by David Croyle
Red cats and purple sabers are getting ready to put away their uniforms for the last time.
Stores that have carried the team shirts and shorts now have them to the front of the counter with special buys to commemorate the end of the era.
Thousands of fans – some who had not been to a high school football game in years – showed up last Friday night to experience the final high school football game that will now end the rival between Kittanning and Ford City.
Other than a short-lived skirmish when a Ford City player ran into the Kittanning sideline during the first play, the night was relatively quiet as each team executed similar plays that had been done over the previous years.
The night ended in a Kittanning victory, but a tie series over the years with each school winning 37 games, and one game tied. Next year, the two schools will merge to form Armstrong Junior-Senior High School and become the River Hawks.
Bob Simensky has been a local enthusiast of high school sports since 1939, when he was just ten years old. Now 85 years old, he recalled various players and seasons that will forever be stitched onto the fabric of his memory.
“(In 1939) there was a good athlete from Kittanning – Dave Vensel. He was an outstanding athlete in any sport he took up. He beat Ford City in 1939 seven to nothing! He ran for about a 65 yard touchdown.”
“We got into the 1940s and Kittanning lost every game in the 40s. The probably lost games in the 50s also. They must have lost about 12 or 13 in a row. Ford City was much better.”
“Back when I was 13 years old, we used to hitchhike to Kittanning every Friday night because they had lights. We would either go under the fence or over the fence. Nobody had money to pay to get into a football game. Kittanning had lights and Ford City didn’t. So every Saturday, we went to the Ford City game on Saturday afternoon.
“Ford City back in those days played their games down by the river where the pottery was. They played there until 1952 when they played the first game up on the hill where they play now.”
“In 1953, Kittanning had a good team. They had an outstanding quarterback by the name of Bob Broadhead. They had an outstanding end by the name of Martin, who became a dentist in Kittanning – Dr. Martin. That night there was a tremendous fog over the field. Bob Broadhead, who later went to Duke, and later played professional football, was throwing passes to Dr. Martin and he was catching these passes in the fog. I wasn’t able to figure out how he was able to see the ball.”
Simensky said there were several games that stuck out in his mind during the early days of local high school football.
“An outstanding running back that Ford City had in 1932. He was a black kid and his name was Odell Pryor. He is a legend in Ford City. He could run the 100-yard dash in less than 10 seconds. He was called the Galloping Ghost. He would run for 60, 70, 80 yards every game. He was just outstanding! I’m sure people in Ford City know who I am talking about.
“There was a game up in Kittanning in 1954. Ford City had a good team that year and they beat Kittanning pretty handily. There were players like John Hurbst played full back for Ford City.”
“Kittanning had an outstanding quarterback. He was a black kid from Templeton in 1940, 41, 42. His name was John Paul and he was a very good T-quarterback. It was the second year that the T-quarterback was instituted. I remember the Freeport game – Freeport beat Kittanning. It was unbelievable, because in those days, Freeport was not considered a good team like they are these days.
“One of my closest friends – his name was Bobby Trenchik. He excelled in everything he played – football, basketball, baseball. He had an offer from the Philadelphia Phillies – which he turned down. He made all Section 1 in basketball three years in a row in 1944, 45, and 46. And he never played football until his senior year. And in his senior year, he beat Kittanning single-handed! He ran 65 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Kittanning later scored and made the score 7-6 at the half. In the second half, late in the third quarter, Kittanning started a drive and they were gonna score the winning touchdown. They threw a ball out into the flat, and Bobby Trenchik grabbed it, intercepted it, and ran 91 yards straight down the sideline and scored. Ford City beat Kittanning 14-6. Trenchik, playing only in his senior year, scored all the points!”
Simensky said there have been several changes made throughout the years in the way the game has been played.
“The game has speeded up. There’s far more passing today then there was in those days. There was more running backs. Teams had running games where today, the pass has become number one. And I don’t know if it’s for the better or for the worse. I like running games. It’s altogether different today. The game is faster.”
The Kittanning Paper encourages readers to go online to www.kittanningpaper.com and comment on this article, giving your own recollections of great athletes or momentous match ups between the two teams.
One final note: A football program brought in to the Kittanning Paper office shows Kittanning High playing Washington Township High on Friday, September 12, 1952 at the “Orr Avenue Field”. Kick off was at 8PM. The head coach was Richard Burton. Assistant Coaches were Paul Shaul, Miles Milliron, and Henry Shepard. The Band Director was James V. Colonna. Drill Master was Arthur Walter. Faculty Manager was Richard Stottlemeyer. Equipment Managers were LaVerne Slagle and Samuel Schrecengost. A total of 95 businesses advertised in the program book that was sold to patrons for just ten cents!