E. Lee North, Author, Battling the Indians, Panthers & Nittany Lions: Washington & Jefferson College’s Century of Football, 1890-1990
E. Lee North:
First, can you tell readers a bit about your writing career and how you got started as an author? What about your time at Washington & Jefferson influenced your writing career, and how?
Well, I have said it was W & J that got me into writing, as I was editor of The Red and Black for a couple of years and did a lot of work on our old Alumni Bulletin. But not too long ago I found my diary for the year 1941; I was a senior at Bay Shore, LI, NY High School.
Why, I do not know, but I recorded just about everything from January 1st into September, 1941. That was one of the most critical years in US history — along with 1776, 1861, 1929, and 2001. Author House published the diary a few months ago as “The 1941 Diary of a Deaf Long Island Teenager.” But there is no question that the work at W & J propelled me ahead into the literary world.
Your new book “Battling the Indians, Panthers & Nittany Lions: Washington & Jefferson College’s Century of Football, 1890-1990” covers W&J’s football history – what inspired you to write this book and what are some lessons/stories about the program you were most anxious to get across to readers?
I was lucky to enroll at W & J, particularly since I was brought up in New York. My Dad, Lt. Col. Edward L. North, fought in both world wars but moved from civil engineering to management at Wheeling Steel in 1942–before he re-joined the Army for WW II..
W & J was close by, so I visited, and was accepted. I not only learned of some of the Presidents’ athletic and educational super-stars, I met some, particularly Wilbur F. “Pete” Henry, our athletic director. Although he was an all-time All-American football player, at W & J and in the pros, he was one of the most unassuming gentlemen I ever met. I had to put a whole chapter on Pete in “Battling” to tell his story.
Many may not realize how many modern day connections there are between this small school and today’s NFL. Roger Goodell, Dan Rooney, Dan Rooney Jr. all attended W&J, as did Green Bay’s former offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. How did W&J end up having such an impact?
Going back to W & J’s early football years, despite an enrollment of under 500 students (and we were all-men til 1970), the Presidents competed with Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, and many other top gridiron elevens. I think Coach Bob Folwell (1912 to 1915) was one of the finest football coaches ever, anywhere.
After graduating from Penn, where he was a star and football captain, he started coaching at Lafayette in 1908. As did W & J, Lafayette took on the grid powers. Coach Folwell led them (1908-11) to a 22-4-1 record and they were ranked with the top teams. Enter W & J’s great Graduate Manager Robert Murphy: he heard the rumors that Coach Folwell was not happy with the situation at Lafayette.
Somehow Manager Murphy convinced Folwell to switch to W & J. In his four years at Jay (1912 through 1915) , Folwell’s teams won 35, lost four, and tied three. But did they play anybody good? Well as examples, they beat Pitt three times in four games, and won two and tied one in three games with West Virginia.
Folwell went on to coach at Penn and Navy, and coached the NY Giants first football team in 1925. Health problems forced him out of football in the 1920s. Noted football statistician Tex Noel lists Folwell as one of the top five college coaches.
How did you go about researching this book – who helped and were you able to work with any of the people you wrote about in the book?
I received help from dozens of people in doing the Hundred-Year history… since we contacted every team W & J ever played (still extant), we managed to include inside information on many of the stars W & J played against.
From the W & J side, I have to salute then-Pres. Howard Burnett, Athletic Director Paul Reardon, and publicists Ed Marotta and Susan Isola. And Coack John Luckhardt provided tremendous help (see Ch. 17 and 18. I did list more than one hundred helpers in Appendix I (“Acknowledgments.”) BTW, I searched through many athletic histories in libraries, and believe ours has the most comprehensive index of all.
What were some of the biggest surprises you came across as you researched the book?
To be honest, it was one surprise after another, all the way from W & J’s season of 1890 thru most of the 1930s. How could this little college compete — and beat — so many great football teams? I think it was a combination of western Pennsylvania athletes; people who dedicated themselves to the Red and Black; and especially – Grad Manager Robert Murphy, so dedicated he mortgaged his house to get the funds to take his family to his own Rose Bowl game.
How can readers purchase the book?
Contact the Book Store, W & J College, 60 So. Lincoln St., Washington, PA 15301. Also, the publisher, Daring Books, Canton, OH. And it’s listed on the internet outlets.
There were dozens of NFL players from this small school that played in the 20’s and 30’s – why was this the case and who were some of the most notable players from that era?
Again, I think it was dedicated people— the coaches and administrators, who sought out and trained W & J’s football players. And the fact that western PA has always been a fertile ground for football talent.
Our most noted gridders would include Pete Henry, Clark Shrontz, John Spiegel (led nation in scoring in 1913), Britt Patterson, Bill Inglis, Forrest “Jap” Douds (blocked THREE punts in a West Virginia game), Burlieigh Cruikshank, Bill Amos, Russ Goodwin, Scrubby McCreight, Charles “Pruner” West, and — maybe the best of them all — Hal “Swede” Ericksen, played 1919-22 including the Rose Bowl.
Alas, there are really a hundred W & J players who could be added to the list, please see our Chapter 19, wherein we list the best players by position and list our top opponent players.
You were the Publicity Director at Washington & Jefferson for a while as well. What are some of the interesting experiences you had in that role?
There were many, but I’ll just mention four—
1/ that trip to Forbes Field and the press box with Pete Henry;
2/ W & J put forth plans for perhaps the first “green” study in the country. Our office got a lot of publicity out of it. It was to be an environmental program and would be funded mostly by the state. Plans were approved by the state legislature… BUT our Board of Trustees turned it down! I was a bit disappointed, but in retrospect, believe the Board did the right thing, they did not want the state to start running our school.
3/ President Jim Case asked me one day if I’d go to Pittsburgh with him to a Board meeting. Of course I agreed. It was in a nice old hotel as I recall, with one of those long oval tables. Purpose of the meeting was I believe for President Case to defend his “overspending.” Case was adamant in explaining “G D it, we have to go ahead, we cannot go back,” and more words to that effect. I was a bit of a 24-year-old neophyte, but I worried that Case would be gone. He soon was.
4/ Invited to speak at a youth affair, I walked up stairs to the meeting behind Honus Wagner, the Pirates’ Hall Of Fame shortstop. I’d heard that he was quite bow-legged. It was true, I could see people up ahead while looking up through Honus’s legs. What an honor!
Are you a Yankees fan as a New Yorker now? I know you are a big Pirates fan after living in Western PA for a while.What are your thoughts on the Pirates today – do you see real progress being made?
No, no, I am not a Yank fan, that was only in my teen years. Since I went to W & J and Pennsylvania, I’ve been for the Pirates. Loved those “Lumber Company” (Stargell and all) signs we used to see by the airport. Recent years have been terrible for the Bucs, but there’s always a next year. I do think they’ll improve a lot this year.
Any new books on the horizon?
Mentioned the new 1941 Diary above. In addition, I’m working on a wolf book. My “EYES THAT HAUNT” novel was published a few years ago, It’s a story of a man saving a wolf from a trap, and the wolf later returning the favor. We’ve gotten some nice reviews, but the best was from W & J President Tori Haring-Smith: “Thanks for your wonderful book, Eyes That Haunt.
As you may know, I am an animal lover, and the relationship between Trapper and Kai-No [our wolf] is beautifully drawn.”
In response to your question, I’m working on a sequel to “”EYES”… they’re shooting the wolves from airplanes and helicopters in Alaska, and I’m hoping my Trapper and his little wolf pack can put an end to it.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I hope they can find a copy of “Battling” — it’s in some libraries and last I knew, the College has more for sale.
Thanks, Pittsburgh Sports Daily, for having me.