Philippi High School had just had its greatest football team ever. In the 1959 season, 103 boys came out for football when the team first met in August. That team eventually went 9-1 with a senior-laden roster. The 1960 team would be made up of mostly untested seniors and juniors, with the exception of the starting quarterback and halfback who were returning. Many questions loomed concerning the prospects for this talented but inexperienced squad.
Early that summer the three Philippi coaches began discussing plans for the football season, with the start of fall practice scheduled to begin on August 15.
Leading the football program was George Byrer, a native of Philippi and a 1932 PHS graduate. After a stint in the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), George had a stellar athletic career at Fairmont State College, where he graduated in 1937. Coach Byrer went on to coach high school for a total of 42 years in Sissonville, South Charleston, Philippi, and Philip Barbour.
He and assistant coach Joe Pelaez had hired a young man who had just graduated from A-B College and who aspired to teach and coach. Don Poluszek, a native of Moundsville, had been a stalwart on Coach Rex Pyles' A-B Battlers basketball teams, and Coach Byrer saw his enthusiasm for high school athletics. Don Poluszek went on to spend the next 37 years in West Virginia high school and college sports, the last 12 years at Marshall and West Virginia University.
Philippi in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s was a thriving community. Local coal and natural gas industries as well as Alderson-Broaddus College gave the community a sense of stability as well as an enviable quality of life. In the late summer and early fall of 1960, the town became wrapped up in high school sports as the Philippi Bulldogs made football history.
Many of the PHS players came from hard-working, blue-collar families. As important as football was, work still came first at home. Most players spent the days leading up to the start of August practice working in the hayfields. Some of the team members dug ditches for a septic tank system.
Philippi High School had no athletic field for football practice or home games. In the 1930’s, Alderson-Broaddus College offered their baseball field to the local high school to play their home football games, which was much appreciated by the community and the athletes. At times practices were held on the Shaw family cattle farm just outside of Philippi. It was a little unnerving for the players who had to watch out for “cow pies” and groundhog holes.
Some remembered after a grueling afternoon of football practice that members of the team would spring from the old football school bus once it arrived back at the school, get a quick shower, gather their homework, and run down Main Street to the Philippi Covered Bridge. It wasn't that the players needed extra conditioning - the quicker you made it to the bridge, the better odds you had of being able to hitch a ride home. With a good portion of the roster being made up of boys from outlying areas, hitch-hiking home from practice was a necessity.
"There weren't a lot of cars on the road back then, and hitch-hiking home was something a lot of us had to do," 1960 team member Vic Zara says. "Everybody in the community knew we had to, so it wasn't hard to get a ride. Sometimes you didn't get home until pretty late, and if you had homework, you did that and then went straight to bed. A lot of people think football games are won on Fridays, but they are won with how you practice through the week. We practiced hard, and we were ready to play."
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