Reflections by Sammy Way: Shaw football garnered national attention

Posted 1/6/19

At this time of the year, our attention is often focused on football, with dozens of bowl games and the crowning of champions on the high school, college and professional levels.

However, Reflections has researched one of the most memorable …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Reflections by Sammy Way: Shaw football garnered national attention

Posted

At this time of the year, our attention is often focused on football, with dozens of bowl games and the crowning of champions on the high school, college and professional levels.

However, Reflections has researched one of the most memorable football teams to play in Sumter County, the Shaw Fliers. This team became the most successful sports endeavor attempted by the newly created military base. The team was known by such names as the Fliers, Recee-Jets, The Thunder Jets and The Commanders. The achievements it experienced were considered a marvel by the participants and local citizens.

Reflections provides its readers with a brief history of the team, which brought the air base a high degree of acclaim. The information and photos used to produce this article were taken from The Sumter Item archives. The research will be presented in two segments because of the volume of data available.

In August of 1942, Col. Burton M. Hovey Jr., "commanding officer of Shaw Field, placed his stamp of approval on a football program for the field, ensuring a complete fall sports program for officers and enlisted men," according to an article appearing in The Sumter Daily Item. Lt. C. E. Clarke, the post athletics officer, noted that Shaw had a wealth of football talent available to form a nucleus for an excellent team. Whether the games would be played on base or at Sumter's athletic facilities had not been determined.

With the onset of World War II, the installation of competitive football was delayed until September of 1948. Shaw's initial team featured " a number of former college and professional stars." The coaches of the team were assured that the football fans in this area would see a brand of competition equal to most college teams.

"It was determined that all of Shaw's home games, with one exception, would be played on Saturday nights at the Sumter fairgrounds stadium. This was the first time, since the base was established, that a football team was organized."

Season tickets for home games were priced at $1.80, and admission to individual games was placed at 60 cents for adults and 30 cents for children. The first game scheduled for the new Shaw team was a strong unit from Fort Jackson in Columbia. The Fort Jackson 11 soon became Shaw's archrival. The first team to take the field at Shaw featured Capt. Joseph Michaelowski, a bruising fullback from Worchester, Massachusetts. He was chosen as an all-state fullback in 1936 and before that as all-city at end. He attended Becker College in Wooster, Massachusetts, and continued to play football. He enlisted in the Air Corps attending Cadet School, where he graduated in 1942. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 13 clusters during World War II. It was his contention that the Shaw football team had potential to become the South's leading service team. The team known as The Fliers experienced a tough initial season as constant maneuvers and deployment greatly reduced their practice time. The majority of their games were played at the fairgrounds stadium.

Following the 1948 season, the program was put on hold because of the Korean conflict. In August of 1951, Shaw would return to the field in earnest, featuring a larger team and new coach, Dino Del Vecchio. According to their new mentor, the team was "primed and would feature several athletes with collegiate and service play experience."

Shaw football 1951 to 1954

The 1951 edition of Shaw football featured an experienced squad led by "Windy" Wyndham (Clemson), Anson (VMI), Creech and Thomas, who operated from a single wing. This foursome was adept at running and passing and allowed the Shaw team to take chances if it had to. Coach Del Vecchio was an adept football coach with more than 18 years of college and professional experience. Under his tutelage, the program rapidly became a power in service ball. One of the changes evident about the team was its name changed from the Recee Jets to the T-Jets (thunder). Under the leadership and stellar play of Windy Wyndham, the team amassed a winning record, and its games attracted increasing numbers of fans.

The 1952 season saw continued success for the Shaw program, as evident with the increased turnout of athletes and an expanded coaching staff including Head Coach Capt. George Wright, Assistant Coach Leonard Pitts, Backfield Coach Edgar Lewis and Line Coach Martin Richman. The team defeated Donalson Air Force Base before a crowd of 2,500 Sumterites by the score of 27-0 in what was referred to as the Community Chest Bowl. The team dedicated the proceeds of the game to the local Community Chest drive.