Thanksgiving Football in Pennsylvania: Slatington v. Palmerton (1935-1974)

Early football played in Slatington

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Undated photo of an early Slatington football team

Football took root in Slatington far more slowly than either baseball or basketball, and early information about football games in Slatington is fragmentary at best. Still, by 1935, there had already been a quite lengthy history of Slatington football games being played on Thanksgiving Day.

The first mention of a football team in Slatington was in The Slatington News (13 November 1897). The Slatington A. A. "was for the second time this season beaten by the so-called Lehighton High School team." The score was 14-0, and the team, named the Black Diamond, consisted of these players: E. Evans right end, G. Evans right tackle, G. Roberts right guard, Williams center, Balliet left guard, J. Roberts left tackle, Thomas left end, Lloyd quarterback, J. Jones left halfback, D. Jones right halfback, Roper fullback.

About a year later, the paper carried a notice that the high school had organized a football team and that it was "willing to play all teams under the age of sixteen." (1 October 1898). Players listed were Harvey Williams right end, Robert Scheirer right tackle, Edwin Grumes center, Arnold Bartholomew left guard, Walter Schertzinger left tackle, William Schaeffer left end, Howard Shenton right halfback, Raymond Bowman left halfback and Charlie Morgan fullback. The manager was James A. Wert.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Slatington fielded a football team off and on, and at times that team was called a "high school" team even though football was not an official high school sport and even though few of the players were high school students. Rules tended to be lax, and just about anyone could play in a game. It must also be said that, before the football rules revision of 1908-10, football could be an extremely brutal game. There were repeated calls to ban the game in light of the nationwide death toll from the game, which was estimated at nineteen players in 1905.

On 18 October 1902, a Saturday, the Slatington football team's game versus Mauch Chunk A. A. took place at Kern's Grove (later renamed Victory Park) at 3 pm. The lineup was: Roderick left end, Evans left tackle, Burhard left guard, Miller center, Wassum right guard, Bebee right tackle, O'Rourke right end, Morgan quarterback, Kidd left halfback, Roper right halfback and Utt fullback. This game ended in a scoreless tie, and the team finished the season at 1-2-1.

There were also more informal football teams playing in town at the time. For example, "the quick steppers football team of town desire a game with any 125-pound team in the vicinity. Contact Wm. C. Utt captain and manager." (The Slatington News 9/27/02). These teams would come and go and would only occasionally be noted in the newspaper.

In the following year, 1903, the first football game of the season was on Saturday, 3 October, against Lansford, but neither team able to score. The lineup was: Kidd right tackle, Evans right guard, Lewis center, Wassum left guard, Backus left tackle, O'Rourke left end, Roderick, left back, Marshall Left halfback, Roper right halfback, Shenton fullback and captain—Roderick must have been the QB. (The Slatington News, 10 October 1903)

On 3 September 1904, The Slatington News, for the first and only time that I could find, ran a photograph of the "high school" football team on the front page of the paper. The team, coached by G. Dean Marshall, was expected to open the season on 24 September against the Keystone State Normal school at Kutztown. (Much later this would become Kutztown University.) Note that the headline clearly stated that this was a "high school football team" even though that was far from being the case. The lineup was: O'Rourke left end, Rasbridge left tackle, Fritzinger left guard, Lewis center, Evans right guard, Wassum right tackle, Kidd left end, Roderick quarterback, T. Marshall left halfback, Roper right halfback, Shenton fullback. Supposedly, the team finished with a 4-1 record that year.

In the following years leading up to World War I, there always seemed to be some football being played in town. Here are just some examples.

For example, in 1906 it looks like there was both a Slatington Athletic Association football team (lost to the Catasauqua team 21-0 reported in The Slatington News, 27 October 1906) and a "high school" team in town. The high school football team was defeated by the Allentown Preparatory team 31-0 (The Slatington News, 3 November 1906). "Our boys, although outweighed 25 pounds to the man, all put up a plucky game. The tackling of 'Jim' Steckel and 'Dunk' Sewell, and the punting of 'Pete' Williams for Slatington, and the end runs of Shalter, the A.P.S. instructor in mathematics for Allentown Prep, were the features of the game." The lineup included Sewell left end, Steckel left tackle, Handwerk left guard, Kuntz center, Schertzinger right guard, Berlin right tackle, T. Williams right end, E. Williams quarterback, E. Williams left halfback, Hankee right halfback, Roberts fullback.

In 1907 there was some information on several football games including those with teams from Catasauqua, Perkiomen and Allentown, but it is often not clear whether the game involved the high school team or the A. A. team. What was more interesting was that in this year there was the first mention of Thanksgiving Day football games being played, and not just one, but two games! The high school team traveled to Berwick where about eight hundred people witnessed a Berwick victory by a score of 15-0. “The Slatington players were Berlin, Williams, Kurtz, Schlessinger, Maxwell, Morgan, Sewell, Henklew, Peters, Roberts and Hunt.” (The Allentown Leader, 29 November 1907) The Slatington A.A. team went to Allentown and defeated the Parochials team by the score of 22-0. “The local team [from Allentown] was outplayed at every stage of the game. (The Morning Call, 30 November 1907)

In the following years, there is fragmentary newspaper information about football games being played in Slatington by the high school football team, the Slatington Athletic Association team, and teams between different work places in town, such as the car barn vs. the rolling mill, or the "Textile Team." It appears that the high school or the athletic team played five to seven games a season.

In both 1915 and 1916, the Slatington A. A. hosted a Thanksgiving game with a team from Allentown's Company E, Second Regiment, Sons of Veterans Reserves team. (The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, later known as the Sons of Veterans Reserve, was an organization originally founded in 1881, for, as its name suggests, sons of Civil War veterans. It was a patriotic and educational organization which also served as a kind of military reserve in the late nineteenth century.) The "Sons" team played the Slatington team on Thanksgiving at 3 o'clock at Kern's Grove. Before the game there was a parade by the regimental band up to the field, and afterwards a dinner at the American Hotel. Slatington won 19-3 in 1915, and this game was repeated in 1916.

During World War I and through the early 1920s, there were only scattered references to some football being played in town.

Then, in September 1927, The Slatington News asked about the "High School's Big Question." "The high school has not regularly been represented on the gridiron for a number of years. Now the question is raised as to whether or not the school will take up football regularly and put it on the same basis as it has the other two sports, baseball and basketball." (30 September 1927) At the time, there already existed the Lehigh Valley Inter-scholastic Basketball League of eight schools (Catasauqua, Emmaus, Lehighton, Northampton, Palmerton, Slatington, Stroudsburg and Whitehall) with five of those schools already fielding a football squad (Catasauqua, Lehighton, Northampton, Palmerton, Stroudsburg) with Emmaus and Whitehall agreeing to have football teams next year (1928). As of September 1927, Slatington had not yet decided about a high school football team (and it would be years before the high school did eventually join the league). The paper argued that it was a positive step to play high school football as "The attendance invariably is high and the revenues large."

In the following years, 1928-1935, there was no high school football, but there was still football being played by a team from the Slatington A.A., and sometimes there were games on Thanksgiving. For example, in 1928 the Palmerton Grays played Slatington at Victory Park at 2:30 PM on Thanksgiving and won 27-2 before a big crowd. The following year Slatington traveled to Palmerton to take on the Palmerton Grays (usually the teams played twice a year) with Palmerton winning 26-0. Slatington also lost to Palmerton on Thanksgiving in 1930 by the score of 36-0.

But football in Slatington changed in 1935, as a high school sport was finally organized.