Guest Columnist

EMPTY NEST: Mt. Pleasant: Mythical state football champs of 1963

Only one team came close to scoring. Fairfield made it to Mt. Pleasant’s one yard line. Legendary Coach Bob Evans sent in Big Jon Anderson and told him to hit the center as hard as he could. Big Jon did as he was told. The ball popped loose and Mt. Pleasant pounced on it to maintain a perfect undefeated, untied, unscored upon season. Final score? Mt. Pleasant 40, Fairfield 0.

Recently, seven members of that famed team of ‘63 met to renew friendships, tell stories and sniff the Atomic Balm. (One story is that they liked to put Atomic Balm in the athletic supporter of ornery teammates.) The seven members were Don Kinney (guard), Dennis Lamm (halfback), Bill Smith (guard), Kent White (center), Tim Proctor (quarterback), Kent Thomson (left halfback and safety), and Bill Calloway (right halfback).

Right from the get-go in junior high, under the tutelage of Coach Don Taft, they became used to winning. Mt. Pleasant News’ sports writer Jim Rose was with them all the way to record their success.

With nearly 100 young men out for Mt. Pleasant’s high school football team, these seven members were adamant that their toughest games often happened on Tuesday and Wednesday nights during practice. Their second and third team squads could have been starters on most SE Conference teams. With second and third team members vying for first team positions, the competition between team members was intense. When they played on Friday nights, they felt they were ahead by two touchdowns because their opponents often thought Mt. Pleasant couldn’t be beat.

But it was never good enough for Coach Bob Evans, even if they had pounded some team 35-0. Keeping them from having a slump, there was always room for improvement. He instilled in them a determination to work harder, perform at 110%, and never give up. He was an innovator, always on the cusp of what was new, installing a prostyle defense. Bob Evans may have been the first to use, if not the designer of, the draw. So much respect did they have for Coach Evans that they carried his life lessons into adulthood, and to this day. One member used what he had learned to make it through Vietnam — “Give it your all, never give up.”

They were not a team of stiff-necked jocks. The grade-point average for the offense was 3.4, for the entire team, 3.1, and this was before the time of emphasis on grades. Four from that junior-senior team went on to become lawyers. Twelve played collegiate sports, and four or more became high school coaches, remembering what Evans taught, “design the offense for the talent you have.”

There were no stars on the team of ‘63, and Coach Evans did not coddle the top players. They were a bunch of guys inspired to perform at their peak. Anyone could have been missing from the team and they would still have been undefeated. Any third stringer could have and did step in and was trusted to do his part. It was a total team effort, “Next man up!”

They practiced on Mt. Pleasant’s Old Thresher’s grounds. There were wild car races down Walnut Street from the high school, with the guys trying to be first on the practice field. Everyone on Walnut Street knew to get out of the way of the crazy football players! An Amish man wandered across the practice field and stuck his head in the huddle. In his black hat and dark beard, he asked, “So dis is the game of vootball?”

When the team of ‘63 were freshmen, they had a 40 game winning streak. When they were sophomores, they broke that string by going 7-2, winning the conference, but considered the season to be kind of a failure. They were determined to correct that for their junior/senior year. And they did!

Coach Evans insisted on the team using a football that was like a rugby ball. It was almost as wide as it was long. He didn’t like passing and wanted a ball that was big enough that nobody fumbled. However, it was a fake run/pass play that beat Cedar Rapids Jefferson, 7-zip, in Cedar Rapids — little Mt. Pleasant beating the likes of a huge metropolitan team. Mt. Pleasant fans went wild and flooded the field, asking the players for autographs. What a surreal finish!

There were no high school football playoffs in 1963. Cedar Rapids Jefferson went on to beat Davenport Central, thought to be the top team in the state. With Mt. Pleasant beating Cedar Rapids, Mt. Pleasant was considered by many to be the mythical state football champions.

These seven former team members, still fit in their early seventies, look like they can still play. Anyone for a little pickup game of “vootball?”

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.