Memories of a Former Player

I was sitting next to Loran Smith at the Rotary Club on the day that Ray Prosperi died.  As the members of the club stood up to announce the personal tragedies of our community, some one announced that Prosperi, a former Georgia Bulldog quarterback, had passed away.  I saw Smith wince in a moment of disbelief. Smith, a writer and field reporter for the Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, has known nearly every Georgia Bulldog player in the last fifty years or more.  On his last visit to Dublin, Smith visited Prosperi.  Perhaps he was thinking about visiting him that day. My mind immediately went back forty one years ago to the outfield of Big Hilburn Park, where I played for his Midget League football team.  Of all of those people who knew him as Ray Prosperi, I count myself as one of the lucky ones who knew him as "Coach Prosperi."

Raymond Anthony Prosperi was born in 1929  in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a major rail center in the western fringes of the central region of the Keystone State.   His father Archie, a native born Italian, married Rose Alamprese, a first generation American and daughter of Italian immigrants, Antonio and Marrie Alamprese.   As a young child, Ray lived in the 5th Avenue home of the Alampreses.  His grandfather Alamprese worked as a janitor in the Altoona station of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Archie Prosperi, who immigrated to the United States shortly after his birth, was the son of Filomena and Henry Prosperi, who worked along side his son as a weaver in the local silk mill.  

As a forward for the Altoona Mountaineers, Ray helped his team to a sixteen game winning streak and an undefeated season before losing to Westmont in the Sixth District basketball finals in 1947. Considered the best athlete ever to come out of Altoona, Prosperi was named to Pennsylvania all-state teams in three sports - basketball, baseball and football.  In his final basketball season of 1947, Ray was named as a forward on the five man all state team.   Teammate Stu Duncan said of Ray, "Ray was a great athlete and a super guy."  Ray's team was the first to play in the Hoffa Mosque before a crowded house of 5000 screaming fans.

Georgia Bulldog coach Wally Butts salivated at the sight of Ray Prosperi, who turned down a strong recruiting effort by the Army to play football for the Cadets.  Butts, a native Southerner, knew the importance of having more Yankees on his team.    The 1949 team was evenly divided between boys from the South and the North.  Butts had great success with other Pennsylvanian backs Frank Sinkwich, Charlie Trippi and Johnny Rauch.  At six feet two inches tall and carrying a massive body weighing 205 pounds, Butts knew that Ray would became another superstar quarterback.  Coach Butts was able to lure Ray away from basketball.  Actually he forbade him to play on the court and get on the gridiron.  From 1948 to 1950, Ray played sparingly at quarterback.  He was on the team that played in the 1947 Sugar Bowl, 1948 Gator Bowl, 1949 Orange Bowl and the 195o Presidential Cup.

Perhaps his greatest game came on October 15, 1949.  With LSU and Georgia knotted at 0-0 at Sanford Stadium, Prosperi quit throwing long bombs and slipped in a screen pass to Bob Walston who carried it down to the LSU seventeen yard line, to set up the winning touchdown.   Ray had to sit out a good part of the 1950 season after getting hurt in the Florida game in '49. During his years at Georgia, Ray became close to Coach Butts. Ray credited his success to Johnny Rauch, who tutored him as a freshman.   In 1996, Ray was elected to the Pennsylvania Athletic Hall of Fame and earlier this year, he was inducted into the Georgia chapter of the National Football Hall of Fame for his post graduate achievements. 
Ray Prosperi met and married Faye Cochran, a Dublin girl.  After a short stint at coaching, Ray and Faye moved to Dublin and had four children, Patti, Tony, Laura and Mike.  He worked with Cochran Brothers and Southeast Newsprint.  In 1957, Ray was the organizing president of Dublin's first Kiwanis Club.  When the City of Dublin began to organize a recreational football league, Ray Prosperi was right there, lending a hand and volunteering as a coach.   

To the lucky ones, Ray Prosperi was "Coach Prosperi."  In one of my most favorite years of 1966, I had the honor of playing for Coach Prosperi.  Just think of it.  We were running the same offensive and defensive schemes that Coach Prosperi ran at the University of Georgia.  We learned that each back in the "T-formation"  and each receiver had a number.  Every gap between the linemen also had a number.  My favorite plays were the reverses - single ones, doubles and the always thrilling triple reverses.  Coach Prosperi, with the aid of assistant coaches Bill Roberts and Bob Potts, threw in other plays including the rarely used "statue of liberty" play.

Our Vikings team shut out every opponent that year earning us the right to play a team made up of all-stars from the Cowboys, Lions and Packers.  We beat the all-stars 12 to 0 in the last Cranberry Bowl.  Ray's son Tony  caught a touch down pass from Ed Griffith, who scored on a two- yard plunge for final score. Also playing for the Vikings were Jeff Canady, Herschel White, Reese Stanley, Ricky Anderson, Brad Roberts, Patrick Roche, Lee Whitaker, Jim Wynn, Nelson Carswell, Bo-J Claxton, Kelly Canady, Bill Adams, Jeffrey Johnson, Stan Stanley, David Smith, Bruce Wynn, Pat Hodges, Randy Graham, Eddie Smith, Malcolm Gore, and  Wayne Bridges  
   Playing opposite me at left defensive end was Billy Repko, my good friend.   Actually he later became my good friend.  That night, Billy was my hated enemy.    In those days, an offensive tackle had to lock his arms, fists touching with his elbows out and parallel to the ground.  Any deviation from this stance and the referee might throw his yellow holding flag.    From the very first offensive play, Billy, somewhat heavier than my bean pole body and much stronger than me, would charge the line with his head down.  On play after play, Billy's helmet slammed into my forearms.  By the end of two series, I came off the field trying to hide my tears.  I was met on the sidelines by Coach Prosperi. He saw my pain and asked me what was wrong.  I told him how much that helmet was hurting me. In an instant, Ray Prosperi saved my life, or it seemed that way. He told me that after the snap that I should step around to my left and let Billy keep going head long into the backfield.  When he got beside me, I was supposed to push into his side as hard as I could.  My assignment was to push and drive  him away from the ball. It worked.  The pain went away. And, we won the championship! 

Ray Prosperi was no Frank Sinkwich.  Nor was he a Charlie Trippi or a Johnny Rauch.  To his family, friends and former players it didn't matter.  To me, he was a hero. He was the man who kept Billy Repko from breaking my arm and the man who, along with my father, gave me a life long  love of sports and more importantly, sportsmanship.  Ray was famous for requiring his players to responded to him with a hearty "yes, sir!"   His son Mike said that his dad gave up a lot financially to coach football for more than a decade and often had to work extra hours to make up for it.   So the next time you think about recreation football in Dublin, think about Ray Prosperi and thank him for his dedication to  the boys of Dublin and the game he loved so dearly.