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Written by: Billy Splain on Monday, May 11th, 2020
Local legend holds the brave canary to be the only bird to fly safely through a hurricane. In 1944, the Canaries flew right through every opponent, including rival Bethlehem Hurricanes
Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley has long been a hot-bed of scholastic football – producing outstanding teams at least as long ago as the early 1920’s. One of the very best – one in a long series of strong Allentown teams – was the Canary squad of 1944. Unbeaten and untied through a grueling eleven game schedule, Coach J. Birney Crum’s team was denied the Big 15 championship only by the vagaries of the system used to determine conference standings. The Canaries had won the required six league games and were the only perfect record team in the conference.
Allentown had actually won the Big 15 title in 1943 with a team led by All-State first team back Billy Kline and second team center Bob Bossons, a junior. Kline was a talented quarterback who could “do it all.” The Canaries were perfect in Pennsylvania but lost a tough 8-0 decision to Philipsburg, a traditional foe of the big schools in the valley, on a rainy day in New Jersey.
In 1944, Allentown was perfect, including a 12-0 redemption victory over Philipsburg. A strong Williamsport Millionaire team, with the last of the Stebbins brothers, gave Allentown a tough fight, but the Canaries prevailed 19-12 when Ray Dini threw a late touchdown pass to John Hipple. Another rival, Hazleton, had high hopes when Allentown visited the Mountaineers. A “tremendous” Canary team dashed the home hopes with a 24-6 victory. Slashing halfback Frank Fischl scored three times in a 41-0
romp over Reading.
The always tough Red Rovers of Easton were finally subdued in a 7-2 battle. In the climactic 12-0 Thanksgiving Day win over arch-rival Bethlehem, Bobby Kurtz returned an interception 50 yards for a TD and passed to halfback Harry Hartman for another score.
Coach Birney Crum was one of the first to employ the T-formation, and, in 1944, young Bobby Kurtz and Dini directed the show at quarterback. Fischl, Hartman and Bill Flamish ran the ball well while big Bill Wanish, who was a second team All-Stater the next year, and Hipple at the ends were the principal passing targets. Fischl’s season TD total was 16. Dini had broken his ankle playing summer baseball but returned in time to contribute to the team’s success.
The unquestioned team leader was captain and All-State center Bob Bossons, a two-year starter. He was “tough but respected”. With Bossons at linebacker and big Fred Shankweiler, also second team All-State at tackle, Allentown was just as strong on defense. Seven of the eleven opponents were shut out.
The 1944 squad had a very talented core group of athletes who excelled in all sports.
The Canaries, under Coach Crum, went on to capture the state basketball championship the following March. Wanish, Dini, and reserve back Elmo Jackson starred on the hoop team. The 6-2 Wanish was selected to the All-State first team.
According to those who played on this great grid squad, Coach Crum was “ 50 years ahead of his time.” His training in football fundamentals was outstanding. He was said to run a college type program at the scholastic level. Center Bossons remembered
how well organized the Allentown program was under Crum – particularly during the summers and down through the junior highs to the grade school level.
Backs Dini and Fischl recalled Crum as a tough taskmaster who ran brutal practices, particularly “Bloody Wednesday”. After each practice, the squad members ate dinner together in the school cafeteria – a “training table.”
Crum was sought after for clinics at both the high school and college level. In the spring of 1946, he demonstrated the T-formation with three of his players at a General Bob Neyland college coaching clinic at Tennessee.
Raised in Alton, Illinois, Crum played for two small midwestern colleges, then came east to become a three-sport star at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. He returned to Muhlenberg later in his career to coach the basketball team.
After two years as head coach in Somerville, NJ, and Carnegie in Western PA, Crum took over as football and basketball boss at Allentown in 1925 and coached both sports for the Canaries for 25 years.
While a consultant to the Bethlehem Bulldogs pro team, he was approached by Los Angeles Rams owner Dan Reeves about becoming his head coach. Crum and the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg were friends.
The 1944 trip to Hazleton came, of course, during World War II. Travel was difficult. In a typical Crum innovation, he hired enough taxis to transport his team to Hazleton and back – three players to a cab –dressed in uniform ready to play.
Starting for the Canaries in 1944:
E 39 Bill WANISH 6-2 175
T 44 Fred SHANKWEILER 6-3 210
G 49 Joe AUGUSTINE 5-11 165
C 59 Bob BOSSONS 6-0 195
G 34 Glen THOMAS 5-11 165
T 68 Chester GIERULLA 6-2 195
E 35 John HIPPLE 6-0 185
Q 28 Bobby KURTZ 5-8 155
33 Ray DINI 5-10 185
H 31 Harry HARTMAN 5-10 155
H 54 Frank FISCHL 5-10 155
F 28 Bill FLAMISH 5-9 165
Key reserves included huge tackle 57 Ralph WALTERS, speed back 23 Wesley FARMER 26 Ray SNYDER, a back who scored seven touchdowns, and future super star 55 Elmo JACKSON..
In addition to Bossons – Hipple, Hartman, Farmer, Fischl, Flamish, Dini, Wanish, Shankweiler, Thomas, Walters, Jackson and Farmer were all experienced veterans from the 1943 Big 15 champions.
The unbeaten, untied, uncrowned 1944 record:
56 FRACKVILLE 0
38 MCADOO 0
37 SCRANTON CENTRAL 0
24 HAZLETON 6
41 READING 0
12 PHILIPSBURG, NJ 0
28 POTTSVILLE 0
19 WILLIAMSPORT 12
7 EASTON 2
25 KINGSTON 14
12 BETHLEHEM 0
Many of these Canaries went on to successful college football careers. Bob Bossons starred at Georgia Tech and coached at Tech and three other schools. Bill Flamish was a regular at defensive back for North Carolina, including two Sugar Bowls. Frank Fischl was a starting running back on Army’s great 1949 and 1950 teams. Chester Gierulla played at Maryland. Elmo Jackson stayed home to play at Muhlenberg.
Ray Dini was a star for the Bethlehem Bulldogs and, in 1949, reached the roster of the NFL champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Why is the Canary their mascot?
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