|This article originally appeared in the "Together Again" All-School Reunion July 4, 1987 Booklet.|
The best of times . . . A brief history of athletics to 1956
By Robert A. Curry '43
Many high schools stake their reputation in the field of athletics on how many state championships (real or mythical) they have won.
East Liverpool High School has never won a state team championship in any sport. Several individuals have brought home "gold medals" in track and wrestling.
However, the Potters' athletic program will long stand the test of time because many ELHS grads have gone on to greater fame after leaving East Liverpool. Many names associated with ELHS sports are known to fans throughout the country.
It is impossible to mention everyone, but for starters how about Dick Larkins, who served as athletic director at Ohio State for many years; Lou Holtz, currently head coach at Notre Dame and considered one of the top college mentors in the country; Bernie Allen, who went on to football fame at Purdue and later performed in the major leagues for a number of years.
ELHS gave Dick Booth and Francis Smouse to the pro grid ranks. Booth, brother of the famed Bill Booth who was often mentioned as the next "Red Grange" until his death in a car-truck accident prior to starting his junior year at Ohio State. Dick Booth played at Western Reserve and was a member of the Detroit Lions in 1941 and 1945. He was regarded as one of the top punters in the NFL. Smouse, who played college ball at Youngstown State, didn't play in the NFL but currently does scouting for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Pro basketball also had a ELHS flavor. The late Al Bailey, a member of the 1947 basketball team which lost in the state finals to Middletown and then became a star at Duquesne, was an assistant coach with the Virginia Squires of the old ABA.
Many former Potters went into the high school coaching ranks and had tremendous success. Bill Laughlin is rated one of the school's top players and then returned to turn out several crack teams as head mentor. Frank Chan also returned "home" to coach, but found better success at Beaver Falls as he guided the Tigers to a state championship a number of years ago.
Speaking of Beaver Falls, the football team was guided by ELHS grad Larry Bruno for many years. His most famous player there was none other than Joe Namath. When "Broadway Joe" was inducted into the NFL Pro Hall of Fame at Canton in 1985, Namath turned to his former high school coach to be his presenter. During his speech, Namath praised Bruno for playing a part in his future success. "He (Bruno) gave me a lot of direction and he steered me right," Joe said.
Perhaps one of the top individual achievements turned in by a former Potter is that by Walt Ashbaugh. Many fans remember Walt as a member of 1946 and 1947 basketball teams which reached the state finals, but the followers of the so-called "minor" sports remember him as the only athlete from Columbiana County ever to participate in the Olympic Games.
And his performance at the 1952 Games in Helsinki take on added importance to "track nuts" since he was competing in an event that was "strange" to him—the hop, step and jump now called the triple jump. Walt was a standout hurdler and high jumper for the Potters, twice going to the state finals and at the time he was the first ELHS spiker to score in the state meet when he tied for fifth in the high jump in 1947. Walt then participated in track and basketball at Cornell.
When the 1952 Games rolled around, Walt was an officer in the U.S. Army. He was still involved in athletics, but knew his chances of making the U.S. Olympic Team as a hurdler or high-long jumper were slight since people like hurdlers Harrison Dillard and Jack Davis, high jumpers going 6-feet-9 and long jumpers doing over 25 feet were in their prime.
So Walt switched to the triple jump at the U.S. tryouts in Los Angeles, he earned a spot on the team with a third place finish at 49 feet, 7 inches. George Shaw was the top performer at 50-51/2.
Although Walt didn't win a medal at Helsinki, he finished fourth at 50-6 which was the longest jump ever by an American in the Games at that time. Adehamar Ferreira daSilva of Brazil won with a world record leap of 53-21/2. Meanwhile, Shaw failed to make the finals.
ELHS has also produced well known figures in other professions following their athletic careers for the Potters and in college.
Several have or are still serving in our country's armed services. Chuck Means, who quarterbacked the undefeated team in 1945, spent 31 years in the Army and retired a few years ago as a two-star general. His younger brother, Clarence "Bud" Means, will retire at the end of this year as superintendent of schools at Lisbon, Ohio.
Bob McCoy, a three-sport standout and a member of the undefeated 1952 football team, is a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force, while Dan Cooper is a vice admiral and commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet submarine force. Jim "Whitey" Betts, rated among the top cagers at both ELHS and Ohio U., entered politics and served for a number of years in the Ohio House of Representatives. He ran for the U.S. Senate, but lost out to John Glenn.
A brief look at the various sports:
The first known team playing under the ELHS banner was in 1910. That season was cut to just four games due to a lack of players. The Potters posted a 1-2-1 record, beating Leetonia, losing to Akron and Wellsville before playing a 0-0 tie with Leetonia in a rematch that ended the season under Coach Frank Wallover. [Frank Dawson disagrees with this date].
The Potters posted their first winning season in 1915 with a 4-3-2 record under Lowell Fess. The 1916 squad followed with a 5-2-1 mark, losing to New Castle and Martins Ferry in the first two games of the season. The Potters again had a season cut short when the flu epidemic in 1918 forced cancellation of games after the first four were played.
ELHS just missed posting its first undefeated season when the 1925 team won eight of nine contests. The only loss was a 20-0 setback to New Philly. However, in the eight victories the Potters held all opponents scoreless. The season marked the third and final year for 0. V. Boone serving as head mentor. This was also the start of the era that produced such grid standouts like Elmer and Paul English, Dale Liebschner, Frank Kirkham and Andy Steward. As was the case in those days, most of the athletes participated in basketball and track and some excelled in all three sports.
Leland Schachern took over as grid pilot in 1930 and came up with two fine seasons in 1932 (7-3) and 1933 (8-2). The 1933 crew suffered back-to-back defeats to Canton McKinley and Martins Ferry, but finished the campaign with three straight wins.
Joe Morbito, a native of Leetonia, came on the scene in 1936 and had the longest tenure of any grid coach—six years. Morbito never had a losing season, twice going 5-5 but having back-to-back 7-3 logs in 1937 and 1938. The 1937 team had the honor of posting the first victory ever over Martins Ferry, a 21-12 decision.
It wasn't until 1945 ELHS could boast of its first undefeated season. Coached by Don Ogden, who also guided the Potters to the state finals in the one and only year he was head coach in both sports, the Blue & White posted a 8-0-2 mark; deadlocks with Steubenville Central Catholic and Ashtabula marring a perfect year. The 1945 team, headed by standouts like Chuck Means, Don Jackson, Tom Bell, Dick O'Hanlon and Alonzo Spencer, is regarded as one of the top defensive clubs in the school's history, allowing just 19 points in 10 games.
Bad times fell on the Potters after that great season, two different coaches were only able to post an overall record of 5-24 the next three years.
However, Wade Watts, the son of the long-time Baldwin-Wallace College mentor Ray Watts, took over the program and soon had the Potters on the winning side of the ledger. In 1951, ELHS had a 8-2 mark and the following year came the second undefeated campaign.
The Potters, sparked by such stars as Ed Oliver, Ernie Bell and Bob McCoy, won nine and played a tie with Sandusky. Watts left after the season to take over at Canton McKinley. Bob Gibson, a native of Youngstown, was hired to replace Watts.
Gibson struggled his first two years (2-8 in 1953 and 4-6 the following year) before producing the only perfect team in the school's history. The 1955 team won all 10 games as Jim Potts quarterbacked the club to over 3,600 yards rushing and over 800 yards passing.
Other top performers on the 1955 team included Bert Dorsey, John Nott, Jim Perkins, Gene Bell, Jim Hoppel and Ed Massey. A 16-year-old junior by the name of Bernie Allen was the backup quarterback. Gibson quit the ELHS post to join the Bowling Green staff. He later coached in the NFL and is now in business in Florida.
Both the 1952 and 1955 teams were rated third in the finals Associated Press football poll. The ratings were not started until 1947.
East Liverpool has long been a hotbed of basketball and the interest in the roundball sport appears to have carried over to ELHS.
East Liverpool had a team in the semi-pro Central League and shared the 1907 loop title with South Side, Pa. The following year, East Liverpool was the outright title holder in the "world series" beating the Eastern League champs. Many top college players also appeared on the ELHS court during the Tri-State Tournament.
The Potters played in the first state high school meet sponsored by the Ohio High School Athletic Association in 1923. The previous year, the Potters took part in the Delaware Invitational, staged from 1909 through 1922. In the 1923 state meet, the Potters downed Bowling Green High, 10-2, before losing to Bellevue, 19-15, in the semifinals. Don DeBolt and Dale Liebschner were among the stars on the 1922 and 1923 squads. In the 1923 tourney, DeBolt had 13 of the Potters' 25 points. O. V. Boone was the coach of the 1923 team.
The Potters, under coach Joe Hurst, made it back down to Columbus in 1928 only to drop the first game to Canton McKinley, 29-25. Two of the members of that team were Elmer English and Frank Kirkham.
Although failing to reach the state finals for years, the 1930s and early 1940s were prime years for the ELHS cagers. Porter Mackey, rated among the best ever to wear the Blue & White, was the top scorer in the state in 1935-36 with 408 markers. That was a school record until Jim Harris came along in 1946 to toss in 412 points.
Bill Laughlin's 1940-41 team, featuring Jim Mackey, Don Heddleston and Bob Scott among others, bowed out of tourney play to Martins Ferry, 38-34. Ferry, sparked by Lou Groza who later gained fame with the Cleveland Browns, went on to win the state championship.
A junior member of that team was Dick Treleven, who the following season became the first Potter ever named to the first All-Ohio team. The 6-foot Treleven tallied 307 points as the Potters posted a 17-5 record.
East Liverpool fans got excited in 1945 when the Potters reached Regional play for the first time only to bow to Zanesville, 47-44. However, the following season was when Ogden took over the cagers and the Potters advanced to the state finals held in Toledo that year. The Potters bowed to Akron North, 43-39, in the semi- finals. Jim Harris, another all-Ohio player, paced the Potters with 16 points. Then with such standouts as Walt Ashbaugh, Alex Cunningham, Jerry Hyder and Al Bailey returning, Merrill Hall took over as head coach and guided the Potters into the 1947 state title game at the Columbus Fairgrounds.
After downing Marietta, 47-38, for the Regional crown, the Potters advanced to the finals with a 35-32 decision over Findlay. However, in the title match. Middletown rolled to a 47-29 win. Hyder, Cunningham and Bailey were all named to the all-tourney team.
The so-called "minor" sports at East Liverpool High are no different from other schools in the fact they are the first programs to go when financial problems strike athletics. So, track, wrestling, baseball, etc., have been on-and-off sports for many years.
However, one of the "minor" sports has produced the most state titles. Three wrestlers won the "gold" in the state wrestling tourney, starting in 1952 when Don Chadwick took the 156-pound title. Don was also a standout gridder for the Potters.
Darryl Hoppel won the first of his two championships in 1954 in the 121-pound class, then added the 128-pound crown in 1955. Brother Jim took the 134-pound title in 1955 to give ELHS two championships in one year.
The program that resulted in the Potters gaining state-wide attention was due to the late Lou Venditti. He came to ELHS with Wade Watts as frosh grid mentor and also got the mat program going again. The Potters scored in eight straight state meets under Venditti, who was head football coach after Bob Gibson resigned.
Track & field perhaps is the oldest sport in the history of the school. The Potters participated in the first Columbiana County meet staged in 1904 at the Lisbon Fairgrounds. The Columbiana meet is considered the oldest such event in Ohio.
The Potters finished third in 1904 and tied with Lisbon for second the following year. A history of the county meet published a number of years ago listed the Potters' Mountford as the star of the first two meets.
However, it wasn't until 1916 that ELHS won the county title for the first time. It took the Potters until 1949 to win another crown and then in 1970 shared top honors with East Palestine.
In the late 1930s the program fell off and then when the state "outlawed" spring football drills Joe Morbito started up track again. Many felt it was just a way for him to keep his gridders in shape, but it did produce some top teams. The highlight of that era came in 1942 when the Potters placed fourth in the Wheeling Intelligencer meet and seventh in the famed Salem Night Relays. Two top performers that year were Al Schaffer in the high jump and hurdles and Carl Smoot in the hurdles and long jump. Schaffer also was a top eager for the Potters.
Besides his many fine cage teams, Merrill Hall also turned out some good cross country squads. The 1949 team, headed by Don Rea, was fourth in the state meet and Dale Thorneberry and Dick Scott sparked the Potters to a fifth in the 1951 finals.
Continue to The best of times . . .Part 2