The choice was a difficult one for me. Should I stay in Coaldale for the next four years at Coaldale High School or go on to Marian High, where I would be going to 3 different buildings in 3 different towns? I knew most of the current class from Coaldale’s 8th grade public school and also knew many of the guys already in the high school there, since we had played for many years on the various baseball teams. However, the other 9 members of my 8th grade St. Mary's class opted for Marian and I went with the flow. I had overcome my fear of meeting new kids while in kindergarten and probably the single biggest reason I went with Marian was the chance to meet new people from the many towns encompassed by Marian. In 1960, Marian's borders went from Jim Thorpe to Brockton to McAdoo and every town in between.
One advantage I had as I entered freshman year was that I had already spent a few weeks with about 80 guys who had tried out for the football team. Sharing pain and suffering for weeks on end helps to develop camaraderie that about 20 of us freshman had from the first day of school. Petie Paul and I managed to survive the first brutal weeks of practice and I think it was mostly a matter not wanting to be the first to say 'I quit'. He met me every morning at the corner of 4th and Ruddle and together we continued up to St. Mary’s (a very familiar route) to be ready to be on the field by 9am. Along the way we speculated on what types of torture coaches Wink Gallagher and Jack Malarkey had planned for us that day. It was the first time in 14 summers that I actually prayed for rainy days. We knew we were still going to practice, but at least the rain and overcast might make the workout a bit more bearable. It’s much nicer getting soaked with a cooling rain, than with a few gallons of your own sweat. The one hour break we had for “lunch” was a joke. Those few guys who actually thought that the brown bag lunch they brought was a good idea soon found most of that lunch coming right back up on them. When you’re that hot and exhausted, food is not going to stay for very long in the stomach. For most of us it was a quick trip down to Henry’s Store for a half gallon of lemonade, and then a rest under a shade tree. You know you’re dehydrated when a half gallon of liquid goes in, but you still don’t need to pee. Taking off that sweaty gear s seemed like a good idea for the hour break, but there is no worse feeling than to have to put it back on still soaking wet. Another important lesson we learned at the end of our first day of practice; and a lesson we had to abide by after every practice is that upperclassmen get the shower room first. It wasn’t really a room at all, just an area under the back stairwell where Fr. Morgan had installed 3 shower heads and a drain in the concrete floor. This lesson was explained to the freshmen in graphic detail by Adrian “Sandy” Ferko, a junior and our starting fullback. Sandy walked into the shower area that first day, totally naked, looking like a grizzly bear with hair all over his body, and carrying a broom. He soaped up one end of the handle and announced that any freshman in the shower can either leave right now or wind up looking like a Fudgsicle, with a broomstick up his butt.
Lunch….brown bagging…..this was something new for me. Aside from a few occasions when we brought a brown bag to St. Mary’s, lunch was always going home… eating… going back. Perhaps if the weather was really bad, we would stay in school and eat there. But now BYOL (bring your own lunch) was the regular procedure. St. Jerome’s had a cafeteria, but no food was served; only pint cartons of milk. Within the first week or so of freshman year, we were still trying to remember names and get to know each other. One day at lunch, a kid sitting across from me happened to notice that for dessert, Mom had packed a TastyKake Peach Pie for me. As I unwrapped it and took a bite, he started in on me with “Boy, I sure wish I had a peach pie.”
As I finished chewing that first bite, I looked at him and said,
"So tell your Mom you want a peach pie for dessert tomorrow".
"No, I want a peach pie for dessert now"!
"Well don't go looking here because you're not getting it"!
"Oh, so you won't share your pie, huh. Gonna keep it all to yourself"
"You really want this pie, don’t you”?
"Ok...you got it"! I slammed the pie into his face. It was a scene right out of the "Three Stooges".
Almost immediately one of the nuns swooped down like a hawk (yes, Marian had more of the IHM nuns I'd known for 8 years) and carried us both off to the office, where detentions were issued to both of us. She wasn't interested in justice...just peace.
On the way home on the bus, one of the kids who knew this recipient of my peach pie said "Wow Bobby, you really got Buddy good...that was great"!
So I said, "You know who that kid is"?
"Yea...Hugh "Buddy' Gallagher Jr....Coach Wink Gallagher's son"!
The next day after class, I'm down on the football field going through some warm-up drills, when along comes Wink Gallagher. He walks up to me and says, "I understand you shared your lunch with my son yesterday".
With knees knocking I stammer "Ahhh....yessir....he wanted to try some of my peach pie".
Wink just says "That's nice'...gives me a little smile...and walks away.
That was a 'curve ball' for which I was totally unprepared. I expected anything from "Give me 5 extra laps" to "Turn in your uniform" and for at least the next week I expected Wink to blindside me some type of retaliation. Looking back on it and thinking about how difficult living with a teenager can be, I probably did something that Wink only wished he could do.
In my senior year, civics was taught by Wink. Class was fun…we learned a little….and got good grades. It was getting near the end of football season, so I got to see Wink twice a day. We were running some offensive plays at practice this particular day. Wink put me in there as left guard. The play being called was a “47 counter” play, where the left guard must pull out from the line of scrimmage and quickly go to the left, as if to run a sweep. However the left guard needs to plant his left foot just past the defensive end’s position and quickly move back at a 45 degree angle to do a cut block on the end, thus opening the hole for our halfback. We ran this play about 4 times…each time with me missing the crucial point where I plant my foot and make that ‘counter move’ into the end. In frustration, Wink goes to that point, plants his foot where I needed to be, stumps out his Lucky Strike, and says,
"Now dammit, Sharpie, I want you to hit right where my foot is...got it?"
"Ok, coach...got it".
"Set!......Down!.....Hut one..Hut two! And the ball is snapped.
I was frustrated with myself about the whole year and my inability to make the starting lineup, but by God, I'll show Wink I'm not an idiot when it comes to running a simple play!
After a few months wearing the same football shoes every day, the steel-tipped nylon cleats that were shiny and new awhile back, now are dirty, worn down to a sharp point, and look more like golf shoes than football cleats. Well, I planted that left shoe right where Wink wanted it…right on top of his shoe! I did make a hell of a good cut and blocked the man I was supposed to block. Assistant coach, Jack Malarkey shouted "Good cut, Sharpe!' Wink shouted "Sonnufabitch!" and started jumping around on one foot, while grabbing the other.
The next morning in school, we were sitting in the auditorium, where tables were set up and where Wink ran his civics class first period. The bell rang and in walks Wink, hobbling in with a cane in one hand. Several of the girls asked,
"Oh Mr. Gallagher...are you alright...what happened"
"Got my big toe broken! It was an accident yesterday at football practice."
Wink looked directly at me as he said that. A couple of the guys on the team were sitting near me with their faces buried in their coats, trying to contain their laughter. My only thought was "I'm screwed!' Thrown off the team AND flunking civics just for doing what he wanted me to do. Three years earlier I smashed a peach pie into his son's face....now I broke his toe. Later Wink came up to me....I told him how sorry I was for what happened...and he said it's ok. You did your job. Still no starting position on the team...but you did a good job.