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.]