Big Mo, Little Mo and Cookie

On Sunday, September 8th, the Valley News Dispatch published a letter to the editor I had submitted regarding the Highlands School District not recognizing Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski and the 1953 Har-Brack Tigers football team.  The Valley News Dispatch has a 250-word limit for publication which limits additional description and greater detail.

As a side note, I sent the letter to each member of the Highland School Board and never received a response from anyone. Below is the letter in its entirety as originally written:

It is a fairly common practice that school districts recognize outstanding achievements by their students and sports teams often in trophy cases, with photos, signs and/or on the high school gymnasium wall, etc. Some communities display signs as well welcoming visitors and displaying, “Welcome to (town name), Home of (the individuals name or their school district’s team’s accomplishment.)

There are three individuals that grew up within the Highlands School District in the small towns of Natrona and Brackenridge, that reached the highest level of their sport, and to my knowledge there is no displayed recognition of their accomplishments within the Highlands School District. Those individuals are: Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski.

The list of their accomplishments are as follows:

Cookie Gilchrist

Five-time Canadian Football League All-Star

Four-time American Football League All-Star

First 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history

Led the AFL in Rushing in 1962 and 1964

1962 American Football League Most Valuable Player

Set AFL single-game rushing record with 243 yards against the NY Jets

Member of the All-Time American Football League Team.

Member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame


Dick Modzelewski – “Little Mo”

Two-time Football All-American at the University of Maryland

1952 Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s premier college lineman

Named to the National Football League Pro Bowl 1964

Set NFL record playing for 180 consecutive games

Coached in the NFL for 12 years

Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame 1993

Member of the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame


Ed Modzelewski – “Big Mo”

Football All-American University of Maryland 1951

1952 Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player

1952 First Round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers and sixth pick overall in the draft

The Highlands School District is remiss in not recognizing these individuals for their outstanding athletic achievement. I’m unaware of any visible recognition within the football stadium or on school district grounds recognizing their achievements.

If one counters that was then as Har-Brack and it is now Highlands, let me point out that the Pittsburgh Pirates recognize outstanding players from the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords as well as former Pirates that never set foot in PNC Park. These three gentlemen were born, raised and attended school within the school district.

How many outstanding Division One collegiate and professional athletes has a larger and incorporated Highlands School District produced? I’m unaware of any, yet here are three from Natrona and Brackenridge that go unrecognized that could serve as inspiration to our current and future student- athletes that the highest levels of achievement are indeed attainable.

This is not just an opportunity to honor these former residents of the community but also an opportunity to inform, educate and inspire the young people of the district that they too can reach the highest level of their chosen profession, and isn’t that what school districts are supposed to do?

That also applies for the 1953 Har-Brack football team, a team that was Co-WPIAL Class AAA champion in 1953. How many WPIAL championship football teams has Highlands produced?  None.  Perhaps if the players knew it has been done by their predecessors it might serve to inspire them that it can be done again.

Perhaps a sign could be displayed on the football stadium press box or beneath the electronic scoreboard, paid for by sponsors and/or donors so that the school district bears no cost, that recognizes these three individuals and the 1953 Har-Brack football team for their outstanding athletic achievements.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.


John Baranowski

Highlands Class of ‘80

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:



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