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Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald
November 11, 1999

Grateful Fans Give Maroons Remembrance

State Historic Marker Unveiled

BY JAMES ROWBOTTOM, Staff Writer

While the Pottsville Maroons haven't yet regained their standing as the 1925 National Football League champions, a tribute to the team now stands in glory on North Centre Street.

"Nothing was ever done to point to the memory of those fellows," Nicholas A. Barbetta, Schuylkill Haven, Maroons Memorial Committee general chairman, said Wednesday at the unveiling of a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker.

The marker stands in front of the former Female Grammar School, which by this time next year is expected to open as the new Historical Society of Schuylkill County headquarters.

"The Pottsville Maroons are a bedrock of (our) community," said Mayor Terence P. Reiley.

Society Chairman Leo L. Ward removed the blue veil secured by a gold string from the blue sign with gold lettering on a pole and read it.

It reads: "Pottsville Maroons. The legendary team played as a member of the National Football League here, 1925-28. In 1925, the Maroons compiled a record widely viewed as the league's best. They climaxed their season by defeating Notre Dame in a well-publicized pro vs. college match in Philadelphia - but then were denied the NFL Championship in a controversial league decision. Despite strong regional support, their franchise moved to Boston in 1929."

The Maroons actually played at Minersville Park in Branch and Norwegian townships, the site of King's Village shopping plaza.

But the Pottsville location is the right place for it, said life-long Pottsville resident Paul L. Dimmerling Sr., committee treasurer, since he predicts many people will see it while visiting the historical society.

"I think it's a wonderful idea. It's something the City of Pottsville deserves," Dimmerling said.

According to a memorial booklet distributed at the dedication, the Maroons defeated the Chicago Cardinals 21-7 at Comiskey Park Dec. 6, 1925 for the title.

The Maroons then defeated the Notre Dame All-Stars (including the famed Four Horsemen) 9-7 in Philadelphia's Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium), allegedly invading the territory of the Frankford Yellowjackets.

As a result, the Maroons were denied the title and the Cardinals were ultimately named the league champs after being forced to extend their season to bolster their record. They played two extra games.

The Maroon franchise was sold to Boston (and five or six Maroon players went with it) in the 1929 season. Later, George Preston Marshall bought the team and moved it to Washington, where it is now the Washington Redskins.

At the unveiling, David J. Holley, general manager of the Schuylkill County Municipal Authority, speaking on behalf of the county commissioners, called it a "stolen championship" - the title was "dramatically stripped" from the Maroons.

Besides its claim to a national championship, the team boasts three members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio: John "Blood" McNally, Pete Henry and Walter Kiesling.

At the team's 60th anniversary in 1985, the NFL presented the Gladiator Statue - it depicts a football player with a cape -to the memorial committee, citizens and football fans of the Pottsville area as a tribute to the role the team played in the growth and development of the league.

Pottsville was the only city to ever receive the award, created in the 1960s. Since 1970, it has been awarded annually to the NFL Man of the Year.

On Wednesday, Frank J. Ratkiewicz, representing U.S. Rep. T. Timothy Holden, D-6, presented to the memorial committee a flag flown Monday over the Capitol in honor of the Maroons.

There have been 1,700 such historical markers erected since the state's program started in 1946 "to remember all types of history," said Kenneth C. Wolensky, a historian with the Historical and Museum Commission.

Important sports history doesn't just take place in big cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, he said, but also in small towns like Pottsville. "They contributed to American sports history," he said.

Barbetta said he got the idea for the marker two years ago when he saw one erected in Philadelphia in honor of Bert Bell, who was the NFL Commissioner 50 years ago. He shared the idea with state Rep. Bob Allen, R-125, who went to work to see it happen, he said.

The plaque cost about $1,600, according to Ward. He said he didn't know who paid for it. Barbetta said he hopes the city Commission on Tourism includes the marker as one of its stops. The football used in the Notre Dame game will be housed in the historical society, Ward noted.

Russ F. Zacko, memorial committee director, said the estate of his father, Joseph C. Zacko Sr., includes the bronze-plated shoe used for the game-winning field goal against Notre Dame in 1925. He was once offered $50,000 for it.