In just its second season, the Pittston Area football team proved it was a force to be reckoned with in Eastern Pennsylvania. The Patriots won 10 straight games to open the ‘67 season. The 11th, however, was a heartbreaker.
Pittston Area was named co-champions of the Eastern Conference after a 0-0 tie against Shikellamy at Bucknell University Stadium. Nearly fifty years later, a memory of the team’s first championship turned up at a yard sale in Nanticoke.
Mike Selli, of Rice Township, recently found a football with the words “PA Eastern Conf. Champions 1967” and had dozens of signatures on it. He purchased the ball for $5 at the yard sale about two years ago and was planning on giving it to his grandson. Selli wasn’t sure who the football belonged to, so he decided to do some research.
He found Pittston Area was named the Eastern Conference champions in 1967, and was able to identify some names from that team. Selli then decided to donate the ball back to the school.
“It has a rightful place,” Selli said. “I donated it to the school because it was just lying around my house for a couple years. Once I found the listing of names, I knew it was legit.”
Pittston Area Principal John Haas said Selli called him “out of thin air” and said he had a football the school might be interested in. Some representatives from the school met with Selli and took the donation just a few weeks back.
One of the star players from that championship team was current PA Athletic Director Charlie Turco. Haas gave Turco the ball recently to see how the school could preserve it and put it on display. That brought up some memories for the former quarterback.
“We remember signing that football,” Turco said. “It was for someone in the Pittston Area — a kid or something. I don’t remember much after that.”
Turco said many of the star players from 1967 can be seen on the football, including himself, all-state running back Eddie Booth, Eddie Brennan, Sal Licata, Charlie Garziano and Joe Kulick. Turco said he believes he saw coach Barbieri’s name on the football while taking a closer look, but couldn’t definitively identify it.
The fall of 1967 was unchartered territory for Pittston Area. The merger between Northeast High School and Pittston High School formed Pittston Area. During that time, PA had no home field while the school and field were being constructed in Yatesville. They played each home game on Saturdays at Wyoming Area’s field in West Pittston.
The Patriots’ first game was against Old Forge. In that game, Turco passed for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while running for two more en route to a 33-14 win over the Blue Devils.
After winning the next three games quite easily, Pittston Area faced Blakely, who won by one point the year before. According to a story in the Sunday Dispatch in 2006, the Patriots came out of the locker room with the word “REVENGE” taped to their helmets. Pittston Area pulled out a 14-7 win.
The Patriots took care of the Warriors, 28-7, and locked up the Big 11 and the Northern Division Eastern Conference title on Thanksgiving Day. That set up the showdown with Shikellamy.
It was reported that 67 bus loads of fans took the trip to Bucknell University. The game was played on frozen grounds as the temperture plumetted near zero, Turco said. After Booth left the game early with a concussion, the Patriots struggled to get the ball in the end zone. PA racked up 282 total yards to Shikellamy’s 183 yards.
A Turco touchdown run was called back because of a crack-back block. Pittston Area had a chance to win the game in the final seconds when Booth returned to try a field goal. The kick was missed and the game ended 0-0.
“We knew we outplayed them the whole game, we didn’t score,” Turco said. “They had to be happier than us.”
There’s no word what Pittston Area will do with the football, but it will most definitely remain at the school, Turco said.
“Everyone should be able to see it,” he said. “It’s something that would be great to have and we’re better off leaving it at the school because I was only one of many on that team.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick