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Written by: Billy Splain on Saturday, January 18th, 2020
The mighty 1931 Blue Devil starting lineup:
Through the years of the Great Depression, in Shenandoah, a compact city in the southern anthracite region, J. W. Cooper High School, widely known as the Shenandoah Blue Devils,
fielded one of the top football programs in Pennsylvania. Under the direction of legendary coach Bobby Nork, the Blue Devils maintained a high level for 18 years, beginning just one year after Nork had completed his athletic and academic career at Georgetown University. His first Shenandoah team in 1929 was a fine one with a 9-1 record, the loss by just 6-0 to undefeated Williamsport. In 1930, the foundation was laid for the great 13-0 1931 team.
Shenandoah had joined the Eastern Conference of the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Football Conference in 1926 and the 1931 league season was to be intense and competitive.
Expectations in the community were high as the 1931 season began and the veteran-studded team opened with a 45-0 romp over Mauch Chunk Catholic. St. Clair was beaten 19-0 after a scoreless first half. Next, the Blue Devils traveled to Crispin Field in Berwick where the Bulldogs had not been beaten in four years. Of the total crowd of 4,000, 2,000 were reported to be from Shenandoah. The Blue Devils won 34-0 for their first Eastern Conference victory as ace halfback Johnny Dougert ran 97 yards for a touchdown. Shenandoah had quickly developed into a valid claimant for the state championship.
In the following game, Dougert romped for four more TD’s as Shenandoah defeated St. Jerome’s of Tamaqua, 35-0. The unbeaten and unscored-on Blue Devils then traveled to the Scranton area to face a strong Dunmore team, recognized as the Lackawanna County champions. The locals were led by the legendary O’Hora brothers and halfback Silvano – all became stars at Penn State. More than 2,500 loyal Shenandoah fans made the journey by train. The Blue Devils fell behind early 2-0, then rallied with three touchdowns to win 21-8, as Dunmore scored late on a pass play.
Undefeated Lancaster then came to Memorial Park for a crucial Eastern Conference game. The Blue Devils made a strong state-wide statement with a magnificent game and a decisive 27-0 victory. A crowd of 5,000 saw Dougert score twice on the Tornadoes and Matty Matalavage and Al Krawczel added touchdowns.
In 1930, Minersville had upset the Blue Devils 7-0. In 1931, it was really no contest as Shenandoah rolled over a heavy but inexperienced Miners team, 46-0. In the next league game, the Blue Devils hosted the neighboring rival Mahanoy City Maroons. Shenandoah won for the
tenth straight year. This score was 40-0. Against Coal Township, the Purple Demons scored against the Shenandoah second team in the first quarter, but the final tally was 40-6.
In a classic conference game at Williamsport, the Blue Devils gained revenge for losses to the Cherry and White in the two previous seasons with a hard-fought 20-0 victory. An underrated Blythe Township team, coached by Jack Shields, gave the Blue Devils some difficulty early on a rainy day, but they came on to win, 20-6.
On Thanksgiving, the Blue Raiders of Tamaqua were beaten, 31-6, in the annual Turkey Day classic.
The Blue Devils had expected to play the Western Conference Champion in the East-West Central Interscholastic Conference championship game. In the Eastern Conference race, Williamsport had been expected to defeat Sunbury, making the Blue Devils champions. However, the then Wolverines lost in a major upset, and, in the final ratings, Harrisburg’s John Harris edged Shenandoah for the crown.
Deprived of the East-West championship game, the Blue Devils hosted touring Crane Tech of Chicago, intersectional champions of 1930, on an ice and snow covered Memorial Park field. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The Blue Devils prevailed 6-0 on a Dougert to Creedon pass to complete the great season with a perfect record.
Bobby Nork was a Shenandoah native and scholastic star. Recruited to play at Georgetown , he was a three-sport standout, including football, basketball and baseball. Despite standing 5 – 8, he was a tough high-scoring basketball forward for the Hoyas. He was team captain as a senior in 1928. After graduation with a BS degree, he returned to Shenandoah to teach and coach. He is a member of the Georgetown Athletic Hall of Fame.
Bobby was given the head football assignment at Shenandoah and quickly produced winning teams. After the 9-1-0 record in 1929, his young 1930 team was 8-3-0. The winning records continued after the 1931 season and Blue Devil football peaked again in the early 1940’s as his 1940 team played a 0-0 tie with Western Champion Tyrone in the last East-West Central Conference playoff. His 1941 and 1942 teams were both undefeated and untied champions of the Eastern Conference Southern Division but lost hard-fought title games to Kingston and Scranton Central of the Northern Division.
The veteran backfield was big and strong. Creedon, Dougert and Glodeck had all started in 1930.
Creedon was team captain for the second straight year and Dougert received All-State honors. Krawczel, Downey, Antonavage and Babartsky were returning starters as well.
Great PA Teams – Shenandoah 1931 3
The second string backs were a formidable group also, featuring 23 Joe YASINSKY at quarterback, 32 Clyde BIRKLEBACH and Z Johnny SOSNA at halfbacks, and B Ed SERAKAS at fullback. This foursome often actually started the game along with the second unit line. 12 Leo KATALINAS was rhe top line reserve.
The great 1931 Shenandoah season record:
45 MAUCH CHUNK CATHOLIC 0
19 ST. CLAIR 0
34 BERWICK 0
35 TAMAQUA ST. JEROME 0
21 DUNMORE 8
27 LANCASTER 0
46 MINERSVILLE 0
40 MAHANOY CITY 0
40 COAL TOWNSHIP 6
20 WILLIAMSPORT 0
20 BLYTHE TOWNSHIP 6
31 TAMAQUA 6
6 CRANE TECH Chicago 0
In pre-season scrimmages, the 1931 Blue Devils had beaten the freshman teams of both Lehigh and Bucknell Universities.
Al Babartsky became a great tackle at Fordham University and a member of the fabled “Seven Blocks of Granite” under “Sleepy Jim” Crowley. He was known to his Ram teammates as “Ali
Walt Glodeck played at Nork’s Alma Mater. Georgetown.
Johnny Dougert was recruited to play for Jock Sutherland’s Pitt Panthers and became a dentist.
Three great teams graced Pennsylvania football in 1931 – John Harris, the East-West winner; Clairton, the WPIAL champion; and the Shenandoah Blue Devils. A playoff including the three could have been a great series.
Roger Saylor’s 1931 state-wide ratings listed Shenandoah as the top team in Pennsylvania, ahead of both Clairton and Harris.
Coach Nork played quarterback for the Shenandoah pro team during the 1931 season.
The contribution of Sam Matta, a sports writer for the Hazleton Standard-Speaker and a Shenandoah native, to this article is acknowledged and appreciated.
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