Local sports focus for Brooke Museum event

WELLSBURG – From boxing to major league baseball, Brooke County has played a part in a variety of sports, and the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center aims to promote awareness of that through an ongoing exhibit.

Helping to kick off the new display was a special program Sunday featuring guest speakers Michael Traubert, a local researcher of boxing’s early days; Ron Ujcich, former head coach of the state championship-winning Wellsburg American Legion baseball team; and Paul “Bud” Billiard who led the Brooke High School football team to win three state championships and to be ranked 23rd and 25th in the nation, among many other accomplishments.

Traubert, a Wellsburg resident, related how Colliers once hosted a world boxing championship match fought by Paddy Ryan and Joe Goss in 1880. He explained Colliers, then known as Colliers Station, was then a bustling area because of the railroad that ran through it and active mining industry around it.

Traubert added the railroad made it a key location because boxing was illegal then, allowing participants a quick arrival and departure from the site.

He said according to newspaper reports, the Brooke County sheriff attempted to intervene but quickly found he and his deputy were outnumbered by about 5,000 people who turned out to view the fight.

Traubert said it was the first match for Ryan, a saloonkeeper and former blacksmith, and Goss, the heavyweight champion of England, was favored to win.

But Goss, who was 44, appeared less graceful than the inexperienced but youthful Ryan, who was 28, according to the Wheeling Intelligencer.

The newspaper reported that by the fight’s 87th and final round, both were bleeding and bruised but Goss was clearly weaker after sustaining many blows from Ryan during the 87-minute match.

Traubert said Ryan would go on to fight and be defeated by famed prizefighter John L. Sullivan.

Ujcich presented to the museum framed photos of the American Legion team he coached to a state championship win in 1991 and its trophy; Wellsburg High School baseball teams that won the 1947 and 1962 state championships; Follansbee High School baseball team that won the 1956 state championship; and Brooke High School baseball team that won the 1973 state title.

Ujcich noted the West Liberty University baseball team that won the 1964 national championship included four Brooke County residents: Fred Chambers, Ron Prantil, Ron Romanowski and Frank Ujcich, Ron’s brother.

He also shared a bit about baseball’s origins, including its connection to the English games of rounders and cricket; and noted the many Brooke County natives who have gone on to play for minor or major league baseball teams.

The minor league players and their teams or major league affiliations were: C.F. Walker, Columbus Redbirds; Al Fedak, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians; Andy Tokas Sr., New York Giants; John Teeters, Detroit Tigers; Andy Tokas Jr., California Angels; Walt Liston, Baltimore Orioles, Simon Ashbrook, New York Mets; Dave Yeager, Texas Rangers; Larry Gryskevich, St. Louis Cardinals; Mark Scwhertfeger, Boise Buckskins; and Frank Ujcich, New York Mets.

He said three former major league players with ties to Brooke County are Chris Enochs, who played for the Oakland A’s; Bob Milliken, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers; and John Pramesa, who played for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Reds.

Ujcich noted Joe Pettini, a Brooke County native who played and coached for the St. Louis Cardinals, was on hand for the program and donated one of his Cardinals jerseys and a Cardinals baseball to the library.

A 1973 graduate of Brooke High School, Pettini played for the St. Francisco Giants from 1980 to 1984 and for minor league teams affiliated with the Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals and served as a bench coach for the Cardinals and Houston Astros. His long affiliation with the Cardinals includes coaching their minor league team, the Redbirds, to the championship in 1995 and serving as bench coach for the major league team from 2002 to 2012, helping the team through three World Series, including two victories.

Petini said growing up in Windsor Heights, baseball was a favorite pastime for boys and men and a common source of entertainment for everyone.

He made light of his baseball career, saying, “I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve never had to get a real job.”

But he added, with a more serious tone, “I was very fortunate because I’ve been given a lot of support from people throughout the county.”

Billiard recalled the careers of several Brooke Bruins, who after gaining distinction as football players locally and regionally, went on to distinguished careers at the college or professional levels.

They were:

Rich Thomaselli, a 1975 Brooke graduate, who went on to play for the Houston Oilers in 1981, Green Bay Packers in 1984 and Montreal Concordes, a Canadian football team, in 1985. A former Brooke assistant football coach, he currently is head football coach at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County.

Jeff Patterson, a 1979 Brooke graduate, who went on to the Canadian Football League, joining the Concordes in 1983 and the Saskatchewan Rough Riders in 1986 and was named the CFL Eastern Division’s Rookie of the Year in 1983.

Lou Geary, a 1976 Brooke graduate who, following a distinguished football career at Fairmont State College, became track and cross country coach at Glenville State College, leading athletes there to win WVIAC championships in 1985 and 1986 and being named the conference’s Track Coach of the Year in 1986.

John Bowers, a 1992 Brooke graduate, who followed up playing on the 1990 Bruins’ state championship team with a distinguished football career at Bethany College and coaching the Morgantown High School Mohigans to two state championships and several regional championships.

Brett McLean, a 1996 Brooke graduate, who aided Mount Union College in winning three Division III NCAA championships before becoming head coach at St. Clairsville High School, where he led the Red Devils to become state runners up.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)