Before 1966, the West Side’s longest-running Thanksgiving Day football series was Cowboys versus Redskins.
The Cowboys were from West Wyoming High School, the Redskins from Wyoming High.
The series began on Thanksgiving in 1933 and ended in 1965, the last football season for the pre-merger schools before they were merged into Wyoming Area.
To be precise, the series was not Cowboys versus Redskins until October of 1955, when West Wyoming officially adopted the nickname Cowboys.
In the 1920s, 30s and 40s most high schools did not have nicknames. The football teams were nicknamed for their colors like the “Blue and White” or called “The Eleven” or nicknamed after their coaches, such as Johnny Ludd’s Gridders and Wilkes-Barre sports editor Milton Miller didn’t like it.
“Makes it hard for the headline writer,” he wrote in his Etceteras and Postscripts column on Sept. 8, 1937.
So Miller offered a list of alliterative nicknames. Some stuck — Hanover Hawkeyes, Meyers Mohawks, Forty Fort Flyers. Some didn’t — Berwick Beavers, West Pittston Wrens, Wyoming Wolverines.
For West Wyoming he suggested the “Weavers,” because the borough was home to a textile mill. The name stuck, for a while, but it caused confusion because Wyoming’s coach was George Weaver.
It’s not known exactly why West Wyoming chose Cowboys for a nickname, but Bob Nardone, a West Wyoming historian, said the team’s logo, a Cowboy on a bucking bronco, was inspired by the University of Wyoming Cowboys logo.
And it’s likely the Cowboys played off their rivals’ nickname.
Wyoming had adopted Redskins in the 1940s. Research shows, too, there was a town baseball team called the Cowboys as early as 1914.
Back to the series. Wyoming won 18 of the 33 games, West Wyoming won 10 and five were ties. Most of the games were tight. There were five one-point games and another eight decided by seven points or less.
Give West Wyoming some credit. It was a small school. A graduating class of 40 was considered big. Many were in the 20s.
The Cowboys did not have a home field. They played their home games wherever they could in Wyoming, Exeter, West Pittston and even Bone Stadium in Pittston. They practiced on a slanted lot with one goalpost behind the school on Shoemaker Street.
With a couple exceptions the Thanksgiving Day games were played in Wyoming at the 10th Street Field, aka “The Bowl.” Early on it was called the “The Ninth Street Gridiron.”
Frankie Fosko, who was a senior on the 1960 Cowboys team, Bill Schalles who was a senior on the Cowboys 1961 team and Pat Robinson, coach Pete Podwika’s daughter talked about some memories.
They all agreed on one thing: the rivalry was not heated. The borough shared a library and a Little League. Friendships crossed the border. The schools even had joint pep rallies on the eve of the game at Wyoming with cheerleaders, bands, players and students from both schools.
“It was a friendly rivalry,” Robinson said. “The game was always at 10 in the morning. My mother didn’t go, she was home cooking. The cheerleaders wore corsages of giant mums with ribbons on them. It was a great day.”
Fosko said it was a really great day across the tracks when West Wyoming won. “If we won you could hear horns of the cars coming up Eighth Street. There would be a big crowd at Eighth Street corners to greet the team. It was a friendly rivalry. There was no animosity. I really enjoyed it.”
Schalles said he remembers the cold and the field conditions in the upset 7-7 tie in 1961.
“It was freezing that day. It was 10 in the morning and the field was hard. It was a very spirited game. Steve Banko scored and I was fortunate enough to kick the extra point. It was great game and we were excited to tie them. I got to play in four Thanksgiving games. It was a great tradition.”
Veteran Cowboys coach Johnny Ludd (Ludwikowski) had died during the summer and Bill Sieminski coached the final season. Sieminski was the brother of Chuck Sieminski from Swoyersville who played at Penn State and in the NFL.
Schalles played at Temple University with future Berwick legend George Curry. Jack Jones, who was a successful coach at West Pittston before joining the Temple staff, recruited Schalles and Curry, who played for Larksville High.
Schalles was a line coach for Wyoming Area from 1978 to 2003.