(08/07/2018)
By Sidney Underwood 2015
Because football season is upon us again and with the recent developments in the Tom Brady ďDeflate GateĒ scandal, I thought I would share with you the controverses that erupted concerning the Calhoun Red Devil Football Teams of the 1950ís.

Those concerns arose during a period when the football teams seldom lost. Many years have passed since that time, but I remember enough of the conversations that I heard involving my Dad and other people to relate events that actually happened.

Most of you probably know that my Dad, Wayne Underwood, was the football coach at Calhoun from 1946 through 1961. He was also on staff as an assistant to M. T. Hamrick at Calhoun during the school year 1945-1946. It was a little known fact that he did the actual coaching that year because Mr. Hamrick had other duties to perform as Principal of the high school.

The school had previously been known as the Red Raiders during the 1930ís. Sometime before 1945, the name was changed to the Red Devils.

As a small child in 1947, I remember walking into the equipment room with my Dad at the old high school. That room was located on the third floor across the hall from the library. I remember the room smelled bad and had wooden shelves with chicken wire strung across them to keep the pads and helmets from falling onto the floor. For some reason it reminded me of a prison and I was uneasy being there even with my Dad present.

I remember seeing old chipped and faded gray leather helmets and gray football pants with red stripes on the backs of the legs. Dad said those were old game uniforms that the freshmen would now wear in practice.

He said that new practice uniforms were on order. I thought those old uniforms looked weird and smelled bad and to this day my opinion has not changed. Evidently, the Red Raiders wore the colors of red and gray at some point in time.

I remember my Dad saying that he would get new red and white uniforms for the team, but it would take several years to outfit everyone because of money constraints. He wanted the team colors to be scarlet and white. For now, he said, the uniforms would be rather plain, but would be the correct color.

At the beginning of my Dadís tenure the Red Devils wore white helmets with plain red jerseys with white numerals and plain red football pants. They also occasionally wore plain white jerseys and pants. Over time, the uniforms would acquire stripes on the jerseys and pants and that was when the first controversy erupted.

Bill Richards, winner of the Curtis P. Artz Athletic
Trophy in 1954, now a world-famous artist, models the uniform with the tiger stripes

See † RED DEVIL FOOTBALL COMES HOME AFTER 63 YEARS

My Dad always admired the football uniforms worn by Princeton University in the Ivy League. The Princeton Tigers colors were orange and black. Their home uniform consisted of orange helmets with black jerseys and orange pants.

What was unique about their uniform was the horizontal orange stripes or circles covering the ĺ length jersey sleeves During the summer of 1952 the new uniforms with the Princeton stripes were ordered from Fulks Brothers Sporting Goods of Weston, WV.

Midway through that football season, the brand new jerseys arrived at the high school. They were scarlet in color with white numbers and had the unique white stripes descending from the shoulders down the sleeves. Outfitted in the colorful jerseys, the team looked like no other in the Little Kanawha Conference, and the team members were proud of their distinctive uniforms.

It was during the fall of 1952 that the first controversy occurred. Mr. C. R. ďPopĒ Sullivan, Principal of Pennsboro High school, was concerned that the Calhoun football team had an unfair advantage because the white sleeve stripes matched up very well with the white stripes of the game footballs.

Mr. Sullivan, who was well respected in Ritchie County, seemed to have a more than a passing interest in the Calhoun football program. He was a very outspoken man and held strong opinions about what he thought was right and wrong.

He subsequently contacted the Secondary Schools Athletic Commission to complain about those jerseys. Mr. Sullivan felt that when a Calhoun running back carried the football close to his body, the defenders would be confused as the football seemed to disappear into the jersey.

He voiced the opinion that it was a deliberate attempt by the Calhoun coaching staff to achieve an unfair advantage, especially during night games when visual conditions were less than ideal. He urged the SSAC to order the Red Devil Team to stop using their new jerseys.

Officials of the SSAC contacted Principal Roy Walter and my Dad. A lengthy conference was held and the jerseys in question were inspected. The SSAC determined that there had been no intent by Calhoun to deceive anyone and the uniforms {jerseys} would be allowed.

A formal letter was sent to Mr. Sullivan informing him of the results of the investigation. Mr. Sullivan was not happy with the decision. Apparently he had no qualms concerning the Princeton Tigers being allowed to wear their uniforms.

This was not the first time that Mr. Sullivan had suggested that the Calhoun coaching staff was in non- compliance concerning the football program. My Uncle, Forest ďSpikeĒ Underwood, was the football coach of Huntington East High School in the late 1940ís and early 1950ís. He was my Dadís brother and also had played college football for the legendary Cam Henderson.

In 1950 an arrangement was made and approved by the SSAC for the the Huntington East Football Team to hold their summer training camp at the NYA complex above Grantsville. My Uncle Forest wanted a quiet place away from the distractions of Huntington for his team to prepare for the upcoming season.

I remember that time well. Uncle Forest had 60 players and they slept on cots on the gym floor. They brought their own cooking staff to prepare the meals. My Aunt Eloise, who was an accomplished pianist, entertained the players by playing popular songs of the day on an old upright piano located at the corner of the stage.

Practice was held on the field below the building. I remember cars parking along the highway and people watching the evening practices.

Everyone was impressed by the Huntington East team as they were much larger than the Calhoun Squad both in numbers and size. Most of their linemen weighed well over two hundred pounds and that alone was unusual for Calhoun.

Their running backs were very muscular and weighed between 170 and 180 pounds. Huntington East was a Triple A school and scheduled opponents such as the Stonewall Jackson Generals, Parkersburg Big Reds, Charleston Mountain Lions, Beckley Woodrow Wilson Flying Eagles and other large schools.

They generally won about half their games each year playing the best large schools in the state.

So, that summer you had two high school football teams holding their August training camps a mere three miles apart. It was no wonder that the situation was ripe for controversy.

Mr. Sullivan was a very vigilant man.

Once again he contacted the SSAC and suggested that the two brothers had their teams working out and scrimmaging together which would be a flagrant disregard of the rules in force at that time.

The SSAC investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing. Remember, they had approved the initial request for the team to use the NYA Building. In my opinion, the problem resulted from the Huntington East Highlanders holding an intra-squad scrimmage under the lights at the Calhoun Football field.

Uncle Forest wanted to simulate game conditions just before breaking camp to return to Huntington for the beginning of school. I remember that scrimmage as I sat with the entire Calhoun team on the bleachers and watched the action.

The last controversy occurred during the fall of 1958 when a Calhoun football player was found to be ineligible to participate in sports due to his age.

At that time the SSAC rule held that if a student athlete reached the age of 19 years after school started, he or she would be allowed to participate in all sports that school year. The student in question, born at home, did not initially have a valid birth certificate.

At a much later date, the father obtained a delayed certificate for his son as the young man needed one to get his driverís license.

The delayed certificate did not match school records, but was subsequently added to the student's permanent school file. Another LKC coach, Cline Stansberry of Doddridge, was the first to notice the problem midway through the football season after having requested a copy of the Calhoun Roster from the SSAC.

The SSAC launched an investigation into the matter to determine the status of the young manís eligibility. The studentís mother presented the family Bible as evidence. It contained the birth records of all the children.

However, the Bible record did not match the birth certificate. According to the birth date in the Bible, he was eligible, according to birth certificate he was not. After completing the investigation, the SSAC ruled that Calhoun must forfeit games won that season.

I am not making excuses for my Dad. Should he have been more diligent in checking birth records? Absolutely. But, there is more blame to be shared. Each year, all County School Superintendents are required to submit a complete list of all student athletes to the SSAC.

The list must show the studentís name, date of birth, year in school, scholastic standing and motherís address. One has the right to ask two questions: Why did the SSAC not red flag that studentís name when they first received the list? Also, when the list was compiled locally, why did no one in the Superintendentís office recognize the possible problem?

I only know of one other student who was over age and not allowed to compete during his senior year. That individual was Don Burch who was a very good football player. I remember my Dad explaining the rules of eligibility to him. In fact, my Dad was the guiding force in assisting Don when he enrolled at the Greenbrier Military Academy in Lewisburg and was allowed to participate in their football program.

In this day and age of student athletes being charged with assault and battery, substance abuse, rape and other crimes, what you just read seems to be pretty tame stuff, but all that is ancient history now.

I believe that obtaining a good education should be the first priority of every student. Having said that, I also believe that student athletics is a good thing. I believe the SSAC performs a necessary function and continues to be needed in order to settle disputes and insure fairness on the athletic fields and gym floors of West Virginia high schools.

However, it also remains the right of every parent, coach or individual to be vigilant as was Mr. Sullivan in insuring the fairness of high school athletics.

Remember, the phone lines are always open at the SSAC office in Parkersburg, WV, and they will respond quickly to your concerns.


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