Bald Eagle Area celebrates 50th anniversary of 1963 undefeated football team
WINGATE — To honor Bald Eagle Area’s first undefeated team of 1963, players and coaches who have earned that distinction will be introduced Friday evening during halftime of the BEA-Huntingdon football game at Alumni Stadium in Wingate.
BEA’s only other undefeated season came in 1985, when the Eagles posted a 10-0-1 record. The 20-20 tie game was with Philipsburg-Osceola and occurred in week eight that season. The game was played at Philipsburg’s Veteran Stadium. BEA entered the game at 7-0 while P-O was 5-2.
Before the BEA jointure became a reality in 1952, there were rivalries between the larger of the communities within the school district, i.e., Howard and Port Matilda, at each end of Centre County. Success on the playing field in all sports enabled the various factions to melt into one successful sports team.
The Bald Eagle Area School District extends north of its Wingate location to the western branch of the Susquehanna River. Formed in 1952, the district is the largest, geographically, of the four school districts located entirely in Centre County. The District is comprised of the boroughs of Howard, Milesburg, Port Matilda, Snow Shoe and Unionville, and the townships of Boggs, Burnside, Howard, Huston, Snow Shoe, Union and Worth, and encompasses nearly 343 square miles.
With that much area to cover and shortly after the merging of the various areas that make up the Bald Eagle Area School District, it’s easy to see why there would be a little friction between the areas. Before the merger, Howard and Port Matilda and all the area between the two, had their own school and a natural rivalry among one another.
“Number one, we had fantastic coaching in the early days of the jointure,” explained quarterback Paul Haas. “The Eagles (had) to work as a single unit no matter where the players called home. And back in those days we didn’t have an activities bus like they do today. Back in the 60s if you stayed after school for practice, you had to find your own way home. Thankfully we had parents, coaches, friends, you name it, that would be able to pick us up for a ride home.”
The prelude to the first undefeated team in 1963 came a year before when the Eagles posted a 7-1-1 record under head coach Ron Signorino. BEA had 20 underclassmen that would form the nucleus of the undefeated 1963 team.
Ironically, Signorino would depart the Bald Eagle valley, after posting a 15-1-1 two-year stint, the following season and head to Toms River South where he would become a hugely successful coach from 1964-78 and also become a member of the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
“We were part of the baby boomer generation,” laughed quarterback Haas, and one of the driving forces behind the reunion this weekend. “We had a tremendous amount of athletes in that huge group of underclassmen that were so successful in junior high and then junior varsity. We just knew from our success in 1962 that our senior year could be something very successful.”
Besides Signorino, the assistant coaches were Al Hagg and Ken McMullen, along with junior high coaches Jim Settle and Joe Kustenbauter.
The team consisted of: (Seniors) Barry Ellenberger, Tom Grieb, Mike Condo, Jay Doherty, Joel Weston, Bill Pletcher, Dick Taylor, Joe Guyer, Ken Hall, Dan Riser, Terry Dorman, Dan Yearick, Paul Haas, Larry Weaver, Criss Brower, Larry Dyke, John Glasgow, Gary Weaver, Gary Confer and Gary Dyke. Juniors were Bob Watson, Gene Confer and Bob Long. Sophomores were Andy Confer, Bob Stonebraker and Terry Yearick.
“What was amazing about that '63 team was we played several juniors that got a lot of playing time as well as three key sophomores that played a lot, and went on to be terrific athletes,” Haas said of the makeup of the squad.
During the 1960s, most teams ran their plays off of the play calling of the quarterback, which BEA had in Haas and Barry Ellenberger, instead of waiting for a substitute to bring in the next play, Haas or Ellenberger would make the call. It was a ‘hurry up offense” before it became fashionable in today’s football.
The Eagles run included starting the season with five straight wins over Bald Eagle-Nittany, 18-13; Lock Haven. 34-13; State College, 21-6; Moshannon Valley, 41-7 and West Branch, 49-7.
After that great start, BEA ran into a determined Chief Logan team, now part of the Mifflin County team, and the game ended in a 26-26 tie with Chief Logan on the BEA one-foot line when the clock clicked to all zeros. The tie would be the only blemish on Bald Eagle’s season of 8-0-1.
Following the disappointing tie, BEA would stop Bellefonte 7-0, on Condo’s 76-yard run, and end the undefeated season with a 42-6 romp over Tussey Mountain and a 20-13 win over Jersey Shore.
Haas credits the Eagles ability to sustain long drives in all of their games that led to Bald Eagle Area wearing down the opposing defenses en route to the undefeated season and a two-year run of 15-1-1.
“We were able to put together 10-11 play drives and if we stalled out we had a Division 1 punter in Barry Ellenberger,” explained Haas. “Ellenberger averaged over 40 yards a punt and was able to hang the punts long enough for the punt team to get in position to make sure there would be no return. The only punter I’ve ever seen that was Barry’s equal in this area was (late Bellefonte coach) Bill Luther’s son (Bob) and he could really boom the kicks.”
But when push came to shove, it all came down to the role Condo would play. As Condo went, so went the Eagles.
“Gee’s, he must have had 10-11 runs over 50 yards during that season for touchdowns,” Haas said of Condo’s exploits. “And if he didn’t break loose for long runs, we would hit him with little swing pass and he would go the distance, sometimes 60-70 yards (like the 76-play against Bellefonte). With Mike (Condo) it didn’t matter if he scored through the air or on the ground, he could and did it all.”
Under first-year coach Signorino, the 1962 Eagles knew they had something special with the innovations of their new coach. The 7-1-1 season would only serve as a precursor of what would follow in 1963.
“We entered 1963 on a six-game winning streak,” explained Haas. “And (we) knew we could have an even better year with all of the key pieces still intact. That team really set us up to have an even better year. Players like Rabie Daughenbaugh, Jerry Spackman and Andy Burns ... I could name more but the foundation was built to have an even better year in ’63 than what happened in ’62.
“What a lot of people don’t understand about those early years was we were a football team in name only,” explained Haas. “There was no stadium at Wingate. We would practice at Howard and the players would come from all over the district for practice. Remember, the school district went beyond Port Matilda, Howard, Snow Shoe, Pine Glen, etc., we covered a lot of territory for such a small school.
“But I credit the coaching staff of being able to put all those different areas within the school district and create one fantastic football team,” said Haas. “Remember the school district covered 343 square miles and that’s a lot to cover for one school district and be able to meld all the different personalities in to one fantastic football team with no complaints of this and that. We were all there to create what we felt could be a team for the ages at Bald Eagle Area High School.”
What made the BEA football so successful was the offense and defensive strategy that the Eagles incorporated into their game plan that was patterned off Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners teams of the 50s and 60s.
“Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson’s philosophy of football was an emphasis on running far more plays than their opponents, allowing them to dictate the pace and tempo of the contest,” said Haas of BEA’s success. “This up-tempo, hard charging offensive philosophy of not huddling to call the plays is a logical extension of what our coaching staff took from Oklahoma’s playbook. We (Ellenberger, the other quarterback in the two-head signal caller BEA, called all their own plays to perfection and success). We used those innovations that stretched back to coaching legend Bud Wilkinson’s adoption of a hurry-up offense in the mid-1950s. We called our offense the ‘fireball’ but it was basically the same as what Oklahoma ran and obviously it was successful. While the offense ran a ‘fireball’ offense, inside/outside belly series, the defense relied on the basic 5-2 defense that was also patterned off Oklahoma.
“Our coaches felt that when we had the ball, there was no reason to let defenses go into a huddle and call a play against us,” Haas said of the Eagles offensive prowess. “The so-called ‘hurry-up’ offense that everybody did in the last two minutes of a half there was no reason not to do that for the whole game. We just had to be in better shape and that’s why we where so successful. We always felt we were in better shape than our opponents.”
Following the season, Mike Condo would become Bald Eagle Area’s first ever all-state athlete in any sport and a Big 33 player. Condo then took his talents to the next level and went on to start for three years at the University of Minnesota (which won their last Big 10 title in his senior season with the Gophers).