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Paw Prints, Rotten Tomatoes and Other Memories of State High vs. Bellefonte

by on November 16, 2017 5:00 AM

You’d have to scratch your head and check the records to find a high school football season that provided as much combined success to State College and Bellefonte as 2017.

Both local schools are involved in PIAA playoff games this weekend with State High holding a 9-2 record and Bellefonte sitting at 10-2. And the Red Raiders are tickled pink to have captured their first district title since 1999.  

But what about that odd phrase — the “combined success” of State High and Bellefonte? Do these old rivals still have anything in common? Well, the answer is “No,” and to senior citizens like me that’s a crying shame.

Folks my age or older remember when Bellefonte and State College were the Hatfields and McCoys of Centre County — perennial rivals who battled for the “Iron Kettle” and a year’s worth of bragging rights. Unfortunately, the population growth of State College led to an inequality on the football field. Always a strong football school for its size, Bellefonte could no longer compete consistently with State High. The last game between the two schools was played in 1999, and State College won, 62-0, despite activation of a mercy rule. That was a strong Bellefonte team — yes, the last to win a district title before this year’s squad — but still outmatched against the bigger school.   

Although the ending of the football rivalry was unavoidable, it was also tragic. Gone were all the formal traditions that had developed between 1890 and 1999 — the pep rallies, bonfires and parades. Also gone were the mischievous capers that stemmed from Centre County’s zenith of school spirit.  

So here we are in November, the typical time for the Kettle game to be played. And I’ve decided not to let the month go by without enjoying a sentimental review of this annual football classic.

BURNING PLAYERS IN EFFIGY

For some reason, I couldn’t come up with too many stories of mischief done by Bellefonte kids. Maybe with all those lawyers hanging around the courthouse, folks in our county seat fear that the statute of limitations on juvenile pranks has not expired.  

But I know the Red Raiders weren’t total angels, and I am especially interested in one custom from their annual bonfire that I mentioned in an earlier column. Bucky Quici, a 1970 Bellefonte graduate who later taught and coached at his alma mater, told me this: “We always had a State College player (in effigy) with his jersey number on it and it would be burned in the bonfire. If you did that now, your school would probably be suspended for something.”

As for State College antics, I discovered plenty of material that brought back the spirit of Iron Kettle week. In fact, I only needed to look within one spunky family to satisfy my hunger for humorous yarns. Don’t worry, I’m not writing about your family, unless you answer to the name “Breon.”

We’ll start with Betsy Breon, a member of State High’s Class of 1959. How fitting it is to talk about her Iron Kettle experience since she is married to Jim Williams, a classmate who played for State High in the rivalry game and later coached on both sidelines, as a Bellefonte assistant coach and a State College head coach.

ROTTEN TOMATOES AND A ’56 CHEVY

I’ll let Betsy tell her own story. But to get the full effect of her commentary, promise me you’ll imagine her pausing every 20-30 seconds to giggle with delight.

“It was the football season of 1958, our senior year before we graduated in 1959. We had just beaten Bellefonte (34-0), and the game was played there. What in the world was in our minds, I have no idea, but we thought it would be fun to hop into our friend’s ’56 Chevy and cruise the streets of Bellefonte saying, ‘Yay, yay, yay, we beat Bellefonte.’

“And we did indeed do that. All over Bellefonte, we did that. And then we came down the main street and took a left to go past the Hofbrau and the Catholic church. But we never quite made it to the church. … Someone had collected old tomatoes that should have been discarded.”

And at that point, we’ll let the driver, Brenda Whiteside Smith, resume the story. “As I turned onto Bishop Street, we had our windows open and the girls were all hanging out and carrying on. The next thing I knew, I had tomato all over my face and then I hit a parked car. I ran right into the rear of it.”   

“No one was injured very badly,” says Betsy Breon Williams. “We just had some bumps and bruises, and our egos were injured badly.”

But any damage to the egos of Betsy, Brenda, Renie Scott Morrison, Carol Watrous Naspinsky and Cynthia Rogers Nye was temporary. Today, all you hear in Betsy’s voice is a youthful enthusiasm that suggests she’s back in high school.

“We were so excited,” she says. “You know, back in those days there was nothing better than beating that rival.  It was a grand celebration.  It was just so much fun!”


ANOTHER BREON CAPER

Twelve years later, Betsy’s first cousin, Barbara Breon, played a key role in the most famous pre-game escapade in Iron Kettle history — the famous painting of paw prints along Benner Pike. Once again, I’ll let an impish Breon tell her own story, but again, you’ll need to imagine periodic pauses for Barbie’s giggling, incredibly similar to that of her cousin.

“One of the kids in my class said, ‘Why don’t we whitewash Little Lion paw prints coming out of the school all the way down the highway and onto the field (in Bellefonte)?’”  

“So in my car, there were Ricky Morris, Tommy Glantz — his parents had a farm — me and Margie Solic.  I think we set out at 2:30 or 3 a.m.  We started at our high school, and we had whitewash paint and we made great big stencils. We filled up Tommy’s milk cans from the farm with whitewash and we had a bunch of brushes.

“So we started from the high school and every so many yards, we’d all jump out of the cars, whitewash a paw print and then we’d all get back in the cars and drive a little further and jump out. It was like Keystone Cops.

“And, dang, we made it down Benner Pike and... all the way to the field in Bellefonte. When we were coming back, leaving the field, that’s where we got caught by the Bellefonte Police. Most of us escaped, however I got caught. And they said, ‘We’re calling your parents.’

“So now it’s 4 in the morning. When they called my dad, they said, ‘This is the Bellefonte Police. Do you know where your daughter is?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, she’s painting paw prints to Bellefonte, and I told her she’d get caught.’ And then he said, ‘I’ll be right there.’"

‘DADDY’ IN THE POLICE STATION

“My dad was so funny. He walks in the police station and I go, ‘Daddy!’ He goes, ‘Don’t you ‘Daddy’ me!’ And then he says, ‘I’ll take it from here, officers. She’ll be disciplined.’  But when we got in the car, we laughed all the way home. My dad was always a party waiting to happen.”

But even after Barbie and her friends survived police and parental responses, they still weren’t out of the woods. “There was a big thing with the (school) administration,” she recalls. “They were talking about suspending us. And I’m going, “Oh my gosh, is this going to be on my permanent record?

“So anyway, they decided they would make us wash away the whitewash. They made us scrub off the paw prints that were on school property. So of course, the yearbook (photographer) was there, and we’re scrubbing and they’re taking pictures of us and we’re laughing — ‘Hee, hee, hee.’ ”

A MONUMENT AND A PLAQUE

What was initially viewed with disapproval by State High administrators was rather quickly embraced.  Residents of the community were impressed by the ingenuity of the kids, and the football team responded to their boldness by trouncing Bellefonte, 44-12.

Today, if you visit State High’s north building, you’ll notice a small paw print monument outside the gymnasium (a gift of the Class of 1971), and you may notice a plaque in the display case beside the administrative offices. That plaque is entitled “The Story of the Night the Little Lion Marched Into Bellefonte!” and it contains the names of 14 students who participated in the escapade.

Prominent among those names, of course, is Barbara Breon, who coincidentally married one of my fraternity brothers, a fun guy named Craig Anthony. When asked about the parallels between her Iron Kettle adventure and that of her cousin, she admits the obvious: “Mischief does run in our family.”

And, like her cousin Betsy, Barbara Breon Anthony describes her memories in a way that helps us appreciate the Iron Kettle game and wish it was still alive. “Oh my gosh,” she says, “what a night. It was so hilarious. That was the best time. It was so much fun!”

 



Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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