- a sports story that took place in 1936
Out of the decade of the 1930's, many outstanding Hellenic-American scholar/athletes emerged from the Acre. The 1930's may have been turbulent and calamitous, but it was a Golden Age for the expression and development of athletic skill of the Hellenic-American youth of the Acre.
They were very active in sports, from the sandlots of the Acre- particularly the North Common to the Boy's Club, Lowell YMCA, Sons of Pericles, Lowell High School, the Bartlett Junior High School, the W.P.A. Works Project Administration Leagues, and Lowell Textile Institute.
Lou Athanas, Charles Kelakos, George Gineris and John Ploubides matriculated at Lowell Textile Institute. The student population was baout 250 students. The school was known worldwide as an excellent Textile Engineering school, and students came from such far off countries as India. But, Lowell Textile Institute, now University of Massachusetts Lowell, had a basketball team, and the aforementioned foursome from the Acre were starters on the great 1937-1938 team. Charles Kelakos who had Captained Lowell High's basketball and football teams of 1934, and now was Captain of the great Lowell Textile team. They played the likes of much, much larger schools, such as: Providence College, City University of New York (CUNY), Assumption College, etc.
This team was so good, and there was such an outpouring of fan interest, that several games were played off-campus at the Rex Arena, downtown Lowell. Lou Athanas led the nation in scoring. He averaged a phenomenal 23 points per game and made small college All-American.
That year, the great Hank Lusetti, out of Stanford, averaged 22.5 points per game and led all major colleges in scoring.
During 1937, Lowell High School won the MIT state championship and most of the team was composed of our boys from the Acre: the Great James Chief Scondras, Jim Slip Kritsas, Nick Zamanakos, Jim Fotopoulos, George Seferis, and Alex Capsalis, Peter Kouchelakos.
The Sons of Pericles of Lowell were state basketball chapions during the year 1937-1938-1939 and were runner-up national champions during 1939. Our boys were led by John and Alex Boutselis, Sam Samaras, Peter Panas, John Manalopoulos, George Louis Costopoulos.
The Varney Tigers of the Acre led by James and John Vurgaropoulos, Charles Valcanes, Spiros Sakelarios, and Peter Tsapatsaris, were W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) Basketball Champions during 1938 in Lowell.
Also during the 1930s, the Acre had the outstanding independent teams such as the Acre Blackhawks semi-pro football team and City Champs during some years of the 1930s.
The economic depression of the 1930s frayed the nerves of various ethnic groups, and intensified the competition between the Irish and the Hellenes. This competition carried over into the sports arena, where the Irish Belvidere Okoes and the Acre Blackhawks, the Hellenes, both claimed the City of Lowell semi-pro football championship during 1936. Both were undefeated. Serious negotiations took place between the teams, and arrangements were made to play for the City of Lowell football championship the first Sunday following Thanksgiving Day, 1936, on a neutral site, the Highland Park in Lowell.
Interest and emotions were extremely high in the City prior to the game and reached a cresendo the day of the game.
I was a twelve year old at game time and the following is an eye witness account of that extraordinary day.
There were over 5,000 fans at game time. The acre Blackhawks were led by quarterback John Zaroulis, linemen Jim and John Cavaroulias, Charles "Bobo" Doulamas, Spider Gerakis and Charles Saxonas.
The Belvidere Okoes was led by Stellene "Basbar" Leo Gormley, who never hid his disdain for Hellenic-Americans.
The two teams slugged it out and played magnificently for over three periods. The score was tied with 2 minutes to go, and suddenly a fight erupted between the teams, and soon hundreds of fans participated in the melee.
Soon, the Acre Blackhawks were getting the upper hand in the free for all, and I can still picture the Acre Blackhawk Team chasing the Belvidere Okoes to their bus on the South side of Highland Park.
As Leo Gormly was a target, his football jersey was torn off his body. In obvious symbolic gesture, Gormley's jersey was tacked high on an electric light pole on Common Street overlooking the North-East corner of the North Common.
The jersey weathered nature's elements for four years, until the electric light pole was brought down during the Acre Urban Renewal Project.
The Courier Citizen, Lowell's morning newspaper gave the titanic battle front page coverage the morning following the game. I can still picture the front page caption:
"Baby Riot Breaks out at Highland Park"
World War II came and went.
Leo made it back from the war as did the great majority of our aforementioned Acre athletes. But something very paradoxical happened. Leo Gormley fell in love, and asked for the hand of lovely Demetra Themeles. Demetra accepted. Folklore has it that Leo Gormley was the first Irish-American to cross from the Belvidere section of Lowell into the Acre section to marry an Hellenic-American lady.
In Leo's case, "Love did conquer all." Didn't it? Demetra and Leo had several children, and had a long and successful marriage.
The preceding chronicle is dedicated to the following young brave athletes mentioned who paid the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country during World War II.
First Lieut. James Scondras (USMC), Sgt. Peter Karvalas (US Army), First Lieut. John Koumantzelis, Capt. (USAF) James Vurgaropoulos, and First Lieut. John Vergaropoulos (USAF).
Copyright © by Charles Tsapatsaris. All rights reserved.