Labor of love recounts 80 yrs. of Derry gridiron
DERRY–Dan Skubek never played football, but he thoroughly enjoyed it. Particularly Derry football. So much in fact that Skubek has compiled a 14-volume anthology of the history of the Derry Township and Derry Area gridiron.
And now, this labor of love is being recognized by Friends of Caldwell Library, who have invited Skubek to bring his collection to its Oct. 9 meeting, from 2-4:30 p.m.
They want the public to be aware of Skubek’s hard work and dedication to preserving Derry football history, and in honor of the occasion, they are planning to invite football players from Derry’s past to attend and maybe say a few words.
According to Phyllis Humphreys, recognizing Skubek for his work was a joint effort between Peggy Scalpello, chairperson of the program committee for Friends of Caldwell Library, and Caldwell Library’s librarians.
“It all started with Rose Battaglia, one of the librarians, who had seen Dan working on collecting all kinds of information,” Scalpello said. “She thought it would make a good program, and we found that a number of people agreed with her.”
“I think he’s done a lot of his work right there in the library,” Humphreys noted. “I think a lot of people have noticed him in there.”
Skubek watched his first Derry Township football game when he was 11 years old.
“I saw a few future professionals play there,” he pointed out.
A 1949 graduate of Derry Township High School, Skubek never played the game himself, but he did spend a few years on the sidelines as a statistician.
The whole collection started when Skubek began talking with Emerson Hunter, a prominent figure in the Derry Area School District. He was on the school board, and played on Derry Township’s first-ever football team. He also established the Old-Timers’ Football Association in the late 1960s, for which Skubek originally created his history of Derry football, but which disbanded after Hunter’s death.
Skubek’s older brother had given him a booklet filled with the scores of old Derry Township and Derry Area football games, from 1927 to 1970.
Skubek said, “When I showed them to Emerson, he gave me a sly look and said, ‘What’s the matter with the 1925 team?’ I said I didn’t know there was a ’25 team, and that’s when he preceded to give me a photograph of the 1925 Derry Township football team.”
With this photograph in his possession, Skubek’s curiosity got the best of him.
“I thought, why can’t I get a picture of all the teams?” he said. “Emerson told me the only way to do that is to go through yearbooks.”
So Skubek went to the library, only to find there were no yearbooks in stock–a fire in 1952 at Derry Township High School had had destroyed the library and its contents. All the books were gone.
This was in 1970. Nine years later, thanks to a number of phone calls, Skubek completed the first 50 years.
Skubek’s collection begins with an alphabetical list of every player to have played for Derry Township and Derry Area–1,031 names in all over a span of the first 50 years. He has writeups from local newspapers of every game played by Derry, including every game played against rival Latrobe since 1926.
The original volumes of the history were all engraved with the dates they included, so when Skubek decided to expand the collection, he couldn’t fit his new information in with their correlative dates. So he created what he calls “overflow volumes.”
Skubek has senior photos of every football player for Derry, but he noted that the copier he used, “wasn’t as good as the ones today,” and aren’t very clear.
The microfilm reader on which he did the majority of his research didn’t have a photocopier on it, so he spent many hours copying newspaper articles by hand.
Skubek noted that 98 percent of his research was done on microfilm.
He pointed out that he now has three generations of players included in his anthology.
“A kid could look at it and say, ‘That’s my dad!’ or ‘That’s my grandfather!'” he said.
Also included in the collection are writeups for Derry football players who lost their lives in war–he had to go to Aliquippa to retrieve one such writeup.
Skubek has created one volume called “After Derry Achievements,” listing the various achievements of former players after graduating from Derry.
Skubek admitted that the sheer volume of the collection surprised even him. He also didn’t plan on going as far into the history as he now has.
“My intentions were to stop after 30 years,” he said, stopping at the end of Derry Township High School, from 1925 to 1954, before it merged with Derry Borough to become Derry Area. This is also when the Derry Township Golden Eagles and the Derry Borough Rams combined forces because of the school merger, and became the Derry Area Trojans.
Once Skubek reached that 30-year milestone, he decided that 50 years sounded like a well-rounded number, and continued gathering information.
“At 50 years I quit,” he said, “but I kept all the newspapers I got.”
Then, in 2002, Skubek decided to pick up where he left off and update the anthology to the present. That’s when he also made the decision to expand his collection with the photos he discovered he could make on the microfilm machine.
There is one section of the collection of which Skubek is particularly proud of, at the beginning of the 1943 season.
The Golden Eagles played at a field at the current location of the middle school back then. They were playing a game against Bell Township, who, because of the war, could not find a suitable male head coach.
Instead of foregoing the season, the school district agreed to allow Pauline Rugh, the physical education teacher, to take on the position. She became the first female ever to coach a boys football team, at 22 years old.
Skubek attended that game–he was 12 at the time–and it always stuck out in his head. So when he began putting together this history, he looked up the coach and wrote her a letter, telling of his recollections of the game. She sent a letter in reply, along with all of her newspaper clippings from her one year of coaching Bell Township football.
“She didn’t win a game that season,” Skubek noted, adding that Derry Township beat them 47-0 at that first game. “But I got to witness history being made.”
His collection now spans 80 years of football. He couldn’t begin to estimate how much money he put into this history project–each photograph that he made a copy of cost him 20 cents. Hours spent working on the collection have extended well over 1,000, he said.
The pages representing the first 50 years of his collection were duplicated and bound to make a copy that was donated to the high school and is now kept at Caldwell Library, although they do not include the extensions Skubek later added to the volumes.
Skubek was recognized once before for his collection, in 1983 by the football parents’ organization.
He said he’s sure most people know that he completed the first 50 years of the history, since it can be found at the library, “but most of them don’t know I’ve resumed the work,” he said.
Now, Skubek is getting ready to complete an index for the last 25 years of his collection.
“I have it right up to the last game played Friday night,” he noted, bringing the anthology to a massive 14 volumes of history.”
Skubek’s only regret is that Hunter, who died one year after Skubek began the collection, never saw one page of his work. “I thought I couldn’t do it without him, but I thought I should try,” he said.
There are many who are glad he did.
Not many know about Skubek’s work, not even those whose pasts he collected and logged into the history books.
Bob Crocker, 70, is a 1953 graduate of Derry Township High School. He knows Skubek, though admittedly not well, and said he was not aware that Skubek had such an extensive collection of information on his alma mater’s football program.
Crocker played for the Derry Township Golden Eagles for three years as fullback, and proudly noted that, “We were the Class A Westmoreland County champs in 1952.”
Crocker recalled another big game against Leechburg, where the Golden Eagles tied the game at 7 and knocked their opponents out of the championship. “They needed that win to win the WPIAL,” Crocker said, adding that Leechburg had an excellent halfback.
Crocker still follows Derry football, partly because he has a grandson on the team, Scott Chappell, a senior.
Bill Kohuth, 72, can also be found in the stands at Derry Area’s stadium.
Kohuth graduated from Derry Township after playing three years as left guard and linebacker.
“We had a great team,” Kohuth fondly recalled. “I played with a bunch of great guys and have a lot of great memories.”
He said his team lost once to other local rival Latrobe, but tied them the next game.
Warren Rugh has spent a good deal of his life on the gridiron. He graduated from Derry Township in 1942, playing four years as halfback.
Rugh, 82, now lives in New Kensington, but fondly recalls his days living and playing in Derry.
“We had some great football teams over there,” he noted, adding that they went 10-1 his senior year. “All through school we had good ball clubs.”
Rugh said he briefly knows of Skubek and his work, and had quite a few stories to tell of his days as a Golden Eagle.
Harry Strong was another friend and fellow player.
“We were friends all through high school,” Rugh said. “He was a year older, and his senior year, he went to St. Vincent Prep. We played a game against them and I ran 75 yards for a touchdown right were he was.
“He spent that night at my house and I saw that he was all taped up with two broken ribs, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s why I got that touchdown!'”
Rugh doesn’t often get over this way to watch Derry play, but he continues to officiate high school football. The past four years, he has run the clock for games, and in the past has worked as a rule interpreter, but still does a few games down on the field.
Troy Balega, 38, has also extended his love of the game beyond his playing days at Derry.
He now coaches the 12- and 13-year-olds for the Derry Midget football program, but also has fond memories of his days as a Trojan.
A 1985 graduate, Balega spent 10 years playing the sport, and was a tailback and defensive back during his high school years.
He said the best game he ever played in was during his junior year, against Mt. Pleasant, a formidable team with an unbeaten record. Derry beat them, 14-12.
“It was just a great effort,” he said. “They ended up 14-1 that season, so we were the only team to beat them.”
Balega continues to attend every home game to cheer on his alma mater.
At the upcoming meeting, Scalpello hopes to have a question and answer session with the football players in attendance.
One of the questions they want to address is how these former players perceive the game now, and how it has changed.
Crocker thinks the game has changed quite a bit.
“Now, if you don’t lift weights, you can’t compete,” he said. “If you don’t lift weights, the other guys are going to beat you every time. We never lifted weights.”
Crocker noted that “There’s more speed at the skill positions,” he said. “And size is different, too. When I played, I weighed 165 pounds. Now you see fullbacks weighing in at 200 or 205. ”
The way the game is played, Kohuth said is pretty much the same. “The kids are just bigger,” he said, “and they’re probably more advanced.”
Rugh noted the same. Back in his playing days, he said, “The only thing we may have had is intestinal fortitude. If you were little like me, you needed to be good athletically.”
Football’s future players will all be a part of Derry’s vast football history, as Skubek assured that he has no intention of giving up his pastime anytime soon.
But the collection will be donated to Caldwell Library, “when I’m ready to give it up,” he said.
“It’s a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Derry Area football,” Humphreys said.
Friends of Caldwell Library have invited Dan Skubek, Derry football historian, to its Oct. 9 meeting from 2-4:30 p.m., at the library in the senior high school.
Skubek will introduce his 14-volume collection of Derry Township and Derry Area football.
Peggy Scalpello, chairperson of the program committee, said the committee plans on asking men from each era of Derry football to help recognize Skubek for the work he’s done.
“We’re trying to get at least one person from each decade,” Scalpello said. “We’d just like people to ask questions and tell stories.”
The current Derry Area Trojan team will also be invited.
Scalpello said the committee plans to give away a Derry Trojan football basket, and may hand out prizes to some of the football players in attendance.
The public is invited to attend, and refreshments will be served.