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 April, 2007

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 Memories of Uniontown Legend "Spider" Minor

Spider!

By Al Owens
There was one sound that seemed to permeate all others when I was a child growing up in Uniontown. It could be heard across the entire East End, and it came from the man they called, “Spider”. “Take him, Take him, take him”, he exhorted the young basketball players up there on East End Playground. It was Wilfred “Spider” Minor’s urgent plea to dozens of offensive minded athletes to stop any assaults on their own basket. He was their mentor and coach. Their guru!

Every summer he’d teach and encourage those spirited young gladiators to reach higher than they ever thought they could. And many of them did reach higher. You know the story. All Americans and All-Staters dotted the entire East End of town, and just about all of them had been under the enthusiastic wing of one Spider Minor.

By then, Spider Minor was already approaching middle-age. By the 1960’s, he was walking a little slower than most of us kids, so I wondered what he really knew about defense. I knew his namesake, the young Wilfred “Hawk” Minor (his nephew) possessed enormous offensive and defensive talent while leading my Uniontown Red Raiders to WPIAL Championships in both basketball and football in our senior year. But I had no idea that he was merely following in the footsteps of his boisterous uncle.

It took me years to figure out just how dominant Spider Minor had been when he suited up for both basketball and football teams at Uniontown in the late 1940’s. I came face-to-face with his exploits while researching old newspaper articles at the Uniontown Public Library. They wrote poetry about him! Not in books, but in the game accounts I found in The Morning Herald.

Then too, I would later listen to those guys whom I thought were the greatest all around athletes to ever come out of Western Pennsylvania, and they’d tell me Spider Minor could never been overlooked in that regard.

My how I must have missed something special, by having not been born yet when he built that legacy.

I do know that I’d really face the wrath of Spider Minor, while he’d been on the door at the Vets up on Main Street. I was 20. I wasn’t old enough to get into the Vets. Spider Minor knew that (he knew all of us and our parents, too), and he blocked my entrance. I ended up wasting a shower and a half bottle of cologne thanks to him. It took me the rest of the year to get over that night.

But as soon as I turned 21, he flung open the gate and graciously afforded my entrance. He spoke to me as an adult ever since.

I felt mighty honored the day, a few years ago, when he walked through my backyard, and he stopped for nearly an hour to reminisce about his early exploits right there near my house.
He seemed so happy pointing in the direction of the houses that had been there, and how he used to visit the little bakery where A.M.E. Zion church is now.

He delighted in telling me how he and the rest of the neighborhood kids would wait patiently until somebody inside opened the bakery window, placed freshly baked loaves of bread on the window sill to allow it to cool, and how at precisely the right moment the little bread thieves would attack. When they’d escaped with their bounty there would be enough hot bread and jelly to go around.

Spider Minor told the story as if that had been a daily occurrence –which led me to believe the bakery owner sat that bread there for the taking.
But the story he told me was so vivid I could almost catch the fragrance of it 50 years later!

That bakery had been long gone for years, but I could see it so clearly right through Spider Minor’s heart.
He walked on after telling that story. The advancing years had helped him polish his storytelling skills, but caused him to walk even slower than ever.
Then there was an unbelievable day, when I was out in front of my house, and I spotted an old, old newspaper that must have been there for years. It was stuck at the bottom of a chain link fence, and I still don’t know how it got there, or why. I opened it to the sports page, and found one of those “poetic” accounts of a long Spider Minor run to the end zone. I was so happy to have found it, I walked to a neighbor’s house to show them what I’d found. But what occurred after that was even more amazing.

As I approached my neighbor’s front yard, there sat the man of whom they wrote that thrilling account – Spider Minor. I couldn’t wait to hand him that newspaper! I had found some way of saying, Thank you! A bit of gratitude for what he meant to all of us who cheered our champions, and for the champions themselves.

Spider Minor died on Thursday after a long illness. He joins a growing list of East End legends who’ve recently died (His nephew Ozzie Minor, Nancy Jenkins and George Petro among them).

I am reminded of the Lou Rawls tune from the 1960’s titled Old Folks.
Children’s voices that play, they all will be silent one day, the day that they take old folks away!

But because of death of Spider Minor, the East End maybe a little silent, yet it’s still alive – if only for his voice that still echoes in our memory – “Take him, take him, take him!”