The start of each and every high school football season in these parts is always filled with great expectation and hope.
It excites not only the fans but the players and coaches alike. The first concern centers around the number of lettermen returning and especially the key players of the year before.
As long as I can remember in my years on the sports desk, the previews, including the preseason tabloids that appear in the newspapers, gave a good indication of what the season might be like.
The predictions didn't always come true but at least those advance stories made good reading and offered some clues about the upcoming campaign.
I can still recall clearly the annual scene, but there is one in particular that I can never forget. As a matter of fact, the fans, players and coaches all were upbeat about the future for this particular year.
It was 1964. The crystal clear vision of a football powerhouse in the Panther Valley was about to unfold.
Thoughts of Coaldale, Lansford, Nesquehoning and Summit Hill playing under a single banner was the dream of the entire valley.
Coaches drooled at first, but after only a couple of weeks of practice as the unit engaged in preseason drills, the vision turned into a mirage.
Coach Richie Davidyock proclaimed `the problems outweigh our assets.` He added `the valley wants a winner and has gone as far as predicting a powerhouse.`
After all, the four schools were more than respectable on the field individually in the past. Coaldale was coming off a 10-2 season, Summit Hill was 5-4-1 in 1963, Nesquehoning finished 4-5 and Lansford was 5-6.
The Lansford Panthers had pulled off a huge upset in the final Thanksgiving Day game and the last playing date of the '63 season against Coaldale by shocking the previously once-beaten Tigers 6-0.
But, as Davidyock explained, more time was needed ‘due to the number and nature of injuries in camp` plus the fact that `the winged-T (offense ) is new to the majority and will take a little longer to adjust to.`
Davidyock added, `To be a man with riches to spare in view of the talent from the four schools, points out that more than manpower is needed to build a winning team.`
The jointure had the largest turnout any of the four schools ever experienced, but according to Davidyock, `we are not as deep as many people think.`
In fact, at some positions, we are only two deep as the result of the injuries many reported with,` he said.
As it turned out, he had to switch assignments because he was short at some spots. A good example, he cited, was John Molotzak, a 195-pound senior lettermen from Coaldale who was being counted on as a linebacker, `but a knee injury that has slowed him considerably, forced him into the inner line.`
Similar moves had to be made with two other seniors, Bill Jones, a 175-pound center from Lansford who was injured in the Panthers' 1963 opener and sat out the entire season, was still troubled with that knee sprain. Len Fredericks, a 170-pound end from Lansford, was still bothered by back and leg ailments.
Actually, all but one of the injuries at that point were carryovers from the previous season. Only Cal Herring, a 210-pound senior center from Coaldale suffered a thigh injury in the first five minutes of practice and remained sidelined awaiting a knee brace.
Davidyock reported that after the first two weeks of drills none of the positions had been won, although a few were virtually clinched. Stan Bankus, a 6-2, 205-pound end from Summit Hill, along with Tim Mongi, Sparky Williams and John Yankovich were certainties judging by their selection as tri-captains.
Mongi was a scrappy 170-pound senior from Lansford who would play both ways -- guard on offense and linebacker.
Yankovich, a speedy 146-pound senior from Coaldale, was destined to be a high-scoring halfback, and Williams, a 185-pound quarterback from Lansford, really impressed his coaches as a leader who showed no signs of an old shoulder injury as he unleashed passes of 50 and more yards.
`We put Sparky in a game the other day, and boom, a touchdown,` Davidyock said, with a smile.
There were plenty of skilled backups as well, including Ed Vermillion, the quarterback the year before at Summit Hill, and Paul Goida, a junior passer from Lansford.
Davidyock was confident his backfield could make up for its lack of size with speed. Nesquehoning's Paul Skodacek, a 150-pounder, was switched from halfback to fullback with the likes of 6-2, 190-pound sophomore Billy Maynard, who according to Davidyock `needs only experience to be the fullback of the future.`
Other young gems Davidyock had high hopes for included Mike Winsko, a speedy 150-pound sophomore from Coaldale; junior Rich Evanko, also a 150-pounder from Nesquehoning who was looking good on defense; Frank Maholick, Summit Hill's 130-pound junior halfback who perfected the fadeaway; Gary Druss, a 140-pound Lansford junior who was poised to play both ways; and John Mikulsky, another 140-pound Lansford junior with good speed.
Up front, Davidyock said there were question marks physically. Besides Herring and Molotzak, Bill Benyo, a 210-pound tackle, suffered a leg fracture in intramural basketball during the winter and had not recovered completely, and 6-2, 235-pound tackle John Parfitt missed a lot of practice because of a knee injury.
Davidyock was sure several others would contribute to the team's success.
Among them: his cousin Greg Davidyock, Ed Jones and Steve Figura.
`They've looked sharp in practice,` he noted.
A 182-pound tackle, Greg Davidyock lettered as a lineman at Summit Hill along with Figura, a 175-pound guard with three years' experience and a whiz on the trap play. Jones was a 160-pound guard from Coaldale.
Ends were plentiful. There was Nick Trubilla, a 150-pound senior from Coaldale; Jim Malkin, a 165-pound Lansford senior; Steve Wargo, another 150-pound upperclassmen; Angie Malaska, 6-foot, 145-pound senior from Nesquehoning, along with Caz Kosciolek, a 6-foot 185-pound Lansford junior.
Davidyock was working with a squad of 36. He pointed out that the morale was good and there was no evidence of segregation by towns.
`They play side-by-side and travel together after practice,` Davidyock said.
He felt that the practice session had progressed faster than expected although `there is still a lot of work ahead to make ready for the opener on Sept. 12 against Marian.`
I'll let you know about that opening game and the rest of the Panthers' season next time.
Comment: A report of the the 1964 season would be appreciated, please E-mail the results to the webmaster.