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The opening of the 2013 football season triggered the recall of my first football season — 1937. I was a junior at Washington (Ind.) High School.
That year, the school decided to resume the sport. In the early years of the 20th century, the school fielded football teams. My father played on several of those teams. Sometime after, the school discontinued the sport because of a serious injury of a team member.
By 1937, the angst over the injured student subsided sufficiently for the school to resurrect the sport.
Starting a high school football team in the backwash of a depression is done as inexpensively as possible. First, hire a coach, say, a graduating football player from Indiana University. This football coach will also coach basketball and track.
Do you hire assistant coaches? Well, the shop teacher has an interest in sports; therefore, assign him also to help the football coach, thus filling out the coaching staff.
In respect to basketball, the bar was set high. In 1930, a coach by the name of Burl Friddle led a Washington team to the all-state basketball championship. He had been a player on the Franklin Five team several years earlier. Ironically, his son Rush would come to live in Columbus in the 1960s or ’70s when he was an executive at Arvin Industries.
To keep the football coach occupied in the spring, he also coached the track team. Track was a low-key sport. In fact, it did not even warrant space in the school yearbook. As that sport did not require running, I participated with the shot put. I could practice at home; however, it was difficult to lash a 16-pound iron ball on my bicycle carrier. In the handlebar basket, it could make steering a thrill.
Back to football.
The administration bought uniforms, including practice jerseys, and obtained a practice field, about one block from the gym. This field was down a steep hill from the gym. Climbing that hill after practice was worse than practice.
The next hurdle was finding a playing field with bleachers. The only one was a semipro baseball diamond in the far west end of town, Gray’s Field.
A school bus solved the distance problem; however, there was no solution for the loose sand-dirt base paths. That path material would find its way underneath every place where the uniform touched bare skin. Believe me, there are many of those places.
Today, a high school football player might ask if we had a weight room. The only “wait” rooms any of us in the class of ’39 knew about were waiting rooms at the B&O train station. Our conditioning consisted of wind-sprints, practice and climbing that hill.
I do not recall how many games we played the first season; however, I do remember that we did not win any.
Maybe it was because of a miserable football season and/or a lackluster basketball season, whichever, the coach was a one-year coach.
The school board went looking for a replacement. They found one in Greencastle by the name of Marion Crawley. They also hired an assistant coach, Harry Chickedantz. The shop teacher, Tom McCormick, was still involved.
The construction of bleachers turned the practice field into the home field, eliminating the bus trip and the sand-dirt problem. We still had to climb that hill.
We played five games in 1938 and lost five.
Coach Crawley was an excellent coach; however, given the football team material available, even he could not make a winner. It was a joy to have him as a coach. He never used obscenities nor demeaned individuals; he was just an all-around pleasant, patient, dedicated teacher.
Coach Crawley’s Washington basketball teams won the state titles in 1941 and 1942. I believe West Lafayette lured him away from Washington. He went on to recognition as one of Indiana’s outstanding basketball coaches.
I am glad I was one of his “boys”.
John C. Walter, a Cummins Inc. retiree, is a member of a panel of community writers whose opinions appear weekly in The Republic. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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