Thanksgiving Day Football
Slatington v. Palmerton, Thursday, 28 November 1935

blue bar

Game Location: 10 AM, Delaware Avenue Field, Palmerton

Final Score: Slatington 2 - Palmerton 13

Weather: The forecast called for rain, and it had been raining off and on since Wednesday morning. Fortunately, the temperature was pretty moderate for the last week of November with a high on Thanksgiving of 59 and a low of 50 (Allentown, PA readings). Still, the field was a mess as attested to by the newspaper accounts: “In mud and slime both teams were greatly handicapped” and “Braucher Boys Slosh Through Mud.”

Coaches: Fred Maass (1910-1994) and Lloyd Williams (1907-1992) for Slatington and Bill Braucher (1894-1941) for Palmerton

Both the Palmerton and Slatington high schools added football to their athletic programs in 1935, and both schools hoped to join the Lehigh Valley Interscholastic League for the 1936 football season, a league where they already competed in sports like baseball and basketball.

In Slatington the addition of a high school football team was an idea that had been previously floated but never gained traction, partly due to the perceived high cost of fielding a team. But, in August 1935, The Morning Call reported that, after state pressure, the Slatington school board approved the addition of physical education to the curriculum with two new teachers (male and female). This nudged the school board to add football so that the school “will be able to enter fully in the regular program of athletics carried on by the Lehigh Valley. Football will be added to the list of activities and at the proper season track and field.” The following year Slatington did start playing Lehigh Valley League opponents like Catasauqua, Whitehall and Northampton.

Another motivation for adding football to the high school sports schedule was, not surprisingly, money. The football games could attract very large crowds of a thousand or more spectators. The old fear of losing money on football proved to not be an issue once the high school games began. The school principle reported to the school board that “a preliminary check up on the finances show that thus far the game is not going in the red.” i.e., football was not costing money.

And so, in the fall of 1935, Slatington high school started a football team. In early September, it was reported that “about 60 huskies have reported for the first practice” under the direction of coach Lloyd Williams. “The boys are very enthusiastic about it and are getting along nicely.” That must have been a sight to see! Then, in late September, Fred Maass was added as coach of the team when he also became the newly-hired physical education teacher.

We should remember that the Slatington Athletic Association also fielded a football team in the fall of 1935. The A.A. had been fielding the only football team in Slatington for quite a few years, and it would be best to consider the team as a semi-pro team with players earning minimal dollars for each game. Admission was charged for the games. Opponents traditionally were teams like the Palmerton Sokols, Coplay Cardinals, Northampton Triangles or the Bethlehem-Allentown Orioles. In fact, the A.A. team gave the high school team its first taste of live action when it agreed to scrimmage the high school team on Friday evening, 3 October. That could not have gone well for the high school boys.

The high school team’s first game took place on Saturday, 12 October, when, after four weeks of practice, the team journeyed to Lewellyn Township High School in Schuylkill County. (This would be present-day Minersville High School.). The Slatington News noted that the team was hoping to have a caravan of fans accompany them to the game. The game did not turn out well for the Slatington boys, who were crushed by Llewellyn.

The high school team’s first home game took place on Saturday, 19 October at 230 in the afternoon at the Victory Park athletic field against the Bethlehem junior varsity team. Admission was 25 cents. In acknowledging last week’s shellacking up in Schuylkill County but while not mentioning the actual final score, the newspaper tried to temper expectations for the team by reminding readers that “most of the boys have never see a real game not to mention playing in one.” The game turned out to be another loss.

As the season continued towards the showdown with Palmerton on Thanksgiving Day, both teams struggled. Here is the comparative schedule of the two teams. By Thanksgiving, neither team had won a game, and neither team had scored many points – that’s a bit of an understatement.

Slatington 2 Llewellyn 48
Slatington 0 Bethlehem JV 24
Llewellyn 40 Slatington 0
Slatington 0 Coplay 0
Slatington 8 Mauch Chunk Catholic High 78
Slatington 6 Penn Argyl 42

Palmerton 0 Lehighton 6
Palmerton 0 Bethlehem JV 21
Palmerton 0 Mauch Chunk Catholic High 26
Palmerton 0 Nesquehoning 20

As Thanksgiving approached, The Morning Call noted that “The Slate and Zinc towns have added another competitive athletic sport to their already well-known little group of friendly rivalry tilts – FOOTBALL.” The two school were already long-time rivals in sports like baseball and basketball at the high school level and even football at the semi-pro level which often included an annual Thanksgiving Day football game. And while the high school football teams were set to play in the morning on Thanksgiving in Palmerton, there was also a scheduled afternoon game between the Palmerton Sokols and the Slatington A.A. at Victory Park in the afternoon.

As game day approached, The Palmerton Press quoted Palmerton coach "Big Bill" Braucher as confident. "There is no question in my mind as to who should win this first annual classic." "All the boys are in excellent shape and raring to go." Palmerton also held a slight weight advantage over the Slatington boys, 152 pounds versus 149 for Slatington.

Much of what would be high school football tradition for decades was already in place during this inaugural high school season.

Tickets, priced at 50 cents, could be bought at several locations in town, including Handwerk’s dinette, Rex’s drug store and the Slatington sporting goods store. It was estimated that the Thanksgiving game would draw a large crowd of Slatington fans who would travel to Palmerton for the game.

On the day before the big game, Slatington had a pep rally. “The Slatington High school auditorium rang late Wednesday afternoon to the cheers of 600 school students and their friends at a pep meeting on the eve of the first meeting of these two teams on the gridiron.” There were brief talks by coaches Maass and Williams and performances by the band and cheerleaders. Carlyle Evans (1918-2004), a halfback and a senior, was chosen as team captain for the game.

Game day dawned cool, cloudy and wet with the gates opening at the Palmerton field on Delaware avenue and 7th Street at about 930 AM. It turned out to be a cold, rain- chilled game for the estimated crowd of fifteen hundred that watched the game.

The game started at 10 before a reported, sizable crowd. “The rain was not enough to dampen the spirits of more than 1500 football enthusiasts who witnessed the Palmerton - SHS game on the Zinc borough field.”

The newspapers reported few details about the game other than the final score, the weather and the point scorers. I liked The Morning Call’s report which began, “In mud and slime both teams were greatly handicapped, but Bill Braucher’s boys managed to win 13 to 2, the first game of football between these two rival boroughs.” Michael S. Kuba Jr. (1914-1990), one of Palmerton High School first four-letter varsity athletes, scored a touchdown for Palmerton as did Kermit William Montz (1918-1985), a highly decorated naval commander in World War II and the Vietnam War. Ray "Buddy" Ibbotson was responsible for Slatington’s only two points of the game when he recovered a blocked punt for a safety. These were the first points scored in the long and ongoing rivalry between the two high school football teams.

The Lineups
Position Palmerton Slatington
Left end Johannes Kern
Left tackle Urda Barney
Left guard Elliot Zellner
Center Derkocz Jones
Right guard Matuska Hunsicker
Right tackle Geringo Semmel
Right end Flexer Henninger
Quarterback Kirkoff Weaver
Left halfback Boyer Ibbotson
Right halfback Kuba Mantz
Fullback Montz Evans

After the game, things only got worse for the Slatington players when they returned to their locker room in the Slatington high school. “The slate town warriors returned home to find their clothes has been robbed by a thief or thieves who had gained entrance to their locker room.” The thieves made off with some clothes, two gold watches, signet rings, class pins and other items.

After the first season of SHS football had come to an end, the team was entertained at a meeting of the local Rotary Club that include a speech by Arthur Pursell (1905-1961), Phillipsburg high school football coach whose team was New Jersey co-champion at the time. Fred Maass, the Slatington coach also spoke and promised that “we are going to give Slatington a real football team.”

Newspaper sources