They were red and white, but weren't Pirates
and didn't play at Harmon Field – 8 wins, 1 loss
This Bluffton High School team wasn’t even called the “Pirates,” yet 100 seasons ago, it set the standard for a winning football tradition in our community.
The 1923 red and white Bluffton team, playing before most school athletic leagues were formed, won eight games and lost only one. Even its loss by a close 3 to 9 score was impressive.
Here’s the story of this Bluffton team:
According to an account in an early Bluffton High School yearbook – not yet called the Buccaneer – the 1923 team was the first Bluffton team to gain statewide attention.
The team lost only one game – to Dayton Stivers. That Dayton team just happened to be the undefeated Ohio high school mythical state champions. It had earned a winning football tradition in the 1920s and was the Lakewood St. Edward, Massillon and Canton McKinley of that decade.
Bluffton is reported to be the only team to score on Stivers that season.
An interview in the 1970s with Howard Hahn, a member of the 1923 Bluffton team, recalls the Bluffton-Stivers game, played in the afternoon at Schmidt’s field, today the location of Community Market on Vance Street.
He said that the Stivers team came out on the field with 44 players wearing new uniforms.
Those 44 players represented an 11-member first team offense and a completely different 11-member first team defense, plus a completely different second team 11-member offense and 11-member defense.
Stivers was the best high school football team in Ohio that season.
Bluffton’s team entered the field wearing uniforms with several years of rough and tumble use.
And its 23 players included 11 members who played most of the game both ways – offense and defense – thus, seldom leaving the field.
Yet, Bluffton held Stivers to one touchdown and one field goal. Bluffton managed one field goal, playing in Schmidt’s field, also used as a cow pasture during the other six days of the week.
Hahn said that the Stivers team treated that game as a personal defeat and the next year took revenge defeating Bluffton in a game played in Dayton.
The oral history account of that game played the next season was proven factual in the Bluffton News game report, when Stivers broke the leg of Bluffton’s star player Dallas “Jack” Berry in the first quarter.
Bluffton never played Stivers in football after that season. One of the interesting unanswered question is how did Bluffton manage to get on the Stivers schedule, in the first place. Perhaps the BHS coach recognized the potential talent of the 1923 team.
Despite the loss to the Dayton team, Bluffton went on to win eight straight football games. It should be noted that all games were played in the afternoon and the 1923 team was the final Bluffton team to play games at Schmidt’s field, as Harmon Field opened in 1924.
Here’s Bluffton High School’s football scores in 1923:
Dayton Stivers 3-9
Tiffin Jr. Home 7-6
Lima South 13-12
Toledo Central Catholic 14-6
Mt. Cory 53-6
Team photo - taken Nov. 29, 1923
The team photo was taken on College Avenue on the side of the 1911 BHS building, no longer standing. In the background is First Mennonite Church. The 1933 high school wing, was at the time largely a vacant lot, with a house on the corner of Main and College.
Team members – front from left, Rolland Swank, Howard Hahn, Arthur Schumacher, Celestine Schmidt, Dallas “Jack” Berry, Elbert Anderson, Elbert Kibele.
Standing from left, Mr. Bergener, Rob Patterson, _____ Bish, Edgar Chamberlain, M_____ Hilty, John Stough, Don Althaus, Walter Stratton, Gene Chamberlain, Robert Pogue, Robert Wise, Kenneth Gallant, D_____ Owens, Sherm Shally, C_________Hochstetler, Edgar Thompson, L_______ “Fuzzy” Mason, Kenneth Burkholder, Glenn Johnson, coach. The man on the far right is unidentified.