Mount Athletics Raff Report: Rekindling the Mount-Gettysburg Rivalry

Mount Athletics Raff Report:  Rekindling the Mount-Gettysburg Rivalry

By Ryan Raffensperger

On December 8th, 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his "Atoms for Peace" speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The sports world hardly took notice.

The following day the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs played a physical game that resulted in the first game over 200 penalty minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small town that was home to the most significant battle of the American civil war, two small colleges separated by a mere 13 miles, including that battlefield and Eisenhower's home away from Washington,  played a game that suspended the heated rivalry for 28 years. Gettysburg College defeated Mount St. Mary's 74- 61 in a foul-filled contest in front of a packed Eddie Plank Gymnasium crowd.

Since that night and now, the two schools have met just three times on the basketball court. During the 1980s, the Mount and Gettysburg alternated hosting a tournament that attempted to pit Gettysburg and the Mount in the final.

All of that will change on Saturday. For the first time, Gettysburg will play Mount St. Mary's in Knott Arena. The teams last met in Gettysburg in 1987, a 112-83 Mountaineer victory. As a result, Gettysburg's last win in the series came way back in 1953, some 65 years and 11 months ago. But Gettysburg still controls a wide advantage in the series, winning 34 of the 57 games.

"We're all really excited to play against Gettysburg," senior guard Brandon Leftwich said.  "They are right down the road. It's going to be a packed house in here. They are probably going to bring all their people in here, and all of our people are going to be here. It's going to be a great atmosphere."

The atmosphere might rival those of the games in the '40s and '50s when getting a seat to the game was a chore. That was the case in 1953 as they jammed Eddie Plank Gym to levels that make fire marshals cringe.

For most of the game, the fans were treated to a close contest that saw Mount St. Mary's threatening to knock the Bullets from the ranks of the undefeated. With the game still broken into quarters, it took until the end of the third for Gettysburg to wrangle the lead away from the youthful Mountaineers. Johnny Habeeb scored 22 second-half points for the Bullets fueling the rally while finishing with 25.

So as the lead grew in the fourth quarter and the whistles continued to sound, frustration must have been building within the Mountaineers. Ultimately, the frustration hit its peak.

The December 10th, 1953, edition of The Gettysburg Times had the details of the event:

"Just before the closing whistle, John Sullivan, the sensational Mount Saint Mary's freshman, was tabbed with his 5th personal. Following a brief flurry of fisticuffs which highlighted the first in a series of two home and home engagements between the schools, Sal Angelo, Mountaineer center, was requested to leave by the officials."

Jack Bream, a freshman on the Bullet team and son of Gettysburg coach Hen Bream, recalled those closing moments.

"The gym was packed, they had people up in the balconies,  on the stages," he said. "It was a great rivalry, and everyone wanted to see it. Sal Angelo and Jack Keller got together, and then it was chaos."

The brawl that ensued quickly turned ugly before anyone was able to restore order. The benches emptied, and spectators from the crowd joined in the melee. Amongst all of it, Reverend Carl J. Fives, affectionately Father Fives, to the Mount community took a punch to the face.

By the end of the contest, four Mountaineers had fouled out of the game, and Angelo ejected via that "request from the referees." The Mountaineers were tagged with 40 fouls during the game, while Gettysburg committed just 14. The Bullets scored more than half of their points (38) at the foul line, shooting an astounding 62 free throw attempts.

Some of the tension might have been building from a Mountaineer victory in Emmitsburg the previous season, a game in which Angelo set a school record with 26 free throws attempted, and the Mount stopped a seven-game series losing streak.

"I really don't know what started it all," Bream said. "I think the competition of the series and the proximity of the schools were most of it. Both schools still had other rivals, but this was still a very big game."

And the series halted abruptly that evening. The return trip to Emmitsburg set for later that season was canceled. A matchup that had taken place 54 times in the 43 years since it began in 1912 gone.

Legendary coach Jim Phelan arrived on the Emmitsburg campus after that season and didn't recall a ban on the game.

"We scrimmaged them several times through the years," he noted. "Then we played them a few times later on. They had some good teams and some really good players. We were never in the same division."

Gettysburg remained a part of the University division of the NCAA playing the likes of Bucknell, Navy, Temple, Penn State, Lehigh, etc. until 1973 when Division III formed.

As the Mount has entertained several Division III schools in recent years, the thought that maybe a rekindling of the rivalry could happen began to surface. Mount coach Dan Engelstad heard that from fans.

 "When I got the job and met with a few alumni and fans of the program, they asked about playing Gettysburg, which kind of got the wheels rolling in my head, if that game makes sense and whether it was a good one," Engelstad said. "The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. The tradition is there, the fact that they are local we can drive some attendance. I'm really excited about it."

The Mount schedule has some unique games this year, and restoring that Gettysburg rivalry will be one. It's a season that comes with high anticipation for a squad that was 4-3 to close the season.

Omar Habwe said any opportunity to play in front of the home fans is a good one.

"We're the same team as last year," Habwe said in terms of personnel. "But we have a few new faces, and we've made a lot of adjustments. I think the season could be really good for us and pick up real fast."

Saturday night is the only home game among the first six. The Mount will be on a four-game road trip over the next two weeks before returning home to play Utah Valley the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.