CONSHOHOCKEN -- While most football fans are looking ahead to this fall’s NFL and scholastic seasons, graduates of the former Conshohocken High School are looking back and celebrating the 70th anniversary of their 1951 team’s best season ever – one that remained undefeated and untied through contests with nine rival high schools.
At press time, some 163 CHS alums planned to attend the school’s annual alumni luncheon – scheduled for Sept. 18 – at Plymouth Meeting’s 1912 Club…among them, Ed Golas and Dominic Coscia, two of three surviving players from that championship season. Teammate Augusta “Gus” Butera and surviving cheerleaders Carol Lee Bergy Skarimbas, June Carline Daywalt and Ella Mae Graham Brasher will also be recognized as part of the event’s nod to 1951’s standout athletes.
Although scores of teens from adjoining Plymouth and Whitemarsh townships had matriculated at CHS over the years, 1965’s formation of Colonial School District consolidated the three areas into one and made Conshy High’s Class of 1966 the last to graduate from the landmark building on Fayette Street at Seventh Avenue. The 1913 structure subsequently housed a number of classes for then-new Montgomery County Community College before being razed to make way for offices.
The lack of a bricks and mortar base did nothing to dissipate CHS alumni allegiance to their alma mater, and that allegiance has remained strong and connected via the organization’s chatty and informative Blue and Gold newsletter and yearly luncheon-reunion. CHSAA’s youngest members, now in their 70s, were preschoolers in 1951. But their pride in the school’s exceptional gridiron season is unmistakable.
CHS’s 1951 game schedule kicked off with an outing against Springfield High School on Sept. 14 and continued on Sept. 21 against Pennsylvania School for the Deaf; Sept. 28, Berwyn; Oct. 5, Bristol; Oct. 12, Bridgeport; Oct. 20, Upper Merion; Oct. 27, Phoenixville; Nov. 9, Darby; and Nov. 22, Saint Matthew’s – the Golden Bears’ closest rival.
“For two quarters on Thanksgiving morning, Coach Vince Bonkoski unleased one of the mightiest grid machines ever seen at Center Stadium,” wrote student Publicity Manager Russel Gray about the holiday win over the latter. “Paralyzing a formidable Mirror eleven with the venom of his cobra-like attack, the Bruin mentor saw his first stringers run up a 40-8 lead by halftime before retiring them for the day.
“‘Sug’ Smith, the Bears’ renowned breakaway back, took off on four separate excursions of 72, 83, 70 and 60 yards to score a quartet of touchdowns, besides throwing a TD pass to Jaroy Cannon. In the third quarter, the CHS second stringers played the Blue and White elite to a scoreless standstill. The assorted Bruin reserves yielded three touchdowns to the Reflectors ?? in the finale but scored once, themselves, to make the scoreboard read 46-36 ?? at the cessation of play.”
On the eve of 1951’s championship season, the Sept. 13 edition of The Conshohocken Recorder featured illustrated ads for numerous local diversions. “Francis Goes to the Races” was playing at Norristown’s Norris theater, “Meet Me After the Show” was at The Grand, “Alice in Wonderland” was at the Ridge Pike Drive In, and the Mills Bros. Circus was coming to Spring Mill Fire Co. No. 1. But in the end, the standard front-page blurb previewing the Golden Bears’ 1951 season would be the most memorable.
When that season ended, Phillips Furniture Store at Hector and Harry Streets was one of many local businesses that publicly recognized its significance. A team photo in the Phillips tribute included Head Coach Vincent Bonkoski – nicknamed “Bounce” – who had captained and played backfield during the school’s first undefeated season in 1930.
“When it comes to grit and courage, no one can say the Golden Bears of ’51 weren’t well fortified,” the Phillips commendation enthused. “In most games, they were outweighed – but never outplayed. They exhibited a team spirit that comes only from being faced by greater odds. In the years to come, these boys and their great coach, Vincent Bonkoski, can reflect with pride on their accomplishment – the first undefeated, untied football team in the history of Conshohocken High School.”
CHSAA’s 2019 luncheon-reunion was canceled because of COVID-19, and organizing committee members have invited fellow alums to help them “relive the glory days of that (1951) season…with mementos and special items” at Sept. 18’s get-together. The committee includes Margaret Romano Kline, John “Jack” Bowman, Lewis Wolfe, Marie Risell Wolfe, Penny Volz Helenski, Florence Paglario Bruno, Bethanne Bailey, Patricia Horn Bradley, Richard Nasielski, Debbie Link Nasielski, Barbara Ream Hoffman, Doris Hitchcock Habermacher, Nancy Ellam DeVitis and Beverlee Knoeller Stemple.
CHSAA will celebrate its 150th anniversary at next September’s luncheon, and planners ask anyone with access to school-related photos or videos to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.