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Lilly High School basketball experienced great success in the 1920s

Coach Walter Hite, Francis (Pep) Salony, Ellis (Tussie) Meehan, Doń Eckenrode, Bennie Donlinger, George (Buck) Inman, (Dr.) Jim Leap, Howard (Doggie) McIntosh,

Joseph (Buzz) Sandy.

Varsity F. Club Champions 1928

… 1924 and 1928 teams were excellent

Lilly was just a tiny coal town in west-central Pa. back in the 1920s, but the railroad and coal mines made it bustle at times. In 1917, the first school building was constructed on Main Street, and in the early 1920s, the first basketball and football teams were formed.

I remember much of this because of my father, who told me the stories and played on the first football and basketball teams at Lilly. I should have written down all of the information when he was alive, but I can still retain much of it.

What I remember is that the boys’ teams in the 20s were very successful, and that they formed a girls team then too on which my Aunt Adele played.

To help matters, my friend Tim Salony has been doing a great deal of extensive research for the Lilly Historical Society about LHS athletics. He hopes to put this together in an exhibit at some later point.

Tim has been a research librarian or data base expert throughout the world, working almost two decades in the Middle East before returning home and working for the Blair County Library System.

The information about the 1928 boys basketball team comes from a Power Point presentation that Tim has compiled. Here is the information about the great accomplishment of winning the Varsity F. Club Tournament in 1928.

The Varsity F. Club Tournament

The Varsity F. Club was composed St. Francis College’s athletes who competed at the varsity level and who earned a letter for the school. Unfortunately, St. Francis has little information about the tournament. Not sure if someone disposed of it, but the tournament lasted for 39 years.

At one point before the schools started to enter jointures, they had 35 or 36 teams in it, divided into classes based on size.

In fact, the Lilly-Washington High School basketball team played in the final tournament in 1966, and I was a member of that team. We were, however, not as successful as the teams of the 20s and 40s, which were great.

The 1928 team

The 1920s featured two teams that produced great records. The 1924 squad finished with a record of 24-3, and the 1928 team had at least 21 wins as it captured the Varsity F title.

First, I will feature the 1928 squad, with the research on this being done by Tim Salony, finished with a 24-3 record and was coached by Walter Hite.

Some of the names from that team may be familiar to some of us. They included Francis (Pep) Salony, William Ellis (Tussie) Meehan, Don Eckenrode, Bennie Donlinger, George Inman, Dr. Jim Leap, Howard (Doggie) McIntosh, and Joseph (Buzz) Sandy.

Coach Hite was a student at St. Francis when he assumed the duties of coach of the team before becoming athletic director at East Conemaugh High School and then Franklin.

How good were they?

The 1928 Red Raiders started out with a tremendous spurt, winning ten consecutive games before losing to Altoona Catholic, 44-43, in late February.

They lost to Gallitzin twice, once in the regular season and then in the District 6 playoffs, 30-27. However, the Raiders earned some vengeance on the Gremlins as they ran all over them for the Varsity F. Title, 28-16. They defeated South Fork (33-22) in the first St. Francis game, and the followed it with a 23-13 win over Nanty Glo to advance to the title game.

This was the second year of the Varsity F. Tournament, and the Raiders did well with in the inaugural 1927 event by finishing second.

Title game win over the Gremlins

The story of the win over Gallitzin was headlined as “Sweet Revenge” in the Johnstown Daily Tribune, according to the research done by Tim Salony.

The Lilly High basketeers humbled Gallitzin High in the final round of Section II of the public school basketball at the St. Francis tournament to cop the championship of the class.

“Sweet Revenge,” The Daily Tribune, March 26, 1928

From “The Loretto”

In the archives of the St. Francis student newspaper, Tim was able to find this,

Lilly High, twice defeated by Gallitzin in the regular season, turned the tables and took sweet revenge by walloping them, 28-16, in the finals of the public school class.

Lilly, coached by Walter E. Hite, a St. Francis boy, rushed into the lead from the go and completely bewildered Gallitzin with a dazzling array of short snappy passes and extremely accurate shooting. Gallitzin never had a chance to win but tough gamely against superior odds.

Captain (Howard) McInstosh was the big scoring ace followed closely by “Buck” Inman. The Lilly defense was too strong and Gallitzin connected only three times from the floor during the game.

Lilly was easily the class of the tournament, and was looked upon as logical winner from the first game.

“Lilly champs get flashy victory over strong rivals,” The Loretto, April 2018.

Lilly won the Class B or small school championship.

Lilly won the Varsity F title twice in the 1940s, in ’41 and ’42.

The 1927 team that finished second

More on this to come.

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