By jim zbick
In depressed times, sports can be a good tonic for lifting the spirits of a community.
A good example is in Detroit where the baseball Tigers have been able to lift the morale of a city devastated by the collapse of the auto industry. Though on a smaller scale, coal region communities a century ago held that same kind of affection for their hometown sports teams.
In the fall of 1912, Tamaqua found itself riding a crest of economic optimism, thanks in large part to the coal industry.
"Conditions Good in Coal Fields" a Tamaqua Courier headline proclaimed on Oct. 30. "The anthracite mines have been operated steadily in October, and the operators expect that a heavy tonnage will be stored for the month," the reporter stated.
He explained how the only "interruptions" in coal production were the miners' holidays, such as Mitchell Day which honored United Mine Workers President John Mitchell All Saints Day and election day.
"Except when holidays prevent, the mines are operated on a full-time basis six days a week," he wrote.
Output was so strong that the transport of coal to market couldn't keep up with the amount being mined. With the shortage of cars for transport, tonnage began piling up at the mines.
Adding to the positive mood around the town was the fact that Tamaqua's high school football team was also doing well.
Even after fall practices began in 1912, the Courier reported that the newly-organized team was being "whipped into good shape." Once they "worked off the rough edges," Coach Hinkle promised to have the team ready to "defeat all comers," the article stated.
On Oct. 14, a Courier writer used some sports psychology in his opinion piece titled "Nerve." From the boys in grammar school playing ball in back lots on Saturday afternoons to the professional athletes playing in large stadiums, he said the art of maintaining self-control and having a positive mental outlook were the same on all levels of athletics.
"The man who wins, other things being equal, is the man who says 'I can win' and 'I will win,'" he said.
He then quoted a high school principal he knew who believed that athletics could teach much about "lessons of manliness."
"It makes absolutely no difference whether you win or lose, provided you play the game with every ounce of power that is in you, and that you play like gentlemen," he said.
"Pretty good principle, isn't it?" the writer asked his readers. "If more of our college boys and professional athletes had that spirit, they would enter even a critical contest with a feeling of superiority."
Tamaqua's young football team and its fans certainly felt superior on Oct. 29 after the team trounced Shenandoah, 59-0, at Y.M.C.A. Park. Speed was a major factor that day, just as it remains critical in today's modern game.
"The Shenandoah boys were just swept off their feet by the local boys whose speed seemed bewildering," the writer stated. "The first touchdown a few minutes after play began put life into Tamaqua and there was no stopping them."
In an editorial on Oct. 17, a Courier writer took a deeper look into how the feelings of loyalty and spirit can infuse an entire town.
"In schools and colleges, a great deal is said about school spirit," the writer said. "The pupils are exhorted to stand by their athletic teams, to root for them on the field, to support school entertainments, as something expected of every member of the school."
He even used an example of a school dance, in which the high school principal made sure that every girl had the same opportunity to participate and did not feel left out. Today however, some might find his choice of adjectives a little harsh.
"He argues that the boys should recognize that even a homely or an awkward girl is a member of the school, and as such is entitled to her fair share of all privileges," he stated.
The writer felt that the same school spirit seen at football games could be translated to and benefit the whole community.
"If you root for new enterprises as the boys root for an athletic team, nothing could stop community growth," he said. "Every new enterprise that is built, every public improvement, every store, factory, farm, corporation, entertainments and churches all help make our community more attractive and livable."
He said these enterprises attract new visitors and also bind the older established residents to their homes and community.
"The tie between the people living in one town ought to be one of loyal friendship," he said. "If you meet a townsman a thousand miles away, you welcome him like a long, lost brother.
His words about hometown pride would make any tourism promotor or chamber of commerce member proud.
"In towns where there is a fraternal spirit between the people, there grows up a feeling of affection for the community," he said. "If you move away from such a town you never cease to speak a good word for it. All which makes life pleasanter.
"It is a good advertising, both for the community and the individual."