best lineup since stringing together those record nine straight championships (1998-2006).

The early invitationals, tournaments, and classics — whatever you care to call them — continue next weekend. And the PAC-10 gets into its full weekly routine just after we flip the calendar to 2009.

As the eloquent Doug Landis says, while announcing tournaments held at Spring-Ford: “Let’s watch.”


Council Rock South, which may very well be District 1’s dominant team again this season, will find out exactly how good it is in a hurry. Head coach Brad Silemperi’s gang will be competing in the Cement Town Duals at Nazareth next Saturday; the King of the Mountain Tournament at Central Mountain High School the following weekend; the Bethlehem Holiday Classic after Christmas; and the Easton Duals just after the New Year’s break.

Great Valley, coached by former Phoenixville standout Joe Tornetta — who amassed 101 wins and two championships guiding Pottsgrove as well as the Patriots through 17 seasons in the PAC-10, will also be among the district’s best. Tornetta has two returning state medalists (Kyle Liberato and Carl Buchholz) and a slew of 20-match winners from a year ago. The Patriots’ key will be staying away from the illness bug and injuries that all but disabled the team over the final month of last season.

Among the other district leaders entering the new season are Quakertown, led by Kurt Handel — who along with Upper Perkiomen head coach Tom Hontz was responsible for the Panthers’ powerful punch back in the mid-to-late 80s; and Boyertown, which was deep in talent even before Ryan Kemmerer (and his 132 career wins) transferred into its lineup.


An area-record five new coaches will be matside this season. In the PAC-10, Maida takes over at Methacton; Dave Saville inherits the Phoenixville program; Jeff Madden tries to add to his total of 257 wins (all at Wissahickon) as the new guy at Pottsgrove; and Mark Houseal steps in at St. Pius X. The devoted and energetic Tim Klavon — son of former North Penn head coach and Hall of Famer Ed Klavon — is back at Perkiomen School after overseeing the program for 12 previous seasons.

Think Methacton is making a mark in the PAC-10 before even stepping on the mat for a league match? Maida, Saville, and Madden are all former Warrior wrestlers. And if they have any questions (or beefs), all they have to do is call their former coach Dennis Kellon, the new chairman of the District 1 Wrestling Steering Committee.


Daniel Boone, coming off one of its best seasons in a number of years, debuts Saturday at the Ephrata Duals. Head coach Matt Palmer opens his fifth season just one win under the .500 mark (56-57). The Blazers will be led by lightweight Eddie Lockowitz (55 wins in two seasons) and Colin Martucci (20 wins as a freshman last season), the son of former St. Pius X head coach John Martucci.


If you’d like a wrestling gift just before Christmas, get on down to Methacton on Dec. 23. The Warriors make their PAC-10 debut against Upper Perkiomen.

Methacton, with new head coach A.J. Maida — a former Warrior himself — is two wins shy of the 500 mark. A victory over Upper Perkiomen would sure set up a New Year (Jan. 3) brawl in the county seat, where the Warriors would go toe-to-toe with longtime rival Norristown in search of the milestone win.


Kemmerer starts his senior season Saturday tied for 20th on The Mercury’s career win chart. He needs only 10 wins to jump into the Top 10 and 29 to get into the Top Five. Older brother Zack Kemmerer, a sophomore at Penn, owns the area, district, and state record with 199 career wins. … Pius’ Bobby Burns needs 26 wins this season to become the first Lion to reach 100. … Boyertown’s threesome of Pellicciotti (77), Tim Feroe (75), and Matt Malfaro (67) are all within reach of the milestone, too.


Remembering 50 years of rivalry

When John Brown heard his alma mater was going to play Pottstown on Thanksgiving, well, he simply couldn’t believe it.

As the starting quarterback on Owen J. Roberts’ first football team in 1955, Brown and the Wildcats had lined up against some mighty opponents in the Perkiomen-Schuylkill Valley League and beyond, even beat a couple.

But none compared to Pottstown.

“I was already out of school a few years, but I thought these people were kidding me when they said our school was playing Pottstown on Thanksgiving,” the still lively 70-year-old Brown recalled last week. “Pottstown was so much bigger than Owen J. Roberts back then. Pottstown was graduating over 200 kids every year and we were lucky to graduate 50 or so.

“Pottstown had so many great athletes, too. I just remember thinking that we’d never ever beat Pottstown … never ever win that game.”

Owen J. Roberts sure didn’t on its first try, losing in a very convincing manner, 24-0, on the bitterly cold morning of Nov. 26, 1959. The second time around wasn’t much better, either, a 33-7 loss. Then, in 1961, as Brown envisioned years earlier, an unbeaten Pottstown humiliated the Wildcats, 58-0.

“Pottstown really rubbed it in that game,“ recalled Scott Bush, a freshman quarterback that season. “After we got home and sat down to eat, my father (Roy) told me something I’ll never forget – ‘Pottstown is going to pay for that.’ ”

Did they ever.

The following year, Pottstown was tied for first place in the Ches-Mont League. Owen J. Roberts was winless, 0-5-3 to be precise.

Final score: Wildcats 32, Trojans 7.

“The only thing most of us were concerned about in the weeks leading up to that game was the color and material we wanted for our championship jackets,” Bush said. “We weren’t even concerned about anything when rain postponed the game from Thanksgiving to (the following) Saturday.

“But did we ever get beat up. I mean it was ugly, a no-doubt-about it (game). It was the first time we lost to Owen J., and it cost us the Ches-Mont championship. It hurt. I know personally it was the first time I got caught being overconfident, and the last time. And I can tell you no one ever took Owen J. Roberts for granted after that game, either.”

Call it respect

The series, though only three years old at that point, became more than just a game. And in the years that would follow, outstanding individual talent, big plays and more big plays, edge-of-your seat drama, and so many surprising finishes, would only enhance the game.

Owen J. Roberts and Pottstown football became part of the Thanksgiving Day setting.

And this morning at 10 a.m. when the Wildcats and Trojans meet in Bucktown for the 50th consecutive season – officials from both schools will recognize the rivalry’s history -- and its traditions.

“It’s much more an event and a happening than just a game,“ said former longtime Pottstown athletic director John Armato, now the district’s director of community relations. “It’s a tradition that brings together the people of the communities … It lends to the family experience part of what Thanksgiving is supposed to be.”

Settling scores

When the series kicked off in 1959, the late Hebert “Heeb” Meyers was Pottstown’s head coach – the first of 12 who have led the Trojans against Owen J. Roberts. He was 4-3-1 in the eight games he matched wits with Lou Buckwalter and Henry Bernat, a mark that didn’t quite satisfy his thirst for success. “(The OJR) game is the one we don’t ever want to lose,” Meyers told The Mercury prior to one of those early meetings.

Eventually, that was the feeling anyone associated with the game shared.

Especially Bernat.

A native of Phoenixville, where he played in three Thanksgiving Day games (1944-46) against Coatesville, Bernat was an assistant to Buckwalter for five seasons before taking over the program in 1960. He’s often said the Pottstown-OJR game at first didn’t seem like that big of a deal … or at least until the 1961 shellacking.

“I never did forget that game, and still haven’t,” Bernat said recently. “Pottstown was a great football team, mind you, but… Yeah, I never forgot that game.”

Neither Bernat nor the Wildcats matched that humbling spread against the Trojans. But scores have certainly been settled. And Ches-Mont League as well as Pioneer Athletic Conference championships have been won and lost.

Yes, the old cliché of throwing out the records certainly applies to the rivalry, which has provided upset after upset and, more important, 14 games in which a league title was decided.

“I think what you have to remember is that all that separates the two schools are the (Hanover Street and Keim Street) bridges, and that most of the kids know each other,” Bernat said. “Heck, a lot of them are friends.”

But friendships are severed for those two to three hours Thanksgiving morning.

“For a lot of us, it’s a rivalry that started in youth football when the (former) Pottstown M&M Rams played the NorChester Red Knights,” said Brian Campbell, who ran for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in 1988, leading the Trojans to a 35-8 romp and a share of the PAC-10 title. “Everybody knew one another, played against one another…

“And when we were growing up, we always went to the Thanksgiving game. That was part of the holiday. It was the game first, then the family meal. It was such a special game. It was, and still is to a lot of people.”

So special, Campbell added, that it didn’t often end the way the records may have otherwise dictated.

“I remember losing my sophomore and junior years (7-0 and 28-0, respectively, in 1986 and 1987),” he explained. “The losses hurt, were very painful, and sometimes you remember them more than the wins.

“But it was never a problem getting up for that game. I mean that was the game. It was exciting, and it’s probably the most memorable game for a lot of the guys who played in it.”

Pottstown’s Jim Tsakonas, who played in three (1965-67) and later coached the Trojans in three more (1988-90), certainly won’t disagree.

“A lot of people outside the two (school districts) don’t understand how big a game it is, how much a part of our two communities the game is,” Tsakonas explained. “Sure, the players looked forward to the game, but so did everyone else in school and around town.

“It was an exciting time. We had bonfires, pep rallies. Heck, our band used to march up and down the hallways in school. Everyone supported it.”

Tsakonas, who saw a dummy with his number on it hanging from the Hanover Street Bridge, and his teammates got caught up in the frenzy as seniors. Owen J. Roberts, with future NFL quarterback Don Strock calling the signals, was 6-1-1 and in need of a win against Pottstown to earn a share of the 1967 Ches-Mont championship. But the Trojans denied the Wildcats the title with a 25-6 victory.

Twenty-one years later, as the head coach, Tsakonas guided Pottstown to its first PAC-10 title. He helped put an asterisk on the 9-2 season with a 35-8 victory over the Wildcats, who incidentally avenged that loss the following season with a 20-6 win that closed out their own run to the PAC-10 title.

“As a coach you wanted your kids to understand what the game (against OJR) was about, to care about it, to get ready for it,” Tsakonas said. “I always remembered that it was the one game you didn’t want to lose. It was a matter of pride.

“I also remember after beating Owen J. for the title (in 1988), while shaking hands after the game, their coaches told me, ‘There was no way you were going to shut us out, though.’ You knew what they meant by that. Things are always pretty intense that day. It’s the pride everyone has in the game.”

Titles on the line

Pride may have never been more evident than in 1970. Both teams were unbeaten in the Ches-Mont League. Pottstown was a perfect 10-0 overall, and Owen J. Roberts was 9-1.

“Every game (with Pottstown) was big, but that one was certainly one of the bigger ones,” recalled Bernat, who had gotten the best of John Schoenwolf and his Trojans the previous two years to take a bit of the sting out of the 1967 setback.

“A lot of our games went down to the wire. There were so many great games, games we should’ve won and games (Pottstown) should’ve won. But that (1970) game was something.”

Fans began lining up at the ticket windows around six in the morning. By game time, well over 10,000 were bundled up in the stands and huddled two and three deep around the track to watch high school All-American running back Denny Laws and Owen J. Roberts top the Trojans, 20-8.

“There were a lot of good football players on that field that morning,” Bernat said.

There’s never been a shortage of good football players at either field on Thanksgiving morning.

The talent was always evident, especially in the championship games — in 1971, when Pottstown’s 6-0 shutout clinched the Ches-Mont championship, and again in 1972, 1975, 1980, 1983 and 1984, when Owen J. Roberts won to close out its own Ches-Mont championship runs.

Few have forgotten the 1980 and 1983 affairs.

In 1980, Pottstown — just 2-9 going into the game — got a big run from Stan Glen to stun OJR, 14-7. The Wildcats still managed a share of the Ches-Mont title with Spring-Ford, though, after the Rams were upset by Boyertown, 15-14, the same morning.

In 1983, OJR was 10-0-1 and Pottstown was 8-3 on Thanksgiving. The Trojans had the lead and what most thought was the game at 7-3, but an errant pitch in the backfield got picked up by Kevin Pyle and returned for a touchdown with 1œ minutes remaining that was the difference in the 9-7 thriller.

“That’s the only touchdown I scored (on defense) in my life,” Pyle said last week. “We were ranked No. 1 in Southeastern Pennsylvania and No. 2 in Pennsylvania behind Berwick, but that didn’t mean anything to Pottstown. You knew (the Trojans) wanted to ruin our undefeated season.

“It was a heck of a game. It was 25 years ago, too, but people still bring it up to me when I see them. People have a lot of memories from all the Pottstown-Owen J. games. I guess that’s one of them.”

Memorable moments

“Once you play in this game you never forget it,” said Dave Strock, the athletic director at Owen J. Roberts who played in a couple of them for the Wildcats back in 1964 and 1965.

The two rivals parted ways in 1986 and 1987. OJR remained in and won the Ches-Mont title both of those seasons, while Pottstown left to line up in the new Pioneer Athletic Conference.

Nonetheless, the Wildcats still needed Mike Beasley’s 59-yard touchdown run with 2:37 remaining to escape with a 7-0 win over a very feisty Pottstown (5-5) and close out an unbeaten year.

In 1991, Pottstown’s Joey Allen scored on two long runs in a 14-0 victory that cost Owen J. Roberts a share of the PAC-10 title.

Three years later, most of the fans from both sides of the field were leaving with Pottstown in front 12-0 with just over three minutes remaining. And were they ever shocked by the phone calls they later got, or by the stories they read the following morning, detailing how the Wildcats scored twice – the last time on Jake Feltenberger’s eye-popping, 29-yard touchdown reception – to pull out a 14-12 win.

“A lot of people were calling (The Mercury) to get the score, and a lot of them hung up not believing what we told them,” said Tom McNichol, then the sports editor.

Some of the finishes since have been hard to believe as well. Like OJR blocking a game-tying field goal in 2000 to preserve a 35-32 win, and then Pottstown doing the same thing in 2005 to force overtime and pull out a 21-20 shocker that ended its near two-year losing streak and overshadowed a record-setting day by the Wildcats’ David Frame (state-record 57 carries for a school-record 311 yards).

There will be more … perhaps today, definitely in the years ahead.

No guarantees

Today, of course, OJR head coach Tom Barr hopes there are no surprises. His Wildcats are 7-1 in the PAC-10, one game behind unbeaten leader Pottsgrove, and 9-3 overall. Pottstown, on the other hand, is 2-6 (3-8 overall).

“I know it’s old and I know a lot of coaches before me have said it, but you do have to throw out the records in this one,” Barr said. “You aren’t guaranteed anything in this game.”

Barr was well-prepared for the Thanksgiving Day feature long before he played for the Wildcats (1976-78), and before he became their head coach in 1997.

“Growing up we always went to the games because we knew it was a big game, like a bowl game,” said Barr, whose wife – the former Carol Barndt – is a Pottstown graduate. “All we ever heard was, ‘You have to beat Pottstown, you have to beat Pottstown.’ To a lot of people, this is the game that makes (or breaks) your season.

“After all these years, it’s still big. It’s a great rivalry. It’s a game that people talk about for a long, long time.”

A game that, for some, is never ever forgotten.

“I had a kid by the name of Kenny Murray back in the early or mid 70s,” Bernat said. “He was so small, but he came out for the team his senior year. I put him in for a few plays against Pottstown that year.

“Well, Kenny ended up writing for (The Mercury), then left the area. A number of years later, he wrote me a letter and thanked me for putting him in that game. He said, ‘Coach, that was such a great experience, one I will forever remember.’ Like I’ve said many times, Pottstown and Owen J. Roberts on Thanksgiving is more than just a football game.”

Side Liners

GRAND MOMENT: Not only does this morning’s game mark the 50th anniversary of the series, it is also the 1,000th game in the history of Pottstown’s football program. The Trojans are 470-464-65. … Owen J. Roberts, 311-257-21 since its inaugural season in 1955, is playing its 590th game.

THE BEST: While a lot of the OJR faithful disagree on what Wildcat team may have been the best, Pottstown’s devout following is split between the 1961 and 2002 teams. In 1961, the Trojans simply dominated everyone en route to its unbeaten season. In 2002, with the lines anchored by Maryland-bound Brandon Nixon, a backfield featuring quarterback Terrence Shawell and running back Christian Allen, and a defense anchored by Justin Gibbs, the Trojans allowed just three points in the PAC-10 and lost only to District 1 power Strath Haven.

THE COACHES: There have been 16 different head coaches in the Owen J. Roberts-Pottstown series. Owen J. Roberts has had just four – Lou Buckwalter (1959), Henry “Hank“ Bernat (1960-90), the late Joe Edwards (1991-96), and Tom Barr (1997-present). Pottstown, on the other hand, has had three times as many – the late Hebert “Heeb” Meyers (1959-66), John Schoenwolf (1967-71), Bill Rogers (1972-77), Jim “Butch” Leveille (1978-81), Dan Weller (1982-87), Jim Tsakonas (1988-90), Mike Melnyk (1991), Tom Work (1992-94), Jeff Sparagana (1995-97), the late Jody Cwik (1998-2002), Rick Daniels (2002006), and Brett Myers (2007-present) – an even dozen, to be exact. … Bernat (20-10-1), who alone has more wins than Pottstown’s entire group, along with Barr (7-4), Meyers (4-3-1), Sparagana (3-0), Myers (1-0) and Leveille (2-2), are the only six with .500 or better records in the series.

FIRST FAMILY: Unofficially, the Glenn family has had the most Thanksgiving Day participants for Pottstown – Bronk (who played in the very first one in 1959), Sage, Scott, Stan, Colin and Greg Jr.

FIRST TIME AROUND: Pottstown and North Coventry, which would team up with Warwick to create the Owen J. Roberts School District in 1955, played one another for 15 consecutive seasons (1930-1944). The fact the Trojans won 12 of the games may be the reason the series wasn’t renewed until 15 years later.

After a scoreless tie the first year, Pottstown won two in a row and North Coventry the two after that to even it all up at 2-2-1. But from 1935 on, it was all Pottstown – 10 straight wins, seven by shutout, and a 193-27 advantage in scoring.