Jan 25

20 years of covering the Reitz Football Tradition: Part 1

In the early days of the website, Mike Whicker was gracious enough to write this piece on the tradition of Reitz Football. Not sure why I had taken it off in the first place, as it’s a great read. I’ll be revising it soon but wanted to post this to give you an idea of some of the site’s early material:

Reitz High School Football

The Tradition

The year was 1922. Reitz was infant in high school football circles. The Panthers were annihilated by a Herman Byers’ captained Central football team, 104-0. Few suspected or dared believe, Byers would return as coach two decades later to shape budding football power into a feared juggernaut, the state’s perenniaal No. 1 candidate.

The Panthers began showing signs of maturity in 1930 when they shared the city championship with Memorial. By 1933, players like J.D. Eakins and Doc Hape made the school a bona fide power and Reitz claimed its first mythical state championship.

Eight years later in 1941, a few months before World War II engulfed the nation, the Panthers tossed their hats into the ring for a second mythical state title.

Yet that mystical aura of invincibility, which has become synonymous with Reitz football didn’t explode until Ocotber 1, 1948. That was when Reitz laid siege to a string of No. 1 rankings. On that night a crown estimated at 15,000 people spilled over Reitz Bowl to watch the Panthers destroy Pete Ruczinski and his mighty East Chicago Rossevelts’s Roughriders, 32-6. Roosevelt owned an unbeaten record stretching back into 1944, with only a 7-7 tie with Memorial straining the run. The Roughriders claimed state titles in 1945-46-47 and were bidding for four straight.

Reitz swept away the title in 1948 with such standouts as All-Staters Pete Fischer, Malcom Cook, Bob Hertzberger, and Tommy Wilson. They went on to claim more titles in the polls during 1953-57-60-61 under Byers.

Don Hansen, later an All-Big Ten linebacker at Illinois before begiining a 12-year pro career, anchored the 1961 team. It was an awesome team finishing unbeaten, untied and unscored on. That is a feat that never can be bettered anywhere.

When Byers resigned after the 1968 campaign, his Reitz teams stood 189-51-15; less than two losses per season under 27 campaigns.

Bob Padgett was promoted from Freshman Coach to replace Byers in 1969 and the beat went on. Padgett’s teams drilled 79 opponents and lost to 13; less than 1.5 setbacks per season. In 1971, the Panthers team rolled 10 straight foes for the state championship. In 1976 and 1977, Padgett’s teams finished regular season play unbeaten before bowing in the state football playoffs with 11-1 and 12-1 records respectively. The 1977 team was state runnerup.

Bob Ashworth followed Padgett in 1978 and promptly guided the Panthers to a 8-1 record after being rated No. 1 much of the season. The tradition endures.

Bill Hape returned to Reitz High School in 1983 where he had been an All-State linebacker in 1965. The playoff system was instituted in 1985 while Hape was coach. He spent 8 years guiding the Panthers. The 1986 team was undefeated in regular season play, losing only to Jasper 9-7 in the second round of the Sectionals on a last second field goal.

Bob Gaddis followed Hape to The Hill in 1991. In 1992, the Panthers were 11-2 and in the final four. In 1995, Reitz finished 8-2, their two losses coming both from North, who subsequently lost in the state championship, by a total of ten points. The 1996, squad finished the regular season undefeated, losing only to Harrison in the playoffs by seven points. They finished 9-1. Gaddis is committed to Reitz football and the tradition that it carries.

Byers, who was instrumental in building the formidable football foundation, best explains the aura surrounding Reitz football: “With me, football meant everything. Then, the West Side is a community of its own. You don’t find any better people. Everybody there backs football. It’s a neighborhood thing linked with success. Quite a few fathers had sons who grew up to play for Reitz. But the traditon goes with winning.”

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