Accounts that Some Guy Likes to Follow on Twitter Pertaining to High School Football in Pennsylvania

This was a big year for PFH – I gained somewhere around 1,000 followers, which is pretty good for an idiot with a Twitter account. Thanks to all of you who have joined in and reached out. I’m in the early stages of revamping the blog you’re currently reading, primarily by pushing for consistent posts to cover the history of football in our great Commonwealth. I have plenty to write about (and I’ve already started), but I want to put out the Bat Signal for submissions, as well. If you’re interested in providing an article for this blog, just get in touch via Twitter (@pa_fb_history) or email (pafbhistory@gmail.com). The only stipulations are that your topic pertains to high school football history in Pennsylvania and that you take care to write it from an objective point of view.  That’s it.

The main thing I wanted to do in this post was to recognize just a few of the people who make the online community surrounding Pennsylvania high school football fun to be a part of (at least it is most of the time). Not that I didn’t think these people existed beforehand, but my eyes were opened in 2019 to the huge number of people who provide amazing coverage of high school football in our state. My aim here is not to mention everyone who has done a great job; that would take far too long and I would still miss people. But I wanted to highlight a few writers (and others) who have found a way to make the cesspool called Twitter enjoyable through their passion for the game they cover.

    • Sykotyk (@sykotyk): The D.B. Cooper of high school football – anonymous and fascinating (although I’m fairly certain he’s not the type to hijack an airplane). I wouldn’t know Sykotyk if I bumped into him at a 6-man football game in eastern Montana, but I do know that he: (a) Could tell me everything about both of those 6-man teams and (b) Would do so with an undying passion for scholastic football. The man is incredible. He logs thousands of miles, nearly one-hundred games and innumerable stats, pictures, details, anecdotes and other bits of knowledge each season. He’s my favorite follow on Twitter and should rank highly for anyone else who loves high school football. One last thing: while this can be really difficult to judge in some situations on social media, Sykotyk is clearly a solid guy. Follow him (just not literally unless you have access to lots and lots of gasoline).
    • Chris Masse (@docmasse): If it weren’t for Cheltenham’s shocking run to the 5A state title game, the biggest story in this year’s playoffs would have probably been the Cinderella run made by Jersey Shore. A team with little historical success played in a few instant-classic games (especially a 3OT win over Pottsville on Nov. 22) before falling to Dallas in the 4A semifinals. And during it all, Masse was there covering every second of it. Following a local team’s surprisingly deep run into a state tournament can lead some sportswriters to sound a lot like fanboys, but Masse avoided this trap while conveying the excitement and awe that followed a town’s once-in-a-generation-type team. Doc gets bonus points for his detailed reporting of statistics and milestones reached throughout the season.
    • PGH Sports History (@PGH_Sports_Date): Hey, those of us in the sports history niche need to stick together, right? PGHSH covers all sports in the Pittsburgh area, but it’s one of the most reliably awesome high school football history sites around. You may not be a Pirates/Penguins/Steelers/Pitt/etc. fan, but the account is worth its weight in gold for its coverage of both the WPIAL and City League’s histories. Looking for newspaper clippings from the City League’s only state championship? Here you go. Classic articles from the great Mike White? PGHSH has those, too.
    • Bob Greenburg (@BobGreenburg): Bob recently tweeted the number of years he’s been covering high school sports in District 10 and he’s been doing it two years longer than I’ve been alive. Don’t worry, Bob – I’m only 11. He’d likely be the first to tell you that he’s outspoken about issues in scholastic athletics. And I didn’t include him on the list because I always agree with him, because I don’t. But the fact that he’s one of my favorite follows despite not always agreeing with him speaks to the respect I have for his historical perspective. Bob also is the author of one of my must-read Twitter threads each week where he strings together interesting historical and statistical tidbits pertaining to that week’s games. Here’s to many more years of being the voice of D10.
    • Pennsylvania Football News (@PaFootballNews): I’d find it hard to believe that a Pennsylvania high school football fan isn’t following PFN. Billy Splain and his cast of thousands blanket the state each week to report on games from every nook and cranny of the Commonwealth. They also extensively promote the college recruiting side of things, which isn’t a primary interest of mine but is to many others (not to mention the players themselves). I also included this account for nostalgic reasons. This tiny, almost completely unknown blog that you’re reading right now wouldn’t exist if my dad – who has never been much of a reader – hadn’t bought a PFN Resource Guide many years ago. It may be the only book my dad has ever purchased and I’m not sure how much he ever read it. However, I do know that his son absolutely devoured it. The work begun in the 1990s as a printed newsletter by Rich Vetock and Tom Elling continues today as likely the most visible media outlet devoted to the sport in Pennsylvania. For those of you who weren’t around then, this is what PFN looked like around the time my household got the internet and well before social media existed. Unfortunately, the link is broken to the page listing teams with open dates, so you’re out of luck if you need to find an opponent for the 2000 season.
    • Others deserving mention are: Mike White (@mwhiteburgh), Tom Reisenweber (@ETNreisenweber), EasternPAFootball (@EPAFootball), WesternPAFootball.net (@WPAFootball), Mike Drago (@MDrago59), Jeff Reinhart (@JeffReinhart77), The Steelers n’at (@thesteelersnat), D9Sports.com (@D9Sports), WPIAL Football Zone (@AJWPIAL), Shayne Schafer (@shayne_schafer), & West Perry Football Stats (@wpfbstats).

Again, I’ve missed many, many awesome people who cover the game incredibly well. Apologies if you’re not listed; it just isn’t possible to mention everyone who helps to build this community around a game we all love. There is a comment section below – drop a shoutout to someone who isn’t listed here.

 

Some Early High School Football Games in Pennsylvania

The first known high school football games in Pennsylvania were played in 1885, per the Dr. Roger Saylor football record spreadsheets. Shortlidge-Media Academy played Pennsylvania Military College twice, losing 15-5 and 16-2. However, I may have found a few games that pre-date these contests and there’s a chance that further research could uncover more.

I tweeted out several clippings of games this evening, but I wanted to put them all in one post here for future reference. These were found using a simple search to cover years in the late 1870s and early 1880s; there may be more games out there for me to find in the future, but these are the games (or reports of cancelled games) that I’ve found so far.

Before I list the clippings, it’s important to go over a few things. First, because newspapers in the 1870s and 1880s were both hyper-local in their focus and not always full of detail, I’ve included some clippings here that may or may not actually be high school football games. I’ve had to make judgment calls here because local newspapers would often simply refer to “the football team” or “our football team.” If the newspaper is located in a town with a college, it’s tough to say whose football team it actually was. In this era, there is an additional layer of uncertainty because football teams may have also represented a local athletic club – such as a YMCA – or the town itself. Without further details, it is not entirely clear in some cases whether the game actually refers to the high school team, but I’ve included the games I’ve found that could at least plausibly refer to a scholastic team.

And about that idea of a “scholastic team”: in the 19th century, this concept was typically loose at best. Remember, this is well before interscholastic athletics had any kind of oversight or supervision to check the competitive urges of academic institutions. Pennsylvania didn’t have anything of the sort until the WPIAL was founded in 1906 and the PIAA didn’t come about for nearly another decade after that. What happens when teams want to win and there is a Wild West scenario in terms of eligibility requirements? Ringers. Teams with players in their early-to-mid twenties and even older. Players from other towns. Players who don’t – and maybe haven’t ever – attend that school. Today, teams with rosters like this are unheard of, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were widespread. While they may have not been pure scholastic teams, everyone seemed to be playing the same game from a roster perspective until at least the late 1890s, so there is still an apples-to-apples comparison in my opinion. For this reason, I will still consider these high school teams to be scholastic programs.

Finally, there is a bit of a gray area in terms of which games should “count” as high school games in the pre-World War I era. This is often one of the reasons why a school’s all-time record may differ depending on the source. I tend to stick pretty closely to the games Dr. Saylor included in his team records, but this approach isn’t without its questions. Saylor noted that he only included games against academic institutions, meaning he omitted games against athletic clubs, railroad workers (seriously), and others. But this standard also means that teams have “official” (by Saylor’s reckoning) games against colleges, university JV or freshmen teams, trade schools, and others.

Now, onto the games:

Nov. 11, 1879: Pennsylvania Military Academy vs. unknown university. Didn’t I tell you that 19th century newspapers weren’t big on details? This article spends multiple paragraphs discussing the PMA football program and its recent game, but fails to mention who the team actually played. PMA is also almost certainly the same institution that Shortlidge-Media Academy played in 1885, which Saylor refers to as Pennsylvania Military College. It can be debated whether PMA itself at this point in time was a high school program, but I’m including them for now.

Nov. 24, 1879: Pennsylvania Military Academy vs. Chester HS (game scheduled, but not played). PMA later became Widener University. This clipping clearly states that the cadets were to play “high school boys,” but does not indicate which high school they would represent. Because PMA was located in Chester and the article was printed in The Delaware County Daily Times, the assumption would be Chester High School.

Nov. 17, 1882: Wilkes-Barre Academy vs. unknown university. Another game in which the article did not mention the names of both teams participating. Saylor’s record spreadsheets don’t seem to have a mention of a Wilkes-Barre Academy, but towns often had “academies” that ended up evolving into that community’s public school. I had at first thought it could have been an early incarnation of either King’s or Wilkes, but both of those universities were founded much later.

Nov. 30, 1883: Indiana Normal School vs. Indiana HS. Indiana Normal is now known as Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The article describes the Normal school playing against a team known simply as “Indiana.” Whether this team was comprised of Indiana High School students or community members is largely a moot point; as I said before, having “high school” teams that represented the community at large was commonplace during this era. Out of the four articles I found, this was the only one to include a final score, which reflects the scoring system used at the time (Normal 3 goals, Indiana 1 goal).

I’m going to continue researching this time period to see if I can come up with more articles that reference scholastic football games. I find it difficult to imagine that multiple high schools only played one or two games over a 10-year period, so it’s almost a certainty that other games were held during this era. Whether reports of those games made it into print is another question, however.

 

All-Time State Champions

One of the more interesting and contentious discussions revolving around the history of high school football in Pennsylvania is that of historical state champions.  As we approach championship weekend for 2016, let’s take a look back at the teams determined by one measurement to be state champions throughout the history of the sport in our state.

Much of the lore and tradition surrounding the culture of high school football comes from either hearing about or – if we had the chance – seeing teams considered to be “the best.”  Chances are, asking any number of fans across the state for their opinion on a particular season’s best team would yield a number of unique responses.  Calling a team “the best in the state” is inherently an extremely subjective exercise, especially for the years before 1988 when teams began settling the matter on the field through the state playoff brackets.  And in some ways, finding the “best” team from a given year isn’t actually all that important.  Many fans of football follow the sport because it’s important to them through a variety of personal connections.  If a flawless and all-encompassing measure of team quality existed (and I apologize, but it never will), would that diminish the enjoyment a fan experienced from watching a team that was rated, say, 8th best in the state that year?  I doubt it.  But the major aim of this site is to collect and record as much historical information about high school football in Pennsylvania, and a list of yearly champions is certainly a crucial part of the story of the game.

Relative to the rest of the country, Pennsylvania began crowning state champions on the field very late in its history.  From the beginning of high school football in the state (which dates as far back as at least 1885) until 1987, all teams considered to be state champions were either:

a.) Purely mythical champions or anecdotally considered to be the best in the state that year

or

b.) Rated the best by a variety of systems (the Saylor Rating System, the Gardner Points System, or another method).

That means that there is over a century of seasons in which the true state champion is up for debate, and always will be.  For the purposes of this site, the yearly champions of the Saylor Rating System will be included as that year’s state champion.  The list presented here is not meant to be an end-all, be-all compilation of the definitive best teams from each season.  Rather, it should be viewed as one perspective of the teams that earned the highest rating based on the same system.  The Saylor system was chosen because it rated teams yearly from 1887 until 1987, Pennsylvania’s final season without on-the-field champions.  The system isn’t perfect and the method Dr. Saylor used to determine the ratings is not known, but it is a consistent, statewide and historically comprehensive measurement.  As much as I would love to be able to present a perfect list of inarguable state champions, the fact is that the uncertainty and debate surrounding who truly was the best team that year is probably as important, if not more so, than actually knowing which team it was.  Having a definitive state champion for every year pre-1987 would erase some of the nostalgia and mythology that surrounds teams from hazy, long-ago seasons.

With all of that being said, here are some important things to note when looking at this list:

  1. The ratings presented here were originally created by Dr. Roger Saylor, a former Penn State professor.  The inspiration for this list stems from a copy of the 2012 Pennsylvania Football News Resource Guide that I own.  In it, the top ten teams based on Saylor Rating from each season from 1914-1987 were included.  That list was compiled by Hal Wilson and Bob Grube, with assistance from Dr. Saylor himself.  I want to stress that the information presented on this site was gathered independently of the PFN list, and thus there are a few differences between that one and the compilation you’ll see here:
    • The list on this site includes teams from 1887 through the present day.  I have included teams from all years in which a rating was derived (1885 and 1886 teams did not receive one from Saylor) and also all post-1987 teams to win on-the-field PIAA titles.  This gives the list you’ll see here a complete record of all state champions.
    • The PFN list is only complete statewide for 1939-1987.  Before 1939, the authors note that there are some missing teams from the western part of the state.  I have tried to include all teams statewide for all years since 1887, and this has allowed the list you’ll see here to fill in some missing pieces.
  2. Teams named state champions by this list up through the 1987 season held the highest Saylor Rating for that year.  I’ve combed through individual team files and recorded every team in state history to achieve a Saylor Rating of at least 500; in most seasons, a 500 rating puts a team in the top 15-18 teams in the state.  There have been at least 857 teams to earn a 500+ rating all-time.  For a few seasons in the 1800s, no team reached 500 points, so I searched every team for every year to find the highest rating for those seasons.  In a future post (or possibly a series of posts), I’ll break down the members of this “500 Club” in more detail.
  3. There are a few schools (namely Belle Vernon, Hampton, Kiski Prep, Lancaster McCaskey, Middletown, Shady Side Academy, Wyoming Seminary, and a few long-closed prep schools) that do not have ratings included in their files.  I don’t know why this is the case, but these schools will not be included because of the lack of this data.  If these ratings can be found, those schools will be added to the list.
  4. This list is mostly complete, but there is still data that is missing (see #2 above) or that possibly hasn’t been found yet.  Because of this, the list of state champions could potentially change if new information surfaces in the future.  This is a living document; new champions will be added each year and adjustments/corrections/additions will be added when found.
  5. Champions through 1987 are based on the Saylor System and champions from 1988 until today are the PIAA champions as determined by on-the-field state playoff competition.  That’s it.
  6. Only one team to earn a 500+ rating has been removed from this list.  The 1974 Aliquippa team earned a 567 rating, which would be the 3rd-highest in state history and was nearly 30 points higher than the three teams that tied for second place that season.  However, the team went 5-3-1 and didn’t play for a WPIAL title.  The year before, the Quips also went 5-3-1 and earned a rating of 467.  In 1975, they went 6-3 and earned a 466.  Because of this, I am strongly convinced that the rating for the 1974 team is a typo and chose not to include it on this list.  Historical ratings for Aliquippa can be viewed in the file shown here, under column DZ.

I’ll be devoting more posts based on this research, but please leave any comments or questions in the comments section below.  Without further ado, here’s the link to the list:

All-Time Pennsylvania State Champions

Players from PA High Schools in the NFL/AFL Draft

Through the end of the 2015 NFL season, Pennsylvania ranks 4th in the number of players produced by any state.  There have been 1,396 players from the Keystone State play professional football since 1920, and that number will grow this season as recent draft picks and undrafted signees appear in games during the 2016 season.

Birthplaces Table
Rk State # of Pros
# Active # of HOF
1 TX 2325 194 30
2 CA 2289 245 16
3 OH 1413 90 21
4 PA 1396 66 27
5 FL 1342 217 11
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/13/2016.

Of those nearly 1,400 players, at least 778 have been drafted into the NFL.  Another 67 were drafted into the AFL; many AFL draftees were also picked by NFL teams, meaning there are several players who were picked twice.  All of this data comes from Pro Football Reference, an incredible resource for a variety of statistics, including listings of the high schools attended by players throughout history.  I went through the pages of each of the listed Pennsylvania high schools and created a spreadsheet of players drafted into both the NFL and AFL.  You can view the lists of drafted players from Pennsylvania high schools here:

NFL Draftees from Pennsylvania High Schools

AFL Draftees from Pennsylvania High Schools

Note: Each player’s name links to his PFR page, if available.

Here’s where you come in:

While PFR is one of (if not the) best websites for historical football data anywhere, its listings of player high schools is far from perfect.  The most time-consuming part of this project was finding and correcting the high schools each player attended.  Most commonly, the error was a typo or misspelling of a school name (here’s the full list of high schools).  For example, East Pennsboro is listed twice – once for Mickey Shuler and once for Mickey Shuler, Jr. – because one entry lists the high school location as Enola and one has the location as East Pennsboro.  Both are referring to the same school, of course.  High schools themselves contained errors, too: former linebacker Micheal Barrow’s profile shows that he attended Homestead High School, which he did…except he graduated from the one outside of Miami, not the now-closed Homestead High School outside of Pittsburgh.

I’ve corrected these errors as completely as possible, but there are two issues that I’ll need your help addressing:

  1. Further corrections of high schools attended by draftees or any other incorrect information about that player
  2. Finding drafted players who do not have a PFR page

Point 2 is the biggest hurdle in making these lists 100% complete.  Players only show up for a high school if they have a PFR page, and a player only has a PFR page if he appeared in at least one NFL game.  There are surely countless Pennsylvania high school graduates who were drafted and did not appear in an NFL game and therefore do not have a PFR page.  These are the players who are missing from the lists I’ve compiled.  Many of these players are late-round picks or were chosen in the early days of the draft when it wasn’t uncommon for a player to be selected and choose not to pursue professional football (even if he was a high-round pick).  Here’s the page for the 1945 NFL Draft; all of the players without a linked name do not have a PFR page and therefore do not have a high school shown on the website.  Undoubtedly, at least a few of these players are Pennsylvania natives who need to be included in the NFL and AFL Draftee lists.

So, what can you do to help?

If you’re aware of a player from a high school who was drafted but isn’t included on one of the lists I’ve put together, send me his name, the approximate year he was drafted and any other vital information that may help find him.  You can comment on this post, tweet at me (@pa_fb_history) or email me at pafbhistory@gmail.com.  After using all of the info provided by PFR, a community-based research effort is the best way to make these lists as complete as possible.

Wins List Now Updated

Check out the Wins List tab at the top of the screen – all-time win totals for every program in Pennsylvania history are included in the table.  Several programs statewide are nearing milestone wins, including:

Easton, two away from 800

Jeannette, two away from 700

Northeast (Philadelphia) and Hollidaysburg, one away from 600

Roman Catholic, one away from 500

Northampton, three away from 500

…and many more.  Check it out and let me know if there are any errors that need corrected.