Around District 11: The Travels of Guy & Pam Checkin’ Out the Eight-Man GEFA Game – Spartans v Warriors

Tagged under: 8-Man League, GEFA, News

Guy Smith | April 11, 2023


Around District 11: The Travels of Guy & Pam

Checkin’ Out the Eight-Man Game

After his first GEFA 8-Man semi-pro football game, PA Football News legend Billy Splain said: “Go see one for yourself.”  OK, boss.  Will do.

Our spring Saturdays are always booked up pretty solid with both afternoon and evening sporting events, but when we had a late in the week cancellation for the afternoon, the first thing we did was to check out the GEFA schedule.  The Great Eastern Football Association was formed in 2005.  It has grown since then, and just a couple of years ago the league had 17 teams.  In 2023, they started with 14 teams in two divisions.

The Valley Division consists of the Berks County Raptors, Lancaster County Cyclones, Dauphin County Comanche, Electric City Skyhawks, Wilkes-Barre Warriors, and Hazleton Mustangs.

The Mountain Division includes the Bedford County Buffaloes, Williamsport Wildcats, Snyder County Spartans, Mifflin County Tomahawks, Somerset County Miners, Moshannon Valley Vikings, and Susquehanna Valley Bolts.

One team in the Valley Division has already folded.  On April 4, the GEFA released a statement on their website that the Carbon County Savages had folded after playing their week two game, a home loss in triple overtime.  That’s a shame, as the team played their home games in Palmerton, which would have been the closest home field for us of any of the teams.

This was both Guy and Pam’s first 8-man football game, and also their first in what is known as “semi-pro” level football.  That fact is somewhat surprising, since Guy’s father played semi-pro football in the second half of the 1940s after returning from the US Navy during WWII, although what Pop played was an 11-man, not 8-man game.  The club he played for was formed in the 1930s and called the Garfield Aces, named when four separate kids street gangs from the Garfield Elementary School in Allentown merged for sports.  The gangs were the Greenleaf Street Tigers, the Cross Keys, the Cedar Street Pansies, and the Belmont Cubs.

The Aces went on to be an Allentown sports powerhouse in three different team sports.  In basketball, they were Allentown city champs. For home games at the Boy’s Club they had to shoot over the rafters due to the low ceiling (as did future ABA pro Larry Miller from Catasauqua years later). They played an exhibition game there against the Muhlenberg College JV team, and crushed the frustrated Mules, who kept hitting the rafters with their shots.

In fast pitch softball, sometimes playing as Garfield, sometimes as the Pioneer Fire Company #9, they won the Allentown City Championship, which earned them a trip to Altoona to play in the KASA (Keystone Amateur Softball Association) state tournament.  KASA was a smaller PA-only group, independent of both the ASA and the NCS. The “Nines” took a bus to Altoona, disembarked, and promptly won the state title in their only appearance.

In semi pro football the team started as usual, as the Garfield Aces.  They were picked up by the Emmaus Athletic Club in 1947 and as Emmaus A.C. went 7-1.  Pop was the QB/K and their lone loss was 7-6 to a team from Philly when Pop missed the PAT.

The game we went to last Saturday had the Snyder County Spartans from Selinsgrove visiting the Wilkes-Barre Warriors.  Another well-known media personality from PA Football News,  Brian Hollywood Ptashinski, had been covering their games and proudly prowled the sidelines.

The Warriors play their home games at “The Bog” located at Miners Memorial Park.  I believe Bog is really an acronym for “Barre on the Go.”  There are no stands, no public address system, and no scoreboard.  There is also no admission fee. Pam learned that “The Bog” is also home to Wilkes-Barre rugby.

I was curious as to what is actually meant by the term “semi-pro.”  A definition of professional, of which “pro” is an abbreviation, is: “Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career.”  That certainly isn’t the case here.

When my Pop played semi-pro, from the pictures I’ve seen they had fairly large crowds attending.  Wives and/or girlfriends would circulate during the game and “pass the hat.”  The team would pay expenses, and divide the remainder equally after each game.  Of course my knowledge of semi-pro football has a gap of over 75 years, so I don’t think there is much correlation to the present.  In actuality, the GEFA league rules prohibit any player receiving monetary payment or other compensation (gifts).  But I read a 2021 interview with the GEFA league president, and the “pro” in semi-pro refers to the “atmosphere,” not pay.

What they do have is good locations to set up lawn chairs to watch the game.  There was no scoreboard, but they did have someone walking around wearing a small flip chart scoreboard around his neck.  This resulted in a slight alteration of the standard “What’s the score?” to “Where’s the score.”  And every once in a while, you could hear one of the coaches yell to the players on the field how much time was left in the quarter.

The home team had a small refreshment stand where they sold slices of pizza, snacks, and drinks.  In addition, a licensed city food vendor set up on the street at the curb with a truck selling hot dogs and a number of other types of hot foods.

The field is exactly half of the 100-yard field we all know and love.  Pam and Guy have both gone to a (very) limited number of arena football games, and we both rank arena at nearly the bottom of our favorite spectator sports, golf and probably equestrian the exceptions.  Pam was the first to say out loud what Guy was thinking, that this is not as fun as normal football, but without the slightest doubt preferable to arena football.

Teams in the league seem very unbalanced with regard to parity.  The Warriors won their opener against the Susquehanna Valley Bolts 108-6.  We don’t think we have ever seen a football team score 100.  The next week, they defeated the Williamsport Wildcats 30-26 with a TD on the very last play of the game.  This week, it was back to “Routville”, a 72-6 victory with the only Spartan score a defensive pick six.  One other game in Week 3 had an even worse point differential than the 102-point Warrior win on opening day.  This past week the Mustangs beat the Bolts 106-0.

After three weeks, only three teams out of the 14 remain unbeaten, Buffaloes, Tomahawks, and Warriors.  The regular season lasts ten weeks, concluding the first weekend of June.  Sixty-nine of the 70 games are afternoon games, with the Moshannon Valley Vikings concluding their season with the lone evening game.  That might be a fun one to attend.  The championship game is the Keystone Bowl, played last year at Kutztown University but this year’s site not yet announced.

After seeing our first GEFA 8-man game, would we go again?  We both say absolutely yes.  Would we go back to Wilkes-Barre to see the Warriors again?  We both say absolutely yes.  Are we likely to try to see every team play a home game, which is our normal modus operandi?  No.  Do we think we will see at least one more game this season?  Yes, but not for the next two Saturdays as we have college rugby and college track and field already scheduled.

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