Not many schools have competed on the gridiron for 100 years or more. Phillipsburg reached that incredible milestone in 2004. To celebrate, the Stateliners kicked off their 100th year of football on September 10, 2004 when they hosted long-time rival Northampton, Pa. before a capacity crowd at Maloney Stadium. Pre-game festivities featured several members of the United States Military Academy Black Knights Parachute Team landing at midfield with the game ball, a POW-MIA flag, and a US flag that flew over Kandahar, Afghanistan on September 11, 2003. In honor of P'burg's century of excellence on the gridiron, the Stateliners wore throwback uniforms dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. To the fans' delight, a sign proclaiming Phillipsburg the "Winningest High School Program" in New Jersey was unveiled and posted near the scoreboard. In celebration of the school's centennial year of football, former Stateliner football players were introduced to the crowd prior to each home game after being greeted at a reception on the lawn in front of the high school. The reception allowed former teammates to get together and talk about the good old days. The festivities represented a fitting tribute to all those who contributed to the school's historic football tradition, and brought about a great sense of pride as well as nostalgia for all of the Liners' faithful fans.
The Phillipsburg football story officially began in 1905 under coach Mike Maloney, after whom its football stadium is named. According to Phillipsburg football historian Joe Marchetto, the first team to represent the town was formed in 1889, and was comprised of "anyone in town who wanted to play". Such pickup teams existed through 1904, until the school's first official team was unveiled in 1905. Maloney, known as the "father of Phillipsburg football". was also an original founder of the NJSIAA, the body which oversees scholastic sports in New Jersey. The highlight of the school's first twenty-five years of competition came in 1918 when Phillipsburg was formally recognized by the NJSIAA as its
first New Jersey state champion. Maloney (106-77-17) also guided P'burg to its 100th win with a 13-0 victory over rival Easton in 1929. Maloney was succeeded by Art Pursel from 1932-35, at which time Phillipsburg established itself as a state power. During his tenure, Phillipsburg won 29 straight games, and was declared state champion along with Bloomfield in 1935 after a 10-0 campaign. The program fell into mediocrity from 1936-39 until Frank Klein took over in 1940. During Klein's eleven years as coach, Phillipsburg re-established itself as a state powerhouse, going 84-20-9 while winning four Big 4 championships as well as a state title with Bloomfield and East Orange in 1942. Klein led P'burg to victory #200, a 19-0 win over Paterson Central in 1946. Phillipsburg also was named North Jersey co-state champions with Montclair in 1949. The 1949 team (9-0) is regarded by many long-time observers as the greatest team in garnet and grey history.
After a brief stint by Sammy Moyer, the 50's ushered in the era of Harold Bellis. The Lafayette graduate espoused a conservative philosophy, emphasizing a strong running game, defense, and sound special teams. Bellis' teams were usually small in stature, but were hard-nosed, tenacious, and well-coached. Bellis compiled a record of 86-29-10, which included a state title in 1960, and another undefeated team in 1964. Another highlight in Bellis' distinguished career came when he led P'burg to its 300th win in school history, a 42-18 romp over William Allen of Allentown, Pa. in 1961. Bellis retired following the 1967 season.
After former Phillipsburg star Mickey Frinzi led the team for five seasons, which included Big 5 co-championships in 1971 and 1972, another former standout, Bob Stem, took over in 1973 and continued the school's winning tradition. Stem's teams compiled a 56-30-4 record, which included a sectional title in 1977. During Stem's term, Phillipsburg joined the East Penn League, which was comprised of all Pennsylvania teams, where they would compete through the 1994 season. In 1979, Stem guided the Stateliners to win #400, a 35-18 win over Allentown Central Catholic. Following Stem's resignation in 1981, the Stateliners were guided by Phil Rohm from1982-86. Phillipsburg won the East Penn League title three consecutive years in 1982, 1983, and 1984. Although they had outstanding teams, Phillipsburg was not eligible for the New Jersey state playoffs because the school was banned for competing against an all-Pennsylvania schedule.
Tom Dominic assumed the reigns from 1987-89, going 25-8 during his three years. During his term, the P'burg-Easton Thanksgiving Day game was televised live on ESPN to a national audience in 1988. Dominic resigned after the 1989 year and was succeeded by Bruce Smith, who coached from 1990-1997. His first year produced an East Penn League title in 1990, but the program languished in mediocrity except for a 9-2 record in 1994. The Liners picked up win #500 under Smith, a 39-24 victory over Emmaus, Pa. in 1993. His tenure included two years where P'burg played its home games at archrival Easton's Cottingham Stadium while Maloney Stadium underwent a complete renovation. During his stint, the school also left the East Penn League after the 1994 season, and joined the Skyland Conference in New Jersey, once again becoming eligible for state playoffs.
Phil Rohm began his second stint as head coach in 1998, and with less talent than is customary, experienced back to back losing seasons, including the worst record in school history (2-8) in 1999. Rohm quickly put the program back on track, however, tying for the league title in 2000. His encore in 2001 produced another sectional title in the North Jersey Section 2 Group 4 championship game, a 10-7 victory over 11-0, #2 ranked Montclair in a bruising defensive battle at Rutgers Stadium. Rohm's final two teams finished 9-1 in 2003, losing only in the state playoffs to Ridge, and 10-2 in 2004, losing its final two games to Easton and to Piscataway 27-26 in OT in the sectional title game,
which capped off Phillipsburg's first 100 years on the gridiron.
Phillipsburg has always been known as a blue-collar, sports-oriented town. The town derives much of its image and reputation from its high school's athletic teams, especially its football program. One thing is always certain when the football season arrives: the faithful fans of this football-crazy community will turn out in droves to support their beloved Stateliners.
The first 100 years of Phillipsburg football represent a history rich in tradition. The Stateliners have produced countless championships, great players, timeless memories, a lifetime of friendships, and a reputation for toughness and excellence that has been well-documented and is well-known around the entire state. Hopefully, the next 100 years will continue that tradition and will be just as memorable as the first 100.
Stateliners wore throwback uniforms on opening night in 2004 in celebration of P'burg's 100th year of football. Photo by Darren Leone