Letter To the Delco Times:
We arrived in Prospect Park in the fall of 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. It was a quiet residential community adjacent to an industrial complex, which was busy preparing a nation for war. Shipyards and factories in Chester, Eddystone, Essington and the Navy Yard were working overtime to meet urgent defense contracts. As a recently graduated mechanical engineer, I was working on the design of deck edge elevators for the USS Saratoga, which would be used to lift fighter planes from below-deck storage to the flight deck of the big carrier.
London was being bombed, and our local air raid warden told us to put blackout curtains at all the windows, and to keep a bucket of sand ready for incendiary bombs. But nobody panicked. Prospect Park High School continued to play its Friday night football games at Municipal Field, which gave the public a brief respite with its concern with the war. Homeward-bound war workers were attracted by the lighted field, and would stop by to swell the crowd. Millard Robinson was Prospect's coach and their record that year was eight and one, section champions.
But Prospect Park was a small school, with no football below the ninth grade. Freshmen wanting to play football had to practice with the varsity. And some of them weren't ready for that. In 1948 a bunch of them preferred to play rough touch with the eighth-graders in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, just a block from the high school.
Some of our neighbors were unhappy with kids running all over their front lawns and crashing into the shrubbery. Since we had a fenced-in back yard, we said they could play back there, provided nobody jumped the fence. But their unsupervised games became more rough than touch, and fights were breaking out. So we had to stop the music and try something different. We started teaching basic fundamentals out there. Like the three-point stance, and charging on a count.
With no pads, we practiced it all at half-speed. But the kids were learning the form, and they seemed to be enjoying it. Prospect's coach at that time was Bob Moffatt, who came over one night to check us out. The next afternoon he brought over a whole truckload of ancient equipment. Old leather helmets, moldly old shoulder pads, even two sets of beat-up game jerseys, one set blue and one gold.
Our garage looked like a warehouse for the Salvation Army. We never intended to go that far, but when Moffatt handed me his playbook I was hooked. They were the same single-wing plays I had learned at Lower Merion 17 years earlier. It was so easy to start a football team that we actually did it. We played three outside games that first year, against CYO teams better equipped and trained than we were. To everyone's surprise, we won all three games.
The next year the boys wanted a name for their team. We recently had an episode of termites in our garage doorframe, and I learned about termites from them. I told the boys that a termite colony works like a football team. They are aggressive and they always move forward. They use teamwork to reach their goal line. They can't throw a forward pass, but they're smart. They build mud tunnels to cover their end runs. And a termite never quits. He may be winning or losing or hurt, but he never quits. The boys really liked that and they voted to call their team the Prospect Park Termites. Fifty-seven years later, their grandsons are Termites.
We practiced in that back yard for 20 years. First we had to remove the back fence. That gave us about 45 yards between the rear wall of our house and the bank of the creek. To catch a long pass, you could land in the water.
Going in the other direction, we had to blow the whistle before somebody crashed into the brick wall. To run a wide play, you could bounce off a picket fence like the boards at a hockey rink. In a goal-line stand, we could have 22 guys in the pileup. The boys had a name for our backyard. They called it Witmer's Blood Pit. My wife cared for the injured on her living room couch, which was covered on practice nights for all the mud and the blood.
When we joined the Bert Bell Conference, they required separate varsity teams at different weights. So we finally ran out of space in the Blood Pit. We now have tall trees growing out there, and squirrels play their own games, running away from our dog.
In my old age I still keep in touch with the team. I've always enjoyed motivating kids, and the coaches of today let me talk to their teams at halftime. It makes me feel like I'm still part of the world.
FRANK P. WITMER JR.