By Con Marshall
High school class reunions always coincide with Fur Trade Days. With a long list of events already on the schedule, it’s a great time for old grads to return to their hometown, get reacquainted with their classmates and recall the good times from their high school days
That’s happening again this year. For instance, three Chadron High classes from the early 1960s will have a joint celebration that will begin Saturday following the parade down Main Street. The gathering will be at the Bill Dowling American Legion Post in the 100 block of Bordeaux Street.
It’s not going to bring a huge throng to town, but more than 50, including spouses, have made reservations to participate. Others are welcome join them that afternoon.
At least from an athletic standpoint, the members of these classes will have lots of fond memories to discuss. When they were in high school spanning from 1959 through 1962, the Cardinals went 34-3 on the gridiron with both the 1960 and 1962 teams going undefeated. The 1959 team should have won them all, but finished 7-1 and the 1961 team went 8-2.
The basketball highlight was a biggie. The Cardinals won the school’s first state tournament championship in March 1961.
What happened in ’59 football? Well, the Cardinals outscored their opponents by 30 points a game in the seven contests they won, but lost to a mediocre Mitchell team 39-13 about mid-season. It was the only time during Coach Gordon (Fuzz) Watts’s 11 years as the Chadron High football mentor that the Cardinals were upset. The score was 39-13. They beat all the other teams by at least three touchdowns, but unexplainably, Chadron fumbled the ball 13 times that night and lost 10 of them.
There also was a major disappointment at the end of that season. Because of the blizzard conditions in early November, the Cardinals never got to play Rushville, which had a 20-game winning streak going. The game was postponed twice and finally cancelled altogether because of successive blizzards in early November.
Peru State and Chadron State did play at Elliott Field during that period, but the game had to be postponed for more than a week because the highways across Nebraska were so bad Peru could not make the trip. And when the game was played, Eagles’ quarterback Gary Tuggle suffered a frozen finger that newspaper accounts said might have to be amputated (it wasn’t), and two Peru players suffered frozen toes. Temperatures during that period dipped as low as 18 below.
One of the Cardinals’ wins in 1959 was a 46-0 verdict over Chadron Prep. It avenged a 21-12 victory that the Junior Eagles had posted the previous year when the teams met on the football field for the “first time in ??? years,” according to the Chadron Record. The facts are, Chadron High and Chadron Prep apparently never played a football game against one another prior to 1958 and ’59 and never played again. Prep was closed at the end of the 1961 school year.
In the fall of ’58, Chadron High had just two seniors on the team—Benny Steele and Ralph Byerly. Prep had nine, including one of the community’s all-time great athletes, Dick Muma, at quarterback and others such as Keith Benthack, Bob Broberg, Ken Cullers, Gene Pinsky and Don Schaefer were capable players.
The Junior Eagles suited up just 16 players for the game in 1959.
By 1959, the Cardinals had a lot more size and experience. Senior starters included ends Ray Cottier and Dave Reaser, linemen Wayne Burk and Lynn Gorr and halfback John Rasmussen, who was the quarterback for most of the Prep game because starter Larry Matthesen was ill. Another senior, Rob Harvey, took over at tackle after Gorr suffered a broken leg.
By the fall of 1960, the Cardinals were potent, to be sure. They went 8-0 and outscored their opponents by a 34-9 per game margin. All but one of the starters that season were seniors. They were Bill Rice and Randy Riggins at the ends, Gary Thompson at a tackle, Roger Jones and John Urwin were the guards, Chuck Mitchell at center, Matthesen at quarterback, Paul Kindig and Tom Sims at the halfbacks and Larry Miller at fullback. Another senior, Mel Reeves, could capably fill the bill at all of the runningback slots.
Junior Terry Cogdill was the other starting tackle.
Matthesen, Miller, Rice and Riggins were the stalwarts for the state championship basketball team, which finished with a 23-2 record. The fifth starter was junior Rex Norman. The Cardinals’ only losses were early in the season to Rushville 47-45 and Gering 69-65, which went on to reach the Class A State Tourney semifinals.
Coached by the incomparable Verne Lewellen, the 1960-61 Cardinals defeated Minden 65-59, Hooper 73-60 and Burwell 56-53 at the state tournament. Matthesen, who was a four-year starter and finished his career with 1,236 points and probably would have tallied at least 200 more if the 3-point shot had been available, was a first-team all-state selection, while both Miller and Rice were placed on the Class B all-tournament team.
Rice, who became an exceptional track athlete at the University of Montana, won the Class B high jump title that spring by clearing 6-3.
With Cogdill the only returning starter in the fall of 1961, the Cardinals’ football team had a much different look than it had the year before, but finished with an 8-2 record. The losses were to Gering and Sidney, both Class A teams that season.
That was the first year for the Rangeland Conference and the Cardinals won the playoff game over O’Neill 31-13 before wrapping up the season with a 19-0 win over Alliance, another Class A team.
At the end of the season, Chadron Record sportswriter John DeHaes put Cogdill on the All-West Rangeland team along with Terry Cottier and Rollin Lacy at the ends, Neil Daniels at guard, Norman at center and Denny Bach and Larry Gold in the backfield. Bach was a junior and Gold a sophomore. The others were seniors.
The 1962 Cardinals were a true juggernaut. They went 11-0 and were accorded the Class B state championship by both the Omaha and Lincoln newspapers. Watts said the 1962 team was probably his best because it had the most depth. The coach concluded his 11 seasons as the Cardinals’ head coach with a 79-17-4 record, believed to be the best in Nebraska during that period.
Just four seniors—Terry Doyle at end, Leonard Jones at tackle, Lornie Reeves at guard and Bach at halfback—were starters on the 1962 team. Jones earned first-team all-state honors. The team definitely wrapped up the season on a high note. It won three games in a 12-day stretch, defeating Sidney 18-6, O’Neill 26-7 in another Rangeland championship game, and Alliance 32-6.
Another member of the Class of 1961 certainly excelled in athletics during his storied career as an official. Dale Butler was inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2009 after he had officiated at least 2,100 baseball, softball, basketball and football games and helped develop several dozen umpires and referees.
There were still no girls’ sports in the early 1960s, but several members of the Chadron High classes that will be having the reunion this weekend definitely became involved in athletics as mothers and grandmothers.
Among them are three girls from the Class of ’61. Hazel Campbell Montague’s son Jim set the Chadron High basketball single game scoring record of 39 points in 1982 that still stands, and her grandsons, Cody and Brady Roes, were both football and basketball standouts for the Cardinals. Cody also was an All-American tight end at Chadron State in 2013.
Another member of that class, Beverly Grant Miller, now of Lance Creek, Wyo., is the mother of Jason Miller, who was the world-champion steer wrestling champion in 2007. In addition, the late Harriett Burk Lecher, was the mother of Mike Lecher, who has a 105-50 record entering his 17th season as the Cardinals’ head football coach. Lecher received Huskerland Prep Report’s Class C1 Mike Berens’s Coaching Award last fall. It recognizes a coach’s ability to get the best out of his players.