RICHMOND, Ind. — As Phillip Wright was leaving Lyboult Field on Friday night, he made a quick detour to salute one of his grandchildren.
The Wright family has had quite an effect on Richmond athletics.
Phillip’s nephew, Billy Wright, led the Red Devils to the 1992 state championship in boys basketball.
His granddaughter, Kyla, graduated last fall after playing girls basketball. The list goes on and on.
But way back in 1967, Phillip was a member of what has been dubbed, ‘The greatest football team ever assembled.’
Richmond’s 1967 football team was crowned state champion after unanimous No. 1 selections in the Associated Press and United Press postseason polls.
They were as dominant as they’ve been, and built a bond that has forever touched the lives of members of that team.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the state championship team, Richmond High School recognized members from that team during halftime of Friday night’s football game.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Kirk Alderman, a former player who made the trip from Fort Wayne.
“When you get the group back together, you feel the vibes coming from the other players and the tightness that we had, the bond – and it was really touching.”
Marion defeated Richmond 41-0 Friday night, but for Wright, and others, Friday night was about celebrating the past.
For current players and coaches, it was about learning the history, and seeing just how special they can one day be.
“I’ve known them guys all my life,” Phillip Wright said. “We were brought up together, we played sports together all through middle school – everything.
“I think about them a lot, even prior to this. I think that was the first thing that, when we got together was, that we thought about the ones that are not here that participated on our football team.”
There were no football playoffs in 1967, but Richmond was crowned state champion after being selected as the No. 1 football team by both the Associated Press and United Press postseason polls.
Led by legendary coach Hub Etchison, the team averaged 34 points per game and allowed just 18 total points during the season.
The Red Devils allowed six points each to Ohio powerhouse programs Cincinnati St. Xavier and Dayton Chaminade. The only Indiana team to score against Richmond was Hammond Bishop Noll, also considered a powerhouse at the time.
The team included 14 total players – seven each on offense and defense – who were named to the All-North Central Conference team, while several were named all-state selections and selected for postseason all-star games.
“It’s been good for me, because I’ve gotten to meet some of those gentlemen in planning this and preparing this,” said Larry Cochren, in his first year as Richmond’s athletic director. “They’ve been super to work with and I think it’s great for this community to recognize those folks.”
To honor deceased players, t-shirts and jerseys were laid out, and players returned from Colorado, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, and various Indiana cities.
Assistant coach Jim Peters was a player on Richmond’s 1951 undefeated team, and a coach on the 1967 Red Devils.
He, and offensive line/defense coach Elmer Britton were honored as members of the coaching staff.
“It was an unusual group of young athletes and they have stuck together and they all have become successful in their lives after high school, which is rewarding to a coach, and to remember those folks that played and are no longer with us as coaches and players, it really is a touching moment for us,” Peters said. “I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this program tonight, and we’ll just hope that the Richmond program turns around and we have that kind of success again.”
Eric VanVleet, a wide receiver/defensive back on the team, helped organize the event along with center Steve Helmich, who now lives in Greenwood.
“I actually got teary-eyed,” VanVleet said. “It just brings back your youth and 50 years ago, what it meant to stand on Lyboult Field was really special, and I noticed a lot of guys were tearing up, so very emotional.”
Other returning players included Alderman, Don Buckler, Ed Cate, John Cate, Marshall Crockett, Michael Fry, Ore Hall, Bill Hampton, Max Henry, Dr. Jim Jose, Thomas Alvin Kelley, Eugene Mitchell, Ron Sheckles, Dr. Jerry Shuck, Tim Smock, Pat Tiernan and Steve L. Tyler.
John Cate, who went on to have a Hall of Fame career as a baseball coach, played just one season of football, and it happened to be that 1967 season.
“Coach Tony Tiano was a big supporter of mine,” John Cate said. “He convinced coach Hub (Etchison) to let me come out, and the rest is really a storybook story. To go out the first day as fifth-string quarterback, then to take the first snap the first game, and for 10 games be very fortunate enough to be on the field with outstanding athletes – just a great, great experience.”
Richmond laid out t-shirts and jerseys to honor deceased coaches Etchison, assistants Mike Rodich and Tony Tiano, plus players Gary Belcher, Clevester Brown, John Brown, Andy Johnson, Forrest Rodgers, Tony Spicer, and Sam Stubbs, and student manager Steve Brangan.
“Some of those guys were so special,” VanVleet said. “They had a lot to do with the championship, and it reminds you of how fragile life is and how short it can be and how privileged we are to live to this point.”
Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, http://pinews.co/2xLTExD
Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Richmond) Palladium-Item.