Letters from War – A high school sports pundit from a US Army base in England, January 1944

This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945. 

Read the previous letter here

Despite his location at a US Army base in England, Irvin Schwartz played his role as high school sports pundit covering the Pine Grove basketball beat in a letter he wrote in January 1944.

Irvin Schwartz Military
Irvin Schwartz in 1943

Before joining the armed forces in May 1943, the young soldier had written for the West Schuylkill Press-Herald as a high school sports reporter. Apparently, friends had written to him asking why he had not yet opined on Pine Grove’s shockingly successful 1943-44 basketball team.

In this letter, written with only newspaper reports and Schwartz’s sharp memory of the teams he reported on during the previous season, he wrote  a snappy piece for the Press-Herald. The 19-year-old soldier may have been thousands of miles from his hometown in Schuylkill County, but his mind never wandered too far from his passionate love for high school athletics.

In the British Isles

January 30, 1944

Good Evening Mr. Reber:

I have been receiving the Press-Herald from my parents regularly, for a number of weeks now, but I haven’t received “The Letter” direct from Tremont as yet. In addition, I have the copy which you sent.

The Press-Herald is keeping me very well informed on the basketball situation at home and therefore I shall choose Pine Grove High School’s cage team as my subject this evening. Very recently a former classmate of mine wrote and asked me why I never mention any sports in my letters to you and Miss Bashore. So here it goes, for the sports fans.

Let’s go back exactly one year, February 1943.

This month seen Pine Grove, Tremont, Port Carbon, Reilly Township, Hegins Township, and Cass Township, all on the home stretch with their basketball schedules, and furthermore Pine Grove and Cass were battling all they could for first place in the final loop standing. I, as everyone else, say that the Grovers first, threw away, actually threw away, the pennant, and then in the semi-final championship playoffs, threw away a very likely championship. That I considered was, for a period of at least three years, Pine Grove’s last chance for a league championship. The Zimmerman – Heinbach – White – Reed – Sarge quintet was to leave school in June and what Pine Grove had left wasn’t anything outstanding.

Then, as in former years with great success, I predicted this year’s final standings, taking into deep consideration the number of boys back this year, strength of schedule, stars lost via graduation and armed services, and many other similar points concerning every school in the South Schuylkill League. My choice was as follows: Port Carbon, Hegins, Tremont, Pine Grove, Reilly, and Cass, but I must admit that for the first year I am all wrong, in accordance with the early season games of which I have received the results.

Coach Pepe faced the opening of this season with the greenest and smallest team ever to represent my alma mater on the basketball floor and at the same time Port Carbon, Tremont and Hegins returned with the very same teams they enjoyed against our great club last season. No Pine Grove fan expected a victory, and a 43-23 one, over Tremont, no one in the county, I’m sure, expected a win of “Tabby” Howell’s veteran Tabby Cats, and no one expected dear old Pine Grove to establish a nine-game winning streak this season. But all this has happened and all the fans and sports followers will readily agree that, without a man by the name of Carmine Pepe, Pine Grove would be without a winning team for several years, after losing the 1942-43 outfit.

Pine Grove - Tremont Baskeball 1944
From the Press-Herald, January 14, 1944

Without anyone else at the head of the team, this year’s outfit would have never beat Lebanon Catholic, Alumni, Pottsville Catholic twice, Wiconisco twice, Frailey Township, and Schuylkill Haven, and in addition, beat Tremont and Port Carbon in the first and second league games of the season. If Coach Pepe isn’t voted as Schuylkill County’s “Coach of the Year” please let me know who is. Give him any eight or ten boys and he’ll show us a winning ball club, not considering how much experience these boys have had, not considering what schools our very able athletic director, Mr. Henninger, inserts into the schedule, not considering how veteran our rival teams may be, and not considering anything else concerned.

Carmine Pepe
Pine Grove basketball coach Carmine Pepe, from 1950

This isn’t Coach Pepe’s first winning team, nor was last year’s club – which was his first at Pine Grove. We all very well remember that he spent ten big years at Tremont, where he was as much appreciated by the Trojan fans and followers. I can remember too many occasions when in a Pine Grove – Tremont game, one of his boys scored two or three field goals to beat us, and in a number of cases take championships right away from us, in the last minute of the game, or in the overtime period.

Yes, for as long as Coach Carmine Pepe is at our beloved alma mater, there’ll be great teams year after year. His system of having Junior High basketball is starting to show its results. When we return home from all corners of the globe we will all return to our places back in the stands, and basketball in the old town with be greater than ever before. For this reason and many others, I again repeat, that Pine Grove will be greatly in need of a more streamlined gymnasium in place of the matchbox which the great teams of the past have done up with, and which is in use at present.

The time which Mr. Pepe spends on his job, alone deserves the conveniences of a new playing floor. Anyway, all of us feel so about it.

The best of success to Fessler, Werner, the Aungst boys, Roeder, Merkey, Heinbach, Klinger, Clements, and all the rest of Coach Pepe’s boys.

So long,

Pfc. Irvin Schwartz

Featured Image: A photograph of Irvin Schwartz with his final high school sports report before leaving for the US Army in the spring of 1943.

This is part of a series titled: “Letters from War.” Read more of the letters written by Irvin Schwartz during World War II

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