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Holmesburg Athletic Club
Philadelphia City Champions, 1919 & 1920

 

In the years following World War I the Holmesburg Athletic Club was a dominant force on the gridirons of Philadelphia.  In addition to maintaining regular rivalries with such regional powers as the Frankford Athletic Association and Conshohocken Athletic Club, Holmesburg also competed against such far ranging teams as the Rex Athletic Club of Washington (DC), and the Coaldale Big Green, a powerhouse eleven from the Pennsylvania coal region's Anthracite League.  Perhaps Holmesburg's most successful season was 1919.  Widely acknowledged in the local press as the city champions of Philadelphia, that season's only defeat came at the hands of Conshohocken, a team generally recognized that season's Eastern professional champions...

A Season Remembered

Heading into the 1919 season the Holmesburg Athletic Club was widely expected to field the strongest football team in the Philadelphia area.  Manager Fred Gerker and Coach Henry Eavis had assembled a powerful lineup of collegiate stars that included team captain William "Doc" Morrison of Bucknell, Charlie MacKracken of Villanova, Kidder Caskey of Muhlenberg, former Swarthmore captain Norman "Mac" MacKissick and former Lafayette standouts Dick Diamond, Johnny Scott and Dick Lake.  That season's lineup also included Bert Yeabsley, a player with a well established reputation on the local gridirons who had also played for pro baseball's Philadelphia Phillies, and Jack Kelly, the legendary sculling champion who would go on to capture gold in two Olympics.

The Northeast Philadelphia eleven opened its 1919 grid campaign on the second weekend in October, against West Philadelphia's Hobart AC.  Johnny Scott led the charge, scoring four touchdowns and five extra-points, as the "Burg" rolled a 41-0 victory.  A week later some 2,000 spectators were on hand at Holmesburg's Crystal Field to witness an even more overwhelming victory, this time over Camden New Jersey's Parkside AC.  This game, which saw the first appearance of Bert Yeabsley in the lineup, was largely viewed as a wram-up for the upcoming tilt with Conshohocken.  The late arrival of the New Jersey eleven delayed the start of the contest, ...and briefly postponed the inevitable.  Jack Kelly's three touchdowns in the first quarter set the tone for the afternoon, then Scott, Knauer, Caskey, Yeabsley and MacKissick made a few contributions of their own to the points total.  By the time it was all over Parkside lay buried under the rubble of a 90-0 rout.

Harry Fritz, Charlie McGuckin & Kidder Caskey, (Philadelphia) Evening Public Ledger, October 26, 1921

With two solid victories under their belts, the Holmesburg squad made the trek out to Conshohocken the following weekend.  There, playing before a crowd of about 14,000, the heavily favored visitors got on the board early when Johnny Scott dashed fifty-three yards through the home team for a touchdown.  From that point forward, however, Coach Nig Berry's "Conshy" eleven outplayed the Philadelphians in nearly every aspect of the game.  Whitey Thomas, the former Penn State and Holmesburg standout, recovered a Bert Yeabsley fumble and dashed thirty yards to endzone for Conshohocken's first touchdown of the game.  Then a Johnny Scott fumble gave Conshohocken the ball on the Holmesburg 13-yard line.  A few plays later Earl Potteiger took the ball into the endzone, giving Conshy a 13-7 lead heading into halftime.  Little changed in the second half.  Another Holmesburg error, this time a muffed punt, was combined with a thirty-five yard pass play to give Conshohocken the ball near the Holmesburg goal line.  On the very next play Potteiger took it up the middle on a one yard dive for another touchdown, as Conshohocken walked away with a 19-7 upset victory.

Eager to rebound from the disappointing performance against Conshohocken, the Holmesburg eleven anxiously awaited the first club on their November schedule: the Vincome AA.  Unfortunately the wait was just a little longer than anticipated, as an unexpected cancellation on the morning of the game sent Manager Fred Gerker scrambling to find another opponent.  After a few quick phone calls the Bluejackets of the USS Michigan were on their way up to the Northeast from their ship's berth in the South Philly.  Then, behind the strong play and scoring of Johnny Scott, Dick Diamond and Bert Yeabsley, the Berg-men outclassed the sailors in a 32-0 shutout.  A week later Holmesburg headed down to Browns Field for a clash with the Frankford Yellow Jackets.  Up to this point in the season the only blemish on Frankford's record was a scoreless draw with the Ewing AA.  Both Frankford and Holmesburg believed that the outcome of this game would settle the question of which team could claim the bragging rights as champions of Philadelphia.  The game was a struggle throughout, with both teams' defenses holding fast.  A Johnny Scott field goal from the 20-yard line was the only scoring play of the afternoon, giving Holmesburg a 3-0 shutout victory.

The final three games on the schedule were against strong clubs from of outside the immediate Philadelphia area.  In the first of these Holmesburg welcomed the Rex AC to Crystal Field.  Rex, touted as the champions of Washington (DC), was composed mostly of former Georgetown and Catholic University players.  Undefeated over four seasons, the only blemish of this club's current campaign was a scoreless tie against the Ewing AA, of Philadelphia, just a few weeks earlier.  Holmesburg was playing without the services of Johnny Scott, who was still recovering from injuries suffered during the Frankford game.  It as a fierce contest throughout, with few scoring opportunities and plenty of injuries for both clubs.  The first real scoring chance didn't come until the fourth quarter, when a MacKissick field goal attempt for Holmesburg went wide.  A little while later Kidder Caskey made three rushes up the middle to take the ball from the 10-yard line for the only touchdown of the game, providing Holmesburg a 7-0 victory.

The next game on the schedule was against Casey Gildea's Coaldale Big Green, one of the finest teams from the Pennsylvania coal region.  The Big Green made the trip down to Philadelphia on the weekend before Thanksgiving, accompanied by some 1,000 supporters.  Holmesburg out-played the visitors in every aspect of a game that featured numerous interceptions by Johnny Scott, Dick Diamond and Doc Morrison.  The visitors' only points of the game came off a Gildea field goal late in the first quarter.  This gave Coaldale a 3-0 lead, but Holmesburg moved ahead late in the second quarter on a short pass from MacKissick to Dick Diamond at mid-field, which Diamond then carried forty-five yards through the entire Coaldale team for a touchdown.  Second half touchdowns by MacKissick and Morrison put the game out of reach for the up-state eleven, as Holmesburg went on to win, 19-3

Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, Holmesburg closed out the season at Crystal Field against the Thomas AC.  Thomas, touted as the champions of Bethlehem (PA), forced another tough defensive game.  The only points of the game came off a Holmesburg drive that started on their own 35-yard line.  A series of runs, that included long gains of twenty-five and eighteen yards, brought the ball to the Thomas 3-yard line.  Then Dick Diamond took the ball wide around the wing and into the endzone.  MacKissick followed with a successful kick.  Both defenses clamped down hard for the remainder of the game, and at the final whistle Holmesburg took a 7-0 decision.

The Philadelphia press began referring to Holmesburg as the city champions of 1919 following the victory over Frankford   This view was cemented by its victories against quality teams from outside the region in the final three games of the season, giving Holmesburg a 7-1-0 record for its championship season.

Outstanding Players From Other Seasons

Holmesburg Athletic Club Football Team, 1915 

The above photo of the 1915 Holmesburg Athletic Club football eleven appeared along with an article on the Holmesburg football team in the July 19, 1943, edition of the Frankford Times.  The 1915 lineup featured University of Pennsylvania All-American Lou Little.  Little, at the time a freshman at Penn, played under the assumed name of "Lou Small" to protect his collegiate status.  He later went on to play for the Buffalo All-Americans of the APFA/NFL, the Union Club of Phoenixville, the Union Quakers and the (pre-NFL) Frankford Yellow Jackets before going on to a highly successful coaching career at both Georgetown and Columbia.

Over the years the Holmesburg roster featured some other NFL veterans as well, including Stan Cofall and local product Howard "Nig" Berry.  In 1921 the team enlisted the services of Benny Boynton as a hired gun for Thanksgiving Day game against the Union Club.  Boynton, who also played that season with both the APFA's Buffalo All-Americans and Washington Pros, was selected a first team APFA all-pro by the Buffalo Evening News.

By the Numbers

Holmesburg Athletic Club Season Summaries

Year

Won

Lost

Tied

Pct

PF

PA

 1919

7

1

0

.857

206

22

 1920

6

1

2

.857

169

20

 1921

5

3

0

.625

103

31

 1922*

6

2

1

.750

191

26

 1923*

2

1

2

.666

20

47

* These figures may be incomplete.

Links to Additional Information

Ghosts of the Gridiron's Virtual Scrapbook Vol. 11: Holmesburg Athletic Club
An extensive collection of digitized newspaper clippings and other related images from the Holmesburg Athletic Clubs' history.

Georgetown Football History: The Lou Little Legacy
A brief article on former Holmesburg player and College Football Hall of Fame member Lou Little.

Bridging the Past to the Future
A few brief articles relating the history of the great Philadelphia neighborhood of Holmesburg.

Links to Current Holmesburg Area Football Clubs

Holmesburg Ramblers
Official website of the Holmesburg Ramblers. The Ramblers, in this latest incarnation, are now playing in the LaBelle Community Football League, a Philadelphia area semi-pro league.

Undefeated and Unforgettable
An interesting Northeast Times article marking the twentieth anniversary of the Holmesburg Rambler's Delaware Valley Football Conference championship season.

Holmesburg Boys Club
Holmesburg Boys Club is a nonprofit community organization sponsoring boys and girls youth sports and teaching young people sportsmanship, leadership, fairness and good citizenship as they progress into adulthood.


John J. Fenton, 2012-2002, all rights reserved.