Remembering Brownsville’s First
by Glenn Tunney
are the Brownsville High School football championship
It was Brownsville resident Joyce Mayers who asked me that question, referring to trophies won by the 1940 and 1943 squads that captured the only two WPIAL football championships ever won by Brownsville High School.
The football teams of the 1930s,1940s, and early 1950s also claimed many Big Six and Fayette County championships and were awarded trophies for those achievements. Yet a visitor to Brownsville Area High School in Luzerne township will find no trophies on display that were earned before 1967, when Redstone township and John A. Brashear school districts combined to form the Brownsville Area School District. Joyce’s question is a valid one. What happened to all of those pre-1967 trophies?
The first football title of any kind captured by a Brownsville High School team came in 1935, one year after South Brownsville and Brownsville school districts merged into a single school district. Coach Carl Aschman’s squad that year captured the Fayette County title with a 9-1 record. Aschman’s 1936 squad was even better, going 10-1 and allowing only 18 points all season, but the team was denied its initial Big Six championship by a 6-0 loss to Charleroi. Then in 1937, Brownsville began an amazing 39-game unbeaten streak that would not be broken until midway through the 1941 season. During that streak, Brownsville outscored its opponents 820-79.
So why didn’t Brownsville teams win several WPIAL championships during that 39-game streak? In those years a point system was used to determine the WPIAL champion, and a tie game usually eliminated a team from contention for the WPIAL title. The 1937 team that began the undefeated streak had a mediocre 5-3-2 record, but it was unbeaten in the last five games of the season. In 1938, only three opposing teams registered a point on the 8-0-1 Brownies, who outscored their opponents 168-25. Unfortunately, a 13-13 tie with Charleroi prevented Brownsville from capturing its first WPIAL title.
The unbeaten streak continued through 1939. Aschman’s 1939 Brownies shut out eight of eleven opponents, outscored the opposition 256-15, and even defeated their nemesis, Charleroi, by an 8-0 score. Unfortunately, two consecutive scoreless ties with Monessen and Mon City marred Brownsville’s 9-0-2 record. The unbeaten streak remained intact and the team captured its second straight Big Six title, but the WPIAL Class AA championship eluded Brownsville once more.
Brownie head coach Carl Aschman and his assistants, Andy Sepsi and Earl Bruce, recognized the outstanding potential of the 1940 squad, and they drove the team hard at training camp that fall. West Brownsville native Thom Stapleton, now of Casa Grande, Arizona, was in the sixth grade that year.
“I remember going with my dad to deliver milk to the football camp on Wharton Furnace Road in the mountains,” Thom told me. “My cousin, John ‘Stabby’ Stapleton, was on the 1940 team. He described Carl Aschman as a tough coach who called the players by girls’ names to shame them into being men.
“Stabby’s name from Aschman was ‘Mabel.’ If Aschman felt that Stabby was not giving his all, the coach would say, ‘What’s wrong, Mabel? You gettin’ tired? Or do you always play like a girl?’”
The grueling training camp paid off. The 1940 season was an exciting one, and it was played in a new football stadium. The old high school football field on Water Street had hosted Brownsville’s football games in the 1930's. Fenwick Park, Brownsville’s Little League baseball field, now occupies the site where that stadium once stood.
In 1940, Brownie Stadium opened in Hiller. The impressive facility, complete with a running track, was erected in the Woodward Plan with the aid of the WPA and PWA, two depression-era government agencies. Construction costs exceeded $50,000.
The first game in the new stadium was played on September 13, 1940, an 8 p.m. exhibition contest against Brockway High School. Brockway was an upstate school that was little-known locally but had won two championships in the previous five years.
It turned out to be an unlucky Friday the 13th for the visitors. 3,720 fans watched Brownsville jump to a 19-0 lead in the first ten minutes of the game, then booed in disappointment when Aschman benched the first string from the first quarter on and let the reserves complete a 38-0 whitewash.
The coach of the victimized Brockway team was Ralph Castafero, about whom Brownsville native Bill Patterson tells an interesting tale.
“I was attending summer classes at Penn State around 1948,” Bill recalled, “and at the residence hall where I was staying, a gentleman appeared for the six-week period of study. He was finishing up work for a Supervising Principal certificate. We chatted, and it turned out that this fellow had been the Brockway coach during the 1940 football season. He was the first coach to face that mighty Brownsville team.
“I asked him how they came to schedule Brownsville that year. He told me they had an open date at the start of the season, and they had found Brownsville listed as looking for an opponent for the same date. He had known nothing about Brownsville, but when he had looked up the town’s population and found it to be about 6,000, he figured, ‘Oh, that's good. That’s about the same size that we draw upon.’ Nobody told him about the buses from outlying school districts that dropped off their high school students at Brownsville High School.
“As we talked about that 1940 game,” Bill said, “the fellow told me, ‘After that game, I was depressed, looking toward the long season ahead after our dismal showing. As it turned out, we did quite well the rest of the year and had a real good team in our class. I followed Brownsville's season in the papers, and they ended up the Class AA WPIAL champions.
“The former coach paused. ‘But I still remember that big fullback smashing for ten yards with two or three of my kids on his back.’”
“I know,” I told him, “I saw the game too. That big fullback was Paul ‘Buck’ Sutton.”
Big Buck Sutton was one of five Sutton boys to play for Brownsville in the thirties and forties. A powerful running back, Buck led the 1940 squad in scoring with 21 touchdowns and 143 points. He was followed in the scoring race by John Daley with 57 and Al Taffoni with 29. Sutton’s teammates on the starting eleven were linemen Art Woodward, Jim Shoaf, Paul Colborn, John Wolosky, Fred Kreuter, Dave Pursglove, and Henry Szelc. Sutton shared the backfield with Al Taffoni, Alex Chronis, and Joe Vaccaro.
The second game of the 1940 season was another whitewash, a 32-0 drubbing of German township, but local scribes were still unsure of the Brownies’ talent. The next week, 6,700 excited fans witnessed a 28-6 victory over the Redstone Black Hawks at Brownie Stadium, a performance that convinced onlookers that this Brownsville team might make a serious run at that still-elusive WPIAL crown.
The following Friday night, 8,500 fans packed Charleroi Stadium for the two teams’ Big Six Conference opener. The Cougars were hoping to uphold their well-earned reputation as an annual thorn in Brownsville’s side. On this night, however, there would be no upset by Charleroi, as Sutton, Daley, and Taffoni all scored touchdowns on the way to a 21-0 shutout. It was the most points a Brownsville team had scored against Charleroi since the Brownsville school district’s formation in 1934.
The win at Charleroi was the first in a string of four straight shutouts, with Monessen, Mon City, and Donora failing to score during the next three weeks. In the eighth game of the season, the Brownies knocked off Vince Stapulis’s California Cubs, 33-6, shut out Uniontown 27-0 in the ninth game, then ventured to Campbell Stadium in Connellsville where they downed the Cokers, 19-6, to complete a perfect 10-0 season.
The awards rolled in. By winning its third consecutive Big Six championship, Brownsville High School was awarded permanent possession of an impressive Big Six trophy. The victory over Connellsville also assured the Brownies their third consecutive Fayette County title, the team’s fifth in six years. For the third season in a row, only three teams scored a point against the Brownies, who finished their remarkable season with a 278-18 scoring edge over ten opponents.
But what about that WPIAL Class AA title?
“The WPIAL championship in the ‘AA’ division,” reported the Brownsville Telegraph in November, “is automatically awarded to the Brownies, since Altoona, which also closed its campaign with an undefeated and untied record Saturday, has notified league officials that it will not participate in a post-season playoff tilt.”
That clinched it. Brownsville had finally broken through. In recognition of the school’s first WPIAL Class AA football title, a glittering championship trophy was added to the growing collection of engraved hardware on display at the high school on High Street.
The 1940 championship season was Carl Aschman’s last as Brownsville’s coach. Aschman moved on to Aliquippa High School in 1941, and assistant coach Earl Bruce was promoted to replace him. In Bruce’s inaugural year as head coach, the undefeated streak continued six games into the season. Then Brownie fans, who had not experienced a single defeat since 1937, were stunned by three consecutive losses to Donora, Johnstown, and Uniontown. The team finished with a 5-3-2 record.
Bruce’s 1942 squad turned in a respectable 7-2-2 performance, starting off the year 5-0 before playing consecutive ties against Monessen and Mon City, followed by late season losses to Johnstown and Uniontown. As the 1943 school year approached, Brownsville fans were optimistically anticipating the new football season with the powerful brother tandems of Bert and Bill Sutton and Joe and Chuck Drazenovich, along with veteran Paul Johns, leading the squad. Hopes ran high that another championship season might be in the offing – one that could produce another glittering addition to the crowded Brownsville High School trophy case.
These articles appear weekly in the Sunday Uniontown HERALD-STANDARD. If you enjoy reading them, please let the editors know. You may e-mail your comments to Mike Ellis (Editor) at [email protected] or Mark O'Keefe (Managing Editor - Day) at mo'[email protected]
Readers may contact Glenn Tunney at 724-785-3201, [email protected] or 6068 National Pike East, Grindstone, PA 15442.
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