• Penny Weichel

Rick Weaver's name solidified in Oiler athletic lore

Rick Weaver finishes rally in the 1969 state championship 880. (Jack Mays)

Hats off to Larry Harton for reminding us of Rick Weaver's place in Oiler athletics lore.

Weaver won the 1969 PIAA Class A state championship in the 880 despite being dead last after the first 110 yards or so after he was fouled twice.

Harton, a former reporter/sportswriter for The News-Herald, was watching a track meet on television and it brought back memories of Weaver's feat at Penn State as an Oil City High School junior. Harton wrote in a July 29 letter to the sports editor that he was witness to Weaver's big push for the gold.

And never was he more impressed.

In a nutshell: after falling behind early, Weaver took over sixth place by the back straight away of the first lap. He was still sixth but with some 300 yards to go when he made his first big move on the back straight on the second lap.

By the start of the 100-yard home stretch, Weaver began picking off those ahead of him one by one, and with a few yards to the tape, passed the leader (1968 state runner-up Bill Perry of Wissahickon) to win in a near photo finish.

Weaver's winning time was 1:56.2. According to The Derrick account, Oiler coaches believe he would have easily broken the meet record of 1:53.9 had he (1) not been bumped by another runner at the start and (2) not nearly falling after being knocked off his stride at the start of the first turn.

Weaver graduated from Oil City in 1970 -- three months before I began my life at The Derrick. I knew Weaver won a state title, but I wasn't aware of the drama involved. In fact, a young guy who was helping me on sports back then and was an admirer of Weaver's told me something that I apparently misunderstood -- that Weaver won despite running the slow heat.

But the two runners who finished second and third, Perry and Haverford's Bruce Hulse, were in the same race with Weaver as was Corry's Dick Root who finished fifth.

However, the next year, when Weaver was a senior, he was, in fact, placed in the "slow heat" at states -- never mind that he was defending state champion. That was because of his time in the District 10 meet, which didn't offer much competition. Weaver was clocked in 1:55.3 and won the "slow" heat by 35 yards. Rich Matrunick of Derry took the "fast" heat in 1:54.6, and was state champ. Weaver settled for third.

So, definite bummer again for Weaver who could have/ should have been a two-time state champ with the meet record.

Weaver not only starred in the half-mile, but he was one of Oil City's best quarter-milers ever with a 48.65 to his credit. He also starred in cross country and basketball for the Oilers and baseball over the summer before taking his talents to Pitt, joining classmate Terry Thompson, a state place-winner in the high jump.

Now, as for the two guys he beat out at the end of the 1969: Perry was a two-time state runnerup, so he was no slouch. And then there was Hulse, also a junior that year.

Hulse became a hurdler and quarter-miler as a senior, and was good, but not good enough to earn a state medal. However, he and Ray Edelman and Steve Joachim were the mainstays of a 24-2 Haverford basketball team that lost to Beaver Falls, 82-57, in the state finals.

Edelman averaged 23 points and went on to play -- some -- at Kentucky. Joachim, who averaged 19, was a heralded quarterback. It was a big deal when Penn State landed him, but he didn't stick there, and transferred to Temple where he was the Maxwell Award winner in 1974.

Joachim was taken in the seventh round of the 1975 NFL draft by the Colts -- Ted Marchibroda's first season in Baltimore -- but his only pro team was the Jets in 1976.

Hulse, who averaged 10 points a game in high school, played hoops at Cornell and THEN became a supermodel for the likes at Calvin Klein. Modeled for three decades. Just last year he was featured in HunksOver40.com. Google it.

And just for good measure: Another notable track star of the 69/70 era was Chichester sprinter Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, the future flamboyant receiver/return specialist for the NFL's Oilers (1974-80) and Falcons (1982-87) after playing college ball at Division III Widener. Johnson missed by two years of being a Falcons teammate of another of Franklin's own -- All-Pro cornerback Bay Lawrence.

Getting back to Weaver: I suppose a comparable performance on the state track stage belongs to Redbank Valley freshman Mylee Harmon, who just last spring won the 2A 400 meters after being in fifth place with 150 meters to go. Winning time 57.15.

As with Weaver, legendary not just state championship stuff.

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