Not a history buff to the point where I spend hours studying the strategies of the Battle of the Bulge (I battle a different kind of bulge), but I do enjoy being enlightened about things from the past.
Back in the spring I was looking on a website (www.tennprepdb.com) we use quite a bit here in the office which includes the history of high school football programs from across the state. Granted, all of these are not complete as they are dependent on someone connected to the program having input the information.
While looking up our local pigskin teams, which I’d done for information hundreds of times before, my superior math skills noticed that a couple of programs were coming up on big anniversary seasons — Cleveland High is playing its 50th football campaign this year and Bradley Central is taking the field for the 98th time.
Actually the oldest local football program in our area is in Benton, with this possibly being Polk County’s 100th season (sorry Wildcat fans, I just noticed that while writing this column Friday, so I didn’t have time to do an in-depth study).
The Wildcat history goes back to 1914 when they supposedly went 3-3 but no individual game results are available. The records are completely missing from 1916 and 1939-47, plus several other seasons have the results of just one or two games. Somebody should ask John Dixon or Larry Davis how those teams did, that’s about the time they were playing there, isn’t it?
Neither Bradley nor Polk County fielded teams in 1918 due to a Spanish flu pandemic (I saw that word when I looked up the subject on Wikipedia). The H1N1 virus affected over 500 million people worldwide, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, killing between 50 and 100 million, which was 3 to 5 percent of the population at the time.
But I digress.
With Cleveland High opening in the fall of 1965, at first glance I thought the half-century mark would be next year, but after physically counting the number of football seasons played about a dozen times, I realized you have to include the first campaign. Count it yourself. Get a couple of your friends, and take off your shoes and socks.
Knowing this football special section was coming up, much of my summer was spent in researching, not only the beginnings of Blue Raider football, but I looked at every year (sort of purgatory for guy whose dad was captain of the Bradley band, plus my three brothers, myself and three of my children all graduated in Black-and-Gold).
As I have stated in previous columns, while I grew up in an atmosphere that viewed the Blue Raiders as our archenemies, my opinions of the “city school” changed as I became a teenager and became good friends with several students from “over there.” My two most serious girlfriends in high school were both very pretty young ladies who were members of the CHS band.
In my professional sports writing career, I’ve covered numerous Blue Raider games and developed working relationships with several coaches, players and parents. I learned to be impartial when covering a game between Bradley and Cleveland, Bradley and Walker Valley or one of our county teams and Polk County. I feel I do a pretty good job of that, although the fans from the losing team sometimes disagree.
As is often the case the more you learn about something or someone, the more old opinions change and a new respect comes forth.
That is the case with me after learning about the tremendous success the Cleveland High football program has had from its inception.
I knew Bradley dominated the Raiders in my four years (1974-78) on the south side, plus I witnessed Coach Benny Monroe’s “madness” during the late 1980s and 1990 as a Banner sports reporter (I was in Oak Ridge for a tough one-point loss in 1988 and at MTSU when the 1989 undefeated team got stunned by Oakland in the second round of the playoffs).
Although I was in West Tennessee at the time, I knew about the 54-game winning streak, the “three-peat” state championships and even about Leon Brown’s head coaching success.
Getting ready to start my seventh football season since returning to the Banner, the Raiders have just a few more wins than losses during that time and that’s only because of last year’s 10-4 state semifinal run.
What I didn’t know about Cleveland High football was its early history and how it came out of the gate so strong.
After going 6-2 while playing just freshmen and eighth-graders from Arnold Junior High in the JV schedule in 1964, the Raiders have won nearly 73 percent of their 546 varsity games since.
As the school’s first head coach Bobby Scott led the Raiders to victory in 54 of their first 65 gridiron battles. Scott is an old Bradley gridiron standout who played for Gen. Robert Neyland at Tennessee, blocking for Heisman Trophy runner-up Johnny Majors.
With CHS being established out of what for almost a half century had been Bradley students, the natural rivalry was dominated early on by the new school. After losing 19-14 in 1965, the Raiders won six in a row and seven of the next eight meetings.
Louie Alford was part of that early success as an assistant coach before moving to Bradley and leading the Bear program during their glory years of the mid-1970s, including the 1976 state championship team.
I also learned that one Raider standout — David Beckler — almost didn’t play for CHS.
“I played at Polk County my freshman year and then we moved to Cleveland,” explained Beckler, who went onto play at UT and was an executive for TVA for many years. “I had told all my buddies I was going to be a Bradley Bear, but a couple of days before practice started a friend of mine introduced me to a pretty little girl. Before our conversation was through she told me she sure would like for me to come to Cleveland High so we could get to know each other better.
“When practice started a couple of days later, I showed up at Cleveland and introduced myself to Coach Scott,” related Beckler, who has been married to Carol Rose, a Raider cheerleader and the school’s first homecoming queen, for 45 years now.
While a young lineman for the Oak Grove football team in the early 1970s I idolized Bill Emendorfer.
Danny Carson, a player for the early Raider squads with Emendorfer and coach for many years at the school, enlightened me on something I didn’t know about the former Raider and University of Tennessee All-American.
“Before each game Bill would gets so nervous he’d throw up. It was a ritual," Carson said. "Oak Ridge was the game of the year (1968). Both teams were ranked No. 1 in state polls (UPI and AP). We were ready to go out on the field, but Bill hadn't thrown up. At the last minute, we heard a 'Bwaaahh' sound come from the back of the locker room, and we knew we could start the game."
Cleveland won the game on its way to the UPI state championship in 1968.
I also found out Raider standout athlete Greg Davis, who went on to play basketball for Oral Roberts University, didn’t get to play football his junior season.
“I had told the players if they didn’t do spring practice they couldn’t play in the fall. Greg didn’t show up for spring practice his sophomore year. I went and talked to him and reminded him of the rule, but he never showed,” explained Coach Scott.
“That fall he was first in line to get (football) equipment. I pulled him aside and asked if he remembered our conversation. He did, and I didn’t let him play that year.”
“The next spring he was at practice and was our quarterback for the ’68 state championship team. He later thanked me and told me at the time he was getting ‘too big’ in his own eyes and that (not getting to play) helped snap him out of it and made him a better player.”
There’s not enough room in this section to tell all of the interesting things I learned about my former archrivals, but suffice to say the knowledge I’ve gained has fostered a greater respect in me for the program.
Another thing I learned is time really does mellow some people. The rough, grumbling, scary Coach Benny Monroe is now a friendly, helpful and pleasant man to be around.
In my first go around at the Banner, Benny scared me to death. He was an intense coach who hated losing. George Starr taught me to not go around Benny after a loss, but rather wait until the next day to call him to get quotes for my story on the Raiders.
A few years back I did a story on him returning to the stadium that bears his name as the coach at Ooltewah. He told me then he had a different outlook on life after the untimely passing of his granddaughter in a car accident.
Monroe and Coach Scott, along with their wonderful wives, were extremely helpful in gathering information for the stories and photographs in this special section.
While I know I’ll take some grief from my Black-and-Gold roots for writing so much about the Raider success, just keep in mind in two years it will be the 100th season for Bear football. Get your stories and photos ready. I’ll be looking for info.