By Jim Dunne
The Norwich Elks, long involved in youth and sports activities, invited to the 1950 annual banquet as their guests all the Norwich Y Giants players and club officials, including the Board of Control (Stan Georgia, Perry Browne, Bill McNulty, Kurt Beyer and Nelson Benedict), manager Don Collier and his assistants Ralph Burlison, Bob Charles, and Anthony Aloi, statistician O’Dell Ray, finance director Ray I. Smith, and ticket sellers Morris Chirlin, Ken Tyler, Jack Boice, Ray Farley, Fenton Pooler and Hartley Ackley. After a prime rib and lobster tail dinner, master of ceremonies Carl Fribley kept the evening moving, surprising everyone with his witty introductions. Bill Barnes presented the trophy named in honor of his father to the most valuable player, as selected by the fans. For the 1950 season, the honor went to the pint-sized halfback from Guilford, Buddy Seaman. Barnes pointed out that Seaman, in addition to being the top scorer, played both offense and defense, and drove from Vermont every week in order to play. Although he was an overwhelming and popular choice, other players did receive votes, and the runner-up was George Echentile, with Tony Liberatore placing third.
Sports writer and announcer Bob VanTine was selected by the players to present a special trophy to their coach, Bob “Percy” Crittenden, in appreciation of all he had done for the team. A youthful Floyd “Ben” Schwartzwalder gave an interesting talk about Syracuse football, concluding with his appreciation of all that Norwich had contributed, in both talent and money, to the Orange athletic program. Stan Georgia, chairman of the Board of Control, reported on administrative matters, including some “financial problems.”
Georgia’s report was the first sign that there was any problem with the Giants organization. Success on the field certainly was not a problem, with the 1950 record adding up to 9 wins and 1 loss. The cumulative record over the four seasons was 31 wins, 6 losses, and 1 tie, a winning percentage of 84%. Since the beginning, 701 points had been scored by the Giants and 200 by the opposition. The problem, if there was one, was a matter of fan support. In 1948, the average game attendence was 850. In 1949, it had dropped to 813, and in 1950, it was 725. Although still a good turn-out, the fact was that income was falling and expenses were rising. The advent of television no doubt had some effect on the dwindling attendence, especially late in the season, when the snowy black-and-white screen was preferable to the snowy brown-and-white gridiron of Alumni Field. On most Sunday afternoons, either the NY Giants or the Cleveland Browns could be seen on television, and more people now owned the new-fangled “TV.”
Late in the summer of 1951, the Board of Control was faced with the decision of whether the Y Giants would play another year. Fans were urged in the columns of Bob VanTine to express their support to the Board, and with coaches Bob Crittenden and Bob Ryan still willing, and the enthusiasm of some new players, Georgia gave his blessing to another season.
Between the seasons of 1950 and 1951, a tragedy struck the Norwich community in the death of Perry Browne. Browne, in his position of sports editor of the Norwich Sun and as a member of the Board of Control, had been a driving force behind the Y Giants, both in their formation and in their on-going success. In fact, he was a major influence in almost everything good that happened in Norwich. On March 1, 1951, at the age of 49, Perry Browne suffered a fatal heart attack while, ironically, attending an event in Norwich High School, where his journalistic career had begun as a student and where he spent many hours in support of the school’s activities. Seldom has the passing of a man affected the community as did the premature death of Frank Pearsall Browne. It was fortuitous that a year earlier, in March of 1950, on the occasion of his promotion to editor and general manager of the Norwich Sun, Browne was honored at a rather spontaneous testimonial dinner at the Norwich Club, with over 250 people attending and hundreds of messages of congratulations being received. He called it “the biggest thrill of my life.”
Perry Browne’s collaboration with Stan Georgia and Kurt Beyer on the Y Giants’ Board of Control was just one effort in which these men worked together for the good of their community. In the 1930s, Browne and Beyer had combined with Frank Wassung and Ralph Reynolds to launch the organization of a community softball league, of which Browne served as a director and secretary-treasurer. During the war, Browne and Georgia had combined forces to edit and distribute the YMCA newsletter to Norwich servicemen and women all over the world, keeping them informed on what was happening in Norwich as well as with their fellow GI’s.
In a brief but finely-honed editorial, E. H. Clark, owner of the Sun, referred to the recent testimonial: “It was a joyous occasion, when words of praise, deep-down sincere praise, were heaped upon a man who justly deserved them. His was a life devoted to doing things for others – one of constant public service. He was fair, he was kind, he was understanding, he stood up to every test and was found wanting in none. Now, Perry Browne is dead.” Bob VanTine struggled to find the words to express his grief at the loss of his mentor and idol. In an era before “self-esteem” became a catch-phrase, both Perry Browne and Bob VanTine did much to encourage the athletes of Norwich High through their press coverage. What Van said of Perry could also be applied to himself: “Deep in his heart there was a Purple tinge.”
Things were just not the same for the Y Giants as they prepared for the 1951 season, and it would be their last. Three of the charter members, who had been the backbone of the club for the last four years, decided to retire. They were John Kelly, Harold “Babe” Barnes, and Bob “Diz” Conron. All had recently embarked on the sea of matrimony, and did not feel that they could continue to risk serious injury. Other starters who decided to hang up their cleats after the 1950 season were Fred Mirabito, Mike Rotundo, Ed Weed, Sam DiNoto, Frank Cline, Frank DiNoto, Dave Seaman, Don Crittenden, Tony Liberatore, Frank Rodiquenzi, and George Podenak. The last four had enlisted in the service, and played football for their service units.
The Board of Control, now called the Board of Directors, selected Charlie Pflanz to fill the vacancy created by the loss of Perry Browne. Team representatives were Harry Thompson, serving for a second year, manager Don Collier, and coach Bob Crittenden. A nine-game season was planned, but only seven would be played, due to the collapse of two teams, Herkimer and Cortland. Coaches Crittenden and Ryan had their work cut out for them with the loss of so many starters, but there were some returning players from the 9-and-1 team of 1950. They were MVP Buddy Seaman, George Echentile, John Pierson, Nick Sylstra, Ray Turner, Harry Thompson, Fay Cosens, and Bob Palmer. As practices started, there were 37 men who turned out – but 29 of them were backs. By the time of the first game, many of them had dropped out, saving the coaches the unpleasant task of making cuts. New players from Norwich who stuck it out and played the season were Mike LaCava, Paul Owens, John Ball, Bob “Tex” Haynes, Bob Higgie, Cliff Frink, Larry Figary, and Charlie Collins. From Sherburne, veteran Ray Turner was joined by Ezra “Red” Horton, Don Tomaselli, Virgil White, and Jack Lewis. Ed Winner, Mike Champlin, and Carl Winner came up from Oxford. The Y Giants embarked on their fifth and final season.
Part 14 of this 15-part series will appear in Thursday’s Evening Sun.