All that's cherished and rewarding about the high school football experience is exemplified in the presence of the man, Irv Biasi, a coach who cared. Tough. Disciplined. Strong of purpose. Not given to frivolity or gimmickry. A winner.
Now, after 36 years away from the sidelines, his players from the past are lifting him to their shoulders once more and planning a spectacular testimonial Friday night at Eudowood Gardens that is intended to express how grateful they are for the leadership and guidance he provided at what they now realize was a pivotal juncture in their lives.
Patterson High School, under Biasi, became a dominant force in football. But it didn't happen until he arrived. The Army told him in 1944 he couldn't fight World War II with a separated shoulder and processed him out of Fort Dix, N.J. He was at Polytechnic for two months in the physical education department when a game official, the late James "Happy" Enright, told him Patterson was seeking a football coach.
It was the beginning of a treasured and valuable relationship. Eight Maryland Scholastic Association football titles followed in 11 years and five out of six titles in basketball. Biasi's Patterson football team went undefeated, untied and unscored on in 1948 -- an unprecedented achievement for an "A" conference Baltimore school.
In the process, Biasi and his excellent assistant, John Sansone, developed such outstanding players as Dick Bielski, Bob Auffarth, John Voight, Ed Listopad, Bernie Dudley, Bob Curreri, Lou Karpuzzi, Dick Travaligne, Carl Runk, the Pivec brothers, Dave and Bob, and so many others. Bielski and Listopad gained distinction at Maryland and Wake Forest, respectively, before playing in the National Football League.
Mel Baldwin remembers in his high school days that Biasi would check on the players' whereabouts after practice. He'd drive through their neighborhoods and, if he saw them congregating on a street corner, would sternly tell them to go home and study. Until Biasi arrived at Patterson, a high percentage of the better athletes preferred to join the Crimson A.C., a sandlot team, rather than the school varsity.
George Kuegler recollects the coach visiting his parents in 1946 and convincing them their son should try out for the Patterson team. "He stressed football and academics went together," comments Kuegler. "It was Mr. Biasi who got me thinking about college." Today Kuegler is an aerospace engineer and next year, when NASA launches the TDRS satellite, the former Patterson left guard will have been one of the key participants in formulating its design.
"Our few short years with Mr. Biasi had a long impact on our lives," says John Grden, another former Patterson player. The compliments to Biasi continue as the men now honoring him contemplate his contributions. "I never approached greatness in football, few of us do," said Maurice Dashiell, "but Irv Biasi had a way of taking raw kids with strength and desire and shaping us into a team that dominated football in this state."
It was in 1938 that Biasi came to Western Maryland College, recruited from Hazleton, Pa., by coaches Charlie Havens and Bruce Ferguson. That same season he met Rip Engel, then the end coach. They became close friends, as Engel later went to coach at Brown and Penn State. "It was Rip, one of the grandest of gentleman, who explained the value of the short-punt formation to me," says Biasi. "That's what I basically used at Patterson, plus a few innovations."
Two close friends, Frank and Tony Appichella, operators of a dairy, had tried to convince Biasi to enroll at Mt. St. Mary's Col
lege. As it turned out, he wound up at a neighboring school, Western Maryland, where he excelled in football and basketball, captaining both teams. A significant comment about Biasi comes from Bob Williams, who played against Patterson while at Loyola before going on to become an All-America and Hall of Fame quarterback on a national championship team at Notre Dame. "In 1946, Irv and Patterson beat Loyola 42-0 under those lights at Bugle Field which had all the power of a couple of flashlights," Williams remembers. "Although I wasn't one of his players, he was a lot like my own coach, Ed Hargaden. They showed all of us how miserable it was to lose and how great it was to win."
Married to the former Nelda Kalar Biasi, originally from Elkins, W.Va., likewise a Western Maryland grad, they will celebrate their 50th anniversary May 22. Irv Biasi, in retirement, may have occasionally wondered how his one-time players felt about him. Now he's going to know.