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.

oh-youngstown-chaney1935bb-r.preview

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 — Penguin Football

logo_of_youngstown_state_penguins

Today, Youngstown State’s football Penguins go up against Jacksonville State in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. It is great to see Youngstown back in championship contention. It was something we never saw during my years growing up in Youngstown and as a student at Youngstown State. Back then the competitive sports at Youngstown State were basketball and baseball under Dom Roselli.

Those were the “Dike” Beede days. It seems that Beede’s main contribution to football had nothing to do with winning. It was his idea to invent the penalty flag which was first used in a game between Oklahoma City University and Youngstown in October of 1941, at Rayen Stadium, where Youngstown played many of their games, even during the years we were students.

It’s not that there weren’t some players that went on to excel. Ed O’Neill perhaps made it the biggest. After playing for Beede, he went on to the Steelers, got cut in 1969, and then returned to Youngstown to pursue training in acting. He managed the Pub in Kilcawley when we were students before going on to Broadway, TV and Modern Family. While we were there, Ron Jaworski was the quarterback, known then and later as “the Polish rifle.” He went on to play for the Eagles and is still a sports commentator. Cliff Stoudt also was at Youngstown in the 1970’s before going on to play back-up to Terry Bradshaw with the Steelers. Ironically, Stoudt’s son Cole is currently an offensive assistant coach at Jacksonville State.

The closest we got to championships in our time at Youngstown was in 1974 when Ray Dempsey led the team with Stoudt at quarterback to an 8-1 record before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Dempsey went on to an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Lions the next season. For that season, I actually paid attention although few of us went to the games. There were often not many more people in the stands than on the field. Far more people in Youngstown went to high school games back then. The irony was that northeast Ohio is football country–all those sons of steelworkers! Thinking back, it just didn’t make sense that for so many years Youngstown State was uncompetitive.

Things got better after we left. Bill Narduzzi led them to a couple conference championships and a few playoff victories. But things really turned around in the Tressel years when they won four national championships and were runners-up twice before Tressel went on to coach at Ohio State. We live in Columbus and there were a lot of questions about Tressel but we talked about what he did at Youngstown. Sure enough, in 2002, he won another championship and went on to be the third winning-est coach in Ohio State history.

It was during this time that Stambaugh Stadium, also know as the “Ice Castle” was built. An internet search turned up no definitive answer to where this nickname came from except that the west side of the stadium represents the highest point in Youngstown, and in the blustery weather of late fall can be downright cold. It’s also fun to think of it as a place where the Penguins put their opponents on ice. Bleachers on the east side of the field added another 3,000 seats for a seating capacity of 20,630.

In his second season, current coach Bo Pelini has the Penguins in the second round of the FCS playoff. Here’s hoping that this marks the beginnings of a new winning tradition. Go Fighting Penguins!

Update at 5:40 PM Saturday, December 3, 2016. Youngstown State has just defeated Jacksonville State 40-24!

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Browns vs. Steelers

2015_Browns_helmetsteel mark 1 cmyk (1)

Growing up halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, deciding which NFL team you were going to root for meant being pulled between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially when they played each other. You could get in fights with kids on your street over this one!

I think I was probably a somewhat fickle fan of each at one point or another. In the sixties, I was a Browns fan. This was the era of Jim Brown, an incredible running back who just carried tacklers down the field with him. These were the days of Lou Groza the kicker, Frank Ryan the quarterback, and Paul Warfield, the receiver.

Then these guys retired, and the Steelers rose to greatness in the seventies. Maybe there was an affinity between Youngstown and Pittsburgh over the “steeler” idea. The teams of that era with Rocky Bleier, Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, mean Joe Green and others epitomized a tough working-class team. We all were rooting for “one for the thumb.” And behind it all was cigar-smoking founding owner, Art Rooney, Sr.

Then the 80’s came. We were living in Cleveland when Boardman native Bernie Kosar became the Brown’s quarterback. We had to root for the Browns and endure the heartache common to Cleveland fans of all sports. The phrases “the drive” and “the fumble” still make me wince.

We were in Columbus by the time the old Browns moved out of Cleveland. That was the year I stopped taking NFL football seriously (I know how St Louis fans must be feeling right now). I will still watch a playoff or a Superbowl for the entertainment, but I have to say I don’t really care so much. These days in our city, the rivalry is a three-way, as we sit roughly in the center of a triangle of Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Fans from all these cities have moved here.  You have to understand, being a Buckeye parent and working with a collegiate ministry at Ohio State, the team we really care about is the Buckeyes, which might be considered Columbus’s professional football team–and one that has had lots of Youngstown connections over the years, notably Jim Tressel.

So, growing up, were you a Browns or Steelers fan? Or some other team?

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Thanksgiving

1870 ThanksgivingThanksgiving holidays started at school when I was growing up in Youngstown.  I remember one year where we took a field trip to a turkey farm where we saw the real thing before it ended up on our dinner table. Then there were the history lessons on the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving complete with the essays on the meaning of Thanksgiving. It seems we always had some kind of school assembly with a play enacting Thanksgiving as well as singing Thanksgiving songs (“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…”–didn’t seem like we ran into any church-state problems with that one back then). Most important though was that we got out of school for a long weekend full of good food and football!

Thanksgiving morning began with turning on the TV to watch the Macy’s Parade and all the huge floats of Superman and Snoopy making their way down Fifth Avenue in New York. Then some years while my grandparents were still living, we’d load up the car and head over to their place where my grandmother was preparing the Thanksgiving feast. Eventually, after my grandmother passed, that moved to our home.

While we were watching the parades, we’d begin to notice the home being filled with the most wondrous smells of the turkey and stuffing roasting (homemade of course!).  There was giblet gravy and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and my mom’s favorite cranberry relish recipe served over some lettuce (I wish we had remembered to get that from her!). Snacks were set out, usually nut dishes and other candies with the admonition not to eat any until our guests arrived–we always managed to filch some! Of course pies were baked (or sometimes bought) the day or so before. There was always pumpkin pie and often mincemeat pie as well.

Finally, we were all called to the dinner table when it seemed we could no longer stand it and our stomachs were growling. Dad had done the honors of carving up the bird. After a blessing, it seems we spent the next ten minutes passing food until our plates were filled. When we were young, it seems like my brother and I always got the drumsticks. It was later on that we found out there were better parts of the bird. And there was my mom’s stuffing–which to this day is the mark against which I measure all others. A silence would descend on the table as everyone laid into the feast. You could tell when we were starting to get full because that was when the conversation picked up!

Sometimes we wouldn’t get to the pies until later. After dinner, the guys would adjourn to the living room (after telling mom what a tremendous dinner she’d made) to sit in a tryptophan stupor watching Thanksgiving Day football. I know some families would get out for a game of football. In our neighborhood, it would have to be on the street, which us kids did sometimes, but not usually on Thanksgiving. Meanwhile the women would be in the kitchen cleaning up and talking, probably about why didn’t the guys help with this! Back then, gender roles were pretty traditional and it was only in later years that the guys would realize, “maybe we ought to do the clean-up.” Seems that the main contribution men would make to the dinner back then was to carve the bird. (One wonders if there is a bird-carving gene on the Y chromosome!).

Thanksgiving really kicked off Christmas shopping season back then. Now it seems that you find Christmas decorations in stores from Halloween on. As a paperboy, this meant extra heavy newspapers, especially on Sundays with all those ads. Often the weekend after Thanksgiving was when dad put up the outside Christmas lights. Usually around this time the Sears-Roebuck Christmas catalog came and you started plotting your “wish-list” for Christmas. And it seems there was football on all weekend with key college rivalries like OSU-Michigan and NFL games. Meanwhile we feasted into those leftovers of turkey sandwiches, dressing, and left over pie. If you were lucky, you didn’t have to cook for the rest of the weekend.

What were your memories of Thanksgiving? Favorite foods?

 

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Review Part Two

In week two of my recap of “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” posts, I cover the period from mid-summer through Halloween which includes “keeping cool”, a couple of posts about the Canfield Fair, back to school, autumn leaves, football, and Halloween.

Canfield Fair Ferris Wheel

Canfield Fair Ferris Wheel

I also wrote some more topical posts on the arts in Youngstown, Youngstown neighborhoods, re-purposing, restaurants, and, of course pizza! I also throw in here a post on the Mahoning River which has not appeared widely before.

So here are the posts from mid-summer up to the present:

1. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — PizzaThis was the second most popular post in this series and the winner of the informal “best pizza” poll was Wedgewood, although over 30 different places were mentioned. Needless to say, lots of good pizza in Youngstown.

2. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The ArtsOne of the surprising things, both past and present about Youngstown, is the thriving arts community and the value placed on beauty.

3. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Keeping CoolMany of us didn’t grow up with air conditioning and in this post I explore all the ways we kept cool on those hot summer days in Youngstown.

4. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Mahoning River.  This has not been posted before on the Youngstown Facebook groups. I explore the history of the river that runs through Youngstown, its gradual return to a place of beauty and the challenges of river cleanup.

5. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Idora ParkIdora Park was the amusement park for many of us growing up in Youngstown. I review its history and sad end — I think most of us regret that we allowed the carousel to be sold away.

6. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Church FestivalsSummers were also the time for many of the great church festivals that are still a big part of Youngstown life.

7. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Canfield Fair FoodWritten around the time of the fair, this post celebrates many of the great places and favorite foods at Ohio’s biggest county fair.

8. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fair MemoriesBesides food, there were many other fun things to do at the fair, and I remember some of our perennial favorites!

9. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Back to SchoolThe funniest thing about this post was that as an afterthought, I mentioned how most of us used cigar boxes for pencil boxes and included an image of a cigar box.  That’s what everyone commented on and some still had those cigar boxes!

10. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — RepurposingThe cigar box reminded me of all the things we saved and found new uses for in working class Youngstown.

11. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –NeighborhoodsYoungstown was a city of neighborhoods and strong neighborhood identity is key to its future.

12. Review: Steelworker Alley: How Class Works in YoungstownThis was a special post reviewing a book written by Struthers native Robert Bruno, a sociologist. Bruno puts in words the values of the working class that this whole series explores as he chronicles the life and decline of the Youngstown steel industry and the nature of the working class.

13. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — RestaurantsThe arrival in my home of Classic Restaurants of Youngstown prompted this post celebrating the great places to eat, all local, that we grew up with in Youngstown.

14. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Autumn LeavesI explore memories of autumn leaves from the beauty of Mill Creek Park to the smell and haze of burning leaves across the Mahoning Valley.

15. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Libraries.  I set my own memories of libraries against the backdrop of the history of Youngstown’s library system and its importance to the aspirations of the working class.\

Scanned from 1970 Lariat

Scanned from 1970 Lariat

16. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — FootballMemories of Friday night lights, rivalries like Ursuline-Mooney, and Chaney High School coach Lou “Red” Angelo.

17. Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Halloween. I was reminded in this post that there was a time when people went trick-or-treating for several nights in Youngstown, and found out that everyone else used pillowcases, which were just awesome for holding lots of candy.

So, with last week’s post, that is the series so far. Some of my ideas for future posts include talking about things like Youngstown rock bands and music venues, our love of automobiles (American-made of course), and seasonal posts about Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays.

Readers comments on these posts have reminded me of so many things I’ve forgotten. In that spirit, some of you may be wondering, “why doesn’t he write a post on …?” Truth is, I may have forgotten–but I would love to be reminded and would be happy to acknowledge anyone whose ideas I use!