Point System Was Curse for Bellmar High's Playoff-Caliber Team
Paglia, Ron, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Unbeaten, untied and uninvited.
That was the bitter pill Bellmar High School's 1959 football team had to swallow, but the Hurricanes took consolation in writing one of the most successful chapters in the storied history of sports in the Mon Valley.
"It was difficult to believe we were going to be left out," Lou Comadena, one of the leaders of the 1959 team, said in reference to Bellmar missing the WPIAL Class A playoffs. "We had only two competitive games -- Gateway and Rostraver. Gateway was a double-A team that lost only one game in its classification, but their record didn't count for us in the Gardner Point System. Otherwise, we might have been there "
"There" was the WPIAL championship game on Nov. 20, 1959 at Washington High Stadium. Braddock and Waynesburg, who finished first and second, respectively, in the controversial Gardner standings, played for the title for the second consecutive year, and Braddock rolled on to a 25-7 victory.
The Class A finale had a distinct Mon Valley flavor in that Waynesburg's head coach, Mike Baker, held a similar position at Marion High and was an assistant at Charleroi. He was an all-round athlete at Charleroi High before graduating in 1936. Baker's top assistant at Waynesburg was Mike Booth, an assistant at Charleroi from 1947 to 1956.
"(Braddock's) success was a motivational force for us," Comadena, 67, said from his home in the Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge, Ill. "I recall reading a story in a national magazine about Braddock setting a national high school record of 54 consecutive wins. We vowed we would go undefeated our senior year and be the first team to upset Braddock if that streak was still intact."
Ron Coates, quarterback on the 1959 Bellmar team, doesn't recall thinking about an undefeated season but said, "We felt we had a pretty football team."
"We knew we wanted to work together for a common cause," said Coates, who lives in Greenville. "That's a special ingredient when so many teenagers have a positive attitude."
Because we knew each other well, we were very comfortable and confident in attaining that goal. We had a solid nucleus of seniors and also Milton Dupree, a junior who was one of the best running backs in the WPIAL. Milton was blessed with the great combination of size and speed."
The genesis of the 1959 Hurricanes can be traced to 1957, the year players from Marion and Vernon junior high schools joined forces as sophomores at Bellmar.
A look at the players
In addition to Comadena and Coates, that sophomore crew also included Walt Lautsch, Ted Shook, John Kasuda, Dick Caputo, Jim Belsick, Wayne Bruce, Dennis Delzangle, Regis Turchek and Dennis Dayner. They were among 24 newcomers -- 22 tenth-graders and freshmen Milton Dupree and Howard Lippencott -- on head coach Bap Manzini's squad that season. The Hurricanes posted a 4-5-0 record in what Comadena recalls as an eye-opening introduction to the varsity ranks.
"One day early in the season, Bap approached me at practice and said, 'How would you like to move from fullback to the line?' " Comadena, who was starting at linebacker, said. "My response was negative, but Bap said I would be starting on the first team and letter as a sophomore. I said, 'I'm already starting on defense and I'll be able to letter that way.' He yelled, 'Who the hell is running this team, you or me?' and began walking away. After taking about a half-dozen steps, he spun around and came back to me and said, 'How about end?' I figured I had pushed my luck as far as I dared and said, 'OK.' So I played end (on offense) my sophomore year and the beginning of my junior season."
Coates took over as the starting quarterback in the third game of the 1957 season and held that post the rest of his career.
Comadena was switched to fullback after the North Union game in 1958.
Other changes saw Caputo, George Trenk, Tom Johnston and Skip Bruce moving into starting roles. …