|Reminiscing with Harry Uhlman
|By Kevin Devlin
For Harry, friendships formed in the world of sports have lasted a lifetime
Harry Uhlman considers himself a fortunate individual. Fortunate, because the friendships he forged on the playing fields in Southie and elsewhere, as a youngster, never faded away. Throughout the years, those bonds of friendship have grown, matured, and have been as constant and illuminating as our brilliant sun in the sky.
Harry remembers playing sandlot football in the forties. Teams were seemingly forged on every corner and the players that got to the fields first where the ones who played each other. Teams like the Hawks, Redskins, Wildcats, Strandway, Aces, Mercers, Greyhounds, and Mohawks battled each other at Columbus and “M” Street Park, and at the present Evans Field adjacent to the Murphy skating rink. To Harry, they were indeed the good old days. Then, it was time for high school, Southie High, where Harry was on the varsity football team.
In his senior year, 1950-1951, the football team, coached by the legendary Steve White, was loaded with talent. Southie won their first six games of the seasons and was a defensive and offensive juggernaut. Southie started the season “with a bang” and defeated Hyde Park 33-0, “rolled” over Charlestown 34-0, “crushed” Brighton 39-0, “trampled” Brandies 54-0, “romped” over Jamaica Plain 26-0, and “squeezed” by Boston College High School, 19-18.
But, the victory against the boys from Morrissey Boulevard was a Pyrrhic one indeed. Eight out of the starting eleven players were injured. After that, their dreams of glory had been snuffed out. Southie did beat Roslindale, 21-0, but was stunned by Boston Technical 28-0. Then, in the celebrated Thanksgiving Day Game against East Boston at White Stadium, in front of 8000 fans, Southie suffered a 13-12 loss, and for the second time in two years lost the District Championship by one point. This team however, was still considered one of the best football teams in South Boston High School history.
After high school, Harry played for the Saunders Post in the Boston Senior Park League. The Senior Park League had an incredible following throughout the city in the fifties. Teams like Saint Williams and the Pat Lynch Club from Dorchester, the Charlestown Townies, Saint Lazarus and the Tornadoes from East Boston, and then the Chippewas, all captured the imagination of true football fans in Boston.
Harry remembers and treasures those glorious times as if they were yesterday.
“Before and after the games at Columbus Stadium, you could see streams of people coming and going to the game,” said Harry. “The championship games were played at Boston College and at Fenway Park in front of 12,000 fans. It was incredible.”
As a football player, Harry used to watch the great players that played before, during and after him. And, every one has a special place in his heart. As far as Harry was concerned, Southie always had that something special, that sense of pride that could not be denied.
“There were so many great players, before, during, and after us” said Harry. “Before we played, we used to watch Harry Messina, Norman Fitzgerald and Schaefer Manning. My lifelong friend, Thomas Joe Sullivan who I played with at Southie, was the captain of the Boston College football team, and caught the famous pass at Fenway Park against Holy Cross. Then (after his playing days were over) we would watch Dominic Gentile who was probably the best running back Southie High ever had. And, we would watch Ray Flynn, perhaps the greatest all-around athlete, and “Gasha” Geaghtey, one of the greatest linemen in local history.”
Harry also played on the varsity basketball team, coached by Joe Callahan. As a senior and co-captain, his hoop squad was 14-0 during the regular season and captured the District Championship. Southie subsequently lost the Boston City Championship to English High, 52-41. This championship tilt was played in Boston Garden prior to the NBA’s first All-Pro All-Star Game in front of 12,000 fans. Celtics legendary guard Bob Cousy reportedly said that the city championship game had more headlines in the local city papers that week than the professional athletes did preparing for the first NBA showcase game. Yet even though Southie lost a heartbreaker, Harry’s face still glistened with pride, when he mentioned that the star for the English Bulldogs, was a kid from Southie named Karl Clumpp. That’s how proud Harry is when the word Southie is mentioned.
“Franna Duggan was the first really great basketball player in Southie,” said Harry. “He taught Ray Flynn and Ray’s teammates how to play the game. Franna went on to play at Boston College, was the BC hoop team captain and is a member of the BC Sports Hall of Fame. Gus Ryan was another great player.”
Harry has lived a rich and rewarding life and has a boatload of memories encased within his spirit.
“I’ve been so fortunate growing up and playing sports in Southie,” Harry said. “I have great memories and have met so many people. Throughout the years, I have maintained friendships with guys I played sports with in high school and in the park league. I still go out to lunch every two to three weeks with Thomas Joe Sullivan, John Sullivan, and Jake McKinnon. Our friendship has grown and that bond has been there ever since we played, there for a lifetime.”