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