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It’s been a long time for Potters, Tigers

When the East Liverpool Potters journey to their neighboring community Wellsville on Friday it will mark the renewal of one of the Upper Ohio Valley’s oldest high school football rivalries.

The date was Oct. 3, 1903 when the two schools met for the first time with the Potters coming out on top, 10-0, at Wellsville’s Central Park. The East Liverpool News Review set the tone for the competitive spirit that would evolve for years to come with their lead story on Monday, Nov. 5, 1903:

Just about the time Old Sol was ducking his head behind the hills at Central Park, Wellsville, several hundred East Liverpool boys and girls were uttering loud huzzahs, to the detriment of their vocal organs, for East Liverpool High School had won from Wellsville High School by a score of 10-0. It was a happy crowd that piled on the big red streetcar and, all the way to town, there was a chorus of exultation.

As the car reached the western limits of the city, the noise of the rooters attracted the attention of hundreds of children, who, with eager faces, pursued the car until that had an answer to their query, “Who won?” Then they dropped back, but their exultant cries could be heard until the car left them in the distance.

Although there had been earlier games played between “semi-pro” teams of the two communities in 1902, this contest was the first on the scholastic level. The local star was Fred Mountford, who went on to a stellar career at West Point, eventually ending up as the commanding officer of the Panama Canal. His 85-yard punt in the October 14, 1904 game with Wellsville stands as the oldest record in Potter football history.

Other familiar names that appeared on the roster were future attorney Ben Bennett, Milt Earlinger, George Viney and H. Dan Smith. Not to be forgotten was Francis Ryan who was a brother to Jerry and Ed Ryan, all set to take their place in East Liverpool’s business and social circles.

Then there was the team mascot, Sam Rich, a native of New York City, who would matriculate to Jefferson Medical College before returning to East Liverpool to practice in the Little Building while serving for many years as the team physician.

Altogether, there have been 55 games played between the two schools counting double billings in 1903, 1904, 1908 and 1909. East Liverpool has been victorious 33 times while the Tigers have 18 in the win column with four games tied. Thirty-one were played on Thanksgiving Day, with the kickoff usually set for late morning giving families time to hold their traditional family meal in the late afternoon.

It was as if Times Square, Ringling Brothers Circus and a mega all-class reunion had been molded into one huge celebration with store fronts in both towns decorated, street cars painted in school colors, bon fires, pep rallies and snake dances. More than once, opposing stadiums were adorned with challenging art work daubed on by enthusiastic fans from the rival school.

During the height of the rivalry, there was no shortage of conversation or wagering at Heimie’s Cigar Store in East Liverpool or Pete’s Cafe in Wellsville owned by Pete Surace. According to Joe Surace, the son of Pete and future mayor of Wellsville, his father made a bet with George Dickey of East Liverpool that Wellsville would win the game and that the loser would push the other man up Cemetery Hill in a wheel barrel.

Unfortunately, the game was played in 1943 when the Potters stopped a three-game Tiger winning streak with 27-0 victory. None of this deterred Pete Surace from boosting his hometown team. He became known for purchasing sweaters and jackets for the players over the years, all in orange and black with the classic “W” adorning the front.

Ten cents a dance

Historically, there have been at least two interruptions in the string of games. The first occurred when play was suspended for three years between 1923 and 1925 over a dispute involving a ten-cent difference between the two schools in revenue sharing. The game was resumed on Thanksgiving Day of 1926 as part of an 11-game schedule for the Potters coached by Coach George “Pop” Kidder.

The second break occurred after the Potters’ overwhelming victory in 1952 under coach Wade Watts when the tide was turning in population and industrial growth, and it did not favor Wellsville.

The game resumed in 1963 at Wellsville, and, then in 1964 when coach Bob McNea guided the Blue and White to a 16-0 win at Patterson Field. By then there was no longer The American Tinplate Mill operating their foundry on a large scale at the northern limits of Wellsville and the big Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse had been shuttered for some time.

The 1963 game played at Wellsville’s Nicholson Stadium in Coach Bob Hedmond’s final year as head coach of the Blue and White turned out to be 38-12 Potter victory. Wellsville was coached by Ken Woods while East Liverpool featured quarterback Bob Forzano, backs Earl Olmstead and John DiPasquale, along with Tom Chema and Bob Bowyer. Future Clemson lineman Bruce Burbick, was joined up front by Ron Echols, Steve Mathis and Bill Hall.

The Tigers were led both years by Chris and Harry Thornton, each extremely talented athletes, while East Liverpool’s quarterback in 1964 was Bob Maltarich, who went on to a successful career at Bowling Green State University. He later became a Hall of Fame coach at West Holmes High School near Wooster, Ohio.

Other names on the ELHS roster included the Glenmoor gang: Bobby Pugh, Daryl Jackson,

Ralph Smith, Denny Smith, Emanuel Volino, Laird Christian and Bob Woods, along with East Enders: Carl Natalina, Tom Prentice, Nick Marchbanks, the Yanni twins, Eddie Golden, Carl Natalini, Tom Leon, and Mike Goodballet.

Three players, Tim Grafton, Pat Chema and John Stephens, who went mostly unnoticed in preseason workouts, played a major role, while the most gifted athlete was Clarence “Clancy” Crable who made virtually every All-Ohio team, as well as a position on the North squad in the Ohio High School All-Star game. Mike Snowden was the team captain and recipient of the Bill Booth Award, while little Denny Burke was the original “safety blitzer” under Coach Bob McNea’s revolutionary system.

East Liverpool was also starting to feel the economic crunch with the census falling from a high of 24,217 citizens in 1950 to 22,306 in 1960. By the end of the decade the number had dropped to 19,000 as the once bustling production of the pottery industry, along with that of Midland’s Crucible Steel, began to wain, but few citizens paid much attention in 1963 and 1964.

The 1963 game did not mark the final appearance for the Blue and White at Nicholson Field, however. In Week Five of the 2004 season Coach Bob Thayer and his crew were forced to move their scheduled game with Campbell Memorial to Wellsville because of flood conditions at Patterson Field.

East Liverpool graduate Greg Davis, who at that time was the athletic director at Wellsville, made the offer and East Liverpool officials accepted to use the Tigers’ home field for the remainder of the season.

Although the flood waters receded within a few days, a layer of sludge and silt remained, making the playing surface at Patterson Field unusable for the remainder of the season. As a result, subsequent contests with Youngstown Rayen on Oct. 2 and Steubenville Big Red on Oct. 17 were also played at Nicholson Field in what was to become the last season at the helm for Coach Bob Thayer.

Days are long since you went away — my buddy

The competing coaches in this year’s game are no strangers to coach Thayer. Josh Ludwig was an All-Ohio lineman under the personable Thayer at East Liverpool before launching a successful athletic career at the University of Mount Union from 2002 to 2004, while Wellsville’s present head coach, Robert “Moose” Ramsey, was part of the Thayer staff at East Liverpool between 1995 and 2004.

Notable plays and players in the friendly rivalry include Eddie Oliver’s 96-yard kickoff return for the Potters in 1952 and his 93-yard TD run from scrimmage in 1950.

East Liverpool’s 357 yards on the ground were mostly consumed by Henry Pack on Thanksgiving Day of 1945, when he became the first Potter to score five rushing TDs in a game.

Then, there was Emil Mayer, in 1920, one of very few Potter athletes to make the NFL, standouts: Glenn Mackall, Ernie Bell, Bob Kapp, Clair Williams and Maltrich, who still holds the record for average yards-per-carry with 23.5 yards per attempt in the 1964 game.

On the Wellsville side of the ball, the names of Bill Shoub, Jack Call, Bill Connell, Joe Surace, Jack Stout, John Trainer, Bob Duke, Dan Carney, John Henry Martin, Mike Wright and the Thornton brothers stand out, along with a large number of the Carter Family. The names of “Boo” and Frank Carter come quickly to mind.

There is little doubt as to which matchup is one of the best remembered, thanks to the write up of the contest by an East Liverpool Review cub reporter, Arthur “Toots” Thomas, in 1936. Appropriately titled for Thanksgiving Day, “Potters Carve a Victory”, Thomas describes the horrendous snow fall that hampered the game by ending each paragraph of his report with: “The fans roared and the snow fell”.

Twin terrors

An unusual set of circumstances has come full circle with the renewal of the rivalry in the case of twins Rick and Rob Yanni, who played on the offensive line in the last meeting of the two teams on Oct. 9, 1964.

Not to be outdone, in exactly 55 years and 28 days later in this clash the Potters will start twins, Cameron and Collin Bryant on the defensive line, while Wellsville will have twins Garrett and Valen Krzyston at corner back and wide receiver. These appear to be the only twins to participate in the football contest, although Wellsville once boasted the Allison Brothers, Terry and Garry on the hardwood and the East Liverpool athletic director Greg Voohres is a twin.

Then there were the twin-bands at ELHS in the 1950s, but that story is for another day.

Finally, there was Bill Booth — the icon of Ohio Valley football — to whom the 1937 Thanksgiving Day game was dedicated at Patterson Field following his untimely death on the previous Sept. 4th. A bronze plaque, placed in his memory by the East Liverpool YMCA’s Senior HiY Club on the base of the stadium wall at Patterson Field clearly states the significance of being part of the game of football, a sport like no other – especially in the hearts and minds of those who can still recall the East Liverpool vs. Wellsville Thanksgiving Day game.

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