By Pete Smith and Ed Ackley
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s article is the final profile of this year’s Norwich Sports Hall of Fame induction class. The induction banquet is scheduled for Saturday, May 11 at Canasawacta Country Club. Reservations may still be made through next week at the Norwich YMCA, Wells Fargo Advisors, the Norwich Middle School or by calling Fred Miers at 334-7166. The price is $35 per person.
On September 1, 1952, nearly 61 years ago, forty three young athletes, along with Head Coach Kurt Beyer, Assistant Coach Frank Giltner and Team Manager Mike Martin, walked up the staircase from the boys’ locker room at the old high school on West Main Street. They proceeded from Maple Street south to Hayes Street, then west to Elm Street, south on Elm Street to Conkey Avenue and on to Alumni Field.
This walk would be made five or six times a week for the next two and a half months. Keep in mind they also walked back after practice and game days. One of the rules issued by Coach Beyer was, “Try to walk on the grass so you don’t wear down the cleats.”
The 1952 team was going to be running the “Split–T” offensive system that had been introduced in 1951. The 1951 team, led by co-captains Skip Schibeci and Bob Steward, had been very successful with a five wins and two losses season. The 1952 team would take full advantage of the lessons learned in the first year running the Split-T option offense – lessons which included an intensive pre-season week of three practices a day at Y Camp.
The ’52 Team had the perfect blend of personnel at each of the offensive and defensive positions. The center, Jim Golden, and guards, Nick Elia, Jim Horan, Ron Steward and Leon Gridley, all brought the versatility and quickness that came from also being outstanding wrestlers. Bob Endries, Pete Burns, Bud Sheehan and sophomore Tony Vellake (another wrestler) gave the tackle positions size and toughness. The ends, sometimes referred to as the “skilled positions,” were Dick Bowers, Jack Stone, Ernie Schraft and Don Chirlin. Dick, Ernie and Jack shared the defensive end positions and Don was in the defensive backfield when the ball changed hands. The starting offensive running backs were three truly gifted athletes. Howie Ryan was the quickest and fastest of the bunch. John Stewart and Ron Tyler were almost twins on the gridiron, even though John was much stockier. They played both sides of the ball, offense and defense, with so much athleticism that they made a tough game look easy. Ron and John, together with gifted offensive end Don Chirlin, combined to form arguably the best defensive backfield in NHS football history, limiting opponents to 33 completions while intercepting 22 passes…a school record at the time. The defense also allowed only one running play of over 17 yards, a 36-yard run by Oneida’s great running back, Pete Perkins, in the final game of the season. Captain Ed Ackley was the quarterback and a linebacker on defense.