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As St. Bonaventure embarks on a season-long centennial celebration of men’s basketball, Dr. John Soder doesn’t want people to forget the athletic program that first put the university on the map.
A member of the Class of 1956, Soder will present “A Bygone Journey Back to a Proud Era in St. Bonaventure Sports History” at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23, at the Walsh Center Auditorium.
The talk is free and open to the public.
Soder’s talk will be moderated by Jack McGinley, ’65, former chair of SBU’s Board of Trustees, who visited the university as a young boy to attend the training camp of the Pittsburgh Steelers. McGinley’s uncle, Fr. Silas Rooney, O.F.M., was athletic director at St. Bonaventure in the 1940s and 1950s.
When enrollment soared after World War II, the university’s football program was revived in 1946.
Thanks to a $100,000 donation from former Olean Mayor Fred Forness, a 13,000-seat stadium was built on campus at the front of campus (near where the friary and Hopkins Hall sit today).
Notre Dame Coach Hugh Devore, who stepped away after one season when Frank Leahy returned from service in the U.S. Navy, was lured away from the Irish in 1946 and led St. Bonaventure to a 25-9-1 record in four seasons, including its only trip to a bowl game, the 1946 Tobacco Bowl, which they lost to Muhlenberg, 26-25.
Devore left in 1950 to coach New York University and Joe Bach took over, leading SBU to a 12-6 mark over two seasons before the program was discontinued by the Board of Trustees due to financial constraints.
The program turned out some of the best players in the East, including Jack Butler, ’51, who went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career as a defensive back with the Steelers.
Ted Marchibroda, who went on to a distinguished 28-year career as an assistant and head coach with seven NFL teams, was the last quarterback for St. Bonaventure. He played four years in the NFL.
“This was a proud era in the sports history of the university when the gridiron team put little St. Bonaventure College and Olean on the map nationally, yet it’s all but forgotten today,” Soder said. “I think it’s important that people remember how important those teams were to raising the school’s profile.”
Times Herald sports writers Chuck Pollock and J.P. Butler will take part in a question and answer session after Soder’s talk.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. In 2019, St. Bonaventure was named the #1 regional university value in New York and #2 in the North by U.S. News and World Report.
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