They Remember ‘Dike’ Beede

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Dwight “Dike” Beede, who started the football program at Youngstown College in 1937, saw the game as a means to an end – developing greater strength of character – not an end in itself, Angelo Pezzuolo remembers.

“Coach Beede was a success, the example he set, the real difference he made in the many lives he touched,” Pezzuolo told The Business Journal.

Pezzuolo, at 84, is the oldest of the six men we interviewed who played for Beede.

Tom Smolanovich, a standout fullback at Youngstown University in the late 1950s and who played briefly for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League, just turned 80.

Beede’s first full-time assistant coach, Jim Vecchiarella, is 79. He went on to become assistant coach 21 years in the National Football League.

Ray Briya, president of the YSU football alumni club, is 69. His teammate, Chuck Joseph, is 68. At 62, Mike Jennings, who played on the last Penguins team Beede coached, is the youngest.

All spoke with admiration and respect for Beede, with satisfaction about their football careers at Youngstown State University and with fondness about the bonds they formed with their teammates. Most friendships continue to this day.

Beede’s many accomplishments – all documented – such as officials throwing a flag to indicate a penalty just occurred, have entered the mists of legend.

Before Beede came up with the idea of officials throwing penalty flags, they blew fish horns and whistles, both hard to hear over fans’ noise. His wife, Irma, sewed the weights from Beede’s fishing tackle box into the linings of the red-and-white striped flags. Then, on Oct. 17, 1941, at Rayen Stadium, the four officials used the penalty flags in the game against Oklahoma City University.

It wasn’t until 1948, however, that the American Football Coaches rules section officially adopted use of the penalty flags but changed their color to yellow.

And it was Beede, not Woody Hayes, who deserves credit for first pointing out the three outcomes of a quarterback throwing a forward pass – “and two of them are bad” – Pezzuolo says.

If that were all there was to Beede’s 35-year tenure at Youngstown, he’d be just a footnote in football history. But he was so much more as the six alumni attest.

Begin with how Beede recruited his players. The coach didn’t have prospects sign a letter of intent. “Dike invited six of us [from Chaney High School, where Red Angelo coached] to campus and offered all of us scholarships” in the spring of 1965, Briya remembers. “There was a handshake. We signed nothing. His word was good enough.”

“Dike had confidence in Red,” Vecchiarella remembers. “He depended on coaches bringing in prospects to meet him and walk-ons.”

Briya today is executive vice president of MS Consultants in downtown Youngstown.

Vecchiarella, who grew up in Smoky Hollow, has a similar story. He was center in 1953 on The Rayen School’s city championship team, where he competed with players from other City Series high schools, such as East and Ursuline, before they became teammates at Youngstown University.

Just after graduating from Rayen, Vecchiarella and some of his classmates went to the Armed Forces Center downtown to enlist in the Army. Because he was 17, he had to secure his parents’ permission, which his father refused.

At Harrison Field, he ran into Chuck Perazich (later sports editor at The Vindicator), a playground director for the Youngstown Parks Department. “Chuck said, ‘I’m taking you up to YU,’ ” Vecchiarella relates, to meet Beede.

Although Vecchiarella had scholarship offers to play at Ohio University and other colleges, “I wasn’t going anywhere else,” he says. A handshake sealed his intent to play at Youngstown University and that August he went to Camp Fitch for summer camp.

Chuck Joseph, broker/owner of Routh-Hurlbert in Howland, played fullback and linebacker at Salem High School where a scout watched him, leading to Beede extending him a five-year scholarship. Back then, the engineering curriculum took five years to complete.

Beede routinely offered engineering majors five-year scholarships, Joseph and Jennings say, even though they could play only four. Again, a handshake was Beede’s commitment.

All six remember in detail Camp Fitch and summer camp. “Dike loved that place and set up the camp,” Vecchiarella says.

“I’d been there as a kid,” Smolanovich says, “but I didn’t really know what to expect.”

Each year, some 100 reported in late August, walk-ons and those on extended scholarships. Surplus Army tents set on concrete pads, two sets of three bunk beds per tent with springs in the cots. No electricity in the tents. Only one showerhead for all players and coaches to share. No washers or dryers. And hardly any water to drink during practices.

Unlike today when medicine understands the need to keep athletes hydrated, mid-20th-century conventional wisdom was that water drunk during workouts caused cramps.

But everyone remembers how good the food was. Especially the ice cream at night. And that you could eat all you wanted of anything.

“The meals were awesome,” Joseph says.

“They served gigantic tomatoes at lunch,” Briya says. “Really good food.”

“Willard Webster [Beede’s close friend who doubled as athletics director and a trainer] brought fresh vegetables in,” Vecchiarella says. “A farmer came in with an open-end truck, unloaded the vegetables on Saturday morning.”

The camp, then quite primitive, sits about 200 feet off Lake Erie and everyone had to walk uphill to get to the tents.

“Dike’s tent was at the top of the mound and when he walked down, that’s when practice started,” Vecchiarella says.

The Penguins held two practices a day every day except the Sunday set aside as parents’ day or visitors’ day – family and girl friends came up – when only a morning practice was scheduled.

“We had a very rigid routine. We worked hard. The camp was very well organized,” Smolanovich remembers. “A lot of fun when I look back on it.”

“There were six guys to a tent and it was crowded,” Briya says. “After the first cut at the end of the first week, I thought we’d have more room. But no. They just took the tents down and kept us together.”

Only Pezzuolo was bothered by the rain at night that seeped through the roof of his tent. “The tents leaked. You always got wet,” he remembers, ”but you really didn’t mind.”

“It wasn’t stifling hot,” Jennings says. “But it was always warm and humid.”

“The tents leaked on everyone,” Smolanovich says. “You welcomed it.”

At night, Joseph read by candle, dripping wax to the iron frame of his cot and sticking a candle atop so he could use both hands to hold his book.

With no laundry equipment, players were instructed to bring a footlocker with enough socks, underwear and clothes to last three weeks. They hung their sweat-soaked undergarments on the ropes that supported the tents.

Some hazing took place, but most remember it as incidental and used to promote camaraderie. The first day of camp, Jennings says, “Freshmen had to carry upperclassmen’s footlockers” up the hill, then return to tote their own.

The practice area itself was small and compact, “no lines on the field,” Vecchiarella says.

“You ran until you got into the woods,” he continues, “because you didn’t have lines and the defense kept after you.”

“No sleds or pads [padded dummies],” Jennings says. “Dike said, ‘People don’t hit pads. They hit football players.’ He wanted us to hit each other.”

“We hit each other,” Pezzuolo confirms. During the four years he played in the early ’50s, players didn’t wear faceguards. Beede taught and emphasized, “You tackled with your shoulder so your face was not in contact with his chest,” the former linebacker says, along with defensive players tackling up.

In the ’50s, correct use of the technique kept injuries to a minimum, although he broke his nose twice. During Jennings’ four years two decades later, he broke 18 bones.

“The first tackle I made in college, I broke three fingers and wouldn’t tell anyone,” he says, for fear he’d be pulled from the field. “I taped my own fingers.”

A shock to many players was Beede’s absence of playbooks. “We never had playbooks, Jennings said, echoing everyone. “He believed that if you see it [a play executed], you’ll learn how to do it better. That’s how you learned.”

Beede kept his plays on 3×5 note cards that he held closely and wouldn’t share, his players remember. He would pull them from his pocket and make notes on them during practices and games.

“There was a lot of logic to that. The real reason was it allowed him to make adjustments,” Smolanovich says. “He wanted flexibility. He’d be diagramming plays on the sidelines.”

Jennings came to appreciate Beede’s rationale: “A lot of times, in your tent, you’re discussing plays more intensively than they do now [with playbooks].”

Players ended the morning sessions at Fitch with a three-mile run on a poorly marked trail through the woods, the afternoon practices with a five- to six-mile run on another poorly marked path. Players kept up or got lost. Some remember making the runs in full gear, others with just helmets and shoulder pads. On the afternoon run of the last practice, Beede began 20 minutes ahead of his charges, challenging them to catch up. None ever did.

“We’d come out of camp in the best shape ever,” Briya remembers. He weighs the same as when he played, he says, “but it’s distributed differently.”

The Penguins usually won their season opener, the six recall. They were so tough physically, Jennings says, that when they lost during the season, the team that beat them lost, “I’d say 90% of their games the following week.”

When he was head coach at YSU, President Jim Tressel earned a reputation (deserved) for seeing that his players attended classes, did their homework and were provided tutors as needed. He monitored their studies.

Beede was just as insistent his players pay attention to academics but in a quieter manner. “He came on campus during the winter months. He would check up on to make sure you were studying,” Smolanovich says. “He’d talk to you. He’d always be available to counsel you.”

Yes, there were players who didn’t return the next fall because they partied more than they studied, Joseph says, but that resulted from misguided priorities, not an inability to learn.

Jennings is unaware of anyone who played four years for Beede who didn’t graduate. “Being a student was the more important thing,” he says, for Beede “even more so than Tressel. His emphasis was on education.”

Pezzuolo went on to teach and become a school administrator 52 years in western Pennsylvania. Smolanovich earned his degree in business education, taught briefly and went to work for the Campbell Soup Co., rising rapidly as an executive before leaving to join his brother-in-law to start successful distributorship in San Diego.

Vecchiarella taught history briefly before returning to coach for Beede at YU (where President Howard Jones asked him to teach geography) and other colleges before retiring as a coach in the NFL 19 years ago.

Briya earned his B.S. in business administration while Joseph used his degree in mechanical engineering at the Packard Electric Co. 31 years before entering commercial real estate. He bought Routh-Hurlbert three years ago at age 65 and displays the same energy and savvy he did on the playing field.

Jennings earned his B.S. in B.A. and went on to work for Ford Motor Credit Co. in Youngstown.

All graduated with at least a B average.

All remember game highlights and disappointments, how hard they worked on and off the field, players rooming in the attics of Victorian mansions along Wick Avenue, later in the first dorms on campus. They remember getting dressed for practices at Volney Rogers Junior High School in the basement of the former library (since refurbished as the Tod Administration Building). Before Stambaugh Stadium was built, the Penguins played their home games on Thursday night at Rayen Stadium, Campbell Memorial and Austintown Fitch high schools. (Don Gardner broadcast their games on WKBN radio).

They had a flood of warm memories about the coach who challenged himself and them to be their best. They will never forget Dike Beede.

Pictured: Angelo Pezzuolo stands in front on a photo of “Dike” Beede that’s displayed at YSU. 

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.