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PCIAA: 1951, Co-Champs are declared for the Class A Title
|The Class A state title in 1951 was disputed.
On the court, Johnstown Catholic won 50-48 at the Johnstown War Memorial
Arena with over 4,800 fans in attendance. It was the first time that
the War Memorial Arena sold out for a high school basketball game.
Some say that the attendance figure was 5,000.
The size of the arena could well be the reason the game was played under protest by Reading. According to PCIAA rules, the state championship game each year rotates between the East and the West. The east has three Dioceses: Allentown, Scranton, and Harrisburg. The West has three Dioceses: Erie, Pittsburgh, and Altoona/Johnstown. In 1950, the game was played in the East and Reading was the winner. Therefore, the 1951 game was to be played in the west. In 1948, the PCIAA passed a rule stating that "championship games were to be played on neutral floors." Johnstown Catholic announced that the game would be played at the War Memorial Arena, the problem being that even though it was not listed as their home court, they had played 12 games there that season. Reading Catholic filed a written protest of that decision. The protest was taken up by the 18 member PCIAA Executive Board. The Board had 3 members from each Diocese; therefore, 9 from the East and 9 from the West. They split 9-9 on accepeting or rejecting the protest. That put the decision into the hands of Rev. Father Thomas J. Quigley of Pittsburgh, the Chairman of the Executive Board. He ruled in favor or playing the game at the War Memorial Arena. That ruling guaranteed at least 4,800 to 5,000 paying customers coming through the gate. It was definitely not a neutral court, but it was one of the largest venues available.
On Sunday March 11, Johnstown qualified by beating Pittsburgh Central Catholic 42-39. Jack Twyman, later a professional star with the Rochester Royals and the Cincinnati Royals and who appeared in 6 NBA All-Star Games led Pittsburgh Central Catholic with 10 points.
On Thursday March 15, Reading qualified by beating Harrisburg Catholic 60-41.
Tuesday March 20 was proposed as the date to play the Championship. However, the PCIAA Regional co-ordinators had not given their approval, so that date was missed. Saturday March 24 was the next date proposed for the title game. Reading refused for religious reasons, the next day was Easter. However, the next week March 26-30, a circus was scheduled to appear at the War Memorial. And on March 31 and April 1, professional hockey was scheduled. Therefore, the game was pushed to Monday April 2. All of this bickering over the date worked in Johnstown Catholic's favor. In the March 11 win over Pittsburgh, Johnstown's best player, Ron Nathanic severely sprained his ankle in the last minute of the game and was carried off the floor on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. Had the game been played the next week, he would never have played, in fact he was still on crutches then. So when the game date lingered until April 2, 22 days had passed, and he was ready to play. Also, Johnstown had a starting guard, Dick Osmar who missed the last 8 games of the season with a broken hand, but he too was ready to play in the delayed State Championship game.
Johnstown took a 28-10 lead in the second quarter, but Reading closed to trail 28-21 at the half. Johnstown still led by seven 44-37 at the three quarter pole, but Reading relied in the last period to pull within two, 50-48 with seconds remaining, and had a chance to tie at the buzzer when a violation disallowed their last basket according to the Reading Eagle article by Paul Lukas.
In March, the circus played in Johnstown at the War Memorial Arena, but the real circus was the discussion, delay, and decision to play the State Championship Game on a court that one team played 12 games on during the regular season, hardly a 'neutral' court.
A year later, the March 24, 1952 Pittsburgh Press lists the two teams as co-champions. And that decision stands in the record book.
Johnstown Catholic Coach
Central Catholic Coach
Note: Schaaf coached 24 years at Central Catholic and had a 335-307 record. (Terry Bickhart, Reading Eagle, 12/1/08)