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100 Years Ago

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Feature Article on SHS Football. Topic: SPORTS
Written by  Rich Wallace in September, 1995


The 1899 Sidney High football team is shown below in a relaxed pose. The team played six games that year and won them all,
including two over Piqua and Bellefontaine. The coach was T.R. Hazzard. This photo appeared in the 1903 issue of
The Reflector, a Sidney High School annual.

footballteam.gif (195296 bytes)

As Sidney high school enters its 100th football season, hundreds of people are involved in the preparations both in official and volunteer capacities. Things were a little different in the beginning...

Trego and Binkley, proprietors of the Sidney Journal, often pontificated about the morals of Sidney residents, including its youth. It therefore did not come as a surprise when they opined in the December 4th, 1896 edition that for some time Sidney boys had not engaged in the "rough and tumble" of sports, but in fact "...seemed to have developed a fondness of cigarettes and other things even more harmful than 'coffin nails'." Solemnly, they continued by asserting that "...only that nation which cultivates robustness of body and educates its children to a hardy endurance is any real force in the world."

In light of those concerns, the Journal found it "particularly gratifying" that Sidney High School would soon field a team to play the game of football. The Journal sought to reassure the parents: "The bumps and bruises incident to the warfare of the gridiron are not very pleasant. Boys have not the weight and strength to hurt each other as have men weighing 180 pounds... and their bones are not so apt to break, so that there is little danger of any serious accidents."

Finding an opponent, however, would be another matter. Bellefontaine, Troy, Piqua and other towns the size of Sidney did not have teams. There was one option. The Lima High School team, champions of northwest Ohio, would be happy to play Sidney. Lima had just defeated Ada College (now Ohio Northern University) 20 to 0.

Putting together a team must have been a challenge. J. G. Kaufman, the principal at the high school, had volunteered to teach the boys, as he had some experience with the game at Harvard. The only Sidney player who had ever played in a game was 18 year old Web Sterline. That was enough to make Web the captain.

At the age of 100, Webster Kelsey Sterline recounted those early days in an interview with Dave Ross in 1978. As the high school boys began to practice, they found themselves alone often because, as Sterline recalled, "Kaufman was courting Mamie Loughlin then, so he wasn't around much. I had played the game at a military academy in Cincinnati, where my parents sent me to 'grow up.' I had to teach everyone the game. I taught them all how to tackle, but I only showed them once - because it hurt too much."

What about uniforms and protective equipment? "Those were luxuries," Sterline chuckled. "We saw a picture of them, and that was as far as we got. We did have one football." It should be noted that this first Sidney team also played without a rule book or any referees. There was of course no football field. Sterline and some others players approached Mr. Orbison, who owned a ten acre pasture on the top of what is now known as Orbison Hill in East Sidney (the present site of Orbison Park). He consented to the use of the field. The boys used lime and crudely marked lines every ten yards. The field was ready.

By mid-November, the high schoolers thought they were prepared for a scrimmage. Mr. Henderson, principal of the second ward school in Sidney, had assembled a group of boys from his school to provide the opposition. On the afternoon of Friday, November 13, football was born in Sidney. To the chagrin of the Sidney high school followers, the pickup team from the second ward school won 10 to 0. The Journal commented: "It is true the game was not very scientific, but it was the first." The Lima juggernaught was next.

It was Saturday, December 5th. Mr. Orbison's pasture had been suitably lined and roped off to hold back the 500 curious spectators who assembled for the two o'clock game. The Journal had warned that "Sidney does not hope to win, but it will try to hold the Lima men down to a small score." Web Sterline was more succinct. "We had no more business playing Lima than trying to catch a giraffe. It was like father against son. They had great, big tall six-footers, some of whom were from the Lima YMCA team." Joining Sterline in this adventure were John Mumford - left end, Frank Hussey - left tackle, Roy Carothers - center, Milton Sauders - right guard, Ray Apple - right tackle, Ralph Wilson - right end, Tommy "We Haul" Wilson - quarterback, W. Rice - right halfback, O.H. Odell - left halfback, and L. Anderson at fullback.

Four points were awarded for a touchdown and two for a kicked goal. The final score: Lima 40, Sidney 0. Web Sterline became the first Sidney player to suffer an injury, as he was hurt just before the half and was replaced by Howard Dill. The Sidney papers tried to put the best spin possible on Sidney's first venture into football. The Shelby County Democrat stated the defeat "was in a sense an advantage, for it showed the Sidney boys the art and the value of team work." The Journal congratulated the players as well, noting that Lima was undefeated, and had not allowed a point the entire season. Perhaps a sense of wounded pride caused both newspapers to do a little finger pointing. The Democrat accused the timekeeper from Lima of deliberately extending each half by 3 minutes "thus giving them at least 8 more points than they were entitled to." The Journal angrily accused Lima of using one of their coaches as a player.

Despite the crushing defeat, football fever had struck Sidney. Just two weeks later, a team hastily assembled from the freshman class at the high school played a game against the "A grammar grade" at the high school. Meanwhile, undaunted, the Sidney team looked for another opponent. A game was arranged with a team from Buckland, a village outside of Wapakoneta. It was composed of mostly boys from Wapak.

With the Journal predicting the boys "had good hopes of victory" the Sidney eleven traveled to Wapak for a game December 21. The field was covered with mud - with a little ice mixed in. This time, however, the result was much different. As the Democrat smugly reported, Sidney "smote the Buckland eleven hip and thigh." Sidney won by a final score of 44 to 0.

Sidney's first victory was not without controversy. Near the end of the Sidney-Buckland game, rowdy Wapak spectators tried to go out on the field but were held in check by a group of Sidney supporters known as the "rollers." who had traveled to the game via freight train.

The Democrat reported that the Wapak fans "hired a drunken ruffian" to rush out and injure Henderson, Sidney's best defensive player who had held Justice, Wapak's best back, in check all afternoon. "The thug rushed out, but missed Henderson and fell on Justice, whom he thoroughly mauled and trampled on, being too tipsy to know the difference," the Democrat reported. Justice had to be taken from the field. Thus ended Sidney's first football season.

The high schoolers made preparations for their second season in 1897. No one suggested opening the season against Lima. Sidney played Troy and two other teams that season, winning all the games. A Sidney club football team was also formed in 1897. It played two games and won them both - against Urbana and Union City. A long and colorful football tradition had begun.

schsfirstfootballgameplaquelinedrawing.gif (96604 bytes)

In December, 1996, the Shelby County Historical Society unveiled a commemorative marker which denotes the first football game played in Shelby County 100 years ago. Designed by Vision Mark, the plaque has been fastened to a large boulder which is located in a grassy area at Orbison Park. The plaque features a photo etching of the first team along with the Historical Society and Vespa Club logos. It can be seen at the park which is located on State Route 29, approximately 1 mile east of Brooklyn Avenue.


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