Copyright © 2017 John F. Oyler
December 28, 2017
Bridgeville High School, 1942 and 1943
We had intended to devote our December Bridgeville Area Historical Society “Second Tuesday” workshop to the Bridgeville High School classes of 1942, ‘43’ and ’44, but soon determined that we had far too much information available than could be compressed into one hour. We barely got through 1943; ’44 will have to wait until next month.
As is our custom we opened the session with a discussion of the times. The Fall of 1941 was indeed unusual. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion that we would soon enter World War II eventually; the attack on Pearl Harbor initiated the inevitable with a shock.
The football season started that Fall with a surprisingly easy 15 to 0 drubbing of Carnegie. Ray Zaney started the scoring with a safety, followed by touchdowns by Jack McMahon and Bruno Filippi. The right end on the team was Ralph Mikus; he was honored by the Pittsburgh paper for his scholastic achievements. According to the article he planned to go on to Carnegie Tech after graduation.
Another member of that team was right guard William Shadish. He would go on to earning a medical degree during his service with the U. S. Army, then have a memorable experience in the Korean War. After being captured while treating wounded soldiers he spent over one thousand days in POW camps where he ministered to hundreds of ill and wounded fellow prisoners. His exploits were recorded in a remarkable book, “When Hell Froze Over”.
The team went on to complete an undefeated, untied season with an impressive 20 to 0 win over South Fayette, only to add the term “uninvited” to their resume when their schedule failed to produce sufficient “Gardner points” to qualify for the playoffs. Coach Neil Brown contended this was his best team ever.
The Senior play that year was “One Mad Night“, a ”mystery-farce in three acts” starring Mary Martha Holman and Bill Barbish. In those days a high school play was a major social/cultural event in the community, something no one wanted to miss.
The basketball team had a successful season, ending in a tie with South Fayette for the Section 12 title. They won the playoff comfortably with a 40 to 33 win at Dormont, led by a guard named Kovach. When we asked Russ Kovach which of his relatives this was, he said it had to be some other family.
A day later my brother solved the mystery. One of the World War II fatalities in his book, “Almost Forgotten”, was a twenty-year old ex-BHS basketball player named Robert Kovack. His name had been Anglicized from Kovacevich. His family lived on Vanadium Road in Kirwan Heights. A member of the First Marine Division he lost his life on Palau, one of the many tragedies of the war.
As we progressed through the evening my brother identified far too many other BHS students who ultimately lost their lives in the war, including Bob Baldini, Bob Bogdeweicz, Alex Asti, and Elmer Straka. It is quite sad to imagine these boys in high school with their whole lives ahead of them, knowing that their dreams would never be fulfilled.
An interesting newspaper clipping, dated February 4, 1942, reported a feud between Burgess John Graham (also a physical education teacher at the high school) and the Borough Council regarding corruption in the Borough. According to Mr. Graham, “The town’s wide open and even the high school students are booking numbers!” He blamed it on the influence of the twenty-two pinball machines in the teenage hangouts in Bridgeville and had them confiscated. The Council did not support his action and had the machines returned to the establishments that housed them.
A rich source of information about the high school during the war years was the Bridger, a monthly eight-page pamphlet published by the students. The Historical Society has a copy of the March 1942 issue; it is number two of volume one of the Bridger. We would like to have number one, not to mention any other issues of the Bridger during that era.
This issue reported on the basketball season, announced the Honor Roll (which included eighth grader Mary Weise), and exhorted the students to write letters to alumni in the service. The Junior play, “Professor, How Could You?”, was scheduled for the next month, starring Bob McKee. I am sure I saw the play; a family friend, June Klein, had a part in it.
A particularly funny item in the Bridger is a poem describing “Pop” Ferree “clearing the hall”. Anyone who knew Mr. Ferree has to chuckle at the spectacle of him trying to get the students into their classrooms.
BHS capped off a successful sports year with an impressive showing in the WPIAL Class B Field and Track championships, running away with the title. Sam Camp was the big star, with several record setting performances.
There were eighty one graduates in the Class of 1942, true members of the Greatest Generation. We are all grateful to them for the way they accepted the challenges of World War II, fought it to a successful conclusion, and came home to begin productive lives as civilians.
The next item in the evening’s presentation was a tongue-in-cheek look at the contributions of the Home Front to the war effort, as exemplified by the Junior Commandos. As a promotional gimmick one of the Pittsburgh daily papers started an organization by that name to provide young people with an opportunity to do something constructive.
Eddie Croft, a master opportunist, took advantage of his charisma and convinced the school administration to let him draft the entire student body into the Commandos. The September 21, 1942, edition of the paper has an entire page devoted to his efforts.
The upper half of the page has a pair of photos of high school students, each giving the classic Commando two-fingered salute. At the bottom is a mob scene – the entire grade school student body crammed into the center hall on the first floor of Washington School. I was a fifth-grader that year and can be seen prominently near the back of the group. The Commandos did get credit for collecting scrap metal and paper, and provided Colonel Croft with a lot of exposure in the newspapers.
Thanks to the blocking of left tackle Ed Maruzewski, fullback Chuck Beadling scored the only points in BHS’ win over Class A opponent, Canonsburg. A few weeks later Maruzewski was moved to halfback where he proceeded to run rough shod over the opposition, leading the team to another undefeated season. The 33 to 0 drubbing of South Fayette featured four touchdowns by Maruzewski.
This record earned the locals a trip to the Class B playoffs, culminating in a 12 to 0 victory over Leetsdale and Bridgeville’s first WPIAL Class B championship. It was a great achievement for Coach Kass Kovalchek in his only year as BHS head coach. Neil Brown had departed after the previous school year for Har-Brack Union High School. Two weeks later Kovalchek left for the Navy Pre-Flight School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was replaced by BHS alumnus Jack Wight.
The Historical Society is fortunate to have one copy of the Bridger for that school year – November 1942, number two of volume II. Again, any donations of Bridgers from that era would be appreciated. Once again, the Honor Roll included ninth-grader Mary Weise, as well as her older brother, Chuck. In this issue the gossip column was entitled “Water Under the Bridge”, a title we have appropriated for this column. Advertisers for this issue included Weise”s “Greeting Card Store”, jeweler Peter Strasser, and the Cricket Shop.
The basketball team was edged out 24 to 20 by Clark High, losing the Section l2 championship for the first time in many years. Similarly, the soccer team lost the WPIAL title to South Fayette, because of a 1 to 0 loss. Track and Field was a different story however as BHS repeated as Class B champions, this time led by Homer Duchess. Following the last meet Coach John Graham left for the U. S. Navy and an assignment as a physical instructor.
The graduating class of 1943 was eighty-five strong, with most of the young men ticketed for induction into the various branches of the service, an experience many of them would not survive. They too are remembered as belonging to the Greatest Generation.
The next “Second Tuesday” workshop is scheduled for 7:00 pm, January 9, 2018 in the History Center. We will attempt to cover the Classes of 1944 and 1945.