Colorado Springs, CO – As Harrison High School in Colorado Springs gets ready to kick off their homecoming game on Sept 24, 2010 at 7:00pm, Ron Roehrich and Oren McClure have been busy making plans to gather the original players from Harrison’s first football game that was played back in 1955.
It’s hard to believe that it was 55 years ago (on the afternoon of 23 Sep 1955) that Coach Anderson and Coach Gordon lead Harrison’s first official high school game to victory, beating Cripple Creek 13-0.
Oren McClure and Ron Roehrich both graduated from Harrison back in the late 50’s and they remember their high school days fondly. In fact, the more they talk about it the more details come into play and the bigger their smiles get and who could forget, Harrison’s first football season ever!
Pat Smith a pretty brunette, was a cheerleader at the time and she remembers practicing hard that year to get the routines down. She and the other cheerleaders Rogene Gilbreath, Lena Kuder, Bette Bertolet and Marni Suydam were all anxiously looking forward to getting out there on the field and cheering on their team. Their cheerleading coach, Miss Janitell worked the girls hard but they didn’t mind after all, they wanted to be the best.
Pat commented, “I transferred to Harrison from Nurnberg American High School at the end of my junior year so wasn’t around for football until that fall season. I remember that football at HHS was such a big deal, that we were let out of school at noon on Fridays – that is, until Marni and Bette were in the car accident and Marni had to have stitches. After that, we no longer got “early release”, I guess to keep us all out of trouble.”
That original game between Cripple Creek High School and Harrison was played on a dirt field next to the schoolhouse off Janitell Rd., adjacent to where the current football is today. Ron has the newspaper clipping from the local paper from that day, it states that Sam Powell scored both touch downs for the winning team, climaxing a drive in the second quarter with a one yard plunge and ripping 22 yards in the fourth period. Ronnie Roehrich kicked the extra point after the second touchdown. The following week Harrison played Manitou Springs in their season opener.
What ever happened to those former football players and cheerleaders from those early classes at Harrison High in Colorado Springs, CO.? They will forever live in the hearts and stories of Ron, Oren and Pat. Their stories are endless and fascinating, Harrison High School did not have an official twelfth grade class until 1955 and it was then that several programs and electives were introduced including the school’s first football team.
Ron Roehrich (HHS star Quarter back in the late 1950’s) has been busy accumulating stats, newspaper clippings and interviewing fellow classmates over the past five years. Fortunately the classes of 1955, 56, 57, 58 and 59 are a close-knit group. For the most part these former classmates have kept in contact with one another for many years now, Oren’s wife Louise schedules monthly get-togethers for the group that warmheartedly refer to themselves as the HHS pioneers. Ron has been working on a lifelong project; his plans are to compile Harrison’s sport’s history into a book.
A lot of the students from that year were transferred from other schools to start this new program. Sam Jones transferred from Lamar, CO, Ron transferred from Idaho Springs, CO and Sam Powell transferred from Cheyenne Mountain HS”. Ron went on to say “We were small in number ….. but way, way big in heart.”
Ron says not only does it bring back some smiles but he also remembers getting dinged in the game at Manitou…his first back injury and it knocked him out of the game for the second half…. he still has the back pain to prove it.
Oren, known by his friends as Chief, a nickname earned from his years in the military, admits that he felt overwhelmed as a rookie freshman that first year, but he was happy to be there and to survive the two- a- days on the old dirt football field. He pointed out that the school has some great coaches and the coaches built the team from the bottom up. Those coaches had no idea what they’d been handed but they made it work and made the school proud.
Oren was a young 15-year-old freshman at the time and had never played organized football until he arrived on the scene at Harrison. Chief McClure who stands 6’2 with broad shoulders said, “Up until that point I had never had the opportunity to play organized football so I took advantage of a brand new program….I suspect that at least half the team had never played football before either. You could not call the first football team a grassroots team, as we did not have a blade of grass on the field.”
He went onto say, “My memories from those early years, was that, I just wanted to learn and help the team in whatever way I could. We came together pretty fast and did pretty well. Most all of us got a lot of playing time so we caught on quickly…as a lineman you learned to knock someone on their butt or be knocked on your butt…I preferred doing the knocking to the other guy.”
Oren continued, “We had a great team, Pat Gilliland, Carl Barteck and George Jackson, great players and great guys.” Ron stated, “For the life of me I can’t remember why Mickey Beville didn’t play that first year…he was on the Basketball team…and in all the school activities. Do you remember?” he asks Oren.
The trio enjoys sharing stories about Harrison’s past and the students that once walked through those halls. Pat Smith recalls that there were so many great memories that year, it’s hard to narrow it down but she said, “The Panthers downed Fountain 14-6 in their Homecoming Game (Nov. 2, 1956) and Rogene Gilbreath was crowned queen and Lena Kuder. Pat Thomas and Marni Suydam as attendants. She went onto say, “That evening we celebrated at the Homecoming Dance and the two tunes that I recall being played over and over were, “Little Brown Jug” By Glen Miller and “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley. . .
Ron provided a play by play of the night they played their second game against Manitou Springs High School. “Here’s the way some of it went down…Coach Anderson had George Jackson and me (we were the Captains) suit up (but without cleats) the afternoon prior to the big game. We went over to Stratton Meadows Elementary with Mr. Gorman who was the principal of the High School at the time, in an effort to generate school pride/enthusiasm as many their would be making their way to HHS soon. The 6th graders were impressed they thought we were just huge……can you imagine that!!!!
The first afternoon was sunny, bright, can’t remember much about the temperature. We ran the old Split T formation…dull and about like Woody Hayes … 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Putting the ball in the air was not the first choice, ever. I remember having a decent day passing; nothing spectacular…hit Cleston Stewart and Sam Powell a number of times. Put a few yards in rushing too…and played safety on defense and got in on a number of tackles. I also did the extra-point kicks (missed one…went in low), the kick offs and the punting that first game. Gave up doing the kick-offs a little later in the season. I also did the punt receiving and kickoff returns (which I did the whole time for the first two years). This may explain why I can’t remember much anymore.
And for a startup, know-nothing, tiny school we began to populate the record books right at the git-go.
Coach Demers, head coach, came in for the second season (fall ’56) and coached the backs and the offense. And Coach Hanson took the Defense and was the line coach. Oh by the way, it was Coach Demers and Coach Hanson who sprung a surprise on the team just before the Castle Rock game in 1956….the introduction of the first Black game jersey….gave the team the option of wearing our Whites or the new Blacks…but they were in favor of the Blacks….so it came to pass, our first night out in all BLACK…..and we hammered Castle Rock too. Just didn’t get any better.”
I asked the guys how the uniform compares with the football uniform that the current students of Harrison are wearing. Oren provided a description, “The uniform was obviously Black and White….white jerseys for home games and black for away games. The helmets were a hard plastic with foam rubber lining and no face guards. We had shoulder pads, hip pads and knee pads. In later years things improved with better helmets and face protection and additional pads for your ribs. The football cleats were high top with metal cleats that had to be changed periodically….they were pretty nasty when someone stepped on your hand or any bare skin. There were no mouth guards then. Pretty much in your face football without a lot of protection….”
Ron, Oren and Pat communicate regularly via email and the trio decided it would be good for ol time sake to round up their former classmates and sit in the stands to cheer on Harrison High School’s current players and coaches.
Harrison High School is a landmark in Colorado Springs a school that has served the Southern part of Colorado Springs for many years. The HHS pioneers look forward to this year Homecoming game and want to applaud Athletic Director Dave Hogan, for all his hard work.
The students at Harrison are bright, energetic and have a lot going for them, I hope in 55 years they too will look back at their high school days and fondly remember their classmates and coaches. The past, present and future alumni will all meet up at the Homecoming game this September generating some new memories.