The Pretzels’ salty plan and the history of the rivalry

By on September 17, 2014
Legendary Coach George Male

Legendary Coach George Male

The year was 1953 and Dave MacNicoll was stepping down as Lititz High School’s football coach after a 2-6-1 season.

Eight miles away, George R. Male was taking the year off after coaching the Mountaineers to a record of 70-36-10 over 14 seasons, including two Bi-County Conference Championships and the proud distinction of never finishing worse than fourth in the Conference of the Roses. The history teacher was also the head baseball coach and a beloved civic leader in the community.

He was an Ephrata treasure, on and off the field. And in 1953, Lititz was treasure hunting.

That winter, a group of influential Lititz businessmen hatched a covert plan to steal Ephrata’s “Vince Lombardi.” All it would take is something unheard of for high school coaches back then &tstr; a paycheck.

“He was offered quite a bit of money to come over to Lititz to coach,” recalled George Jr. “He had four children, so that was a motivation.”

A school teacher’s salary in 1953 was around $4,000, and coaching was donated time. Male was underpaid in Ephrata, and Lititz knew it. Coach MacNicoll was even part of the wooing campaign.

“I can remember him coming to the house to talk to my dad,” said George Jr., who was in sixth grade at the time. “He said he was stepping down, and Lititz wanted (George Sr.) to be the replacement.”

Ron Reedy recalls his father, Raymond Reedy, being part of the group that actively recruited Male. The former mayor was the game announcer for the Lititz Pretzels back in ‘53 (the Pretzels became the Warriors in 1956).

“They went after George,” said Reedy, agreeing that it was a huge gain for Lititz, and a huge loss for Ephrata.

So, Lititz offered him a substantial increase to his teaching salary to essentially serve as compensation for coaching, the exact amount of which has been lost to history. Official announcement of the exodus made top-of-the-page news in February 1954, and it was controversial in both communities.

“A lot of people were shocked,” said George Jr. “That was quite a rivalry in those days (Ephrata vs. Lititz).”

At the same time, Lititz, Warwick and Elizabeth townships had just formed a new union school district, and only Lititz students were permitted to play on the football team, according to a March 1954 article in the Lititz Record Express. Taxpayers outside the borough limits were concerned their hard-earned money was paying the salary of a football coach who could not coach their kids. That problem eventually subsided when Warwick High School was built two years later.

The drama continued throughout the year, reaching its peak on Nov. 12, 1954, when the Male-coached Lititz Pretzels shocked county sportswriters by upsetting the Ephrata Mounts, who were riding high on a seven game winning streak, 12-6. It took an already heated rivalry to a new plateau.

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The game has lost some of its luster in recent years, but back in the day it was the football rivalry in Lancaster County. And apparently, sometimes it got nasty.

Just ask Barry Erb, who got a first-hand look at the Lititz/Warwick-Ephrata grudge match in the mid-1950s.

“That rivalry was bitter,” said Erb, a tackle for the Pretzels who graduated in 1956 and later went on to teach and coach football at Ephrata. “That’s the way I saw it … When I was a kid, back in those days my dad wouldn’t let me go to the Lititz-Ephrata game by myself. It always ended in a fight with the spectators, not the players.”

Harold Rupp played fullback for Ephrata in ‘47-’48 and was leading the league in scoring until he got kicked in the head against Lancaster Catholic and missed three games. He was named an all-star in spite of his injury, and remembers there was no better feeling than beating Lititz.

“That was the rivalry,” he said. “I remember when we’d beat them at Lititz, we used to tear down their goalposts and bring them back to Ephrata and parade them downtown.”

Elvie Pfautz, a three-sport star who went on to play professional baseball in the New York Yankees’ system, played football just one year at Ephrata, but it didn’t take him long to understand the ramifications of beating Lititz in those days.

“If you beat Lititz, your season was good,” he said. Incidentally, his ‘52 team did win, 31-0, on its way to the Conference of the Roses championship.

Both teams pulled out all stops to gain an advantage. One such example came in 1945, as Lititz was preparing to bring its star senior player Ray Kreider and an undefeated record to Ephrata.

“A funny story about that game,” then-Ephrata coach George Sr. recalled in a 1975 interview. “It had been dry for a long time prior to the game, and Lititz was averaging 45 points a game. Thursday night we had the Pioneer Fire Company come out and water down the field behind the Highland Avenue school. On Friday it rained, and when Lititz arrived the gridiron was flooded with water. It didn’t help us, however.”

Lititz took the game by a final score of 20-7.

Of course, Lititz’s big score came in ‘54 when they landed Coach Male himself.

As Warwick star running back Ray Dennis recalls, Male’s move to Lititz only added fuel to the rivalry.

“It was (intense), really,” he said.

For the past 39 years, the winner of this annual bout, which dates back to 1930, receives the prestigious Male Trophy in honor of the iconic coach. With its current nine-game winning streak in the series, the Warriors hold a 22-16-1 edge in those games.

“The kids get pumped up when they get the trophy,” current Warwick coach Bob Locker said last Friday night following his team’s 41-0 win.

There was no trophy back in 1955 when Warwick’s Dennis Richwine played right end on both offense and defense. Only bragging rights.

Still, the players got pumped up, and the proximity of the schools was definitely a big factor. But there were other motivations as well.

“They had some nice girls down there,” Richwine chuckled. “We had plenty around here too. We just wanted to beat them. That was always one we were trying to do something about because they were always beating us.”

Back to the girls.

“The (Lititz) boys hung around down in Ephrata at the swimming pool and dated girls from Ephrata, and vice versa, Ephrata guys dated girls from Lititz, and stuff like that.”

Up until Warwick began its current nine-game winning streak in 2006, neither team had won more than four games in a row, a reflection of just how close many of those battles have been over the years.

There was the 13-13 deadlock in 1942, one of six ties in the all-time series, in which Ephrata was a heavy favorite. In that game, Bill Worrall took over at QB for the Mounts in the fourth quarter for starter Dick Bryson, who as having an allergic reaction to pollen from a hayride the night before.

“Johnson scored on a reverse play to get the tie for us,” Male said in the ‘75 interview.

In 1943, Lititz coach Harold Reese continued his mastery over Male with a 13-0 win over Ephrata.

“Harold was the only coach I didn’t beat in my coaching career,” Male said. “It just seemed he always knew what I was going to do, and somehow he could defense us. He just seemed to prepare his teams better than I did.”

A decade later, the down-to-the-wire finishes were still a staple.

“The thing about that game,” Erb said, “you could be 0-8 and Ephrata could be 8-0, and (the score) was 6-0. Then vice versa. Even though one team wasn’t any good, that game they played well. As far as I was concerned, if you beat Ephrata, that was a good season.”

“We went and played down there, and I remember Claude Lynch. I tackled that guy,” Richwine said, “and he must have drove me for 10 yards. I only weighed 155 pounds.”

In the annals of Ephrata football, Lynch was not only a player for the Mounts, but also a head coach.

Interestingly, when Lynch resigned in 1974, Male’s son George Jr. applied for the Ephrata position, which was ultimately given to Larry Hagen.

The younger Male went on to coach nearby at Manheim Central.

“I guess I influenced my son in that decision to apply for the job,” said Male Sr., whose son John Sr. and grandson John Jr. went on to have great careers as running backs at Warwick. “I would have liked to see George Jr. coach at Ephrata.”

In stark contrast to the harsh, bitter Warwick-Ephrata battles between the white lines, Male was remembered by a number of his players as a mild-mannered, gentle man.

“He was a great coach. He liked things the way he wanted it, and I’ll tell you what, I enjoyed that, but he could have been a little bit rougher on us,” Richwine said.

As Richwine remembers, the Pretzels were picked to win the Conference of Roses in 1955. Unfortunately, they ended up 5-5 in Male’s final season on the sideline, dropping three straight to end the season, including a 32-0 loss to Ephrata. In his two seasons at Lititz, Male finished with a combined record of 8-11.

Ron Witmer played baseball for Male at Ephrata for three seasons and also was also in Male’s history class.

He remembers Male’s penchant for Luden’s menthol cough drops and how he (Witmer) would make a run to the neighborhood store “at least once a week” to fetch the lozenges for Male. He also remembers a man who was more than an authority figure.

“He was very understanding, very patient and kind,” Witmer said. “He was a good coach.”

Rupp added, “He wasn’t a yeller. If you did something wrong, he worked with you until you got it right.”

Pfautz also was fond of his coach, although he recalled the time he questioned a decision made by Male.

“I only had one run-in with him,” he said. “In my senior year we were playing in the baseball playoffs. We were playing in the semifinals and I figured I was going to be the starting pitcher. He said, ‘No, we are going to save you for the title game.’ I said, ‘Suppose we lose?’ But it worked out fine, and he was right. We won the semifinal game and we won the overall championship. He really was an excellent coach, and I enjoyed playing for him.”

For Erb, who went on to play football at a small school in Colorado, Male was one of his favorites.

Asked what made him different from others, Erb said, “Very knowledgeable about football. Just the way he treated you. Never yelled that I can remember &tstr; never was hollering at you &tstr; but he would take you aside and say, ‘Look, Barry, you ought to do this and this.’ I liked his way of handling people.”

Review Associate Editor Stephen Seeber contributed to this article.

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