BLAST: Bluehawks win ‘em all in 1948OKABENA — Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey was campaigning to become a U.S. Senator, the Cleveland Indians won the World Series over the Boston Braves in six games, Southwestern Minnesota farmers were enjoying a banner harvest (both yields and prices), a nickel could buy you a bottle of pop and every Saturday morning, Okabena High School industrial arts teacher and coach Dudley Townsend repeated his routine.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
OKABENA — Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey was campaigning to become a U.S. Senator, the Cleveland Indians won the World Series over the Boston Braves in six games, Southwestern Minnesota farmers were enjoying a banner harvest (both yields and prices), a nickel could buy you a bottle of pop and every Saturday morning, Okabena High School industrial arts teacher and coach Dudley Townsend repeated his routine.
It was the fall of 1948 and Townsend was coaching Okabena’s fleet-footed and diversified 6-Man football team, which was coming off stellar seasons in both 1946 and 1947.
It was three years after World War II finally ended and small-town America was booming.
There were 16 businesses in Okabena (1950 population of 318) that paid for an advertising line on the Bluehawks’ football schedule, which opened with a game at Fulda on Sept. 24 and finished with a road game at Round Lake on Nov. 5 — three days after Humphrey won the first of his four terms to the senate and President Truman defeated New York governor Thomas Dewey in a highly-anticipated presidential election.
Townsend’s routine was going to each business place on seven Saturday’s — following a Friday .night victory — and penciling in the game scores on the huge posters which were hanging in each of the sponsoring businesses.
“We had three grocery stores in Okabena back then,” chimes 81-year-old Weldon Bayerkohler, who was a senior co-captain and the starting center -— both ways (known today as a ‘nose guard’ on defense) — for the Bluehawks in 1948.
“Coach Townsend went around to each business place and personally wrote in the score on every one of those poster schedules.”
Bayerkohler still has one of those posters, which he keeps in a glass case with cardboard borders, protected even more by a coat when he travels with his treasure.
“We had a great season when we were seniors,” he recalls. “But, we had real good years the two seasons before, too. We shared the league title with Sioux Valley in 1946 when we played the Warriors to a 0-0 tie, which was a pretty rare thing in 6-Man football.
“Then, in ’47, we beat Lake Park by a lot (49-20), but lost to Sioux Valley (14-2) in the last game of the year.
“Lake Park had beaten Sioux Valley, so it ended up being a three-way tie for the conference (championship). But in ’48, we won them all and were the undisputed league champions.”
Okabena was part of the Six Star Conference, joined by Brewster, Heron Lake, Round Lake, Sioux Valley and Lake Park (Iowa). The small-school league played 6-Man football, which was exciting and wide open.
“There had to be a visible pitch, pass or lateral after receiving the snap from center,” explained Rochester’s Darold Baumgard, who was injured (knee) in the season-ending loss to Sioux Valley in 1947, but came back to have an outstanding senior season in ‘48. “The ball could not be handed off, or run with after getting the snap, the ball had to move through the air —but all six players were eligible to catch the ball.”
Baumgard, who later taught and coached at Okabena (during the late 1950s and through an outstanding 19-2 1960-61 basketball season), was a fine all-around athlete and did his share of running (after catching a lateral) and passing (mostly short passes to Bayerkohler, who was an eligible receiver).
“In my opinion, Darold was the best all-around athlete to ever come out of Okabena,” declared Bayerkohler. “He scored a lot of touchdowns, but so did Curt (Pietz) and Norm (Atz), who both caught long passes from Bob (Hotzler), who could throw the ball 40 yards or more.”
25-point victory over Fulda “kicks off” 1948 season before Hawks play “under the lights”
Five seniors — Baumgard (left halfback), Hotzler (fullback), Atz (left end), Bayerkohler (center) and Pietz (right end) — were joined by junior Wesley Baumgard (Darold’s brother) at right halfback in Okabena’s “starting six” for the season-opener at Fulda on Sept. 24.
“We played both offense and defense,” recalled Atz, who still lives on the family farm south of Okabena. “We were on the field nearly the whole game until we got ahead pretty far and then all six of us came out.”
According to Bayerkohler:
“In 6-Man football, if you got ahead by 40 points the game was over. Coach Townsend didn’t want the games to end, so we never got ahead by 40. He usually put substitutes in early. But I remember him once telling us to fumble so we wouldn’t score another touchdown and go up by 40.”
Another of the 6-Man rules was the first down distance of 15 yards, rather than 10.
“It was a more open game,” declared Pietz, who is retired from farming and lives in Worthington eight months of the year, while wintering in Arizona. “We had a very well-balanced team that could mix it up and do lots of things.
“I guess we were quite diversified, with running, short passes and long passes. Each one of us had some attributes that helped us win, our talents were well-matched.
“An interesting thing about our team was how the next play was often decided by consensus in the huddle. We all had some input into what we were going to do, based upon how we had ‘sized up’ our opponents.”
As Randolph Scott and Marguerite Chapman starred in the western “Coroner Creek,” which was playing at Worthington’s Grand Theatre, Okabena opened the 1948 campaign with a 37-12 victory over Fulda — its third straight season-starting win over the Raiders.
“That was a tough game,” remembered Darold Baumgard. “But, we were able to hit Weldon over the middle with short passes about five times, which really loosened things up and got us going.”
Next came, a 38-12 triumph over rival Heron Lake on a big night in Okabena — the school’s first game under the lights.
“Our senior year, that was the first year we had lights,” remembered Bayerkohler. “That was something special.”
A front page story in the Friday, Sept. 24 edition of the Worthington Daily Globe described the upcoming event, as the calendar turned to October:
“The first of the month will see Okabena celebrating its acquisition of lighting facilities in connection with the Heron Lake game” ran a portion of the article, which concluded with a statement about how the power utility companies would benefit from the expanded “electrical generation field.”
“Compared to now, the lights were not that good,” recalled Atz, who scored a touchdown in every game of 1948, except the Sioux Valley contest. “But, it was exciting, playing at night under the lights and we thought we moved faster.”
The Bluehawks did move pretty fast and were well-conditioned and sure-handed.
Townsend saw to that.
“I remember Coach Townsend telling us, ‘I don’t know much about 6-Man football, but you guys can start by running six laps,’” recalled Darold Baumgard. “He was a stickler for conditioning, that’s for sure.”
Pietz agreed, saying “We sure ran around that practice field a lot, I remember that.”
“We ran this criss cross drill with lots of sprinting, throwing and catching,” recalled Bayerkohler. “That got you in shape and made you handle the ball when you thought you were getting tired. We didn’t fumble very often or drop many passes.”
Bayerkohler said that the Bluehawks knew that if the game was close at halftime, they could win in the second half.
“Dudley had been a drill sergeant in the service during the war (WW II) and he was a physical conditioning buff. He worked us hard and we were in great shape. If we were even at the half, I liked our chances.”
The Bluehawks weren’t big, but were experienced, athletic, well-conditioned and fundamentally skilled.
“Bob, he was a big guy, maybe about 190 pounds,” Bayerkohler said. “But, the rest of us starters were probably all between 140 and 160.”
In 6-Man football, fundamentals are so important,” exclaimed Darold Baumgard. “You needed to be a good tackler, because if you missed, they were going a long ways.”
The Bluehawks didn’t miss many tackles that season, rolling to seven straight victories and outscoring their opponents by a combined spread of 316 to 92.
The following summary is taken from the “football page” of the 1949 Okabenian, the school’s annual:
“The football team had a very successful season, winning every game by a large margin. Although the team was made up of comparatively small boys, they made a fine showing against the larger boys of other teams with their very elusive actions and unsurpassable speed. No injuries were received in games during the season.
“The average score for the seven games played was 45.1, while the opponents had the small average of 13.1.”
A true dream season — all wins and no injuries.
“The Lake Park game was the only time that we were behind all year,” summed up Darold Baumgard. “They ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. But then, we held them the rest of the game and scored 26 points ourselves. That was a big win for us.”
Bayerkohler recounted how the Bluehawks had defeated Lake Park the previous year was a huge thing, too.
“Lake Park was highly-regarded in Iowa, I know that,” the former traveling asbestos inspector remembered. “It was a close, tough game for awhile, but we ended up whipping them, like 41-20 (actually 49-20) on their field. That was quite a game for our team, which was mostly juniors that season.”
Bluehawks win last five games, finish 17-1-1 over three seasons
With Hotzler throwing the ball deep to either Pietz or Atz on crossing routes, Bayerkohler breaking open for short passes over the middle from Darold Baumgard and the running of Hotzler and the Baumgard brothers, Okabena continued to roll in that fall of 1948, scoring over 50 points in four of its last five games.
“We did a lot of roll out passes with the option to pass or run,” summed up Bayerkohler, who still played with a leather helmet (and no face mask) as a senior. “Plastic helmets were just coming in, but as the center, I didn’t like them. They would slide down over my face and obstruct my view on my long snaps, so I just stuck with leather.”
High-scoring victories over Brewster (56-14), Sioux Valley (49-12) and Bingham Lake (56-18) gave the Bluehawks a 5-0 mark going into the clash with Lake Park.
“Sioux Valley was always a strong rival,” declared Bayerkohler. “It seemed like they had an endless supply of guys named Puck, Voss or Place.
“We tied them in 1946 and lost the last game of the season (homecoming) the next year, so beating them by 37 points when we were seniors was better than we expected.”
The 20-point victory (26-6) over Lake Park was the final home game for the Class of 1949’s seniors and the team’s last clash under the lights.
Another high-scoring win (54-18) at Round Lake capped the Bluehawks’ perfect season.
“I remember it was cold that afternoon in Round Lake and we (the senior starters) sat most of the second half in the bus, trying to warm up,” recalled Atz. “I know we could have won some games by the 40-point rule, but that’s not something that Coach Townsend or any of us wanted. We were always happy to have the younger kids get a chance to play, too.”
As that ’48 season came to an end, the Sioux Valley Log Cabin was featuring big band dances by groups like Clem Rohde and His Royal Crusaders, Moeller’s Accordion Band and the ever-popular Tubby Rathban and His Orchestra.
“It was the Big Band era,” declared Bayerkohler and the Log Cabin was the place to go.”
Two years earlier, in 1946, when August Scheppman (who later played at Worthington Junior College) and Melvin Sievert were the co-captains, the Bluehawks opened with shutout victories over Fulda (32-0) and Brewster (43-0) before the scoreless tie with Sioux Valley.
OHS finished the ’46 campaign with wins over Heron Lake (28-13), Round Lake (34-25) and Lake Park (36-27) to finish 5-0-1.
Gaylord Ulferts, Bill Duitsman, Dwaine Halquist and Merlin Heideman were other key seniors on Okabena’s 1946 team, which outscored its opponents by a 173-65 margin.
The next season, with Bud Milbrath and Bob Fleace as the senior co-captatins, OHS rattled off four straight victories over Fulda (20-6), Brewster (25-12), Lake Park (49-20) and Heron Lake (69-20) before edging Round Lake (33-32).
The 14-2 loss to Sioux Valley ended the campaign with a 5-1 record. Those ’47 Bluehawks outscored their opponents by a 198-104 margin, setting the stage for a strong 1948 season with an experienced team returning.
“We emphasized the team approach, established by Coach Townsend,” summed up Pietz, who is still an avid follower of the Minnesota Gophers’ football team. “We got along well and maintained a very positive attitude, as we strived to make the plays work and get the job done.”
During those three seasons of 1946, 1947 and 1948, Okabena High School was 17-1-1 in 6-Man football action, scoring a total of 687 points during those 19 games, while allowing just 261.
And in September of 1948, a month after 17-year-old Bob Mathias stunned the athletic world with his Olympic decathlon championship, Dudley Townsend began his weekly Saturday morning tour of Okabena, penciling in those winning scores from Friday night’s football games.