My Dad’s football days at Loyola College in the 1920s
April 9, 2010
My father, Joseph Vincent Abromaitis, began classes on the Evergreen campus in 1924. A rising junior, he had completed four years at Loyola High School and two at Loyola College at the combined schools’ previous campus on Calvert Street.
An athlete, he already had some experience with Evergreen, since the field opened two years before the official move. This athletic field, which featured both a baseball diamond and football gridiron, is the same one I played lacrosse on in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Eventually covered with artificial turf, it became Curley Field and was later renamed through the kindness of the John M. Curley, Jr., family for the late, great women’s lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens.
A three-season athlete who played football and baseball and ran track, Dad would have loved Loyola’s new stadium, the Ridley Athletic Complex. An otherwise hand- some man, Dad sported a nose broken several times while wearing the “tools of ignorance” as a catcher, and through-out his life his memories of Loyola College were shaped largely by his time on the football field.
The football team started in his freshman year before the College moved to Evergreen. The beginning squad numbered only 19 players: one quarterback; five halfbacks, including Dad; and a fellow Lithuanian named Zemaitis at guard. The freshman team played four games against Mount St. Mary’s Prep (a 6-0 loss); Georgetown Prep (14-3 win); Navy Plebes (36-0 loss); and Johns Hopkins Freshman. As the Loyola year-book described this last game: “Loyola out-plunged, out-tackled, and out-gen- eraled the Hopkins squad and won, 20-0.”
The 1923 and 1924 seasons brought no better results for the fledgling squad. Highlighting the poor showing in these years was an 89-0 shellacking by perennial Charles Street rival Johns Hopkins. By Dad’s senior year, the College had hired Stan Coffall, an All-American from the University of Notre Dame and a protégé of Knute Rockne. The savior of Loyola football, Coffall had earlier coached St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia to a city championship and was enticed to Baltimore along with a number of his championship players. Under Coffall, the team grew in the number, size, and talent of its players. Positive results were immediate as Loyola scored easy victories against the Army Tank School at Fort Meade and Juniata.
More legitimate opponents like Navy, Villanova, Catholic U., Loyola of New Orleans, and Western Maryland (now McDaniel College) proved more difficult. Over the three Coffall years, 1925-27, the team had 10 wins and 16 losses. The highlight was a retributive 33-0 mauling of Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1926. The Hopkins yearbook characterized the loss as “the lone contest on the 1926 schedule that the Hopkins 11 can be ashamed of…Loyola played a clean, hard game and deserved their well-earned victory.”
Coffall moved to Wake Forest after the 1927 season and program costs began to rise, sending the fortunes of Green and Grey football into rapid decline. The team was eliminated after the 1933 season.
My time at Loyola came at the heart of the wooden-stick era of lacrosse, which I played from 1959-62 on the same pre-turf field. Our teams did not lack ambition, playing the likes of Hopkins, the University of Maryland, and University of Baltimore, all top 10 teams, during a single eight-day stretch in my freshman year. The results were, unsurprisingly, not favorable. However, against more comparable teams, such as Penn State, Washington College, Ohio State, and Harvard, we held our own. While the results were not the most memorable, the friendships were. Players had nicknames like “Diamond Darrell” Russell (now a Baltimore County District Court judge), Mike “Goose” Spiglemire (Loyola’s highest-ranking ROTC graduate, a three-star lieutenant general who became commander of all Special Forces worldwide), “Hammy” Dugan (now a lecturer at the Guizhou College in Guiyang, China), Bill “Mother” Byrnes, and me, “the Barometer.” Teammates, including John Stewart (later the legendary “John Law” of Loyola High School), Jimmy Lamar (former principal of Southern High School), Jim Kelly, and Mickey McFadden were talented enough to earn All-American honors. Teammate Lou Becker serves as a Howard County Circuit Court judge.
The games change, teams launch and fold, and players come and go, but the tradition of Loyola athletics, the friendships it inspires, and the pride of its graduates continues undiminished to this day. I’m proud to say it has continued to influence our family. My niece, Anne Abromaitis Bailey, had the honor of playing for the legendary Geppi-Aikens in the 1990s, and her brother Mark finished his lacrosse career on the same field—turf by then—where Dad and I built so many memories and friendships all those years ago.
Michael Abromaitis, ’62, is a partner with Wright, Constable & Skeen LLP. His wife, Carol Abromaitis, is a professor of English for Loyola University Maryland.