A Reunion For Golden Dragons
April 28, 1994|by RUDY BEDNAR (A free-lance story for The Morning Call).
Pshew! In a moment. They were gone, but not without leaving a trace.
The disappearing act created during the era of school jointures and consolidations 30-40 years ago in sectors of the Carbon County-Panther Valley area came in a flash. However, they were predated by a team that vanished from the sports scene even earlier.
Just like that six teams reappeared as only two. That's because Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk High teams combined to carry the Jim Thorpe banner in 1954-55 while Lansford, Coaldale, Nesquehoning and Summit Hill high schools surrendered their identities to form the Panther Valley district in 1963-64.
But, 10 years before that, in 1953 to be exact, the Golden Dragons of Panther Valley Catholic were playing their last season of football.
This grid program was launched in 1944 during the waning months of World War II and was bowing out in its 10th season of play to make way for the emergence of Marian High.
The same schools were directly involved: St. Ann's of Lansford, St. Mary's of Coaldale and St. Jerome's of Tamaqua.
They became the core of the new diocesan school which was established first in these three buildings (frosh in St. Jerome's, sophs in St. Ann's and juniors-seniors in St. Mary's).
All finally moved into their present location at Hometown in 1963.
By then, the Golden Dragons were just a memory.
Now, however, in the works is a plan for a gala reunion to rekindle those grand gridiron days of old.
There are so many stories to tell, accounts which in this day and age are hard to believe. Take their home field. It could have been anywhere from the Acme lot in Tamaqua, the green pasture between Lansford and Coaldale as well as the old picnic grounds in Coaldale or DeLauretis Field, Lansford.
As far as dressing rooms or showers, the players would normally suit up at home or sometimes they were able to make use of the East End A.A. in Lansford; Dutch Hill Park Pavilion or the Knights of Columbus home, both in Tamaqua.
I was not aware of these humble beginnings because the program was already off the ground by the time I arrived at The Morning Call sports desk in 1946.
But, really not much had changed from those formative years.
I recall players were still hitch-hiking rides to practice, having their mothers launder and mend their equipment. It was pretty tough especially having to put aside their feelings until after the season when the three schools went their seperate way to play against each other in basketball.
The struggle was very real but those who were part of it still remember and admit "those were the days."
Actually, it was the Rev. John Pieters of St. Jerome's, a gifted athlete himself, who with the help of the Rev. Joseph Martin of St. Ann's and the Rev. Francis Nolan of St. Mary's came up with the idea to consolidate the talents of the three schools.
They realized that neither school had enough players to field their own football team.
Vince Gildea and Steve Zaleha, both of Coaldale, directed the team at the start. Three games were scheduled initially. The Golden Dragons lost all three.
They finished 1-4-1 the following fall playing on the Coaldale High field which also was their first practice site.
Hugh "Wink" Gallagher, took over in 1946 after a herioc hitch with the U.S. Army paratroopers in which he won the Silver Star and five Bronze clusters.
Gallagher became a living legend as the father of the Marian High sports program. Besides coaching all the school sports during a career that spanned more than a quarter century, he drove the bus, lined the field and also served as athletic director until his retirement in 1980 at the age of 70.
Returning to the Golden Dragons lineup that fall was Bill Sakusky of Tamaqua. He had left school in 1944 to join the Army but came back honorably discharged in the fall of 1946 just in time to play football.
He was 19 at the time and is best remembered for the touchdown he scored as he picked a fumble out of the air and raced 45 yards in knee-deep mud to cross the goal line.
Sakusky also dropped kicked the extra point giving the Golden Dragons a 13-7 win over St. Pat's of Norristown.
It was the only win of the season for PVC which wound up 1-3-1, a slight improvement over the previous year.
But, better days were ahead. Playing teams mostly from the Philadelphia area like Manayunk, Spring Grove and Conshohocken, the Golden Dragons compiled a 3-5 record in 1947 with John Cannon leading the way.
He scored five touchdowns and two extra points that season, then tallied eight TD's and one PAT in 1948 for the team's first winning season. They won six of 10 games as Cannon scored three times against Mount Carmel Catholic and three more against Phillipsburg Catholic.
But, then PVC went 2-5 in 1949 during which they played under the lights for the first time at Lebanon Catholic, and 4-4-1 in 1950 which included a 6-6 tie with the Philadelphia Yupin Chinese team in Lansford stadium.
The Chinese, averaging only 140 pounds but making up for their lacking size with speed, were unbeaten and unscored upon coming to Lansford.
The Golden Dragons also played their first non-Sunday game that fall at Pittston Catholic.
But, 1951 would be their year.
Even though they finished 8-1-1 it was't the best mark in the area because that was the year Palmerton won all its eight games as the Blue Bombers recorded their first and only unbeaten season