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Category:  Did You Know?
Published:  May, 2008

Did You Know?
By Al Owens

When Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium a few weeks back, the crowd of 57,000 people was relatively small compared to a visit by Bishop Fulton Sheen to Uniontown in the mid-1950’s.

100,000 people gathered for services at Mt. St. Macrina in September of 1955, for what turned out to be an historic event.
Bishop Sheen, offered a service that he termed was, “a direct message to Russia.” But there was something even more historic. It was the first time that a Roman Catholic Bishop celebrated a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the Byzantine Rite in English.

The event was the final service of the ten-day long pilgrimage – and was said to have been broadcast around the world through the Voice of America.

Bishop Sheen, who had gained widespread popularity through his Emmy Award winning television broadcasts, would return to Mt. St. Macrina in 1956. That time, there were 85,000 people in attendance.
In 1957, Bishop Sheen made a third visit, and he spoke before an estimated 50,000 people.

Did you know that just a few years after 50,000 people gather for the third visit to Uniontown, by Bishop Sheen, the same number of people gathered along the streets and highways of Fayette County, but for a completely different reason?

According to the Uniontown Morning Herald, on March 25th, 1962 – 50,000 people lined the streets between Connellsville and Uniontown to pay tribute to the Uniontown Joint Senior High School Red Raiders, who’d won a PIAA basketball championship the previous night. It had been the first basketball championship won by a local team since 1925.

Although there had never been a shortage of champions who’d come to Fayette County to display their talents.
One fellow, who was, at one time, considered America’s greatest athlete, Jim Thorpe, played two different sports within six months here.
But he definitely found little joy in his efforts.

In December of 1926, Thorpe and his Canton Bulldogs football team could only manage a scoreless tie against the Brownsville Independents football team.
On January 10th, 1927 Jim Thorpe and his World Famous Indian basketball team dropped a game at Gallatin Gardens in Uniontown, to the local basketball team known as the 5 Horsemen. The 5 Horsemen were led by local legend J.S.
“Bus” Albright, and it beat Thorpe and his team by a 51-34 score.

Thorpe wasn’t finished playing sports in Fayette County. Connellsville’s sandlot basketball team known as Unity Fraternity beat Thorpe and his World Famous Indians, by a 50-36 count in early April of 1927.

It had actually been the fourth visit to the area by Thorpe. According to an account in the Connellsville Daily Courier, Dr. Don Brooks says Thorpe had come to a dance at the South Side Armory a few years before he played there – and the Dr. claimed he caused “quite a sensation.”

Did you know that many Baseball Hall of Fame inductees have played in Fayette County?

In late August of 1947 future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford pitched during the second half of a double header at the Uniontown Speedway against the Uniontown Coal Barons. The Coal Barons won that game anyway.

A basketball playing Stan Musial of Donora High School came to Uniontown, and helped lead his Dragons over Uniontown’s Red Raiders by scoring 17 points – on February 11th, 1938. He’d later come in second in scoring in Section Four.

In December of 1972, future football Hall of Famer, Joe Montana helped his Ringgold High School team come to Uniontown and beat the Red Raiders, by scoring 10 points in a 58-45 win.

The following May, Montana got two hits and was the winning pitcher as his Ringgold High baseball team beat Laurel Highlands at Laurel Highlands.

On March 11th, 1968, one future Major League baseball player ran into a Fayette County team on a mission. Ken Griffey, Sr. of Donora High School scored seven points as the Laurel Highlands Mustangs beat him in the WPIAL championship basketball game. The Mustangs eventually won the PIAA state basketball championship 12 days later.

Did you know that the man once considered the greatest baseball player in the history of the game, made several visits to Fayette County?

Honus Wagner, who was actually voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame ahead of Babe Ruth, spoke twice - and he actually donned baseball uniforms three times in the area.

He played and lost in a game against the Uniontown Elks, while he was a member of the Carnegie Elks in August of 1925.
In February of 1940 he gave a speech at the White Swan Hotel in Downtown Uniontown.
In 1944 he was a guest speaker on behalf of the South Union Boosters.

He coached his Honus Wagner’s Pittsburgh All-Stars when they lost a game against the St. Louis Negro League baseball club in July of 1943.

But Wagner didn’t give up. Two months later, on September 6th, he returned to South Union Stadium with his All-Stars. This time they beat a team known as the Victory Bombers by a score of 5-4. Wagner served as his team’s first base coach. But the real draw may have been his team’s pitcher.

Dizzy Dean, yet another Baseball Hall of Famer, pitched three innings late in the game, after he’d played right field – got a hit and stole a base to help contribute greatly to the win.

Did you know that a Uniontown man once gained national attention, merely by graduating from college? It’s true and I’ll tell you all about it next week.