Paul “P.J.” Nyitray had two reunions this year — the 50th anniversary of the last Waite football team to win a Toledo City League championship and the 40th anniversary of the only Bowling Green High School team to finish a season undefeated.
Nyitray was a back-up quarterback for the 1963 Waite team, but got thrown into the fire when starter Dick Chisholm could not play the final two games. Ten years later, Nyitray was the head coach for the Bobcats.
Nyitray will not attend the BG reunion later this month because he has plans to visit his daughter in California. The Waite reunion, which he attended, was during the summer. Nyitray had no idea that Waite has not won a championship since.
“I bought a shirt when I was at the reunion, and on the back it said 18 City championships, two national championships, and it said five state championships,” Nyitray said. “I saw it and said, ‘Wow, we were the last team to win,’ but it said they won 17 before, and (former Waite assistant coach Mark) Welker was on a team back in the 1940s that won it. He filled me in on those stories. He was a heck of a coach for us.”
After starting for Waite his senior year, 1964, Nyitray started at quarterback three seasons at Bowling Green State University under coaches Bob Gibson and Don Nehlen, throwing for over 2,300 yards. The Falcon’s defensive backfield coach was Jack Harbaugh, father of NFL coaches Jim and John Harbaugh, who were later students in Nyitray’s class when he taught elementary school.
Also at Waite in 1963 was Curtis Johnson, but the future Miami Dolphins defensive back was on the Indians’ junior varsity team and had no, if any, impact, on the 1963 CL championship. Those who were teammates on the varsity 50 years ago remain close friends today.
So close, that many still play together in a golf league called “Waite High Has-Beens,” but not Nyitray, who lives in Vienna, Ohio, near Warren. He grew up on Dearborn Avenue, one block from Front Street.
“I was just very fortunate, as well as all the other guys. We all stay in touch,” Nyitray said. “Our group of people, and not just our football players, but all of our classmates were really close.
“I was really fortunate to grow up at that time and space in the ‘60s on the east side of Toledo when everybody was close knit and all of our parents were friends. It was just the best time ever to grow up for kids and be in high school. You couldn’t beat it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world — all of the friendships that were developed and are still in place.”
The 1963 team finished 7-2 overall, losing non-league games to Clay, 13-0, and Rogers, 6-0, but head coach Pete Fanning told The Blade that his team was crippled by injuries in both games.
The Clay game was Nyitray’s first chance to play quarterback, and he says he “stunk” after the Indians were held to 78 yards of total offense. But it was a learning experience that set him up for the Indians’ next and final game, the 13-6 City championship win over Woodward.
Fanning, now 88-years-old, had an overall record of 42-25-6, and one of his assistants, Mark Welker, is now 92, and both survive. Other assistants were Bernie Frick, Bob Ziemkiewicz, and Bob Momsen, a former All-American at Ohio State.
Some of the players are gone, including Cary Burnette, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War, and Andy “Golden Toe” Toth, who the press box at Jack Mollenkopf Stadium is now named for. Chisholm and junior Carl Schliesser have also passed away.
Before the season began, media previews were not even looking for Waite to become champions.
“The big guns were St. Francis and Libbey, but our senior group as freshman and sophomores won the City championship, but we never killed anybody,” said Jerry Wasserman, a senior guard who helped organize the reunion.
Wasserman is not alone in keeping the team’s history alive. Walter Habel, a senior center now living in Perrysburg, and Richard Habel, a junior halfback now in Dublin, Ohio, compiled a notebook about the season that is available for viewing in the principal’s office at Waite High School.
St. Francis finished 7-0-2 overall, but 5-0-2 in the City League, tying Libbey and Central. Libbey finished 6-2-1 and 5-1-1, while Waite was a perfect 7-0 in the City.
It was the first year that night games were eliminated in Toledo, but crowds of 1,200 to 3,000 were typically reported at Waite Stadium, now called Mollenkopf Stadium.
“Waite had won a championship before in 1956. Football was a big thing back then at that period of time and still was pretty popular. I can remember running down to the championship game against Woodward, and from the field house to the stadium the lines were two deep on each side that we ran through. There were plenty of people at the ballgames and it was pretty exciting,” Wasserman said.
The team did not overwhelm anyone. The Indians allowed 1,206 yards rushing and 469 passing, while the Waite offense garnered 1,184 yards rushing and 281 passing. Junior halfback Eric Autman gained 387 yards on 93 carries and senior fullback Bob Thibert had 387 yards on 100 carries, but missed much of the season because of an injury. Autman also had six kickoff returns for 156 yards and junior Bob Schick had five for 70 yards.
Thibert led the team in scoring with 42 points while Toth had 21 points, including one touchdown, two field goals and was 9-for-11 on extra point kicks. Junior Jim Houston led the team in pass interceptions with three for 45 yards, Chisholm had two for 57 yards, and Dunston had one, “but it was a big one,” wrote The Blade’s Chet Sullwold.
“It was just a group of kids who knew how to win. Our stats are not the most beautiful stats in the world, but we’d win somehow. They were good people — real hard working kids,” Wasserman said.
Toth’s 15-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining was the difference in Waite’s 3-0 victory over Bowsher. Plus, tackle Paul Siebenaler intercepted a Bowsher pass to end a first half Rebel scoring threat.
“We should have killed Bowsher, but if it wasn’t for him, we would not have won because we were not playing well, and he kicked a field goal and won the game for us,” Nyitray said.
“(In another game, junior halfback Joe) Slivinski ran a 105-yard fake punt from our own end zone, and I saw it on the film and they sent us pictures of that game, and I said, ‘Oh, my God, the punter is going to get creamed,’ and I could see Dick Chisholm handing the ball back to Siovinski and he ran 105 yards for an unbelievable touchdown. Nobody touched him. So every game something different happened,” Nyitray continued.
In a 7-6 win over defending state poll champion Central Catholic, the Irish’s John Flynn returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, but the conversion run failed. Dunston then returned an interception 80 yards for six points, and Toth’s extra point kick was the difference.
In a 22-20 win over DeVilbiss, the Tigers failed on a two-point conversion attempt at the end of the game. Two touchdown runs by Thibert were the difference in a 13-8 victory over Start.
A last-ditch goal line stand by the defense against Woodward preserved the City championship. The game ended with Woodward at the one-yard line and Indians on top, 13-6.
“Bob Thibert was our fullback at the time, (junior) Carl Schliesser was our linebacker and a back-up fullback and quarterback, and all of these guys — (senior) Tom Dunston made the final saving tackle at the end of the Woodward game,” Nyitray said.
“We won I don’t know how many games by three points or a touchdown here or there. Everything just fell perfect for us, and it was really great the way that everything fell into place.”
The 1963 Waite City League football championship team.