The Undefeated 119 return to Bel Air High School

Forty-six members of the Undefeated 119, the only three Bel Air High School football teams to have undefeated seasons, attended a reunion at their alma mater Friday evening, along with members of their families and four former assistant coaches.

There were 119 players on the 1955, 1959 and 1965 football squads under famed head coach Al Cesky, and about 90 of them are still alive, according to Ed Plummer, a member of the 1965 team and the main organizer of Friday's event.

The group met in the cafeteria of Bel Air High; the former players hugged and slapped each other on the shoulders, kidded each other and shared memories of big games and playing for Coach Cesky.

"He instilled upon us, not only sportsmanship, but giving back to the community," Bill Cox, a member of the 1959 team, said. Cox, a real estate broker in Bel Air, also represented Harford County in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1971 to 1990 and is one of the founders of the Greater Bel Air Community Foundation, which raises money to fund improvement projects in the community.

"We thought an awful lot of Coach Cesky, in fact all of the coaching staff," Bob Carroll, of West Chester, Pa., said.

Carroll was a co-captain of the 1959 team along with Jesse Brewer, who also attended the reunion.

"I've enjoyed seeing them," Carroll said of his former teammates. "Some of these people I haven't seen for over 50 years, and some I see on a fairly regular basis through our reunions."

The former players also got to shake hands with and talk to the current crop of Bobcats, who played their home opener Friday to kick off their school's 65th football season (Bel Air beat North East, 35-3).

The 2014 varsity squad, dressed in their uniforms, walked through the cafeteria several hours before kickoff against the North East High School Indians.

Senior tight end Kyle Hamrick, 17, said having members of the Undefeated 119 wish them luck was "really awesome."

"It gave me chills," he said. "It made me want to step on the gridiron now."

He is one of four captains this season, along with fellow seniors John Gallina, Andrew Visconti and Brendan Yetter.

"There's a lot of preparation going into the season, but this really amped our guys," Kyle said.

Junior center Dakota Crawford, 17, talked to Plummer and Barry Lambert, another member of the 1965 team.

"Keep working," Dakota said of the advice he received from the former players. "They said they had some bad days, like everybody else, but keep fighting for what your goal is."

Lambert, who lives in Baltimore, brought his blue and white practice jersey, which bore the number 48.

He spent his junior year during the 1965 season as a halfback and was among the backup players who made up the opposing team during practices.

He said they dubbed themselves "F Troop," after the 1965-1967 sitcom about group of misfit cavalrymen who make up the garrison of a U.S. fort on the western frontier during the 1800s.

"They kicked our butts and learned how to beat the other team," Lambert said.

He noted Mr. Cesky recognized the practice squad's efforts, which Lambert said helped the team go undefeated, and everyone on the team received a letter for the season.

"You didn't have to be a starter to be a winner," said Lambert, who was a starting halfback during his senior season in 1966.

He added: "We were always better than the opponent; physically, mentally, we were the strongest team on the field."

Family memories

Eloise Hopkins of Hickory recalled watching her son, Ernie, play football for Bel Air during the 1965 season.

"It was very good to see them there, winning or losing, whatever, it was just good to be there, seeing them play, giving them the support they needed," she said.

Hopkins also praised Mr. Cesky's coaching.

"He gave them a lot of support, and they learned a lot from him," she said. "He was a good mentor for the team."

Ernie Hopkins traveled from St. Louis for the reunion.

"I haven't been back in almost 50 years," he said. "This is the closest thing to a [class] reunion."

Dick Parsons of Churchville also played for the 1965 team; it was the last season for Mr. Cesky as Bel Air's football coach.

Mr. Cesky went on to serve as an assistant principal at the high school, and later Harford County Public Schools' supervisor of physical education. After retiring from the school system, he worked in private industry. He died at age 57 in 1985.

The Al Cesky Scholarship Fund was established about a year later to raise funds for scholarships for Harford County students.

"I tell you what, he was strict," Parsons said of Mr. Cesky. "He taught you how to play football."

He noted many players who came to Bel Air as freshmen had not played football in middle school, known then as junior high school.

"All of the boys respected him, and that's why they were as good as they were," Parsons explained. "They would listen to him because they respected him."

Parsons brought his sons and grandchildren to the reunion.

His son, Brooks, is a 2000 graduate of C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, where he also played football.

"I'm proud of him, and I think it means a lot to Pop, I really do," he said of his father.

Brooks Parsons' son, Caden, also played football for the Bel Air Terps youth squad during the fall of 2013; he is playing fall baseball this year.

"Are you proud of Pop Pop?" he asked his son.

Caden, 7, nodded.

Circle of Honor

Friday's events included a dedication of three plaques bearing the names of the players during each undefeated season and the scores of each game.

The plaques are along three columns in Bobcat Circle near the stadium entrance. They are part of the Bel Air Bobcat Football Team Circle of Honor.

"These three teams consisted of 119 players who grew up under the tutelage of Coach Al Cesky and his excellent coaching staffs to become strong young men with a firm foundation of character and the knowledge and pride in what it takes to accomplish goals and achieve outstanding success," Plummer said, reading from prepared remarks.

A $20,000 check from the Undefeated 119 for the Cesky Scholarship Fund was presented during halftime.

William Brown's first season as an assistant coach for Mr. Cesky was the 1965 undefeated season. Brown, who coached at Bel Air High until 1983, had come to the school with 15 years' coaching experience at the former Central Consolidated School, the Bel Air area's segregated high school for black students.

"He welcomed me over here," Brown said of Mr. Cesky.

Brown brought a number of Central Consolidated athletes with him as Bel Air High was integrated. He was also the school's head track coach for many years and later served on the Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners.

"It's been great, especially seeing how these young guys developed into great citizens," Brown said.

Rick J. Cotton, whose late father, Rick A. Cotton, played on the 1965 team, came to the reunion with his mother, Cathy, and children, Sam and Kate.

The elder Cotton died in 2007.

Rick Cotton said his father had many stories about his football experience.

"It's nice to see that validated with something like this," he said of the reunion.

Cathy Cotton said her late husband would be "thrilled" about the event.

"He'd be all over it," she said. "He is all over it; he's with us today."

'The real deal'

Jerry Ensor played on the 1955 team, the first Bel Air football team to go undefeated; the team had a 9-0 season, and many of the games were blowouts with a score difference of about 20 points in Bel Air's favor.

The Bobcats shut out three of their opponents that year, according to the plaque.

Ensor played outside linebacker on defense and halfback on offense.

He remembers the team's first game that season against Bladensburg High School in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

The Bobcats, who had some players as heavy as 200 pounds, still felt small next to the Bladensburg players.

"We all looked at how tall they were, and they thought we were a bunch of country hicks," Ensor said while watching the present-day Bobcats take on North East. "It didn't take long for them to find out we were the real deal."

Bel Air won the game against Bladensburg, 22-6.

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