By George Belden
Special to Portage Sports
It honors a unique event in the history of interscholastic sports in the United States.
And it was being used as a doorstop.
“It” is a plaque awarded to Windham High School in 1940 to commemorate the very first 6-man football game played between a high school from the United States and one from Canada.
Mysteriously, it had gone missing for much of the 21st century.
Six-man football was a sport that dominated Portage County from 1938 until 1953. During the 1940’s, more Portage County high schools played this version of football than its 11-man counterpart.
And the very best team in all of Ohio was tiny Windham.
Windham’s enrollment was so small in the 1930’s that it had been able to field an 11-man team only three times during the decade.
But 6-man football arrived in Ohio in 1938 and Windham took to the sport like very few other teams in the nation.
In 1939, in only its second season, Windham was undefeated and was declared Ohio’s state champion by the creator of the sport, Stephen Epler, who ranked teams for “American Boy” magazine.
Windham’s Superintendent and coach, Deane Eberwine, boldly arranged to test his team, returning all its starters, against the Canadian champions, Stamford Collegiate Academy, in Niagara Falls, Canada.
On Oct. 5, 1940, the Bombers — newly christened with that nickname by Ravenna Record-Courier sportswriter Oliver Wolcott, traveled in a car caravan to Oakes Stadium in Niagara Falls.
At the end of a wet and windy game, Windham had defeated the best team in Canada, 39-1.
In the next day’s newspaper, the Record-Courier headlined the game report: Windham lays claim to World 6-man grid title.
Returning home and going undefeated the rest of the season, Epler declared Windham the
“international champions” of 1940. The team was presented with a beautiful wooden and bronze plaque
to immortalize “the fine sportsmanship of the young men of Canada and the United States” during that October game.
For 70 years, the plaque hung in the Windham trophy case, as more modern trophies, many
accumulated by Leo Kot’s football and baseball teams and Marty Hill’s basketball squads, filled the shelves and relegated that singular, ancient achievement to a dusty back corner.
And then old Windham High School was demolished and today’s sparkling new building arrived.
As the trophy cases were refilled, the plaque and some older trophies that had lost their identification, got set aside — and forgotten.
That’s where Dan Burns, longtime coaching fixture of the Windham schools and father of current principal Zach Burns, discovered the plaque being used as a doorstop.
Not knowing its history, but recognizing that at one time it must have been important, Dan took the plaque home and kept it safe for many years.
During a conversation with a Windham historian at last January’s Hall of Fame induction, Burns told the story about discovering the plaque to someone who knew its story and had lamented its loss, and now a huge part of Windham’s athletic history is coming home.
Superintendent Aireane Curtis arranged for the plaque to be cleaned and polished and soon it will be returning to a place of honor in the Bombers’ trophy case — perhaps near the plaque the 1940 team received when it was inducted into the WHS Hall of Fame in 2010.
And then visitors to the Marty Hill Gym, who might decide to take a look at the innumerable
championships that Windham has won, can see that once upon a time a tiny Portage County school did something no other school in the country can claim — it was the undisputed North American champion of 6-man football.
Beautiful piece ! Thank you for sharing this historical gem – What a treasure
Front row, l to r: Frank Janacek, Harold Belden, Harold Stanley, Fred Stanley, Bob Turner, Joe Pinney, George Brauker
Back row, l to r: Robert Fechter, Conrad Thrasher, William Richardson, Sam Scott, Don Miller, Art Joy, Bob Goss
Back row: Robert Pavlik, Mgr., Coach Deane Eberwine