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Introducing the first BHS football team

It's 1901 - Bluffton's first opponent was Columbus Grove;

You'll never believe how this tie game was resolved

(Player names at bottom of the story)


Wouldn’t you know.


Bluffton High School’s first-ever football opponent was Columbus Grove. That game at Grove took place 121 football seasons ago.


Bluffton played Grove to a scoreless tie in a bruising contest, according to Fred Zehrbach, a lineman on the team.


Zehrbach recalls a heated argument, which ensued following the game between the players as to which side had the fastest runner. Joe Owens was selected from Bluffton to race with Moon Mullins of Columbus Grove.


The crowd raised a $10 wager and the race was on. Owens finished first by some 10 yards.


So, the Bluffton story has Bluffton as the game winner. We’d love to hear the Columbus Grove version.


Needless to add, if the tie was broken using today’s rules both schools would be on probation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.


Coincidentally, Zehrbach’s Bluffton claim to fame includes more than being a member of its first-ever football team. He was a Main Street witness to the John Dillinger bank robbery in 1933.


1901 team members

Members of the 1901 team included Ray Triplett, founder of the Triplett Electrical Instrument Co., (quarterback), Earl Mohler, Menno Triplehorn, Frank Mack, Harvey Frazier, William Plattner, Victor Green, Dr. Cliff Wetherill, Guy Hawk, Sam Romey, Joseph Owens and Fred Zehrbach.


It was noted that Menno Triplehorn consistently punted 40-50 yards with a ball that became soft with constant use. It makes one wonder if the team had only one ball.


Lou Smith, originally from Mansfield, coached the team. Smith later was connected with the veterinary department at Michigan State University.


The games were quite different from today’s football. Zehrbach stated that the players were rounded up at random and the uniforms were makeshift affairs of odds and ends.


Mothers collected, sewed and stitched most of the padding, for what it was. In spite of this, few injuries were incurred.


This was somewhat surprising in view of the fact that the razzle-dazzle of today’s game was virtually unknown. Plays were run from a standard formation and straight power plays through the line predominated. The only shifts were made by the linemen, similar to over shifting or unbalancing.


The greatest thrill the team had in its initial season was playing in Lima. This was the only place where dressing room facilities were available and showers could be taken after the game.


Lima's flying wedge

Zehrbach recalled the Lima fullback wore a belt, resembling one a motorcyclist wears, with handles on the back. Teammates grabbed the handles and formed a flying wedge which made tackling extremely difficult. This ploy is now illegal.


Games were also played in the first several years with Fostoria, one of the strongest in the state during that era, McComb, Ada and Mt. Blanchard.


Zehrbach recalls boarding a Northern Ohio Railroad train in Bluffton for a game at noon at Mt. Blanchard.


He said that it was miserably cold during the week but just before the game the sun came out bright and warm. The field was a quagmire.


The team dressed in a horse stable near the field. Bluffton ran Mt. Blanchard ragged on the corn stubble field but could not score. After the game, fans threw everything but the kitchen sink at the locals and called them unprintable names.


Most of the traveling to and from games, however, used a sample wagon, rented from a local livery stable. Each player paid from 25 to 30 cents rental fee.


Playing field was 110 yards

The field at that time was 110 yards in length and each team was given three downs to advance the ball the necessary yardage for a first down.


In the 1901-02 school year, represented by this first team, Bluffton High School was a three-year high school. That makes the 1902 graduates juniors today.


Bluffton became a four-year high school in 1904. A school publication printed that year listed all alumni, their employment and hometowns. Here are members of the 1901 football team listed in that summary.


1902 Bluffton High School graduates on the 1901 team Ray L. Triplett

Electrician, Chicago, Illinois

Cliff Wetherill

Student at Bluffton College

Frank Mack

In oil field, St. Marys, West Virginia

Milt Mitchell

Student at Ohio Northern University

Earl Mohler

In railroad office, Kansas City, Missouri

Joe Owens

Student at Bluffton College


There is no record of the following team members graduating from Bluffton High School: Sam Romey, Victor Green, William Plattner, Harvey Frazier, Menno Triplehorn and Fred Zehrbach.


Football results from 1901 to 1919 are incomplete. However, assuming Columbus Grove and Bluffton faced each other during that incomplete era, the local series would celebrate its 121st consecutive game this season.


That would make the BHS-Grove series one of the longest, if not the longest continual high school football series played in Ohio.


Much of this story is based on a feature published in the May 31, 1956, Bluffton News. The graduation information is from the book “A Good Place to Miss – Bluffton stories 1900-1975.”


The first football team to represent Bluffton High School was this team of 1901.

Member, front from left, Earl Mohler, R.L. Triplett and Joe Owens.


Middle row, from left, Sam Romey, Victor Green, William Plattner and Frank Mack.


Back row from left, Harvey Frazier, Menno Tripplehorn, Cliff Wetherill, Lou Smith (coach), Milt Mitchell, Fred Zehrbach and Guy Hawk.




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