More than two centuries ago, George II's General Edward Braddock led his Redcoats to near annihilation by the French and Indians on the banks of Pennsylvania's Monongahela River. Though generations passed, the aura of defeat lingered on like coal dust in the western Pennsylvania air around the town named Braddock. Then Braddock discovered its high school football team and forgot about defeat.
Nourishing this new optimism is a coach who makes victory a habit; a dancing quarterback who has completed 58 of 78 passes; a team that practices precision plays on a cinder-covered field. Last week this combination won Braddock High's 52nd straight game, tying a national record. What can this mean to a decaying town? Said Mark Sullivan, Braddock school board president, as he signed a bond issue for a new school laboratory: "We had a broken-down town. We started with a football team and we're going on from there. Merchants are painting, remodeling, rejuvenating." Or as Chamber of Commerce Secretary Irene Rackovoni puts it: "The spark was the football team. It made us proud." Here's the team that made a town forget defeat.
Steel Mills, now silent, are familiar background to Braddock Fullback Willie Vick, running to meet coach, who picks him up each day to give him a lift to high school in riverside town near Pittsburgh.
Historic defeat gave Braddock its name and fame but held no augury for Coach Chuck Klausing, whose Braddock High School teams have never lost. A graduate of Slippery Rock State Teachers College, he wears Notre Dame cap given him as good luck charm, says ND stands for "no defeats."
Clapboard home of Teacher Daniel Rice is rendezvous for Braddock players and dates as Rice's daughter Michele entertains at typical fall weekend social occasion. Once a town of 20,000 but now smaller, Braddock has few formal recreation facilities to offer its teen-age youngsters.
Student president Ray Grudowski, honor roll scholar as well as starting guard, emanates air of confident command presiding at a council meeting. The Stuart portrait of Washington serves to remind students that the general, then 23, was with Braddock during the disastrous 1755 campaign.
Thoughtful moment comes to Coach Klausing as he sits in stands of grimy, stony practice field where quarterbacks shout signals over the roar of passing freight trains. The field looks like a flattened coal heap, the dressing room is a converted wood shop, but Klausing says, "We're not complaining. The most important thing is the boy. I coach boys, not football." He makes those who swear eat soap and once dropped a player who broke his strict no-fighting rule. With many players from slums, the coach often aids boys' families.
Cheering moment occurs at assembly under hand-lettered signs that decorate school gym. Typical school spirit was recently shown by history teacher describing defeat of General Braddock who added, "But he didn't have the team we do."
A time for dancing brings smile to watchers as Quarterback John Jacobs shows the latest step, called Mash Potato. "When they mention his name the girls swoon," says coach.
A time for praying is traditional before game. Coach told team to play for tie, as he always does, and they won, as they always do, keeping Braddock, Pa. proud.
ROBERT BENDER; ROBERT HUNTZINGER