Upstate N.Y. Sports Lore: Saxy Marshall…Gloversville’s Mr. Football
On the Darling Field grounds in Gloversville sits an unassuming baseball field. The field dates back to the early days of Darling Field (1923) and played host to youth, high school, collegiate, and semi-pro teams. It also featured exhibition games with Negro League and top traveling teams from around the world. While the baselines are grown in with grass, and area is now predominately used as a soccer field, there still sits the back stop and a brick monument that dedicates the field to Robert “Saxy” Marshall. The marker states “In Honor of his contributions to the youth of Gloversville this baseball diamond is dedicated to Robert Saxy Marshall 1985.”
But who was Robert Marshall? Robert Marshall is considered by many to be the greatest booster, supporter, and volunteer in the history of Gloversville High School football. He began his love affair with Gloversville Football as an offensive lineman for legendary Gloversville High School Coach Lawrence “Duke” Miller in the late 1920s.
A knee injury shortened his career as a player to one season, but he stayed involved with both the football and basketball teams as their equipment managers. Robert was also a very talented Saxophone player and while still in high school formed his own 10-piece big band composed of members of the Gloversville High School Pi Phi Fraternity. After a 3-day engagement on the stage of the Glove Theater, Marshall and his men’s swing sound became a must for local social functions. He gained the nickname of “Saxy” and “Robert (Saxy) Marshall and his Melody Men” and their swing sound quickly became the rage across New York State throughout the 1930s and 1940s.
During this same time, Saxy was on the mailing list of several music publishers and received orchestrations to “plug” as fast as they were released. At different periods of his life, he also owned his own package store, a night club, was a tobacco salesman, and eventually the owner/operator of downtown Gloversville’s Pedrick’s Restaurant.
But outside his music and his many business endeavors, his life-long passion was Gloversville sports. His unwavering support resulted in Saxy being appointed to a pair of officiating positions; time keeper for the Gloversville basketball team, and sideline linesman for the Gloversville football team. Back in the day, high school football sideline officials were known as the “chain gang” and manned the 10-yard first down markers and ball spots.
These officials were volunteers from each competing school. It was serving in this capacity in 1937 when Saxy Marshall’s role as a local legend became solidified. The date was Oct. 23, 1937, and the opponent was bitter rival Johnstown. Game conditions at Darling Field, then the home field location for the Gloversville High School Football Team (1923-1975), were rainy and muddy, making ball spots a challenge. In the fourth quarter of a particularly contentious contest (which the Huskies eventually won 12-7), a dispute broke out between Saxy and Johnstown official Tony “Chizzo” Grecco over a ball spot. Fisticuffs erupted, and Saxy was injured when a punch shattered his glasses and cut his eye. Although Marshall was not proud of the brawl (he and Grecco eventually became very good friends) the event made Saxy Marshall something of a Gloversville hero. He became known as a guy who was willing to take one for the team. He immediately became a mainstay of Huskies football, a keynote speaker for Gloversville awards banquets, and a go-to person for youth sports promotion in general up through the early 1980s.
At one time, he held a 30-year perfect attendance record for never missing a Gloversville football or basketball game, eventually missing his first game in 1969 due to being hospitalized after an eye surgery.
Having control of the “stick” as a member of the “chain gang” for so many years gave Saxy a keen insight to the game of football. For many years, he felt something should be done to develop the younger generation into future Gloversville High School football stars. In 1955, Saxy and a group of former Gloversville High School football players formed the “Touchdown Club” with the idea of promoting local over-all interest in Gloversville football. The group had learned of the success of a midget program for 11- and 12-year-olds in the Philadelphia area called “Pop Warner Football.”
This was a program started by Joseph J. Tomlin, who was a life-long friend of Temple Football Coach Glen “Pop” Warner. The league was named after Warner and formed to encourage and increase youth participation in football. In 1956, the Touchdown Club charted three teams (80 players) and named Saxy as their very first commissioner. The league was called “The Pop Warner Wemple-Avery Midget Football League.” The league was named as such to honor two former Gloversville High School Football Stars Don Wemple and Frank Avery who were killed in WWII. Wemple was a co-captain at Colgate and star player for the National Football League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1940’s, and Avery was a standout football player for the University of Alabama. In his role as commissioner of the local league, Saxy quickly grew the Gloversville program and caught the attention of the Pop Warner National Office. He was asked to help other local communities start similar programs and also became the commissioner of Upstate New York Pop Warner Football. In this role, he was instrumental in forming the East Central Conference of Pop Warner Football and assisted more than 20 other leagues in getting started and oversaw their operations each season. In this position, Saxy became nationally known for youth football and developed friendships with the likes of college football coaching legends Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes. Saxy would hold the Upstate New York Commissioners position through 1965, and the local Gloversville Pop Warner Commissioners position through the mid 1970’s. While no longer affiliated with the Pop Warner Program, the local organization still thrives today and currently operates as the Gloversville Little Huskies.
Having five daughters, Saxy found a way to get them involved in the sport he loved so much when he and Bill Gabeler organized and coached Gloversville’s very first “Powder Puff Bowl Championship” in November 1957.
The game featured 26 Gloversville High School female students suited up in full pads for a game of tackle football as a fundraiser for the YMCA Service Fund. According to Saxy’s daughter Karen Grich “this was a really great event for the girls and it expanded into the girls suiting up for exhibitions during halftime at boy’s homes games for the next several years”. The tradition is still alive today as a “Flag Football Contest” between the Gloversville Girls JV student’s & the Senior girls as a fundraiser for both classes during Home Coming Weekend each fall.
Saxy and his wife (Esther) also owned and operated the former Pedrick’s Restaurant on North Main street in Gloversville for much of the 1950s to the early 1980s.
In last month’s column, I mentioned how this was the restaurant that baseball legend Jack McKeon and all of the Gloversville Glovers players ate most of their meals and socialized while in town playing in the Canadian-American Baseball League. Saxy brought a sports theme to the establishment and created “The Dugout” in the cellar of the restaurant where he hosted parties for local high school sports teams and allowed all local booster clubs to hold their meetings. It was during this same time period that Saxy was a popular radio game announcer and football talk show host for high school football and was broadcast on WENT radio. The talk show was called the “50-Yard Line Show” and he and co-host John Thomas would broadcast live from Pederick’s Restaurant and at different show sponsors places of business every Friday night before a game to preview the upcoming local high school, college and pro games. They often times had local coaches and players on the show to discuss their games. Saxy also had a crystal ball in which he looked into for his weekly picks. Ironically, the crystal ball always showed Gloversville winning. And after Saturday games, they hosted the “Scoreboard Show” in which they recapped the weekends outcomes.
Today, WENT continues to broadcasts local football games and whenever the Gloversville team reaches the 50-yard line, announcers Tom Roehl and Alex Isabel always pay homage to their predecessor by saying “Saxy Marshall, the ball is on the 50-yard line.”
After more than 50 years as the face of Gloversville Football, Robert “Saxy” Marshall passed away on March 23, 1988. Today, his spirit and dedication to Gloversville sports lives on through the Robert “Saxy” Marshall Memorial Award. This award is given annually by his family to a Gloversville High School graduate who was dedicated to the sport of football, and plans to continue their education. Plans are currently in the works to refurbish his memorial marker at Darling Field for a re-dedication in the Summer of 2017.
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organizations website at www.fchof.com or at 725-5565.