The following story is true. At least as true as a 40-year-old memory can be.
In 1967 San Francisco had “The Summer of Love.”
A few weeks later Folcroft had something completely different from that.
I was attending St. George Catholic School in Glenolden and playing football for the Folcroft Boys Club 115-pound team, along with two or three of my 8th grade classmates.
On the Glenolden Boys Club 115-pound football team were about ten of my classmates.
You see where this is going, right?
The Folcroft-Glenolden game scheduled for November was a hot topic of conversation from the very first day of school in September.
We had never heard of “trash talk” back then, so I think we may have invented it in those weeks leading up to the game. (I checked and it's too late to claim royalties.)
Rumors of secret plays, last minute all-star ringers, shoes that make you faster, steel-reinforced helmets … lunch and recess were disinformation sessions designed to strike fear in the hearts the opposition.
As the day of the game drew closer and the tensions ran higher, the nuns at St. George (they preferred we call them “sisters”) decided to calm the mood by engaging us to explain the game to them. They took time out from class to ask us questions to which they actually didn't know the answers. This was highly unusual.
Four of the sisters showed a real interest in what they saw as “good, clean fun,” and promised to actually go to the game. Players on both teams were surprised to say the least, and (if truth be told) motivated to impress them on game day.
And they were nuns of their word, as they did show up.
It was a bright, crisp autumn day, and just before kickoff they found a spot at the end of the bleachers at Delcroft Field in Folcroft, and settled in for the fun.
The game started well for Glenolden with a long kickoff return and a few first downs, but we stopped them and took over on a punt. The sisters cheered between plays (so as not to disturb the players, they explained to their fellow spectators).
It was hard-fought as you'd expect a rivalry like this one to be, but over the course of the first half we'd scored twice for a 13-0 lead. The sisters moved from the Glenolden side to the Folcroft side at halftime to show impartiality (just like the President did at Army-Navy games).
About half way through the third quarter Glenolden was on a fairly long drive when one of their running backs crashed hard into our sideline as he went out of bounds.
Our coach picked up the Glenolden player and said one of two things (depending on who you believe). Either:
“Good hit, young man!”
“You dirty little %^&#*!!!”
And that was all it took.
Within three seconds the Glenolden coach was halfway across the field, which we all thought was very impressive for a man in his 40s. Why he was running across the field had not quite hit us yet. His coaching staff was right behind him and they all dove headlong into the Folcroft sideline as if it were a giant wave on the beaches of Wildwood.
What came next was right out of a John Wayne western. Thirty to forty adults swinging wildly at one another, knocking over benches, water buckets, collapsible chairs and yes … the four good sisters who had come to see their first football game. They tumbled head over heels over head over heels in a wild blur of white and black that looked a lot like a spinning yin-yang symbol.
The players stood in stunned silence watching the unbelievable happen, until one of my Glenolden opponents/classmates had the presence of mind to say “Can you believe this s***?”
While the melee was in full bloom, my dad, who in those days was known to throw a punch or two in a good cause, was stuck on the Delcroft School roof filming the game. Someone had had the presence of mind to kick the ladder out, stranding him there. My mom still denies that she did that, although her movements for that particular time period have never been confirmed.
As the fighting started to die down just a little I could see the nuns getting up and dusting themselves off, flustered but apparently unhurt.
Unaccustomed to finding themselves in the middle of a football riot, however, they failed to realize that the first priority was to get clear of the action. And so it was not a great surprise to those of us watching when they went down a second time.
This time they got mixed up in what, to this day, is the only six-mother fight I have ever seen.
Eventually the battles did end. I'm not sure whether it was because everyone just tired out or whether the referee's threat of an unprecedented “mutual double forfeit” did the trick.
We resumed play, but without the sisters. I caught a glimpse of them climbing into their baby blue Ford station wagon, drawing straws (I'm imagining this part) to find out who would tell Mother Superior the whole sordid tale.
On Monday morning, each teacher and sister in St. George School read a statement to her class:
“A disgraceful event took place over the weekend. It would be best for all involved if not one word about it were ever spoken again.”
Of course we spoke of nothing else all day.
It turned out that 95 percent of the kids who had heard that short, sweet statement had no idea what it was about. So players from both teams had a field day exaggerating a story that needed no exaggeration.
But I'm afraid the good sisters had oversold it in their official statement. Most of my classmates were hoping the “disgraceful event” was more than a fight, no matter how epic it was to those of us who had witnessed it. Eighth graders were a tough audience, even back then.
Oh, we won the game by 20 points. (Sorry, Glenolden guys, I couldn't resist.)