PMC Alumnus Tony Caia: “A Giant Among Men”

August 22, 2012

Editor’s Note:  Tony Caia, a 1950 graduate of Pennsylvania Military College and star of its football team who served as a medic in World War II, died on June 21.  (He’s pictured above, with ball, in 1948 in game against Swarthmore.) After graduating from PMC, Caia coached football for 55 years, and taught special education.

David W. McNulty, a 1963 PMC graduate who knew Caia, generously shared photographs of Caia with me (click here to see a slideshow of more images) and also wrote the tribute to Caia below. 

By David W. McNulty ‘63

Though only five feet, seven inches, Tony was a giant among men.  Local coaching legends and numerous schools and colleges throughout Delaware County and the East bid for his services as an exemplary man of character, intelligence, integrity, grace, grit, and gravitas.  He showed great humility on and off the field and was known as a man of deep spiritual faith and sensitivity.

To borrow Carl Sandburg’s description of the legacy of Abe Lincoln, “a tree is best measured when it is down,” we have learned how great Tony really was.  He was a giant in our midst. We did not appreciate the depth and magnitude of the man until he was down.

Tony’s bio is as follows:

He was born in 1923 in Milmont Park, less than two miles from campus, and later moved to Leiperville.

He entered Ridley High School in 1937, and left school during the second semester of his senior year with plans to come back in the fall of 1941 to play one more season for Ridley.  However, a rule change prevented him from playing again. At age 18, he was recruited to play for the Magnolia A.A., a semi-pro team loaded with former college all-star football players.  After graduating in 1942 Tony played one more year with Magnolia before enlisting in the Army.

During World War II, Tony enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the Army Air Corps in the South Pacific.  He was sent to Australia to prepare for the invasion of Japan. While there, he came under the command of Mr. DiGiulio, the athletic director from Ridley High School. Because of Tony’s athletic ability, which Mr. DiGiulio saw first hand back at Ridley, Mr. “D” had him assigned to the Medical Service Corps to instruct the troops in calisthenics and physical training.  PMC Cadets will remember those exercises as the “Army Daily Dozen.”  Tony served for 37 months in the Army during WWII.

Tony returned from overseas and began playing for Sun Oil, another semi-pro team. During a scrimmage with the PMC football team the Cadet’s coach, Si Pauxtis, persuaded Tony to take advantage of his G.I. Bill and come to PMC.  Tony missed the first two games of the season but by the third game against Ursinus he was the starting running back.

In Tony’s Junior year in 1948, he set a school record of five touchdowns in one game against Swarthmore. That record stood until 1972 when Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, destined to become one of the best return artists, broke the record with six touchdowns against St. John’s.

After the record setting five touchdowns against Swarthmore, Tony was awarded the prestigious Maxwell Club Award as the top performer in the East.  The award was presented to him by Bert Bell, the commissioner of the National Professional Football League. That same year, 1948, Tony was instrumental in scoring one of the biggest upsets in the East by beating the Delaware Blue Hens 13-7. At the end of the season Tony was named to the Little All-America team.

An interesting story from Tony’s wife, Lucy, about the Swarthmore game and the five touchdowns: Tony’s dad was a gate tender at the B&O Railroad crossing in Chester.  He couldn’t watch all of the games because he had to go to work.  Tony would always look up into the stands to see his dad and then watch him leave.  PMC President Col. Frank Hyatt made arrangements to have his dad take off of work and be in the stands for the full game against Swarthmore.  At the normal time that his dad would be getting up to leave during the game, there he was, still sitting in his seat. Tony later said that he just went wild to see his dad watching the whole game. Tony scored two more touchdowns, the last being an eighty-yard-run to set his record. As Tony said, it happened all because he was moved and inspired by seeing his dad in the stands.

After graduating from PMC in 1950, Tony accepted a teaching position back at Ridley High School, and became an assistant football coach to the legendary Phil Marion. Coach Marion was the fullback at Fordham University where his friend, Vince Lombardi, a member of the famous “Seven Blocks of Granite” helped to clear away the opposition for Phil.

In 1951, Tony helped Coach Marion record his third of many undefeated seasons. (Note, the next one was in 1958 and I had the pleasure and honor of playing on that team). While coaching at Ridley, Tony also coached the Sharon Hill Bisons, an independent semi-pro team.

In 1956, Tony left Ridley to become head coach at Mount Pleasant High School in Delaware.  While at Ridley, he was one of the most popular and respected members of the Delaware County Coaches Association.

After leaving Delaware, Tony came back to Delaware County to be head coach of Chester High School.  Being in great demand throughout the East, Tony went from Chester to Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va., to Pennsbury School District and then to Lower Merion, where he was chosen over forty other candidates.

After resigning as coach at Lower Merion, Tony continued to assist at Garnet Valley, Haverford College, Cheyney State, St. James, and Swarthmore College.

Tony was inducted into the Cheyney Hall of Fame, Ridley Township Old Timers Hall of Fame, the DELCO Athletes Hall of Fame, Widener/PMC Wall of Fame, and the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. In 1975, he was awarded the Alumni Service Award by the Widener-PMC Alumni Association.

During his entire coaching career Tony was establishing himself as an expert teacher in the field of special education. He was in demand as a clinician and speaker in the special education field.

Hundreds upon hundreds of young man were led, directed, guided and mentored by a man who truly cared for and about them.


One comment

  1. Tony Caia was a wonderful man. I know first hand because I was
    his wife.

    Lucille (Lucy) Caia

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