High Schools - Thank Father Judge coach Sullivan for Labor Day weekend games

'Whitey' Sullivan pioneered playing football on Labor Day weekend.
'Whitey' Sullivan pioneered playing football on Labor Day weekend.
Posted: September 03, 2009

JOHN "WHITEY" Sullivan did more than win numerous games during his wildly successful career as Father Judge High's football coach.

He also caused 'em.

Perhaps you think Labor Day weekend football is a long-standing tradition in Philly's three city leagues (Public, Catholic, Inter-Ac). Let's go with medium-standing, and not one inch further.

With Freire Charter having dropped the sport due to a player shortage, the city leagues include 53 schools this season. All but six will be playing somewhere, anywhere (St. Joseph's Prep is heading to Wheeling, W.Va.) tomorrow and Saturday.

Far cry from 1980, when no one played during LDW.

But then the '81 season loomed and the wheels inside Sullivan's ample brain began turning. Games are more fun than scrimmages ... Our last scrimmage is against St. John Neumann and the new coach there, Bill Brannau, was my coach at Judge in 1960 ... Let's turn this into a game!

"There were no limits in the Catholic League on the number of games you could play," Sullivan said. "We just had to get permission to play one before school opened. It wasn't hard at all, really.

"After playing two scrimmages already, it just seemed to make sense to go with a game. A little break from the two-a-days routine. Everybody was for it. Kids, parents, coaches."

Saturday, Sept. 5. Eleven o'clock in the morning at Northeast High. The first LDW game in city history! Oh, boy!

The kickoff is in the air and ... no one's in the stands. Well, almost no one. If you had made everyone sit together, the, ahem, crowd might have filled one section.

Judge frolicked, 41-14, as Jerry Magallanes, now a prominent head referee for college football games, rushed 22 times for 148 yards and four touchdowns after Brian Reidy busted a counter 35 yards for a score on the game's fourth scrimmage play. Also, Bill Hartigan fired a 65-yard TD pass to Pat Glennon as the Crusaders accumulated 503 yards.

"One problem. No one was there," Sullivan said. "It wasn't too hard to figure out where they were: down the shore. So we all agreed, let's take it there next year."

Actually, that first meeting almost took place in Sand Land after the Rev. John Kowalewski, then Judge's athletic director, heard assistant coach Bill Edger comment a few days beforehand, "We should play this game down the shore." Time constraints prevented that.

Sullivan, now 66 and entering his 45th year as a Judge teacher (he's still the golf coach), remembers that Ocean City was the original choice for a seashore site because OC's high school field, as it still is, was right off the boardwalk at 6th Street, creating the potential for high visibility.

"Ocean City didn't work out, for whatever reason, and we switched gears to Wildwood," he said. "We called it the Beach Bowl, went with the 4 o'clock start so people could hit the beach first, did a lot of promotion [including planes with banners; T-shirts everywhere] and it turned out great."

The crowd for Beach Bowl I, claimed by Neumann, 8-6, as Ralph DiMeo ran 16 times for 74 yards and Larry Barretta flipped a 5-yard, fourth-down scoring pass to Len Nelson, was announced at 2,000.

It appeared to be much larger and Wildwood/school officials much later placed the number at 3,800.

"Win-win for everybody," Sullivan said. "To generate that kind of money ... Hey, you always need new helmets, right?

"The game just made the whole weekend seem great. Better than just taking a dip, walking the boards and sleeping on your sailboat."

Sullivan coached Judge for 25 seasons (1974-85, 1987-99), compiling an overall record of 196-95-10 and winning four Catholic League championships, plus a City Title in '75.

(He also uttered perhaps the best quote in city scholastic sports history. After Cardinal Dougherty quarterback Andy Baratta, who went 6-3 1/2, 210, ran roughshod over Judge in 1978, Sullivan said, "That game was won 18 years ago in a bedroom in Olney.")

Soon, other CL schools were going the let's-play-LDW route and, over time, the Wildwood experience, with some changes in participants, became a doubleheader (with separate admissions, of course). Lately, Ocean City has also gotten involved.

When Sullivan was told how many city schools will be playing tomorrow and Friday, his one-word response was "Wow!"

He paused, then added, "I don't think I was farsighted enough to think our game with Neumann would have a lasting impact, but I can see why all this happened."

Other CL schools were quick to partake, but the biggest moment, as Sullivan well knows, occurred in 2004 when the Public League became a PIAA member. Previously, Pub teams couldn't start practicing until Sept. 1 and games weren't played until Week 4. In '04, 11 of the league's then-21 teams strapped it up for LDW action.

In the first game, played at 1 p.m. on a Friday, visiting Abraham Lincoln bested John Bartram, 14-8, on TDs by Robert Keels and Antonio Wessells. (William Penn, idle since 1984, was going to make its return to football that same day. Instead it forfeited - to Martin Luther King, making the decision that morning - due to numbers issues.)

The Inter-Ac League finally went the early-game route in '06; well, just one school did so. Haverford School fell to Overbrook, 12-10, on a Saturday. Fred Ferro rushed for the Fords' TD.

Even now, the I-A is a lukewarm believer in LDW games. Half of the six-team league will be idle this weekend.

So, what has been the strangest byproduct of early-season football? Easy. The curious case of Ehramis Chism.

In '07, 2 weeks of games were played before classes commenced in the public schools. Chism, a freshman quarterback, made his varsity debut in Week 2 for Overbrook and then transferred to University City, where he played the rest of the season. Thus, he represented a school he never attended!

... To that point, that is. He again played for 'Brook last season.

City schedule

TOMORROW

NONLEAGUE

Southern at Bok, 10 a.m.

McDevitt at Lower Moreland, 10 a.m.

Lincoln at Dobbins, 11 a.m.

Roxborough at Edison, 1

Future at Bartram, 2

Fels at Franklin, 2

Communications Tech at Penn, 3 (Gratz)

Del-Val at King, 3 (Germantown)

Episcopal at Furness, 3 (Southern)

Council Rock North at Judge, 3:15 (Lincoln)

Glen Mills at University City, 6 (Germantown)

Overbrook at Bensalem, 6

Kutztown at FitzSimons, 6 (Gratz)

Esperanza at Morrisville, 6

Germantown at Emmaus, 7

Northeast at Norristown, 7

Parkland at Washington, 7 (Northeast)

Conwell-Egan at Pennsbury, 7

La Salle at Plymouth-Whitemarsh, 7

Lansdale at Downingtown East, 7

Ryan at Marple-Newtown, 7

Bonner at Upper Darby, 7

Bristol at Kennedy-Kenrick, 7 (Conshohocken)

Carroll at Radnor, 7:30

SATURDAY

NONLEAGUE

West Phila. at Upper Merion, 10 a.m.

Hatboro-Horsham at Frankford, 11 a.m.

North Catholic at Chestnut Hill, 11 a.m.

Valley Forge MA at Haverford School, 11 a.m.

O'Hara at Wood, 11 a.m. (Ocean City)

West Catholic at Roman, 12 (Wildwood)

SJ Prep at McKeesport, 12:30 (Wheeling, W.Va.)

Prep Charter at Imhotep, 1 (Germantown)

Gratz at Pius X, 1

Dougherty at Neumann-Goretti, 4 (Wildwood)

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