|Marshall Middle Football team photo courtesy of school's yearbook, 1986.|
By Travis Stahl
Everybody has events in their lives they can look back on with pride. Those events may be trivial or meaningless to some people but for some reason they have taken root in our hearts and developed into something special. For the most part the memories we cherish and the things we did as kids helped shape who we are today. For me, one of those significant events was playing the last year of township football in Whitley County.
At Marshall Middle School sixth-graders were allowed to play on the middle school football team. On equipment day I remember my friends and I all showing up in the gym to gather up pads that we had no idea how to put on. Most of us were so small the pads didn’t fit and we had to put towels in our helmets to make them snug enough on our heads. We had all been playing playground football for years so the thought of playing on the team was extreme excitement.
We headed out to practice at DeVol Field with coaches Roger Mann and Jim Hildebrand thinking this was going to me the most fun in the whole world. And then the hitting started. What was this? We were all unprepared for the demolition being wrecked on us by Neil Mosley and Matt White. It quickly turned in to survival mode was we would conveniently need to tie our shoe if we were matched up against Thad Mitchell, letting the next person in line gladly take our place. As practices went on throughout the season though we realized how much fun we were having even if we were getting drilled. It was fun to line up and play nose tackle against Mitchell or try to throw ourselves on the ground and hope Chris Judd would trip over us as he ran by.
One day at practice fellow sixth-grader Jason Sprunger was matched up against White. Sprunger out ran White to avoid the tackle which drew a round of jeers from the seventh and eighth graders. This was the Coliseum and the Romans wanted blood. When the coaches told Sprunger to run the drill again I thought he was going to puke. Sprunger got back at the front of the line and ran right at White. Instead of destroying Sprunger, White just tossed him on the ground and then picked him up. White came over and explained to us that we had to practice hard so that the starters could get good practice in for the games. After that day it seemed like we were really part of the team.
Marshall had a pretty solid team that year in 1986. Jerry Starr was our quarterback and Mosley and Judd were the runningbacks. We handily beat the Washington/Jefferson team with us sixth graders seeing a lot of playing time in the second half. We followed that up by beating Etna Troy in eight-man football because they didn’t have enough players to put 11 on the field at a time. Coesse was no match for Marshall either, but then for some reason the season turned on us.
Starr was the unquestioned leader of the team. He always knew how to keep the mood of the team where it needed to be and if he felt there was too much goofing around going on he ended it quickly. During practice on day a receiver was running a five-yard out but he was lolly-gagging in his rout. Starr fired the ball right in to the back of the receiver’s helmet. Lazy pass routes ended that day.
At Thorncreek we got thoroughly out played by the Trojans. Shane Stahl scored three touchdowns for Thorncreek and somehow we couldn’t move the ball on offense. That loss was followed by a fate even harder to imagine, a loss to Columbia. Had Marshall won against the Blue Blazers we would have played for the championship but Ron Stefanko was unstoppable that night running the ball. To this day it is still hard to imagine how we lost those games. I think Columbia beat Thorncreek for the county championship that year.
That was the end of it, the next season Township football was over and the switch was made to two county teams, the North and the South. It wasn’t the same after that. Playing for the North did not invoke the same sense of pride as playing for Marshall. Plus, we had new equipment that fit us and didn’t smell. It just didn’t seem right. I’m proud to say I was able to play Township football, it will always be one of those things I hold on to fondly, regardless of the beating I took.