A look at the beginning of football at NCHS 50 years ago
FARMERSBURG — North Central High School celebrated it’s 50th year of varsity football on Friday as they defeated North Daviess 44-22. On Saturday, there was an alumni flag football game.
It’s hard to believe it was 50 years ago. That’s when Superintendent of Schools Hershel Gross hired Dick Jones, who was from football rich central Ohio, and Dave Jarrett a former Sullivan High School quarterback, to coach the very first North Central Thunderbird football team.
At a meeting of prospective players and their parents earlier that summer, the coaches found out that only two or three of the candidates for the team had ever even put on a football uniform.
When they asked if any of them knew what position they would like to try out for, most of the hands were held up for the “guard” position so they could shoot the ball.
At 6-5, Jim Turnbaugh raised his hand to be the center.
Although there were very few candidates with any football experience, there were a few with football family ties.
Billy Pinkston’s father, Bill, captained the Sullivan High School squad and was awarded the Adam Sajko Award in 1947.
Jimmy and Charlie Rambis had several relatives who had also played for the Arrows.
Other than that, the players were basically inexperienced. That was the bad news.
The good news was that there were no bad habits to break. When they were told how to get into a stance, they did exactly as told.
Tackling and blocking form were new to them so they did as they were instructed. The fact that the team was blessed with players with a lot of natural athletic ability didn’t hurt either.
There was some speed but not much size. Maybe the most important piece of the puzzle was how smart the young men were and their ability to catch on very quickly.
A major plus for the program was longtime basketball coach Paul Weekley’s gracious acceptance of the new program. He opened up his office and locker rooms for the new team and was always there when we needed him.
When equipment was purchased from McMillan’s in Terre Haute, money was a big issue.
Thanks to sales rep Louie Peck, the costs were kept to a minimum.
The store had dozens of sample shirts and pants which were given to the team to help with start up expenses. The T-birds were an odd looking crew that first day in full gear. They could have been called the “rainbow warriors,” with all the colors worn on that practice field.
No corners were cut for the pads and helmets though. A cost-saving idea by coach Jones resulted in wearing soccer shoes instead of the traditional leather football shoes with the big plastic cleats. He convinced the players that the lighter shoes would make up for any traction lost by not having the big cleats. Since the boys had never played before, they never knew the difference.
Practices were hard, but not brutal. Jones knew he had to keep everyone out and healthy but still teach them how to “hit” and take a “hit.” Also, knowing several players would be on the field most of the time, conditioning was a must; so there was a lot of running and calisthenics. As the season went on, there were very few injuries and being in condition won several games in the fourth quarter.
It was decided that in the first year only players through the 11th grade would be on the team, therefore a Junior Varsity schedule was played. Eight schools were willing to play North Central that first year.
The T-birds won all of the games which included Marshall, Schulte, Linton, Wiley, and Dugger. They were scheduled to play Sullivan the last game of the season but a heavy rain storm caused the game to be canceled.
The players took to “hitting” quite well and a defense dreamed up by Michigan State coach, Duffy Daugherty, was used. It was not familiar to the teams the T-birds played so they got away with a lot of inexperience on defense. That, plus the fact that Coach Jones was a defensive genius, kept most teams from scoring too much. The squad had no serious injuries and almost everyone stayed out, so the first year was considered a big success.
The fall of 1968 began a new chapter in North Central athletics. They were about to embark on their first year of varsity football. After a successful first year playing JV teams, the T-birds were stepping into the “big time.” Everybody returned, plus a very strong incoming freshman class gave promise to the future. Wilbur Crooks and Tim Drake joined Jones and Jarrett on the coaching staff, and the team got its own field house.
The T-birds participated in a jamboree with Sullivan, Linton and North Knox and did well on defense, but the offense was not quite ready. After losing 14-12 to Linton and 25-6 to Oblong, Illinois the first two games, some people wondered if North Central was ready to compete on the varsity level —but the T-birds had something to show them.
The T-birds defeated Edgewood 19-6 in the next game and then beat Dugger 27-6 to even their record. They then opened their own field, under lights donated by area coal and power companies, by defeating Mitchell 19-13.
North Central finished their first varsity season with wins over Rockville 19-12, and Cascade 31-0 to finish with a very respectable 5-2 record.
That first class of seniors deserve most of the credit for the team’s success that first varsity season. It included: Andy Baldridge, Frank Bullock, Rich Dial, John Drake, Stan Drake, Terry McDaniel, Mark Lane, Billy Pinkston, Brad Power, Rick Sluder, Rick Strain, and Art Thrasher.
That 1968 team’s success set the stage for 50 years of football that is being celebrated this year at North Central High School.
Many players and coaches have come and gone during those years and have their own memories, but if you were a part of that inaugural season, it will always be extra special.