(Posted on CNBNEWS.NET August 24, 2006)
GROWING UP GLOUCESTER
By Bart Rettew
THE BEGINNING - 1946
(August 24, 2006)GLOUCESTER CITY NJ--The year was 1946 and WW-II was over. Many veterans were now returning home to resume their lives that were interrupted by the War. A group of young, local former high school athletes got together and started what was known as, and still is, the Gloucester City Memorial Athletic Association.
The club was formally organized on Tuesday, June 18, 1946 at the Dixie Hotel at Burlington and Ridgeway streets in Gloucester as reported by Bill Flynn, the meeting chairman. The club was named in honor of the 42 local boys who gave their lives in WWII. Since most of them were athletes or were very interested in athletics, it would be a living tribute to them. The Charter was presented to club president, Ralph Bracken, on October 9, 1946 by State Senator Morrisey.
The primary purpose of the club was to promote and encourage sports, and to reward the city’s best athletes in various sports. Initial membership by August of 1946 numbered 260. An emblem was adopted featuring the letter “G” bearing a “Mustang” which became the club’s nickname. The club’s initial major project was to work with the city and Board of Education to recondition the Charles Street Stadium to provide a field for the local schools as well as local independent teams.
The first team sponsored by the A.A. was a football team coached by Scotty
Bigonnette, assisted by Bert Rickens, with Bill Flynn as business manager. The team entered the South Jersey Football League with home games played at Cold Springs Park. The first gridiron victory in the South Jersey Football League came on September 28 playing the Woodlyne A.A. at Cold Springs Park. Herb Green scored the lone touchdown of the game for a 6-0 victory for the Mustangs.
In support of local sports, the club started a tradition of presenting an outstanding player award of each week’s game to a Gloucester City High School player, a tradition that is still in place today with the awarding of outstanding linemen and backs to both Gloucester City High School and Gloucester City Catholic High School each year at the Club’s annual December awards banquet.
In addition, the club would present a most valuable “Mustang” lineman and back award each year which was voted on by the local fans. The first recipients of the club MVP awards were Ott Pacifico, most valuable back and Yebbers Coyle, most valuable lineman. So began the “Mustangs” and their legendary semi-pro football team known throughout the Delaware Valley.
By October of 1946, the Charles Street Stadium was being readied for the 1947 season. In addition to the field, the facilities would also include a field house, a shower room, seating and lighting. Also by October, the club planned on having a basketball team which would participate in the Garden State Basketball League. Obviously, much was accomplished in the first six months of this new organization which was now approaching membership of 500.
In the late 1940’s, interest and membership in the club started to decline. Around 1948-49, a revitalization took place as the result of the efforts of members like Edgar Chew, George and Waldy Funk, and Rudy Weichmann to name a few. The first club house was opened in 1953 on Market Street and later, a larger clubhouse was opened in Gloucester Heights around 1957 which still remains as the current, active clubhouse.
Football continued as the primary sports team until 1961 when it was discontinued because of increasing costs and decreasing teams. During those early years a number of notable, outstanding and legendary South Jersey players were members of the “Mustangs” including: Edgar Chew, Bob McQuillan, Leon Harris, John Reider, Steve Shimkus, Joe Murphy, Rudy Weichmann, Fred Henning, George Wilson, “Moose” Mussigrosso, and Ron Raube to name a few. Bob McQuillan, Joe Murphy and Steve Shimkus later went onto very successful high school coaching careers each having won the prestigious Brooks-Irvine Coach-of-the Year Award.
Football for the “Mustangs” during the period 1948-1955 is sometimes referred to as the “Super Period” as the club won numerous championships competing against teams with ex-professional players on their rosters as well the best of Delaware Valley area football players. One highlight game may have been in 1955 when the “Mustangs” beat the “College All-Stars” 14-7 at Glassboro. The all-stars were a team made up of local players who had completed distinguished college football careers.
The basketball team grew and played in the Haddonfield League and the Camden YMCA League, and annually participated in the Harold Stretch Tournament in Camden and the Gold Medal Tournament in Philadelphia. Many great local high school basketball players were members of the club championship teams including: South Jersey Basketball Hall-of-Famer’s Bob Weichmann, George Lehman, Pete Johnston, and Jack Collins as well as other notable players such as: Chris Gallagher, Stan Booth, John Murphy, Drew Nolan, Mike Baker, Bill Elenbark and Bill Kneller.
There was also a fast-pitch softball team that played in both the Paulsboro League and later the Erial League winning several championships. Several players on those teams include South Jersey Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame members Al Harris, Bart Rettew, Bill Elenbark Fred Fitch, and Rich Hildebrand as well as other notable players such as Bill Kneller, Walt Ashe., Bill Aldridge, John Reider, Steve Shimkus, Bob “Shagger” Elder and “Toper” Stone.
Today, the club is still very much connected to youth sports in Gloucester City sponsoring both a Little League baseball team and a girl’s softball team. Also, each year in March, the club sponsors a grammar school basketball tournament for local boys and girls teams. The club always was and always will be known and remembered as a football club. Every year since the beginning, the club continues the tradition of honoring outstanding high school backs and linemen from both Gloucester High School and Gloucester Catholic High School with a banquet, trophies, stories and many laughs.
Well, after 60 years the athletic prowess isn’t what it used to be. Football, basketball, and fast-pitch softball have been replaced by golf, horseshoes and horse racing. However, the club is alive and well as some longtime charter members (Walt Ashe, Bob Bevan, Leon Harris, Bart Rettew, Phil Schnell and Bob Weichmann) as well as the rest of the membership which numbers about (55) still get together at the Gloucester Heights clubhouse. Talk is generally about the old days, old teams and teammates, old accomplishments, filled with great sports memories, many laughs and, most of all, a lot of great friendships.
In honor of the 60th anniversary, all current and former club members and team players are invited to a celebration cookout at the Gloucester Heights clubhouse on Saturday, September 9 beginning at 1pm.