Who is J. Birney Crum?
Excerpt from Coach Birney Crum and Allentown High by Evan Burian
Allentown, Pennsylvania is an industrial city located in the eastern part of the state with most of its 100,000 population once comprised predominantly of mostly Pennsylvania Dutch extraction. Before the opening of Louis E. Dieruff High School in the 1959-60 school year, the now named William Allen High School was simply named Allentown High School because it was the only public high school in the city at that time.
For three decades from 1930 to 1959, Allentown High School (AHS) was one of the largest high schools in Pennsylvania with an annual enrollment of 3,000 to 4,000 students, and was renowned for its quality in education and athletics. In the 1940's, AHS was nationally recognized with articles in both Time and Life magazines because it was considered one of the best comprehensive high schools in the United States and because of its championship football and basketball teams.
One of the men who helped make the name" Allentown High School" famous, not only around the state, but also across the country was, J. Birney Crum, who for 25 years was the head coach in football, basketball, and baseball at AHS. From 1925 to 1950, Crum's football teams won 190 games and his basketball teams won 490 games for a combined total of 680 victories for the athletes who wore the colors of Canary and Blue.
Always outstanding at any time, Crum's teams during World War II were truly phenomenal. Over a six year period from 1941 to 1946, his Canary football teams went 60-3-3, outscoring the opposition 1,801 points to only 239. Forty of the sixty wins were by shutouts. From 1945 to 1947 his basketball teams won three straight state championships including a Pennsylvania record of 60 straight victories without a defeat. The 1945-46 team went a perfect 27-0.
The 1996-97 school year marked the 100th anniversary of the 1896 AHS football rivalry with Easton, which makes this game one of the oldest schoolboy rivalries in Pennsylvania. The 1996-97 school year also marked the 50th anniversary of the 1946-47 school term at AHS which produced one of the greatest football and basketball seasons in the school's glorious athletic history. The football team went 11-0 and scored a school record of 466 points, which is the second highest total in the history of the Lehigh Valley, and were rated the #1 team in Pennsylvania. Although the basketball team finally had its state record of 60 straight wins snapped, the Canaries went on to capture their third straight Pennsylvania hardwood championship, and were "written-up" in the February 10, 1947 issue of Time magazine with the article, "Champs by Crum."
The public's sporting appetite to see Crum's football and basketball Canaries during this period of time was so insatiable that the 15,000 Coffield Stadium and the 2,300 Little Palestra, which were both located directly behind the high school, were always sold out. The Allentown - Bethlehem game on Thanksgiving Day was the highlight of the sports season, but unfortunately, when the Canaries hosted the Red Hurricane in 1946, thousands of spectators were denied seeing the game because of the capacity limitations of Coffield Stadium, and they were forced to stay at home and listen to the game on the radio. For seeing the drastic need for a larger stadium, in 1946 the Allentown school board decided to build the largest high school-owned stadium in the state in order to accommodate all those pigskin fans who wanted to witness the annual Allentown – Bethlehem Thanksgiving Day battle.
With this in mind the unanswered question remains - how many people would have seen the 1946 Allentown - Bethlehem game if the new AHS stadium would have been completed - 25,000, 30,000, more? The Allentown – Bethlehem game ticket demand was so great in 1946, that like the 15,000 seat Coffield Stadium, the new 23,000 AHS stadium, which was under construction near Cedar Beach, would have also been sold-out prior to the Thanksgiving Day game with Bethlehem. However, unlike the restrictions of Coffield Stadium, the new AHS Stadium~ if it would have been ready for the 1946 game, could of had a "live" gate the day of the Thanksgiving Day game because spectators could have stood in the end zone terraces and around the track which surrounded the field. Whatever the final attendance count would have been in 1946, it would have shattered the previous Allentown - Bethlehem Thanksgiving Day crowd records, like the 23,000 that saw the 1929 game at Taylor Stadium on the Lehigh campus, or the 20,000 that saw the 1945 tilt in Bethlehem's Liberty Stadium.
All the AHS wins and championships under Crum are just a reflection of the wins and championships that are not in the record books. The most important element and the most lasting benefit of Crum's athletic programs at AHS was that he developed teenage boys into men. A star athlete in his own scholastic and collegiate playing days, Crum was a focused and driven man who believed whole-heartily in the character building benefits that are derived from the world of competitive athletics.
With the support of the parents, school board, athletic council, and boosters, Crum demanded and received total loyalty, discipline, and teamwork from all those associated with his sports organization from his assistant coaches, to his players, to the support personnel. Crum had complete control of the AHS program and he knew how to prepare and motivate people for the sacrifices and preparation they had to endure in order to be successful.
However, Crum was much more than a demanding, hard-driving coach. He was also a soft, kind-hearted man who took care of the people in his AHS program. Crum recruited boys to go back to high school to finish their education. He made sure his star athletes received full-scholarships, and acquired finances to pay for a lesser player's college education when there was no family money available. He found summer jobs for his players and it was his recommendation that secured coaching positions for his ex-players who wanted to be coaches.
Coach J. Birney Crum, who died in 1981, was one of the state's winningest football and basketball coaches. of all time and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1975. He was also a charter inductee into both the Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Lehigh Valley Football Hall of Fame in 1982. ASD Stadium was renamed J. Birney Crum Stadium in 1982.