Legends Are Born (1929-1958)
With the growth of the Saint Stanislaus athletic tradition taking shape, the school began to fire on all cylinders. With student morale at an all-time high and the excitement among Bay Saint Louis residents for their Rock-A-Chaws’ athletic prowess, big changes were coming.
School spirit began to roar in the late 1920s and, as that grew, so did enrollment at Saint Stanislaus. Athletic teams were being sponsored in lower elementary grades, upper elementary grades, junior high and high school. Brother Peter fueled the participation of students in a variety of extra-curriculars with great encouragement and enthusiasm, establishing an expectation of excellence for generations to come.
It was during this time that Brother Peter evolved from patriarch of the campus to legend. It was also the time when the school’s official motto, “The School of Character,” was born. Brother Edmund O’Hara, who served 37 years at Saint Stanislaus as prefect, teacher and coach, guided the senior class to pen an article published in the Rock-A-Chaw homecoming brochure November 3, 1929. It stated, “The School of Character – The above is our accepted motto, and we do our utmost to uphold it while we are at school and hope to practice it when our campus days are but memories. Each and every individual who has ever attended Stanislaus is well aware of the meaning S.S.C – Sincerity, Sportsmanship and Courtesy…’never say die’ spirit actuates all activities at school be they in the classroom, on the campus or upon the athletic field. That spirit prevails all about our institution; you breathe it, you live it – it is ‘the stuff’ which has made Stanislaus what it is today – the finest Prep School in the South; one that is foremost in scholarship, athletics and character building.”
In 1929, the old 1908 gym was razed to make way for the new chapel building that was dedicated on Homecoming and Dad’s Day on November 2nd. The building still stands today and is known as the Chapel Building which once housed brothers living on the mezzanine level and the library on the first floor. The chapel occupies the second floor of the building. Later in the day, Saint Stanislaus defeated St. Aloysius 28-0 in the football game.
The image of the old and new was apt, as two athletic stars ended their tenures during this era. Harry “Wop” Glover and John “Baby Grand” Scafide graduated in the spring of 1928 and 1929, respectively, and headed off to Tulane University to continue their exploits.
Glover was a multi-sport athlete at Saint Stanislaus and is Tulane’s last four-sport letter winner in football, basketball, baseball and track and field. Following his playing days at Tulane, Glover returned to Bay Saint Louis to coach at Saint Stanislaus and later John Carroll University. He eventually returned home to New Orleans where he enjoyed a very successful business career.
Rock-A-Chaws start to make it to the NFL
Scafide, a native of Bay Saint Louis and one of 13 children born to Italian immigrants, starred on the football team during his time at Saint Stanislaus. He also went to Tulane University with Glover where both played on the line in the 1932 Rose Bowl for the Green Wave. Scafide was named an All-American his junior and senior year. He played professionally for the Boston Redskins, predecessor of the Washington Redskins, in the NFL and also coached the Buffalo Bills.
Scafide returned home to Bay Saint Louis to coach at Bay High, Saint Stanislaus, Kiln Consolidated School and Pearl River Community College before embarking on a four-term run as Mayor of Bay Saint Louis from 1953-69.
In 1929, the Rocks earned four noteworthy titles as they were Gulf Coast Champions in football, basketball and track and field, and the basketball team advanced to the National Catholic School tournament where they finished as national runner-up.
In 1932, the Saint Stanislaus tennis team began interscholastic competition under the guidance of Brother Cornelius Keohane. In 1941, Brother Julian Gibbens coached the squad to an undefeated season and the Gulf Coast championship.
Ball fields get renovated
Brother Peter had taken athletics to the next level when he inspired benefactors into greater involvement before he left Saint Stanislaus for a new assignment prior to the 1932 school year.
In 1936, under the guidance of Brother William Sharkey, the benefactors formed the Sidelines Club. Current football coach Wop Glover assisted Brother William in organizing the club to help make improvements to the stadium. Benefactors Walter J. Gex, Jr., Milton “Hippo” Phillips, Coach Grady Perkins and John Scafide turtle-backed the field, replanted it with Bermuda grass and installed underground irrigation. The previous year Walter Gex had taken it upon himself to install lights at the stadium so the team could play night games. From 1916 until about 1940, Saint Stanislaus had the only football field in the area. The school allowed Bay High to use the field for home games while Saint Stanislaus would either play on Thursdays or Saturdays. The night games brought an entirely new atmosphere to the campus. The Sidelines Club completed their stadium renovations with new bleachers and a new scoreboard. From 1937-42, Saint Stanislaus hosted Sugar Bowl teams such as Santa Clara, Carnegie, Tulsa, Boston College and Fordham and allowed them to use the field for practice.
Boxing Rocks pack a punch
Although always dedicated, Saint Stanislaus athletics experienced a drought of titles from 1929 until 1937, at which point Saint Stanislaus Rock-A-Chaws literally smacked their way to the top. The Saint Stanislaus boxing team, led by four-sport letter winner V.J. Gianelloni, pummeled the competition en route to their first endorsed Mississippi state championship in any sport. The 1937 state title came in just the third year of existence for boxing as a sanctioned high school team sport in Mississippi. It was the Rocks’ first of seven state titles in the sport. Gianelloni joined Vlado Ivicevich, Joseph Glover, Arthur Fix, Evan Adams, Theo Thomas, Hugh Keifer and Primo Fayard as individual state champions in weight classes for the Rocks. Roger Heitzman was the head coach of the team in 1937.
Gianelloni was Saint Stanislaus’s first-ever All-State selection in any sport when he was chosen for the honor in football following the 1936 season. He was also a standout basketball, baseball and track and field athlete during his time in the red and black. He played football for LSU before serving as Commander of Company C of the 526th Armored Infantry Battalion in Normandy.
In 1939, the boxing team claimed their second state boxing title under the mentoring of Edmund Blaize. The state championships were hosted by Saint Stanislaus in 1938 and 1939. The sport went on a hiatus during World War II. However, when the war was over the Rocks returned to their state championship caliber form. They won the 1946 state title under Coach John Scafide as ten boxers advanced to the finals.
The Rock-A-Chaws claimed the final four state titles from 1948-51 under the tutelage of Coach Richard Thames. The MHSAA dropped boxing as a sanctioned interscholastic sport at the end of the 1951 athletic year. The sport of boxing enjoyed sanctioned status from 1935 until 1951 and Saint Stanislaus won the state title seven times.
Doc Blanchard: ’45 Heisman Trophy winner
In 1938, the football team claimed the Gulf Coast championship with an undefeated 9-0 record and played to a tie in the Toy Bowl against Jesuit High School. The 1938 football team featured two future Mississippi Sports Hall of Famers in Celestin J. “Pete” Taylor and Colonel Felix A. “Doc” Blanchard, Jr. Taylor would go on to play minor league baseball before returning to the University of Southern Mississippi where he served for 30 years as head baseball coach and assistant athletic director. The baseball stadium at USM is named in his honor.
The football team won the Gulf Coast championship in 1941 with an undefeated record and advanced to the Toy Bowl where they fell to McComb 25-6. The team was led by Doc Blanchard who scored 165 points his senior year and eventually signed to play for the University of North Carolina. However, he played just one season with the Tar Heels before he earned an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he starred for the Black Knights from 1944-46. It was there that his fame grew into legendary status and he cemented his place as the Rocks’ most famous gridiron great.
Blanchard went on to lead Army to a three-year undefeated record of 27-0-1 and three consecutive national championships. He was a consensus three-time first team All-American. Blanchard became the only person in athletic history to win the Heisman Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Sullivan Award and the Walter Camp Award in the same year. He won all four awards in 1945 as a junior. He was the first underclassman to win the Heisman and the first football player to claim the Sullivan Award which is presented to the top amateur athlete in America. Blanchard also won the indoor and outdoor NCAA championship in the shotput in 1945.
Blanchard was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL with the third overall pick but never played professional football. He went on to serve honorably in the US Army Air Corps, which later became the United States Air Force, for 25 years before his retirement as a colonel in 1971. He was an inaugural inductee of the Saint Stanislaus Hall of Fame in 1972 and was inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame in 1959. Blanchard has also been enshrined in the West Point Athletic Hall of Fame, the Southern College Sports Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His #61 jersey at Saint Stanislaus is the only jersey in any sport that is retired. Blanchard’s #35 jersey at Army is one of four retired at West Point. Blanchard donated his Heisman, Maxwell and Sullivan trophies to Saint Stanislaus in 1989 with “…the hope that it will inspire young men of character to do the extra that it takes to become successful in life.” The trophies are displayed in the main school building to inspire students each and every day. Blanchard passed away in April 2009.
The 1941 team was coached by Pete Burge who resigned following the season to join the U.S. Navy. The Rocks returned to championship form on the gridiron claiming the 1948 Gulf Coast championship.
The basketball team won the Gulf Coast championship in 1945 and advanced all the way to the state finals behind the towering 6’7” “Big” Jim Smith. The Rocks went on to become the state runner-up in 1945 and Smith became a highly successful businessman in New Orleans and an inductee in the Saint Stanislaus Hall of Fame.
The passing of two Saint Stanislaus coaching legends
On September 26th, 1948, the architect of the athletic tradition at Saint Stanislaus, Brother Peter Basso, S.C., passed away following a long struggle with stomach cancer. Brother Peter was “THE Man of Character” at the “School of Character.” A published eulogy in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans eloquently referred to “a thousand living monuments” in Brother Peter’s memory. He served Saint Stanislaus for 27 years including 14 as president.
In 1950, another legend in the Saint Stanislaus athletic tradition passed away. Pierre Michael “Forster” Commagere passed away of a heart attack while driving down Necaise Avenue in Bay Saint Louis. Commagere was the school’s first full-time lay coach and athletic director from 1915 until 1928 when he resigned. After a short recuperation period, Commagere was back on the sideline in Gulfport at the Gulf Coast Military Academy which was located at the site of the now-vacant Veteran’s Administration Hospital on Hwy 90. He retired from coaching for good in 1935 and returned to Bay St. Louis where he served the youth of Hancock County as athletic director for the County Public School system and county juvenile probation officer. He also worked as the trainer for the Saint Stanislaus athletic teams where he continued to help develop outstanding athletes such as Blanchard.
Commagere Park, the park located behind the current Saint Stanislaus baseball stadium, and Commagere Street in Bay Saint Louis are named in his honor. He was a veteran of World War I and has a permanent marble marker erected on the lawn of the Hancock County Courthouse that memorializes his service and dedication to the youth of Hancock County. Commagere was inducted into the Saint Stanislaus Hall of Fame in 1972.
Commagere’s final statement in his letter of resignation to Brother Peter, which was printed in its entirety as the lead story in The Sea Coast Echo on December 15, 1927, reads: “It is my one hope that after I am gone from here my friends will always carry a fond thought for the one who will never forget them.”
Commagere’s legacy continues to have incredible influence over Saint Stanislaus athletics and the Coach’s Award in football is named in his honor. The entire student body marched in his funeral procession in 1950 and Commagere was buried in the Brothers of the Sacred Heart cemetery.
From 1951 through 1958 the school’s athletic teams left it all on the fields and courts, but no team titles were accumulated. Several stellar athletes marked this second chapter such as John Scafide, Harry Glover, V.J. Gianelloni, Jim Smith, Hugh Keifer, Toni Stimmel, Don Haas and J.V. Morreale.
“Keep a boy interested in athletics and you keep him out of mischief”
But, in truth, two legends lived on during this era in Brother Peter Basso and Doc Blanchard. Brother Peter designed an academic and athletic program that made the most of the young men at Saint Stanislaus. He believed that if competition was bred on the field then it would also be bred in the classroom, as well. His legacy remains noticeable at the school to this day, tangibly in the name of the gymnasium where the basketball team practices and plays its games, but also in the focus on character development through athletics and academics.
Doc Blanchard, for his part, created a legend that is synonymous with the game of football. His accomplishments on the field will live in eternity as a member of football’s most elite fraternity – the Heisman Trophy. A humble man all his life, Blanchard saw that the Heisman would do the most good exposed to young men just like himself on a daily basis, so he donated it to Saint Stanislaus in 1989 where it remains today.
Titles and championships continued to flow during the second era of Saint Stanislaus athletics. But, more importantly, the ideal of the “Man of Character” took shape and form. With names like Brother Peter, “Baby Grand” Scafide, “Wop” Glover, “Big” Jim Smith, Doc Blanchard and Pete Taylor, the Saint Stanislaus Hall of Fame continued to grow and bask in the warming glow of its members. The success of athletics had more than proven Brother Peter’s educational principle, “Keep a boy interested in athletics and you keep him out of mischief.”
After 50-plus years of stellar athletics, Saint Stanislaus embarked on profound changes not just on their campus, but also in society. While leadership changed more often at 304 South Beach Blvd with the death of Brother Peter, the constant in the lives of the boys at Saint Stanislaus, athletics, kept the boys interested and out of mischief just as Brother Peter had expected.