If you would ask an old timer one thing he would say to describe the Anthracite Coal Region of Eastern Pennsylvania some might tell you family while others might point to football. Arguably, these two things go hand-in-hand when talking about the Coal Region. One might even say that anyone who played, participated, coached, or was involved in any way in high school football was part of an even larger family. A unique type of family that transcends generations just as assuredly as one’s own biological family transcends generations. There is a rich history in these timeworn Appalachian Mountains that dates back to when King Coal ruled the area and produced some of the toughest, hardnosed, determined, people on the planet. Many of us from this area are proud to trace our lineage back to the days when our area was populated by immigrants from all over Europe and abroad. Well, Whitey Williams story starts out much the same way but with a few unusual twists and turns along the way. His is one of family that extends far beyond the little coal towns and patches with names like Coaldale, Mahanoy City, Tamaqua, Mount Carmel, and Shamokin. You see Whitey’s family has spread out across the country but still tying their roots back to the Anthracite Coal Region. So, sit back, nestle into your favorite reading chair and get ready to read a little coal region lore.
I started our conversation by asking Whitey to first tell me a little about his own family history and what it was like growing up in the Anthracite Region.
Whitey: “I found this.” he said handing me a few sheets of yellowed and worn copy that must have been printed a number of years ago. He began again, “Just to give you a little background on my family. This family history goes back to 1930. That’s my Aunt Ruth and my Dad, they’re brother and sister. I can show you some pictures. But it goes Reitz, Rex, Becker, Williams now there also a Billman in the family. When you read that whole thing, I wanted to show you some old classics. If you take a minute and go through that you’ll see that Lorenz Reitz was one of the Revolutionary War patriots that help hide the Liberty Bell. So, I take a lot of pride in family is what I am saying.”
“What is interesting Steve is that bell. They didn’t move that big thing in a little-covered wagon. So, when they say there is a crack in it, that’s amazing and I wish I knew where that was? I love American History when I went to college that was my minor. Education was my major but my minor was American History.”
“Now these are the women. I showed you the men before but (pointing at the photo) that’s my Great Grandmother Mabel she was born in 1894. My Great Great Grandmother Rosa was born 1872. My Grandmother Stella was born 1911 that’s the one you saw in the last picture when my Dad was born in 1932. The home was at 313 Penn Street, Tamaqua that was a Dutch Kitchen and it was amazing stuff. This picture here, believe it or not, that’s my Grandmother in 1911, and then Mabel (that’s the Mom), and then Rosa, and this has to be Reitz. That’s the history that’s in the family.” (1A)
“This photo was taken down at the West Penn. My Pappy’s and Grammy’s 50th Anniversary. This is my Uncle Carl Welsh and ironically Carl Welsh and my Aunt Mae (my Grandmother Stella sister) she is listed in that history somewhere but May Welsh is one of the children. May and my Grandmother were very close sisters. Their 25th Anniversary was at the VFW in Coaldale and I’ll never forget vaguely but I do remember meeting two people. You know who it was Joe Paterno and George Welsh and they were assistants under Rick Engle because George was from Coaldale and I worked all the Virginia camps. I also worked at the Penn State camp, and I truly got know them very well. Pointing again to the photo, that’s my Grandfather, my Dad, my Great Grandfather, my Uncle Carl. There was a lot in my family put it this way, we had to go to the gym to get a picture taken!” (laughing) (2)
Pointing again to the photo, “This is my Godfather like I said Bill Yost was the Mayor of Tamaqua for many, many years. And my Aunt Alma Remaly, and my Grandmother Stella, and my Grandfather Edgar. But they became my Godparents and very good friends.”
When did your relatives first immigrate to the United States?
Whitey: “It was around 1748 but it goes back to hiding the Liberty Bell as I said. Lorenz Reitz was a soldier during the Revolutionary War. I did want to share the one particular photo of my Great-Great-Grandmother Rosa Rex so that would have been in the 1870’s. Then, Pappy Becker, he married my Grandmother. So, this is Ed Williams he was born in 1909 and married to my Grandmother Stella Becker. The William’s name comes in at this time period.”
How Pappy Becker Started It All
Where did you do your Undergraduate education?
Whitey: “Well I did it at Bloomsburg. I took courses at different places to work on my Master’s. I took my courses at Penn State, University of Phoenix, and Aerospace at Millersville University. So, a variety of places.”
What years did you do your Undergraduate studies?
Whitey: “I graduated in 1974 from Tamaqua Area High School and then I graduated from Bloomsburg in December of 1978. It was ironic, I tore my knee up my senior year. I was a basketball and baseball player more than I was a football player. I played three sports in High School but baseball was my sport. I had a tryout with the Pirates but what happened my Senior Year in basketball, I ripped my knee up. We were playing North Schuylkill and I tore my ACL. Meniscus problems and then this led to that and that is where the whole irony of everything occurs because 1974 to 1978 I was at school and wanted to play baseball and I just couldn’t do it.”
“So, I knew my Dad was a carpenter and plumber we dug footers together. My Dad taught friends of mine a trade. He was a carpenter, he was an Air Force Veteran and he taught the trade to friends of mine. That wasn’t where I wanted to go. I was always around my Grandfather Edgar. He worked at Bethlehem Steel and then he went to work for the School District (Tamaqua). He put the lines on the field, and I just spent a lot of time with these guys including my Pappy Becker who hung around the field.”
Whitey paused for a moment collecting his thoughts and started again, “My Grandfather used to be the groundskeeper at Tamaqua, but Pappy Becker used to have me pick dandelion’s off the football field when Mt. Carmel used to come prior to the game because he said it would ruin the blades on the lawnmower. So, you know what the dandelions were being used for, as well as the peaches making some spirits.” (He said with a wry smile!) And believe it or not, the early sixties when Jazz was an Assistant under Coach Mike Terry, that’s how far it goes back I was out there with them. And before Kennedy was assassinated this guy here (points to photo) would give everyone a silver dollar. And my Grandfather between the two of them would each give everyone that helped a silver dollar. Do you remember Marsden’s Chips everybody that came to clean the stadium on Saturday got a silver dollar, a bag of Marsden’s Chips, and a Pepsi. And after Kennedy was assassinated it changed to a half dollar. Those were the years I was spending a lot of time around the field just being around great coaches, and good people, and the teachers I got to know. I was delivering books at that time with my Grandfather. We didn’t have the internet, you had what was called the Curriculum Center from where I live today we used to deliver books all the way to Bowmanstown, PA. It was amazing because Tamaqua at that time was a jointure it wasn’t a School District.”
Tragedy Leads to Triumph
You mentioned you tore up your ACL. I remember my Brother Eddie who played for Mike Terry his Freshman year got hit once and he tore his ACL and that was it. So many people never found out what their potential was because of that type of injury. I can’t even imagine how hard it was for you?
Whitey: “At the time I was graduating in 1978 and my Dad he came down with cancer. He was at Geisinger, and a friend of mine who was the best man at my wedding (Tom Gill) he had an old Gremlin and we didn’t have money so I’d be driving his Gremlin. He would give me the Gremlin and I would go over to see my Dad, he died July 28, 1978, and I’ll never forget. I graduated that December of 1978. It was funny because my Mother was a Llewellyn and she was from Mahanoy City.” If were not for my Mother Jean and my sister Debbie “Williams” Brennan I probably wouldn’t be were I am today because they both raised me.
“I have so much respect for Senator Rhoades he was the Principal then at the school (Mahanoy Area School District). And when my Dad died I applied to two schools Mahanoy City and Tamaqua. And my first interview was at Mahanoy and he was the interviewer. He was the guy! I walk in the Principal’s Office he looks across the desk and he said, ‘Dave you start tomorrow.’ Now, I am a nervous wreck and I say I can’t. And he says, ‘What do you mean you can’t?’ I say I got an interview with Tamaqua tomorrow. ‘Well if they don’t hire you tomorrow you start here Thursday.’ To this day “God Bless Him” what happened, his wife and the whole family (referring to the car accident that killed Senator Rhoades).
“But I started teaching then in Tamaqua, First Grade. Ironically my First-Grade teacher was the Second Grade Teacher (Alma-Jean Fisher) at the time and we taught in a little 4 room schoolhouse, and that is where my teaching career began in January. I came in in the middle of the year and after six months the following year they moved me up to Fourth Grade and I had the likes of the Marsilio’s in class, the Hackenberg’s, all those guys were D1 players.”
“In the summers, I was digging the footers, cleaning the baths over at Lake Hauto, cutting the grass, working the Bavarian Festival it was something that I enjoyed. My Uncle Ted and Aunt Joyce (Llewellyn’s) Laskey, they also had boats in Wildwood, NJ. I would go down there in the Summer to do work on the tour boat the Popeye and fishing boat the Champion.”
What year did you start teaching at Tamaqua?
Whitey: “January 1979.”
A Career in Teaching and A Life Long Coach
When did you start coaching?
Whitey: “Well that’s the funny thing when my Dad (Donald) had passed away that July of 1978, and Charlie “Chink” Connley who coached with me at Mount Carmel where best buddies. He was at Marian then and made me the Freshman Coach. Chink was Coaching and it might have been Chuck Rocconi’s last year or Stan Dakosty’s first. But Chink and I were good friends and they needed a Freshman Coach. And Tommy Andregic and Pat Brennan were there coaching and they said to get your mind off it and come help us out. And I went up there and coached the Freshman team in the Fall of ’78. So, I was student teaching at Hazleton with Dominic DeAngelo. Do you know Franky, who is his son and is a sports official? Well, his Father was my Co-Op. And then Denise Ellis, God Bless, she just passed away. She was First Grade. So, I taught first and sixth there but I would leave school in Hazelton and then I would go to football practice at Marian. So, I don’t tell a lot of people that but I coached Marian. Mike Kmetz went to Syracuse, we went undefeated that year and I think it might have been the first undefeated team of football history at Marian. I’ll be honest with you because people use to tease us about that and then when I got hired in 1979 at Tamaqua Area they hired me as a Football Coach. George Welsh was a Navy guy and was such an inspiration getting me in coaching.”
When did the State Title System come into play? And did they have the double, triple, quad A before that year?
Whitey: “Well 1992 I guess it would have been. It was the Eastern Conference. If you remember Class A — B — C. They went to Divisions A — AA — AAA — AAAA later. My first year as a Head Coach was at Shenandoah was in 1988 and we went 9 and 1. We didn’t make the playoffs because we lost to Minersville that year. We had a touchdown called back and we lost. A kid by the name of Mike Malinoski (Shenandoah) played for me. He went to Penn State and had a great career. Sean Love (Marian) was a student of mine, the Love family we were all very good friends. We did everything to together, we hunted together, we built cabins and there is a lot of history with that family. When I look back the Marsilio’s I had them in school. Like Tommy, I had in Fourth Grade and Rick was in Fifth that year. Then Joey came along and I taught with Joey at Nazareth. What I am saying is those guys went on after high school. Tommy went to Syracuse and Joey went up to Maine and played for Coach Ferentz then, Ferentz is now at Iowa. Rick went to Townson and that is where my cousin Christine went and she swam at Townson. There is a lot of good history.”
You started coaching Marian’s Freshman program. How many years where you at Marian?
Whitey: “Just one. That was when I was doing my student teaching. Like I said that was Chink coming to me saying, ‘Get your mind off it and help us out.’ I started coaching Freshman at Tamaqua and I guess I coached Freshman maybe two years with Tom Bonner, who was certainly a very good mentor of mine. Tom Bonner, he got hired as the Head Coach and he moved me up to the Varsity level and that’s where Tom and I not only developed a relationship, we started developing an offense. He was a very successful Head Coach and he went on to Panther Valley success. The terminology and the whole offense, Tommy was exceptional, and he had a mind for football and terminology. We became such close friends we were able to develop a system that a lot of people even use today.”
Did you grow up in Tamaqua?
Whitey: “I was born in Coaldale and raised in Tamaqua.”
Did you play sports in elementary?
Whitey: “Oh yeah. I grew up hunting and fishing. As he recalled these memories Whitey showed me a photo of his Grandfather taken at the West Penn, Grandfather Edgar was Field Captain at the West Penn Gun Club for over 30 years. I used to spend a lot of time down there for the block shots picking up the hams and turkeys for people who won after running the blocks for the shoots.”
As we continue our interview Whitey pulled out another photo of coaches. I asked who they were in the photo?
Whitey: “Coming to Tamaqua I had mentors the likes of Harry Fetterman who was a long-time Track Coach, Jim Freed was the long-time Swim Coach at Tamaqua but also coached football, Phil Houm was a great Track Coach at Tamaqua, and the Head Football Coach Tommy Bonner.”
You started coaching at Marian and where did you progress from Marian?
Whitey: “I went to Tamaqua as an assistant coach until 1988. From ’79 to ’88 when I got the call from a guy by the name of Frank Ulicny, the Athletic Director at Shenandoah. He said, ‘Do you want to be a Head Coach?’ They made me the Head Coach. I had Mike Malinoski he went to Penn State. Al Drumheller, Quarterback he went to Alabama on a pitching scholarship. And they were 1 and 9 the year before and that’s the year we went 9 and 1. Keith Lindsey played for me, he was another good one and went on to Ithaca winning a couple National Championships.”
Were there any other coaches in your family?
Whitey: “I can’t say in the family. But like I said my Grandfather Edgar was always around the field and around the gym being the custodian, and at that time taking ashes out at night to help. I got into the gym a lot.”
Coal Region Football A Recipe for State Champions
What was the connection you mentioned about the Mount Carmel football program when you were younger?
Whitey: “There was a story behind that, and it’s funny but it goes like when I say putting the flags in the End Zone on the field before the game. Mount Carmel always came on the charter buses back in the day. Some of the Charter buses only had the one light in the front, it was like a train. I was very young, I want to say it was either one of Jazz’s first years or he might have been an Assistant with Mike Terry. It was either ’62 or ’63. I was about 6,7, 8 years old I will never forget my Grandfather Edgar yelling at me, ‘Go open the gates the bus is here.’ I would start running over, and I see this one light and I never saw a Charter bus. I turn around and run back to my Grandfather, and I said the train is off the track (chuckling softly). ‘It’s not a train it’s a bus.’ Mount Carmel always traveled by Charter bus back then.”
“I got to know Jazz believe it or not at that point through the years he would come in and like being a little kid just running around Mount Carmel. As time went on I got older and then losing my Father, I looked up to Jazz. Like all through his career, and I played against Kenny, and I played against Joey they were the better football players (The Diminicks’). I was more the basketball and baseball player but I always admired the program. I knew the history and when the chance came ironically that’s a story in itself.”
“You have probably heard I never applied for that job.”
I want to go there but first I want to mention something to you. You played against these guys. I remember Champ Holman telling me (when he played High School football with Senator Jim Rhoades). The first time I met Champ, he asked me where I was from and I said, “Mount Carmel.” He said, “Yeah I played against Gary Diminick. Gary gets the ball and he pops through a hole in the line and I say I got him, Jim, I got him Jim, and zip, zag he’s gone!’ And Champ told me a few more stories that would just give you chills when you would hear them about those Mount Carmel Teams back in the day.
Whitey: “We were the first District Champions in Tamaqua 1969 Little League and being around football at that time Mack McLaughlin was my Knee-High Coach and writer, and Roy Ackerman who was a photographer and I used to go to the football games with them. Again, they knew my Grandfather and they would take me up to the games. I was there that night when Mount Carmel played Whitehall at home in the Silver Bowl. That night the Whitehall coach tried to run the score up on Mount Carmel to show everyone just how good Whitehall was that year.”
“I hate to say it. We were on the visitor’s side and it was in the far end zone on Boyer’s parking lot side. I’ll never forget it, we were sitting there and the Coach Gerencer was trying to run the score up. He couldn’t believe that he was in a game that Mount Carmel wasn’t supposed to win. Johnny Diminick picked off the pass in the end zone with no time left and ran it back for a touchdown to win. I have a picture from that night. I have so many pictures.”
“I do have a picture here of Jazz, George Curry, Jimmy Roth, and me. But George is another guy I got to know. Even when I was coaching Tamaqua you always heard that George and Joe didn’t get along. Well, they respected each other. It wasn’t that they didn’t get along they respected one another. We get into what happened in ’92 when things changed. George and I had a good relationship and I said to George we are going to drop you. And people were like you can’t drop Berwick. But when the State Playoff System started it dictated, in other words, I said we are going to beat you and you are going to beat us and guess what we will both be sitting at home. We respected one and another. We respected each other’s program and it was the best thing that ever happened.”
I didn’t realize that’s why Mount Carmel dropped Berwick? I thought it was because Berwick was AAA and joined the Wyoming Valley League?
Whitey: “No, no George and I had that discussion and we were AA at the time size wise but we always played up. I had convinced the Board we were AA lets go AA and at that time Southern was A.”
Well didn’t Jazz always feel that by playing up it made Mount Carmel better?
Whitey: “It wouldn’t work anymore with the State Title System. When the System points changed like I said if you beat Berwick you were going, but if Berwick beat you, you were going home. When the system allowed you to do either or that was something that I really kind of understood and I said let’s all go.”
Oh sure, how many State Championships were there between Berwick, Mount Carmel, and Southern? I believe it is 17?
Whitey: “Look ’94, ’96, ’98 the three of us went. And the thing was if we are playing Berwick that doesn’t happen. And the crowds, that Friday night we’d be out there (State Championship Games) and the whole Mount Carmel town guess where they are, cheering on Berwick. And on Saturday guess were Berwick fans were, cheering on Mount Carmel. It wasn’t something to see.”
The End of An Era and The Beginning of a Dynasty
Taking a pause Whitey pulled out a letter.
He said, “Jazz wrote me this, it was a recommendation he wrote me for Pleasant Valley and I treasure it!”
You were going to share with me how it came about that you were hired at Mount Carmel? You never applied for the job you said?
Whitey: “Well this is it. This is what he was doing. He was writing this for me. 1993 and what happened was I was looking to go to Pleasant Valley. I never considered Mount Carmel, I didn’t think that I was qualified.”
Who was qualified back then to step in and take Jazz’s role at Mount Carmel?
Whitey: “Well that’s what I am getting at. Here is the answer right here in this letter. I am in school and it’s 1993, my son Wayde is 3. Jazz is writing me this recommendation and I am at school and it’s like 1:00 PM and I get this phone call. The Secretary Dolly Steigerwalt calls me down to the office it’s Jazz. I was excited. I said you got the recommendation for me. Jazz says, ‘Yeah, I got it.’ I say are you sending it to me? He says, ‘No I am not sending it to you I want you to put it in here.’ I say, what do you mean put it in here?”
Whitey: “And at that time, they had hired Coach Macek, an assistant at Delaware Valley University. They (The School Board) had hired the coach already. Jazz says to me, ‘He ain’t coming.’ I say what do you mean he is not coming. His wife was an RN and must have got bad vibes about the situation. She said she is not coming. I say Jazz there is no way I am following you. And the conversation ended.”
“About an hour later John McKay (Mount Carmel’s then Athletic Director) calls me. I said John I am not qualified, no way. I hung up the phone. I get home and I’d pick up Wayde because I wasn’t coaching anymore. Tamaqua, we beat Mount Carmel ’91, ’92, and ’93 they wanted me to coach the night of the Mount Carmel game in ’93. I wouldn’t do it, I resigned because instead of striking they wanted to withhold secondary services. That’s a true story, but I said I wouldn’t do it. Broke my heart but, I didn’t coach in ’93. So, ’93 this is all going on. Now after talking to Jazz and talking to John McKay I get home from school and I am at the house and the phone rings and it’s Jazz. He says, ‘You want this recommendation I am not sending it. You get your ass to my house right now. Mount Carmel was in District 11 at the time and they were playing a big basketball game (Tamaqua) that night at Mount Carmel. I had not gone to any games that year because of all the political stuff that was going on in Tamaqua that year. Jazz was going through it and I was going through it.”
“I was like saying to Jazz, no. Jazz tells me, ‘You want it you have to come out.’ So, I get in a car and I drive to Mount Carmel and we meet in his kitchen. It’s Jazz, Ann Louise, and me. So, naturally we have a Yuengling or two and he is convincing me you can do this, ‘I want you to do this.’ I am like Jazz no, no, and finally maybe after the third Yuengling, I said alright (laughing)! Jazz picks up the phone and I will never forget he calls Dennis Namey, the Superintendent. He says, ‘Richie Beierschmitt and John McKay were over at the game. Richie and John were running the game over at the gym and they didn’t even know what was going on. So, Jazz calls the 4 Board members that were in his favor, one of them now realizing they had made a mistake. All of a sudden, here we are, Jazz and I walk over to the High School. The gym was packed, there’s Jazz and me. He looks over to Richie and looks over to John and says come on and we go down to the Principal’s Office all standing at the table. There we are all standing around and Jazz is in total control and looks at all of us and says, ‘What does he have to do?’ Someone says he has to apply for the job. I swear to God Jazz takes a bathroom slip and a pencil and hands it to me and says,’ Apply.’ It was like a Special Meeting and that’s how I got the job. And I never used this letter of recommendation.”
“When I left Mount Carmel to go to Nazareth, just as I told Jazz in the kitchen that night, what happened to you won’t happen to me. When we lost in ’99 we scrimmaged them (Nazareth) when I was at Mount Carmel and it was a great School District. There is a lot of irony behind it but that’s the way it happened.”
I pulled an article up by Doyle Dietz on Jazz’s being let go. Was it politics, spitefulness to prevent him from getting his 300 wins, what was your opinion of the politics that forced Jazz out at Mount Carmel?
Whitey: “No, it was not right. I knew it, and that’s what I am saying. That’s why I didn’t want to apply. Jazz and I were close and I was lucky to become a football coach that’s what I am getting at. Maybe by default, but I learned from the best. I’d sit with Bill Flynn, I’d sit with George Curry, I’d sit with Jazz.”
“We would have the meetings downstairs at the Yuengling Brewery, and like I said losing my Dad I would tag along with Tom Bonner to meetings. The meetings would be with the likes of Joe Pilconis, remember Joe Pilconis and Bill Flynn and every once in a while, Jazz would come over because it was District 11. And we would all be having a Yuengling playing poker or pinochle. I am just hanging out listening, I was a young coach then just learning from the best. Those guys impacted me like I showed you in the picture of my Father and Grandfather. I knew those guys but I saw them all go too, as much as I knew them. But these were the guys then that took me under their wing. Those guys they certainly were mentors. I worked Penn State camps and I can remember going with Jazz and Jim Williams who was a great Penn State Defensive Line coach.”
Recruiting and Coal Region Football
That brings to mind a question about Penn State. Paterno coached all those years why didn’t he recruit more from the Coal Regions with it being so close?
Whitey: “I just had that same question asked by George Welsh. George went to Navy and then to UVA. I won’t say it upset me but, remember a guy by the name of Ron Mattes. He was in school when I was in school and George recruited him down at Virginia. He’s his first recruit. When they built the McCue Center, and like I said George is family. I’ll never forget going down to see Ralph Sampson play basketball when he was Senior at the University of Virginia during George’s first year. I am like what are doing here they had two winning seasons in 29 years.”
“Why are you doing this blah, blah, blah? And he always called me Davey, like Joe did. He said, ‘We are going to turn this program around.’ Alright, I say you’re going to turn this around. He introduces me to this Doctor McCue. McCue looked like Elvis Presley. He was a little short guy, black hair, he had this bright orange Virginia shirt, and was wearing blue pants. The next year I go down to work camp, and guess what’s built, the McCue Center. You walked in and it was just like this, like we are sitting. They had the glass doors and that wall was like a family wall, to the left were the football offices, to the right were the academic offices, and the whole bottom was the weight room and training and the doctors. At the end of the hall was this huge picture of Ron Mattes. And George was as wise as you can be. George was a hard guy, a disciplinarian, and like I said they were thick.”
“See I didn’t buy in that they didn’t recruit. If you were good enough they would take you. I asked George, why him. He said, ‘The first Coal Region recruit.’ In other words, you know at Virginia he wanted more like that. To me, he (Mattes) should be in the Hall of Fame. That job he did with the Seattle Seahawks after college. You always talk about the quarterbacks, the wide receivers, well that guy was a hell of a blocker. He had a hell of a career in the NFL.”
Let me preface this statement that it is just the opinion of someone who is an avid fan of Coal Region football. I always noticed like Bloomsburg University is always reaching into the Coal Region High School football programs for recruits. And perhaps the recruits aren’t D1 prospects but our guys from the Coal Regions know how to win! You can get the best D1 prospect on the worst D1 team in the country and it doesn’t change anything for that D1 team because they don’t know how, or what it takes to win. What do you think?
Whitey: “Well it is the same thing today when you look at it. I dealt with that end of it through the recruiting. For example, Nick Sebes, he is a great example. You talk about recruiting someone. Nick Sebes, I am watching him run in 7th and 8th grade at the gym class at Mount Carmel. He has never played football. He didn’t play for the midgets. So, I see him run and at the parent-teacher conferences Fran and Al come in and I say look I want him to play for me. They say, ‘Coach he is too small.’ I say look, nobody, is going to catch him. You got let him play for me. Just let him play, and I wanted to move him right to Varsity. They pleaded with me and I said ok I will let him play Freshman first. So, his Freshman year learning the terminology a little bit and fast forward what he has done until his Senior year. We win States when he is a Junior, and then we lost in the ’99 game when he broke his hand. Dave Shinskie goes in as a Freshman and we started a lot of sophomores on that team. We shouldn’t have been there (States) but we were and I wish we would have won but, we didn’t. I left in 2000 because it was a good opportunity for my family, actually a great opportunity for my family.”
“We scrimmaged them (Nazareth) when I was at Tamaqua, we scrimmaged them when I was at Mount Carmel. So, they knew the program. I wasn’t moving from Tamaqua because my kids were still there, and I said 5 years, and they said coach we need a foundation. We were in the Mountain Valley League down there at that time playing like East Stroudsburg. The Superintendent comes to me and asks what do you think of the league. I said let’s go and we went in the LVC that was when Dan Persa was there, remember Persa went on to Northwestern as a quarterback. And Jared Holley was at Easton there, and Parkland with Coach Rich Sniscak and all these programs were getting better. We were a smaller school, not that bad.”
“I said get these kids off the bus. We were taking the swim team up to East Stroudsburg North to compete. We were paying more in gas at $4.00 a gallon. I said get these kids off that bus. So, we went down and we didn’t have a bad coaching staff but we had to learn to win. Now as I look back on it that was the best thing because now Nazareth has won baseball, basketball, saved millions of dollars in transportation and kids can get home and can study. They weren’t on the bus traveling all the time.”
“I’ve always believed that academics plus athletics equals success. I’d always put academics first. What I say about Nick as a Senior, we were down at Northwestern to play Northern Lehigh and Mose Rison who was Andre Rison’s brother. Well, Mose comes in from Stanford. And George Welsh had already offered him (Nick Sebes) a scholarship. Mose said, ‘Coach we want him to come out to Stanford.’ I said to Fran after the game I introduce them to Mose Rison and Mose would like them to visit. Fran was almost in tears saying, ‘Coach, first of all, we didn’t want him playing football now you want to send him 3000 miles away.’ “
“He had a great career at Stanford. Both on the track and the football field. Four track and three football letters it is unbelievable! He ended up going there, and what a great kid! The first call I got, at that time we didn’t have cell phones, they flew into Harrisburg and the phone rings at home. It was Fran, and I could tell she was excited, “Coach he is going to Stanford!’ How it changed. Then George and I had this discussion. He said Davey, ‘It was the campus.’ If you are invited there and you get on that campus, and it was Mose Rison that flew them out. He (Nick) wanted to be a Doctor and look at what he is doing now. Brett Veach went on to Delaware, you know what I mean.”
You know we have lost so much here in the Coal Regions both from a brain drain and economically. And there doesn’t seem there is anything anyone can do.
Whitey: “When you are talking about Southern, and you think about it Tamaqua where I live we are fortunate. My son Wayde lives in West Penn which is the Lehighton Area, it’s a nice rural area similar to Southern. Let’s face it if your young and you got a little bit you move to Southern. I was with Billy Callahan when we did the show up at Southern Columbia High School, people live in that valley, work at Bloomsburg University, or work at Geisinger in Danville. You know what I mean, I drive through Mahanoy City now like I did when I was with my Grandfather Oliver Llewellyn. I am telling you the family he raised.”
I always have this friendly discussion with my friends from over the mountain about how many of the skill players over the years for Southern can tie their bloodlines directly back to Shamokin and Mount Carmel Coal Region Football. Do you agree?
Whitey: “Well Gage Garcia, we interviewed him the other day. I asked him how is your Dad (Mike) doing? His Dad never played football but what a hell of a wrestler, 3 State Golds for Mount Carmel.”
“People don’t know this, and I know you have roots in Mount Carmel so this is going to shock you. You know the O’Hearns. My Grandfather Olly Llewellyn taught them the trade. Pulling out another photo and pointing at it, this is my Grandfather on the right. He worked in Mount Carmel for 62 years, nobody knew. He worked at O’Hearns. In fact, my son Wayde who is having a baby at the end of September is naming him Olly Llewellyn Williams. He was something, people don’t realize.”
A Coach’s Perspective
You took Mount Carmel through some controversial times. After the School Board fired the winningest coach in the history of Pennsylvania at the time. Give me your perspective?
Whitey: “Pointing at another picture Whitey begins there is the group that made the difference. Shawn Sheptock, Mark Burns, Mike Higgins, and Joel Gonzalo. They were my first four captains. They bought in because I had Jazz’s blessings.”
Did you get pressure from the School Board at that time you came on?
Whitey: “I think they realized they screwed up. They knew we had beaten them (School Board), they knew Jazz had confidence in me, and I think they realized they made a mistake. Jazz should have been there as long as he wanted to be there at Mount Carmel. I was blessed to have him.”
School Board aside, what about the fans? Did you feel any extra pressure coaching at Mount Carmel?
Whitey: “Just throw to the tight end. (Laughing heartily) I understood the fans there were into it big time and I understood it.”
Ok, well you met all these coaches over the years, you became friends that you had as Mentors. You mentioned Jazz, who was your biggest Mentor coming through the system?
Whitey: “Walt Ligenza & Jazz had a good relationship and Walt was my Head Coach at Tamaqua and Jazz was at Mount Carmel. We didn’t always beat Mount Carmel but we broke their big 40 something game win streak. It was the year after I graduated. I would guess it was the ’74 team. Jazz and Walt had a very good relationship, it was competitive. Getting to know Jazz and all those guys. I could go on and on being around good coaches and good people that’s just the way it was. Meeting a guy like Joe (Paterno), I spoke at a clinic out there (Penn State). I worked the camp when O’Brien was there. So, you get around people and they respect you. Like I told you Tom Bradley and Sean Datson was going to go out to UCLA but now Tom is out at Pittsburgh. In fact, Wayde and I are going for the Pittsburgh/Chiefs game September 15th. Here is a guy Vince Lombardi’s brother Joe, believe it or not selling field turf. He was one of the first when field turf was just coming out. That’s another thing at Nazareth, they said we have to get field turf.”
“These coaches led me to becoming a Mentor myself. For, example, I was Mentor to my brothers-in-law; Steve Comisac, Jr. who went onto to Susquehanna University and played; Marc who went onto Penn State and became an Attorney; Glen who went onto Lehigh and played for the Legendary Walt Whitehead. Steve, Sr. and Lois raised a simple football family of seven including my wife along with Debbie, Loie, and Barbie.”
You have lived and coached through several different eras of football and know many of the legends. How do you think the game has changed at the High School level in the area?
Whitey: “When you look back like John Madden and Don Coryell, it was “Air” Coryell. I won’t say I was ahead of the curve, and a lot of the other coaches would tease. But I said we were going to start throwing the ball more. We would throw it more than the average because Coryell was an inspiration. Like I said when you look at the Lombardis’, the John Maddens’ and you go through those different eras. Or, as you get into recruiting and how it has changed. I could get into some stuff that’s going on right now with Notre Dame. Gary Diminick went to Notre Dame. Brett Veach (University Delaware), I am very close to the Veach family. I mean he wasn’t the biggest guy but with the background, he wanted to go to Notre Dame but Urban Meyer come in and sat in my office at Mount Carmel. He was like, ‘We were not going to recruit him.’ I said, well do something for him.”
“A friend of mine, Ed Hromyak played football for Tubby Raymond down at Delaware, Ed knew Tubby. So, Tubby came up and spoke at the banquet and Brett ended up going to Delaware. If you remember Orabitz they owned the funeral home in Mahanoy City and Shenandoah, Orabitz is a very well-known name in the area. Well, Jerry Orabitz is the Director of Football Operations and was involved in the Athletic Department at Delaware. So, when Brett went there majoring in Sports Management after he had graduated Jerry Orabitz helped Brett and got him interning with Delaware which led him to Andy Reid in Philadelphia. When Andy left Philadelphia, Brett went with him. I’ve loved teasing him along the way.”
“Many kids I coached and I taught were recruited and went on to academic and personal success such as Nick Sebes (Stanford), Jon Veach (Princeton), Bobby Veach (Lafayette) and others I could go on. Kids from Nazareth went on to Chris Gary (Yale), Matt Herbster, (Harvard). I’ve always believed the academics went a long way. I think if you have smart kids and they buy in into the program they succeed. That’s just to name a few”
“As a teacher and coach, I can’t tell you how many admissions officers I have met through the years. So, I wasn’t able only to help the players but it allowed me to help other students and student athletes. People don’t know that kind of stuff I’ve done. I went out to the Notre Dame/Michigan game with friends and season ticket holders Steve and JoAnn Dobrosky, who attended every game I ever coached as a Head Coach. Steve and JoAnn never having children of their own adopted both of our boys Lance and Wayde and treated them as if they were their own. Our friend Bob Mundy from Tamaqua who is two years older than me in high school, and his sister (Karen) graduated with me is at Notre Dame. Bob is Director of Admissions at Notre Dame University. Every application to Notre Dame goes across his desk and he has helped out many individuals throughout the Coal Region for example Ryan McGee who played for me at Mount Carmel on a couple of the State Championship teams went Notre Dame.”
You’ve coached Marian, Shenandoah, Tamaqua, the Red Tornadoes. I don’t want to pin you down but I am going to anyway. Who is the best team you ever coached?
Whitey: “People often say to me the ’98 team (Mount Carmel). But that ’96 team was something special. It was my third year, undefeated and never trailed. We never knew that until after the season was over. It was after the season someone came up with those shirts.”
Life After Coaching
How did you get involved in Coaches Corner?
Whitey: “Well when George Curry passed I was retiring that year. Jimmy and I always had a good relationship. I wrote a poem for George. I love poetry and I was up to see him right before he passed away. Jim Coles and I were talking about Southern, Berwick, and Mount Carmel. Jimmy was covering a lot of that because he was just getting started. It was ironic because when George passed I was retiring. I remember thinking to myself, Jimmy and I always had a good relationship. They are going to need somebody and I had a feeling and I am going to get a call. And out of the clear blue, he called me up and asked, ‘Are you interested in doing the Corner?’ That’s the way it happened.”
So, are you an avid hunter? You run around with Doyle Dietz you must be an avid hunter?
Whitey: “Well it’s in my family but I am not as big as my Dad (Donald) or Grandfather Edgar. I tease Doyle all the time, I am not the hunter he is, but I think I get more than he does!” (Laughing out loud!)
What are you doing today now that you’re not teaching or coaching?
Whitey: “Well John Madden’s son, Mike Madden bought the Ali Camp. Mike Madden bought the Ali camp and it’s now called Fighter’s Heaven. Right now, people can have meetings and conferences at the camp. They can come in and tour the place and if you have a business and you want to tour, or something to visit you can arrange it.”
“I remember it was 1981 and my wife Cindy and I were going to Reading to pick up a sewing machine where my Uncle Jack Llewellyn lived. We were on the road to Hawk Mountain. He (Ali) was running along the road. I had met him twice before and I pulled right off and got right out. And I am like Yes! And Muhammad he is coming up and my brother-in-law who played for Lehigh was with us and he was in seventh grade at the time. I pull over and Ali stops right at the truck and he stops and he shook my hand. He starts teasing my wife, this is right after Spinks beat him. He was out of shape. So, I start busting on him saying you were out of shape thinking he’s going to hit me. (jokingly) He is looking at my wife and he says, ‘You going to marry him?’ And we are going back and forth. I got his autograph to David, Cindy, and Glenn that day.”
“I want you to know My Uncle Jack was one of the reasons Ali came to Schuylkill County. Uncle Jack was friends with Gene Kilroy who went to school with my Mother (Jean “Llewellyn” Williams) in Mahanoy City. Gene Kilroy was Ali’s business manager. He was the one who brought him in and the camp was sitting going nowhere. Out of the clear blue, Mike was a big Ali fan and I guess his Dad might have been too and saw it was for sale. Mike saw this online ended up buying it and invested and got Amish to come in from Watsontown to restore it and he has invested over $1.5 Million in it. The camp will bring in tourism to the area. The boxing ring has been restored and hopefully, they will have virtual reality where you will be able to get in the ring with Ali and box him. Mike has done tremendous things and Sam Matta has been managing it with help from Nick Stefanek as caretaker.”
“They had a soft opening not too long ago. Sam Matta’s the guy running the day-to-day. You might remember Sam he was Sports Writer Shenandoah Herald back in the day. Gene Kilroy is in Las Vegas and he is 84. Like I said he went to school with my Mom who was one of four girls. Gene use to hang around the porch. My Uncle Jack had to watch him (laughing). Gene and my Uncle Jack were basically the same age and they were very good friends. Gene even said to me, ‘David now you know why I hung out on your Grandfather’s porch.’ “(chuckling)
Final Thoughts on A Coach’s Life
Failure is such a big part of success. What was your biggest failure and what was your biggest success?
Whitey: “The fact, knowing the history of Mount Carmel, I look back playing three sports. And Frank Ulicny, great AD saw something in me. It wasn’t like I wanted to go to Shenandoah. I wanted to be a head coach and I got a chance for two years. Tamaqua gave me the chance to come back and I got to beat Mount Carmel two years. They put me under the political umbrella, just like they did Jazz, and the School Board wanted me to coach the night we played Mount Carmel the year of the strikes. I resigned and thought I’ll never coach football again and it was tough. And the opportunity to move onto the Lehigh Valley. You say Shenandoah you’re wanted, Tamaqua you’re wanted, and then you get involved in the politics part of it. You scrimmage Nazareth and it was all part of building. I always felt I left a place better than when I came. I can look in the mirror and say, I went to Shenandoah and took over it was bad. Tamaqua it wasn’t good. Go to Mount Carmel and win State Titles!”
How many students have you helped to go on to college over the years?
Whitey: “I couldn’t even guess. I would say hundreds. One of the things I am proud of is not just helping some of the guys out but helping some of the other student athletes. Your able to help the kids with those contacts. Even if they didn’t play sports that was a thing that was very important to me.”
Author: Steve Bartos
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