In doing my interviews for the two-part feature I did the last couple of Tuesdays in September on the undefeated and once-scored-upon Shawnee Indian football team of 1966, I experienced one of those reaffirming moments.
In listening to former players Bob Brumby, Russ Fruchey, Jeff Howison, Tom Trump, Steve Archer and Bill Hamman, it became abundantly clear to me that I’m not the only older guy who realizes that the special moments of our youth matter a whole lot more a whole lot later than they did when they occurred. As for why that’s lost on young people, perhaps it’s because they have so many more tomorrows ahead of them that it diminishes somewhat their todays and renders their yesterdays obsolete.
I interviewed the six seniors of 1966, now all seniors in another way, on the Saturday morning after their Sept. 9 induction. It was a rolling two-plus-hour interview, beginning at Ike’s over breakfast and continuing at the high school.
Certainly, each admitted to me, they were proud at the time of those nine shutouts and that 12-6 win over Defiance in Week 2 and the WBL league title that came with it. Given the great successes of the Shawnee football program under coaches Jim Young and his successor to the head-coaching job at Shawnee, Larry Smith, in the first half of the 1960s, there was that feeling that they were simply doing on the field what they were supposed to do.
However, as time passed, the six have come to cherish the memories of that 1966 season and of the former Van Wert High School Cougar football teammates, Young and Smith, and their impact on them. Smith passed away, and Young survives in Tucson, Arizona. So many of the traits they instilled have remained with former players.
Sure, there were other memories discussed on that induction weekend, some comical, such as when former offensive guard Bill Hamman and his fellow guard on the other side of the ball, Mike Pettit, both thought they were leading a sweep to their opposite side, pulled and ran into each other and knocked each other down right behind Jeff Howison, who’d just snapped the ball.
And, there was also talk of the noteworthy players who were opponents during their four years of high school football, such as Wapakoneta’s Gary Evans, St. Marys’ Tim Fortney and Celina’s Jim Otis.
So much of the talk was about the head coaches who coached them and did their part to increase the odds the boys they coached would become successful men.
All remembered the meticulous game-film grading of the man they all called Smitty and staff, all day Saturday and on into Sunday morning and afternoon, so that by Sunday night when the team gathered to watch the film, each player who played would be given a handout, for the starters, one that ran about four pages, that graded them on every single play.
Players also received an overall grade, and that grade determined their practice attire for the upcoming week. Those who scored well got to wear the usual Red Devil practice jerseys. Those who didn’t were issued by their head coach yellow jerseys with a minus sign. Smith was, by day, a math teacher before slipping on a whistle at 3 o’clock and commencing football practice.
All players spoke of Smith and his former Van Wert High School teammate and predecessor to the Shawnee football job, Young, as tough old-school coaches, who also made it known to their players how much they cared for them.
Recalls Jeff Howison, “You just didn’t want to let them down.”
All six players also spoke of the thrill they had in subsequent years following the careers of their former Shawnee football mentors, and, my, what careers they were. Not since each left Shawnee to pursue college opportunities and surely never again will there ever be successive coaches at an area high school that will combine for as many college head coaching jobs and win as many games.
Jim Young was a head coach at Arizona, Purdue and Army and compiled a 120-71-2 record, including a 5-1 bowl record that must have made alumni smile. Smith became a head coach at Tulane, Arizona, Southern Cal and Missouri and compiled a 143-126-7 record. That’s a combined seven major head coaching jobs and more than 250 career wins!
It all began, once upon a 1960s time in the high-school football equivalent of “West Side Story,” at the school where a whole bunch of Medicare recipients returned in September, not only to be honored themselves but to remember those who gave them lessons that have lasted a lifetime.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.