Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ed Matey

Ed Matey teacher and coach

Edward Paul Matey, teacher and coach. Photos from 1970 Lariat

As I was finishing an article on Chester McPhee, the first of a long line of great Chaney High School coaches, I saw comments on a Chaney alumni site of the passing of another Chaney coach Edward (“Ed”) Paul Matey on Thursday, July 30, 2020. Confirmation soon followed in Youngstown news media. Mr. Matey had died in his home at the age of 74.

I knew Mr. Matey best as my U.S. History teacher. At that time, he was assistant coach to Lou “Red” Angelo. He would take over as head coach the next year and Lou Angelo would become Athletic Director. I had a number of tough teachers at Chaney. Truthfully, Mr. Matey wasn’t one of them. We learned all the important facts about U.S. history, we watched a lot of films, and the exams were straightforward. If you studied what he told you would be on the exam, you would pass, usually with an “A.” What I do remember was that he was always immaculately dressed–ironed white shirt, pressed slacks, shined shoes, and tie. The most he would do would be to roll up his sleeves in hot weather. While he wasn’t a hard teacher, you didn’t goof off in his class, any more than in gym classes taught by his mentor, Mr. Angelo.

Until his passing, I didn’t realize how much he did both before and after I was at Chaney, and how much he contributed to athletics, and to the Youngstown community. He was born and raised on Youngstown’s West side, born right at the end of World War II, on October 30, 1945 to Andrew and Helen Matey. He played football under Lou Angelo at Chaney from 1960-1963, playing both ways, as players often did then, winning All-City, All Northeastern Ohio and an All State awards in 1962.

He stayed in Youngstown when he could have played for many college teams, playing defense for Dike Beede from 1963-1966. He won a varsity letter in his freshman year, starting from his second game on for the rest of his college career winning four varsity letters. In one game during his freshman year against Southern Connecticut, he had fifteen tackles and six sacks. During his sophomore year, the Penguins were 6-1-2, in part because of his great defensive play. He won most valuable player awards in his junior and senior years and YSU’s Most Valuable Male Athlete for 1966-67. In 1997 he was inducted into the YSU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Leaving Youngstown State with an education degree, he became a teacher at Chaney High School, where he would work until 2002. In addition to teaching U.S. History, he was assistant coach under Lou Angelo from 1967 to 1971. He took over as head coach in 1971 and coached for 17 years. During that time his teams won eight City League championships, including Chaney’s first 10-0 team. He had an overall coaching record of 83-67-4, coaching future NFL players like Matt Cavanaugh and Jerry Olsavsky.

After his coaching years, he became athletic director, and then assistant principal at Chaney until retiring in 2002 after 35 years at Chaney. His career as player, teacher, coach, and administrator earned him induction into Chaney’s Wall of Fame in 2005 beside greats like Chester H. McPhee and Lou Angelo.

His service to Chaney and Youngstown area athletics didn’t end with his retirement. He served as Athletic Director for Youngstown City School District until finally retiring in 2017. He knew everyone in the Mahoning Valley and used his ties to spearhead a campaign to build the new Rayen Stadium, which became the shared home field for Chaney and East High School, Youngstown’s two remaining high schools.

His obituary notes his marriage of thirty-three years, and his love for his children and grandchildren, his love of hunting and fishing with them, and his skills in carpentry. Reminiscences of former players I’ve seen note his impact on their lives and lifelong friendships. And typical of Youngstowners, he made pierogies with friends at Holy Trinity on Thursdays.

It is hard to believe the young teacher and coach of my high school years is gone. As sad as that is, I also celebrate a life well-lived, a life invested in family, athletes, a school, and a city. Rest in peace Coach Matey.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chester H. McPhee

Chester McPhee

Chester H. McPhee, from the 1936 Rig Veda, Chaney’s yearbook.

Recently I wrote about Frank Sinkwich, the Heisman Trophy winner who got his start at Youngstown’s Chaney High School. His coach was Chester H. McPhee. I remember Mr. McPhee, who still visited Chaney when I was there from 1969 to 1972, sometimes speaking at an assembly, or attending a basketball game. At the time, he was on the Youngstown Board of Education, even though he was in his seventies. He was, even then, a tall and imposing figure.

Chester H. McPhee was born March 28, 1897 in Mahoningtown, Pennsylvania, near New Castle. His family moved to Youngstown and he was a star half back at South High School under coach Russell “Busty” Ashbaugh. He also was a talented basketball player. After graduation in 1915, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, becoming a drill instructor at Parris Island. After his discharge in 1918, he returned to Youngstown, working at Stambaugh-Thompson’s. When it became clear to him that the promotions were going to college men, he enrolled as a student at Newberry College in South Carolina.

He went on to play half back on the Newberry College team, winning both freshman and senior All-Star awards. He was All-State center on the Newberry basketball team, which won four consecutive state championships. He also met and married Mabel, his wife for over 50 years.

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Chaney 1935 basketball team. Chester McPhee is on the far left of the second row.

After graduation, he taught coached in Laurens, South Carolina for a year. The following year, he returned to Youngstown to teach and coach at the newly established Chaney High School on Youngstown’s West Side. He taught physical education and coached there for 28 years. He coached both football and basketball. He not only coached Frank Sinkwich, but also All-American Frank Terlecki, the Kabealo brothers and his two sons, Chester, Jr. and Frank. He won five City Series football championships outright and shared four others.

He stepped down from his coaching role in 1954, and took a teaching position at West Jr. High School, teaching physical education and history until he retired in 1966. He organized weekend basketball tournaments and worked summers with Youngstown’s Park and Recreation Commission. He was honored on retirement by the Chaney Sports Alumni Association and elected to the Curbstone Coaches Hall of Fame.

In 1967 and 1971 he ran for school board and served as president of the school board from 1970 to 1972, when he retired. In 1974, he was elected to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame. He passed away June 8, 1975 and laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery. In 1977, Newberry College elected him to its Hall of Fame. Mabel lived on until 1996.

His sons followed in his footsteps in many ways. Chester H. McPhee, Jr., after completing a doctorate at Ohio State went on to a teaching and coaching career at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. At various times he coached football, lacrosse, and swimming for the college. He died in 2012. His other son, Frank, went to Princeton, where he was an All-American in 1951-1952, during an era of great Princeton football teams. He played one season in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals, and then went on to a successful career in the insurance industry with Prudential. He returned to Youngstown after retirement and passed in 2011.

Chester McPhee established a tradition of great coaching at Chaney High School, a tradition carried on by the likes of Lou “Red” Angelo, Ed Matey, and Ron Berdis. He coached players who went on to success in sports and life, including his sons. He spent most of his life as an educator. Thank you Mr. McPhee. Once a Cowboy, Always a Cowboy!

[After writing this article, I learned of the passing of Ed Matey, one of my teachers at Chaney, and a part of that great tradition. What a reunion he and Red and Chet must be having! My sympathies to the family of Coach Matey. May he rest in peace.]

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Frank Sinkwich

Sinkwich_bulldogs

Frank Sinkwich, Unknown author / Public domain

I was the second generation to grow up on the West side of Youngstown. My parents grew up on the same street where I live and went to high school together at Chaney in the late 1930’s. I remember dad talking from time to time about the great Frank Sinkwich, who played under one of Chaney’s legendary coaches, Chet McPhee. Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy in his senior year with the Georgia Bulldogs. He went on to a brief pro career.

Sinkwich was born in the town of Starjak in Croatia October 10, 1920 (the same year my parents were born). The family moved to Youngstown two years later, where his father Ignac operated a grocery store. When they first came to Youngstown, they spelled their name Sinkovic’. By 1940, the Sinkwich’s owned a family restaurant. The Wikipedia article on Sinkwich attributes his competitive drive to growing up playing football on the streets of the West side, “I learned early in neighborhood pickup games that I had the desire to compete. When people ask why I succeeded in athletics, I always tell them that I didn’t want to get beat”

Sinkwich was one of the great players to come out of Chaney but was nearly overlooked by the college scouts. Georgia Bulldog assistant coach Bill Hartman had visited Youngstown to recruit another top pick who committed instead to Ohio State. Hartman supposedly was refilling his car at a local service station when an attendant told him about a good player who lived down the street. He met Sinkwich’s dad on the front porch and persuaded Sinkwich to visit Georgia. The rest was history.

As a freshman, he led a team known as the “point-a-minute” Bullpups to an undefeated season. Sinkwich plead with Head Coach Wally Butts to be a fullback but Butts wanted him to play halfback, a position where he would both run and pass. Butts said of him, “He acquired, through hard work and endless practice, the ability to pick the open receiver better than anybody I ever saw.” In 1940, his first year on the varsity squad, UPI named him to the All-Southern First Team. In 1941, his junior year, he set an SEC record with 1103 rushing yards, in addition to 713 passing yards. From the third game of the season on, he did this with his jaw wired shut when it was broken in a previous game. He had a specially designed helmet. He led Georgia to a 40-26 victory over TCU in the Orange Bowl with 139 rushing yards and 243 passing yards and three touchdowns. He was a potent double threat.

The big year was the 1942. He had 795 rushing yards and 1392 passing yards (an SEC record at the time) for a total of 2187 yards. That year, he led the Bulldogs to a 9-0 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl, scoring the winning touchdown with two sprained ankles. He was a unanimous All-America choice and was awarded the Heisman Trophy. In three years, he rushed for 2,271 yards, passed for 2,331, and accounted for 60 touchdowns—30 rushing and 30 passing. He was the very first pick in the first round of the NFL draft, being picked by the Detroit Lions.

His first two years looked like the beginning of a stellar career. In both 1943 and 1944 he was named All-Pro, and MVP in 1944. Then he went into the service, and while playing for an Air Force service team, he suffered a serious knee injury that basically ended his career. He tried to return to the pros in 1946 and 1947, but was never the same and retired. He briefly tried coaching, with positions at Furman and at the University of Tampa, and a semi-professional team in Erie, PA in 1949.

After this, he returned to Athens, Georgia where he operated a successful beer and wine distributorship. Apparently, he never contemplated returning to Youngstown after his years in the South. He was reported to have said, “I’m from Ohio, but if I’d known when I was 2 what it was like down South, I would have crawled here on my hands and knees.” He died October 22, 1990 in Athens after an extended battle with cancer. Vince Dooley, then athletic director at Georgia said of him, “We’ve lost one of the great legends in football history. He was not only a great player but a wonderful person and citizen of Athens”

In addition to the Heisman, his greatness was acknowledged both in life and after his death. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1967. He was inducted into the University of Georgia Circle of Honor in 1996 and his jersey was retired, one of only four Bulldog players to receive th8s honor.

Frank Sinkwich was one of the great football players to come out of Youngstown, and out of Chaney High School. As he said, the streets of the West side gave him his competitive fire. But then Youngstown has always been a football town.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Tennis Dreams

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Tennis rackets of our youth, Bob Trube, 2018, all rights reserved

I think many of us in Youngstown grew up dreaming of being sports heroes. A pro football running back. A major league pitcher (I did have dreams of becoming the next Sam McDowell at one time).  A boxer. And not a few Youngstowners went on to become those heroes. George Shuba, Dave Dravecky, Ray Mancini, Kelly Pavlick, and Matt Cavanaugh, just to name a few, as well as legendary coaching families like the Stoops or the Pelinis. And I know a number of you could add to the list–it’s a long list!

I wasn’t big enough for football. Couldn’t hit well enough for baseball. But for a while I had dreams of tennis fame. It all started out at the tennis courts at Borts Field. In the beginning I was borrowing a racket and knocking the ball around with some friends, both guys and girls. Borts had two courts. One was concrete. The other was clay. Not groomed clay. Rough clay. Balls would take all kinds of crazy bounces that would keep you on your toes. Sometimes, that’s where you played if the court was occupied.

I had some friends who played on the Chaney tennis team, and in retrospect, I think they used me to train on! I played the most with Tom, who introduced me to the tennis coach, Mr. Wendle. He taught me how to hold a racket, and how to come over a ball on a forehand or backhand stroke to give it spin, which often kept it in the court and made it harder to hit. I played with Tom a lot, either at Rocky Ridge, or at the courts at Volney Rogers park. I always loved those because the trees provided some shade.

The tennis dreams started when I began beating Tom, and some of the other guys on the team. Not all the time, but enough that it made me think I could be good at this game. It was suggested I try out for the team. For a while, I’d read everything I could get my hands on by tennis pros. I’d religiously watch the U.S. Open and Wimbledon, and dream of being Rod Laver or John Newcombe, who seemed to be the big tennis names until Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, and John McEnroe came along. I paid attention to strategy, and when did you lob, or try a drop shot. I worked on my serves and tried for a smoking first serve, a twisting, hard to get to second serve.

All this was back in the days of wood rackets like those in the picture. Some of the pros were just starting to use aluminum alloy rackets. There was still a debate then of which was better and how the ball came off the rackets differently. In the end, the light weight composites won out and our wood rackets became antiques.

Actually, my tennis dreams got relegated to the closet long before the wood rackets. College dreams meant getting a job and working rather than playing on the tennis team. While I had those moments on the court where I surprised myself, the reality is that I was a bit flat-footed and not that quick on my feet. The stars started playing ten years before I did, and were coached by pros for much of that time. Still, I wonder. I came across a Vindicator article about Mr. Wendle and discovered his teams were undefeated in City Series play from 1965 to 1981. I was at Chaney from 1970-72. Maybe I wasn’t that bad. I’ll never know.

For a while, tennis was something I continued to play for fun. When I was dating my wife, she lived across from Ipes Field, and we would go over to their courts and play sometimes. After marriage, with busy work schedules, I played less frequently, and realized that the tennis player I remembered in my head wasn’t the guy on the court. Eventually, the rackets gathered dust in the closet. My wife said she was keeping them for a decoration.

For some reason we’re still keeping them for a decoration. Today, that is the extent of my tennis dreams. Except for the memories of the exciting rally, the impossible shot, or winning a hard fought, back and forth match. Those are the only tennis dreams I have these days.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Senior Proms

Preprom

Ken Stokes, CC BY-SA 3.0, Via Wikimedia 

It is prom season. These days, it seems a much bigger deal than it once was involving stretch limos and coordination of dresses and men’s wear, and sometimes elaborate after-proms.

 

Did you go to your senior prom? I did. I dated a girl (a sophomore) throughout my senior year at Chaney so we had both kind of expected to go. We went with another couple who did the driving. Those were the days where you bought a corsage that you pinned on the girl’s dress–always a bit of a scary experience! I think the wrist corsage is a great idea.

I don’t have any pictures from that night. Dad’s camera did not work for some reason when we came by to take pictures. Perhaps that was just as well. Crushed velvet was in fashion for tux jackets back then, and I had one in blue (which did match my girlfriend’s dress). I’m kind of glad there is no evidence!

We went out for dinner at Palazzo’s. I actually don’t remember much about the dinner except that the food was good, and I paid. Then we arrived at the prom. I think we made some kind of entrance as a couple. I have to confess that my memories are pretty vague here. There was some kind of seating of the prom court, lots of dancing, punch that really was just punch.

Eventually we made our way to the after-prom, which was at Wedgewood Lanes, if I remember. We snacked, talked to friends, bowled and partied until nearly sunrise. I think that was one of the really cool things–this was the night without curfew. I remember being so tired–a bit loopy by the end–and getting ready to bowl the ball only to drop it behind me. Watch out friends! You can tell that late nights were not my thing.

We dropped off dates, went home and finally caught a bit of sleep after a quick report of “fine” when our parents asked us how the prom was. Then it was time to get the tux back to the rental store. I have a hunch that with flowers, dinner, the prom itself, after prom and tux rental, I spent maybe $150, probably less. Wikipedia says that the average price of a prom in 2013 was $1139.

The truth was, by the time of the prom, the relationship between my girlfriend and I was strained. I suspect we were holding out so that we could have someone to go to the prom with–you could probably go without a date but I don’t know anyone who did. A month later, the relationship was history–probably a relief to both of us actually.

It’s funny how often it seems to work like this–although I also know friends who married, and are still happily married to, their high school sweethearts. I can’t say that my senior prom was that special of an experience. But it was part of the celebrations that marked this rite of passage from high school to young adulthood for many of us. It was a kind of entry into adulthood. The girls we saw everyday in jeans and t-shirts or sweaters suddenly appeared as beautiful women. And scruffy boys cleaned up and for a night looked like a young approximation of James Bond (that’s probably an exaggeration in my case!). It was a bit of a “Camelot” type of experience, before our entry into the world of work, or the preparations for a career in college and graduate school. We danced with the sense that all our life was before us.

This year marks 45 years since that prom and graduation. How does that happen? We’ve watched our son go through the same prom rituals (and this time the camera worked and we still have the pictures). Now we pass by homes where others are taking pictures, or we see the pictures on Facebook. And we think, there was a time…once we were young…what a couple we made!

 

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — High School Graduation

Receiving my diploma from Mr Maluso, Chaney H.S. Principal. (Photo scanned from 1972 Lariat, photographer unknown)

Receiving my diploma from Mr Maluso, Chaney H.S. Principal. (Photo scanned from 1972 Lariat, photographer unknown)

Driving through our neighborhood today, I noticed all the banners congratulating graduates from our local high school and this took me back to my own graduation, June 8, 1972, from Chaney High School. Graduation actually took place at South Field House, behind South High School, because Chaney did not have an auditorium big enough for our class and the parents and relatives who came to celebrate with us. As I recall, we had one of the largest graduating classes in Chaney’s history–I believe 462 students. We had gray caps and gowns with scarlet tassels–Chaney’s colors [one of the comments posted reminded me that the boys had gray gowns, the women scarlet, and our tassles had both colors]..

Our commencement ceremony was really the last in a series of events that marked this rite of passage from high school into what for many of us was the beginning of adulthood. There had been the senior prom (yes, I had a date, and yes, we broke up a month after the prom!). Then in the week before graduation, there was a senior banquet, where I believe people received a number of different awards, a baccalaureate service, and finally the commencement, at which we received our diplomas.

I actually remember only one of the class speeches from commencement, the one I had to give. I don’t even remember most of what I said, except for the title, which was drawn from the James Taylor/Carol King song, “You’ve Got a Friend.” I don’t remember the photographer who snapped the picture of me receiving my diploma that appeared in our yearbook (The Lariat). I do remember being surrounded by family outside afterwards and receiving congratulations.

And then we dispersed to pursue our lives. From our class Facebook group it appears that some have stayed in fairly close contact with each other. Other than my contacts with some classmates on Facebook, I am still in touch with only two–Roger, who was the best man in my wedding, and Paul, who is my brother-in-law.

We pursued many different paths. Some followed their fathers into the mills or onto the assembly line. When the mills closed, many migrated to other cities to find work. Some bounced around for a time before they found their passion in life. Ed O’Neill (of Modern Family fame) didn’t go to our high school, but was around Youngstown State about the time we were there (I actually think I remember him working at the pub in Kilcawley Center). His seemed to be that kind of story, and he obviously turned out all right. It seems like life worked out that way for many of us. Some married early, some later. A few died young–one friend in a tragic auto accident.

Some of us went on to college or even graduate school. We became white collar professionals of various sorts, and yet many I’ve talked with still feel like we are working class under the skin. We learned the languages and practices of professional life, yet it never felt quite natural. We knew this when we rubbed shoulders with those from different class backgrounds. We felt like we were learning a dance whose steps we never quite mastered while they danced effortlessly. Still, many of us loved our work and the work ethic we learned growing up led to varying degrees of success.

It is hard to believe that this was forty-three years ago. We walked out of South Field House with all our lives and dreams before us. It feels like the blink of an eye, and yet it is this rich space filled with joys and struggles around work and marriage and family, of children and grand-children, and the losses of parents. Maybe life didn’t turn out as we dreamed, but all of us probably have had experiences we’d never dreamed of and would never trade. In many of our families, we are the elder generation. Our kids may have kids but we never stop being parents. One day they’ll understand as well…just like all those kids receiving diplomas this spring.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Football

Friday nights in the fall meant one thing in Youngstown, as in so many towns across the country–football! In a town where hard physical work was the life of many, the brawny contests on football fields across the city were an integral part of the culture.

It began with pep rallies on Friday afternoons. Then there was the special homecoming game after elections of the homecoming king and queen.  Those were always the cool, good looking kids. I never stood a chance! But you found a group to go with to the games, cheered the team on, and avoided the fights that sometimes broke out after games between people from rival schools.

But the big thing was the rivalries. One of the most famous out of Youngstown was, and still is, the Cardinal Mooney-Ursuline rivalry. These are the two Catholic high schools in the city and to this day is one of the most celebrated high school football rivalries in Ohio. We tended to root for Ursuline, where kids from the West Side went who didn’t go to Chaney (except when they PLAYED Chaney). So wouldn’t you know it–I go and marry a Mooney girl!

Scanned from 1970 Lariat

Scanned from 1970 Lariat–City Series Champs!

Our big rival at Chaney was Austintown Fitch.  The Fitch game was usually early in the year and a good bellwether for what kind of team we had. Chaney and Fitch were in different football leagues–Chaney was part of the Youngstown City League, and most of our games were against other Youngstown City high schools (this was in the day when there were six public high schools in Youngstown).

Scanned from 1970 Lariat

Coach Angelo: Scanned from 1970 Lariat

Lou “Red” Angelo was the coach I most remember.  Mr. Angelo was also my gym teacher and his “no nonsense” approach and willingness to push guys hard probably contributed to the number of winning teams he produced. His son, Jerry Angelo, was a general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012. Ed Matey took over coaching the Chaney Cowboys in 1971, the fall of my senior year.

The death of the steel industry and population loss in Youngstown also led to the demise of the City League as four of the six high schools (Rayen, North, South, and Wilson) closed and Chaney became a STEM-focused school. Only East High School now has a football team.

The demise of the City League hardly spelled the end of football fever in Youngstown. The Browns-Steelers rivalry is still alive, with Youngstown the “no man’s land” between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. While City League football was waning, Youngstown State came alive under Jim Tressel, winning four Divisional National Championships and building Stambaugh Stadium on the near north side of Youngstown–a prominent feature of the Youngstown skyline.

Football is a tough, physical game and a team game where no one can slack. That somehow fits working class Youngstown. That toughness is one of the reasons I remain hopeful for Youngstown. Someone knocks you down, you get up, and make sure it is the other guy on the grass the next time.

What are your football memories? Who was your school’s big rival (no trash talking here!).

[Click “On Youngstown” on the menu bar to see an archive of all the posts in this series.]