Sunday, March 8, 2009

School Experiences III

NOTICE: This is the third in a series with the above title. The first two may be read by “scrolling down” to them, individually, on this blog. If you have not read them yet, please do so before reading this one. It’ll make more sense.

In a previous posting under this title on this blog, I mentioned that some of my first, or later grade, friends were later to be a part of the 1941 Championship Football Team. They were Dick Anderson, our Quarterback throughout high school, and Bill Pletcher, a first string back on the same team. Others of our class were Jay Gibson, and a BIG fellow named Eugene Jones, who was our heavy hitter full-back. He also kicked extra points. He was a year earlier than we. Others of our class played lesser roles on the football team, but we had the most “first stringers”.

Another guy who was also a year ahead of us, along with Eugene Jones, was Eugene “Beanie” Seward. He was a fleet foot outside runner, that hardly anyone could catch. Then, John Cordell from our class, was a regular End. We didn’t have “tight ends”, or “outside line backers”. We only had Ends, Tackles, Guards, a Center, two half-backs, a full back, and a Quarterback. The T Formation our team ran, was one of the original Notre Dame T Formations.

The Quarterback didn’t take the ball from under the center, it was snapped to the Quarterback, who was lined up 3 feet behind the center; the 3 backs in a row 3 feet behind him. At the signal count from the Quarterback, the halfbacks shifted to wing back position on either side, depending on the play. The Fullback remained behind the Quarterback.

At the next count, the ball was “snapped” directly to the Quarterback, or maybe on an unusual or trick play, “snapped” directly to the Fullback. The Quarterback handed off to either a half-back, the fullback, or on short yardage, carried the ball in a Quarterback Sneak.

Our guards, center, tackles, and others not directly in the line of the ball, all blocked forward, or on a slant, depending on where the ball was to be carried. Of course, the Quarterback and the other Backs not carrying the ball blocked too - sometimes blocking right in front of the ball carrier.

When our class was in the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grade, our Head Coach was a “charismatic” guy - unusual for his time. He brought things to the football program that had not even been thought of in Mechanicsburg. Name? W. K. Dunton. He was a stickler for fitness and being in shape. In fact, for hardly any excuse at all, he made one or more of the players “Run 5 laps” around the football complex. And, EVERYONE ran at least one lap, after practice.

Many of the guys in my class “went out for football” in the 7th and 8th grades. I did too. We practiced sometimes with the Varsity, but many times by ourselves. We had mostly intramural games, against some of our own players. Our “games” were on Saturday morning.

I have to tell you right up front, that I WAS NOT built to be a Football player. We 7th and 8th graders “dressed” for the game, and in the 8th grade, our numbers and “weights” were printed in the Friday night program. I have yet to live down my astronomical weight of 84 pounds, that was actually printed in the program. My Grandson Bobby likes to kid me about it. He’ll say, “84 pounds, huh, Grandpa? Awesome.” (Smart aleck).

I think what ended my football career was a Saturday game in which our 8th Grade played some high school “second or third string” players. They were bigger than we. By the way, back then, all players played offense AND defense. No rest.

I guess on offense I was the quarterback, and the smallest man on the team. I don’t remember how much we scored, or if we did or not. But we played.

The crucial play for me this day was on defense. I think I played in the defensive backfield, probably a halfback or quarterback.

The High Schoolers had the ball on about our 20 yard line, almost ready to break in for a score. Suddenly, their quarterback threw a pass to a halfback, but it kinda wobbled, and didn’t go far. Guess what! It ended up in my arms. What was I to do? “Run like the wind”, of course. I went around the end, toward the goal 85 yards away. I was pretty fast for an 8th grader. I was small and sleek. Little by little the high school team was being outrun, and it looked like a Touchdown for me. At about the 25 yard line at the other end, I heard these great big feet and shoes slamming down on the ground, covering twice as much ground as I in each step. The feet slamming got louder and louder, as well as closer and closer. CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP. I didn’t dare look back, for fear I would fall on my face.

At about the 5 or 10 yard line, those big clomping feet found me, and big, tall Frank Thompson, the tallest guy on the high school team, made a “flying tackle”, bringing me to the ground, just short of the goal line. As luck would have it, I fell right on the ball, with it nearly buried in my chest. I hit the ground with a thud, and when I turned over, I COULD NOT BREATHE. The football was almost buried in my chest and stomach.

Shortly, Frank, and some of the other bigger guys (our guys couldn’t run that far), worked on me, and gradually I got my wind back.

I didn’t know what happened for minutes and hours after that. I don’t know the score. I don’t know who won, (Take a guess.) It seemed that for maybe hours I had trouble breathing.

I didn’t want to be a coward, or a cry baby, but I took off that football uniform and NEVER put it on again.

There’s more football from me.

The last two games our varsity played each year were London and Urbana - our bitterest rivals. By the London game in our Senior year, we were undefeated. Only two games to go, and if we won them, it would be the first season where our team beat Urbana, London, West Jefferson and Marysville in the same season. At any rate, the season was undefeated, and we were champions of our patch of central and southwestern Ohio, in football.

Four years before, we were in the locker room after the London game, which was before I quit football, (we dressed in an armory. London didn’t have a dressing room at the school), and after the game, I heard Coach Dunton talking to some of his Assistants. He mentioned the names of some of the eighth graders, as well as some returning letter men. He specifically mentioned eighth graders Pletcher and Anderson, as two heavy prospects for next year’s team. Of course, Beanie Seward returned, as did Eugene Jones. John Cordell hadn’t shown up as outstanding yet in the 8th grade. (Thankfully, he DIDN’T mention my name!)

It was obvious to me that Anderson and Pletcher were to be the “linchpins” of the football team the next year, and several thereafter. I told them what I heard.

On their way to the final year of our eligibility, these boys kept improving, and showing the wisdom of Coach Dunton in “tapping” them after the 1938 London game.

What about me and football? I just ignored it my Freshman year, while Bill, Dick, Jay, Beanie, John and Eugene kept playing, and improving.

Though I can’t get a handle on how Coach Dunton recruited me to be the Manager of the team - (actually, the Equipment Manager, but I was called just “The Manager”) but as the 1939 season began, I found myself as the “flunky” for the coach, for whatever he wanted done. From across the field I would hear “MIKE!!!”, and I would come running. I was the “gofer” for everything, and I LOVED IT. A harder task master than Coach Dunton I’ve never found. I kept track of the footballs, the uniforms, the bandages and tape, the whistle that Coach used to get the attention of the team, the medical supplies for injuries, and myriad other things. During the games, I took out the water, etc. for the team at quarters or time outs. When I went on the field in the middle of a game, I COULDN’T SAY A WORD to any of the players, or even give some sort of hint of what the Coach wanted. I set down the water bottles near the huddle, then stepped back a regular distance from it.

What I’ve just realized now is that the games back then were longer. That is, the total time on a clock from when the ball was kicked off, until the final gun was longer. The key to that? Timekeeper John Lafferty, and his counterpart from the other team, each kept stop watches that they started and stopped together, at the snap of the ball, until the Referee had declared the ball down. The clocks stopped, not to be started up again, until the ball was “officially” snapped. Longer game. And, at the end of quarters, halfs, and game ends, blank cartridges would be fired from the gun John Lafferty carried.

At the end of the 1939 season, Coach Dunton announced that he would no longer coach the team. I THINK he also resigned his teaching position.

A new, younger coach named Jim Miller, fresh out of Bluffton college, became the football coach, starting in the 1940 season. He was also coach when we had the Championship season in 1941, our Senior Year.

In the middle of my one year as Football Manager, and Coach Dunton’s last year as coach, he arranged for me to speak to the Noon Lions Club in the Anderson Hotel in town, about what a Football Manager does. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say, but Coach said, “Just tell them what you do as a Manager.”

I don’t remember a thing that I said, but as a pre-cursor to my “need” to keep talking in public, I think my “gabby” personality probably took over.

As they say, “The rest is just blabbing.”

This will surely be the last posting on my school experiences, but, knowing “gabby” me, you’d better not count on it!

“Oh that men would Praise the Lord for His Goodness, and for His Wonderful Works to the children of men.” Ps. 107:8

I’ll do it!

No comments: