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WVPA Sharing: New book chronicles two West Virginia NFL greats, Huff and Gatski

“The book had to be written.  The story is just too good.”

Author Seseen Francis was explaining the simple reason for writing his new novel, “Sam Huff and the Gunner,” which chronicles the young lives – the growing up years – of football legends Sam Huff and Frank “Gunner” Gatski.

 

"Sam Huff and the Gunner" a new book by Saseen Francis about two West Virginia natives who became NFL legends. The book is available for Christmas.
“Sam Huff and the Gunner” a new book by Saseen Francis about two West Virginia natives who became NFL legends. The book is available for Christmas.

Both Huff and Gatski grew up in Coal Camp Number 9 just a mile from Farmington, West Virginia; both went on to star in the NFL; and both are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

“That’s amazing,” Francis said, “it absolutely defies the odds.”    He went on to explain.  “Sam Huff was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982; Gatski in 1985. When Gatski was inducted, there were only 125 in the Hall of Fame. Imagine, out of all the players and coaches involved in professional football since its inception in the 1920s, only 125 had been selected for the Hall of Fame and two were from Coal Camp Number 9!  How did that happen?  That’s why the book had to be written!  I’ve known Sam Huff for a long time and over the years have talked about his story and I felt fortunate to get to know Frank Gatski and was able to interview him several times before he passed away in 2005.  Luckily, one of my life-long friends, Mike Arcure, knew both Sam and Frank intimately, and in fact, was the football manager at Farmington High School when Sam went to school there.  Mike, whose recall of facts is legendary, was able to supply essential information.  Among others I interviewed were Murvyn McDowell, one of Sam’s classmates, and Blair Wolfe, principal at James Fork Elementary, prior to his passing. ”

Sam Huff became perhaps the most famous name in professional football when he played linebacker for the New York Giants in the 1950’s.  At a time when television brought pro football into homes across the country, Sam literally became the face of the NFL:  he was even the cover picture on TIME Magazine – and famed newscaster, Walter Cronkite, featured him in a television segment “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” where Sam was miked during an actual game.  Sam Huff became a household name.

In contrast, Gatski had quietly plied his trade with the Cleveland Browns a decade earlier – beginning with the very first Browns team in 1946.  In that first year Gatski was a linebacker and a substitute center.  Beginning in 1947 he became the Browns regular center and over the next ten years won acclaim as the best center to ever play the game.

As destiny would have it, Sam and “Gunner” finally faced each other on the football field – during the College All-Star Game of 1956, when Sam was beginning his pro career and Frank’s was coming to an end.

The author decided to add the subtitle, “their incredible journeys from Coal Camp Number 9 to the Hall of Fame,” just to emphasize that “Gunner”, as well as Sam, made it to football immortality.  “Everybody knows about Sam Huff – but Frank is one of pro football’s least known legends.  I guess that’s the fate of someone playing the position of center.”

Saseen Francis, author of "Sam Huff and the Gunner"
Saseen Francis, author of “Sam Huff and the Gunner”

Francis’ story opens when Sam Huff was a five-year old-child and Frank was a seventeen-year-old coal miner living just six houses across the road from each other.  In the chapters that follow are the events, the people, and the forces that shaped their young lives and led to their success.

While this is Francis’ first published novel, he is well known in the area as a playwright, composer, and publisher.

As a composer and playwright, Francis has written hundreds of songs and several musicals for which he wrote the book, music and lyrics.

“Pricketts Fort:  An American Frontier Musical” which opened at Pricketts Fort State Park in Fairmont in 1983 ran for 16 summer seasons until 1999.  The production attracted over 30,000 during that time and was instrumental in introducing many to Pricketts Fort.

One of his early shows “When a Bell Rings” had productions in Morgantown and Fairmont.  The musical set in a West Virginia coal camp was listed in “The Best Plays of the Year,” the annual book compiled by George Freedly, curator of the New York Public Library.

Other shows include “An American Dream,” winner of the ltalian Festival Playwright Competition produced in 1995; and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a musical based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale which had a production in 1983 at Towngate Theatre of Oglebay Institute in Wheeling and again in 1993 by the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Francis began his publishing company with Three Cities – The Guide to Clarksburg, Fairmont and Morgantown in 1972.Today, he publishes five magazines distributed throughout West Virginia and in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky promoting theatre, music, fairs, festivals, special events, as well as, dining, shopping and lodging businesses.

In addition to Three Cities they are:  Charleston & The Valley; Roundabout: The Guide to Wheeling and Washington; River Cities: The Guide to Parkersburg and Marietta; and River Cities: The Guide to Huntington and Ashland.

Francis was awarded the city of Fairmont’s Arts and Humanities Award in 1983; and in 2004 was honored with his name on the First Literary Map of West Virginia, a project which celebrated the work of the state’s authors, poets, and playwrights.

In 2005, the Monongalia County Noontime Concert Association and the Monongalia County Celebration of American Committee presented him their Lifetime Achievement Award.    The award read: “Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Seseen Francis, playwright, composer, publisher.  His outstanding work is recognized for advancing the cause of the performing arts in Monongalia County and the state of West Virginia.  The performers and all others who have benefited from his work are forever grateful for his service and dedication.”

Francis is a member of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) and the Dramatists Guild.

Sam Huff and the “Gunner” is available on Amazon.com in both the e-book version ($9.95) and in the printed book ($19.95).

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