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Written by: Hal Wilson on Saturday, January 18th, 2020
1931 W.P.I.A.L ChampsClairton High SchoolTop row, left to RightGeorge Woodman, John Swetka, Eddie Johnson, Ken Stilley (team captain), John Snizik, William Wyke, Stilley Bottom Row, left to rightWilliam Stokes, Leroy Sellers, Mike Kalcevich, Albert Meeleis, George Pavlack, Andy Berchok, Dick Horn
The 1931 Clairton gridders climaxed a golden age of football greatness with a powerhouse team that swept aside all its opposition and won the WPIAL A title for the second time in three seasons. Big and experienced, the Mon Valley squad won ten straight games and finished the 1931 season having lost one game in six years.
In 1926, Clairton had been unbeaten but played a scoreless tie with Donora. Clairton’s 1927 club was perfect but lost out in the first year of the Gardner point system to Greensburg – no playoff was scheduled. The 1928 team was again unbeaten. Another scoreless tie, this time with North Braddock Scott cost Clairton a chance for the WPIAL title
In 1929, Clairton drove to the WPIAL A championship with a great squad that battled through six extra-tough opponents including Homestead, North Braddock Scott, Monongahela, Donora, Turtle Creek and McKeesport. In a game at Clairton, Scott held for three quarters before the home team broke through to win 7-0. Clairton’s kicking game was decisive. Clairton had the 1929 Gardner point lead and was declared WPIAL champion. The backfield included two sophomore stars, Ed Johnson and Ken Stilley.
In 1931, nine starters returned from the 1930 team whose only blemish was a 7-0 loss to down-river rival Duquesne.
As the 1931 season got underway, Clairton won decisively in its opening game with a heavy Hurst team 19-0. Hurst went on to win the WPIAL B title. In a major game with Scott, the 1928 spoiler, Clairton won 32-7. Veteran halfback Johnson got the scoring started with a 63 yard first period score and Clairton rolled from there.
The following week, Clairton journeyed up-river to Charleroi, where the home team was unbeaten and entertaining thoughts of a WPIAL championship. Charleroi conducted secret indoor practices. Special police patrols were in place at the field.
In mud caused by a steady afternoon drizzle following rain, the two squads battled through a scoreless first half as 8,500 watched. Clairton was stymied by fumbles. Early in the second half, big fullback Stilley, on a delayed buck off right tackle, thundered 22 yards for the lead score. Co-captain Andrew Swetka had set up Stilley’s touchdown with an elusive, twisting run of 30 yards. Then, halfbacks Johnson and Swetka worked the ball down to the Cougar two as the third quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth, Johnson got the ball in and Stilley converted for a final score of 13-0.
After putting away an upcoming Monogahela squad, 33-0, Clairton faced another perfect record team, 6-0 Greensburg. Visiting Offutt Field, Clairton’s overpowering 29-0 victory included a safety – when the Golden Lions’ punter was tackled in the end zone.
Finally, in a huge regular season-ending showdown with unbeaten and untied McKeesport on Thanksgiving Day, heavily favored Clairton prevailed 12-0. A huge crowd of 15,000, the largest in Western Pennsylvania history up to that time, jammed McKeesport’s Memorial Stadium. The first half was fought to a standstill. After recovery of a fumbled punt, Johnson went 23 yards to score. Swetka ran 12 for another TD in the final quarter.
The overall strength of Coach George Woodman’s team had been decisive and few could dispute Clairton’s claim of a truly great scholastic team.
A playoff with perfect record Midland for the A title was considered, but ultimately the championship was awarded to Gardner leader Clairton and the “Unbeatable Orange” were again WPIAL champions. 304 points had been scored against ten tough opponents. Clairton’s defense, led by its solid-wall line, allowed just seven – by John Reed’s Scott on a late TD.
Midland finished second and unbeaten and untied Washington third in the Gardner tally. The Little Prexies, who played only seven games, had beaten New Castle 27-0 and Aliquippa 54-6. Midland’s late-season win over Aliquippa was by 14-6.
Clairton itself overwhelmed Aliquippa by 44-0 in the eighth game of its 10-0 season.
Clairton’s pile-driving halfback Johnson and fullback Stilley at 209 pounds were starting for the third year. Center Al Meehlieb and Stilley were selected to the All-WPIAL first team – Stilley for the second straight year.
Stilley then journeyed to Notre Dame to play for the Fighting Irish. He was a two-year letterman at tackle, and then had a distinguished career in football and local politics.
Junior reserve John Nosich went on to Duquesne University and played for the Steelers in 1938.
George Woodman coached Clairton through these memorable years. Woodman was an outstanding center at Colgate, playing in 1916, 1917 and 1919. He was one of the all-time great Red Raider players. After coaching at Oil City, he came to Clairton in 1926. His teams were immediately successful. In the first six years of his regime, Clairton lost only the 1930 Duquesne game.
The great 1931 WPIAL A championship record:
19 HURST 0
42 WAYNESBURG 0
32 NORTH BRADDOCK SCOTT 7
13 CHARLEROI 0
33 MONONGAHELA 0
29 GREENSBURG 0
53 ELIZABETH 0
44 ALIQUIPPA 0
27 DUQUESNE 0
12 MCKEESPORT 0
In 1931, two eastern PA schools had powerful teams – Shenandoah and John Harris. A State Championship game involving either and Clairton would have been a classic.
The WPIAL created Class AA for its largest schools after the 1931 season and Clairton became one of the 12 charter members.
Clairton used the nickname “Cobras” beginning in the mid-30’s and adopted the name “Bears” in 1941.
Clairton was strong in early 40’s. The 1942 squad was perfect but was eliminated by the Gardner count. In 1943, the undefeated Bears won an intense home battle with the defending AA champion New Castle Hurricane but fell in the season final to Duquesne. In the rest of a “round-robin elimination”, Clairton handed Duke Weigle’s first McKeesport Tiger team its only loss. McKeesport did the same to the Little Dukes.
In 1954, under Neil Brown, the Bears were the only unbeaten and untied squad in AA and were awarded the WPIAL crown. Fullback Joe Belland, halfback George Craig and quarterback Joe Tranchini were great backs – Belland was named to the All-State first unit. Big junior tackle Ernie Westwood was selected on the first team the following year.
John Soich, a star end on the 1930 team, was the Clairton track coach for many years. His 1955 team won the unofficial state team championship, led by sprinter George Craig.
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