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A Gift for the Heart

Legendary Game Series
Reitz vs. Memorial: October 7, 1933
by Mike Whicker

Let us return a little back. In the fall of 1933, people were looking for changes. The world was in the throes of the Great Depression. These were the darkest of days. New leaders promised new eras. The newly elected Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, was promising to establish a New Order and put Germans back to work. In the United States, the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in office only seven months, was promoting to Congress an unorthodox economic plan called the New Deal.

Americans wanted to escape from the gloomy realities of everyday life if only briefly. Movies were a popular outlet. In Evansville, Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1933 was drawing the biggest crowds.

The Golden Age of Sports, born in the twenties, had become ingrained in American society. Sports were as important a relief from the burdens of everyday life in 1933 as the motion picture industry. If not able to attend, people huddled around the radio to listen to Babe Ruth hitting them out for the Yankees. Boxing and college football also had huge followings.

Evansville was no different. Besides the national sports scene, interest in local sports was high. None were followed more closely then the local high school football rivalries that had sprouted in the 20s. Before 1918, Central was the sole high school in Evansville. But by the mid-20s, the city had four: Reitz in 1918, Memorial in 1921 and Bosse three years later.

Going into the ’33 season, the school on top of Coal Mine Hill on Evansville’s Westside had been competitive in football, but it was Memorial and Central that had set the standards in the 20s and early 30s for local football supremacy. It was those teams most experts thought would lead in 1933. Most thought–but not all.

Prohibition was still in effect, but at Old Man Ritter’s business in the Westside neighborhood of Tekoppel thoughts ran differently. Thoughts on local football, and thoughts on Prohibition, for the Ritter family had plenty of stock in Reitz football and Old Man Ritter’s business was a speakeasy. The old man’s son “Chief” had been an All-State football player at Reitz just a couple years earlier, and more of the Ritter boys would make their mark on the gridiron for Reitz in the late 30s. Also, the Reitz coach, Elmer Weber, had been known to stop by the establishment on occasion to socialize; so Reitz football was common conversation among Mr. Ritter and his patrons. Hope was high at Old Man Ritter’s “social club” that ’33 would be Reitz’ year.

That year’s Reitz vs. Memorial tilt was the third game of the season for both clubs. Each team entered the contest at 2-0, both having defeated their first two out-of-town opponents. Around Evansville, anticipation for the game was high. During that week, local newspapers carried several stories from both camps concerning preparation for the Saturday meeting.

Memorial was confident. Coach Don Ping promised Memorial fans his boys would be ready. The Tiger squad was a tough crew, led by All-State halfback Tom McGannon, who would later play football at Purdue. McGannon’s trademark was playing without a helmet, which was optional in those days. The blond star was easy to spot during games: the only player on the field without headgear.

On the other end of town, up on the Hill, Coach Weber’s crew was hungry. Since 1930, Reitz had experienced a taste of success on the gridiron, and gained a measure of respect from opponents with their tough and aggressive play, but, as of yet, a great season that would set them apart had alluded them. That year’s team captain, and Kiwanis Award Winner, Jim Mueller, still remembered the Memorial game vividly in 1995: “That was THE game for us. We had focused on that game since before the season. We were all close–the boys on the team. We would go fishing and camping together in the summer–it was the only thing we could afford to do–and we would lay out under the stars and talk of whipping everyone in football that fall,” Mueller said.” We knew Memorial would be tough that year, and we knew we had to beat them.”

That day 7,500 people paid fifty cents apiece to witness that fall’s biggest game; at that time the crowd was the largest ever in Reitz Bowl. Memorial arrived early and spent almost two hours before the game warming up. For the first time in his career, Tom McGannon was wearing a helmet! The Tigers had come to play! But where was Reitz? Just moments before kickoff, the Panthers, who at that time dressed in the cafeteria, were spotted walking down the long steps of the Bowl, in single file, through the cheering Reitz faithful, sporting brand new jerseys with large orange numerals.

Head referee Birch Bayh, whose son would later be elected Indiana’s governor, greeted Reitz captain Mueller and Memorial’s McGannon at mid-field for the coin toss.

The rest is history.

Unwilling on this day to except defeat, the Boys from the Hill left everything they had out on the field. Inspired performances were had by all, especially Mueller, George Freeman, Melvin Schoettlin, Fred Wunderlich and Gene Buttram. Everybody played a role in a great team victory. Substitutes Tommy Rice and Doc Bitz came off the bench and made several key blocks that sprang Panther runners for critical first downs.

Reitz would finish the season 9-0. This was the first undefeated season in the school’s history and it captured the first of what would become many state championships.

There would be other tough games that fall. A few weeks later, a tough Central High squad would fight valiantly before losing 14 to 7. Bosse also would put up a noble effort in the last game of the season, but all would bow in 1933 to the boys that had laid out under the stars and dreamed.

October 7, 1933. A date that should be remembered by all Reitz faithful. For on that day the Reitz Football Tradition was born. The Tradition of preparing yourself to win and expecting success. The Tradition of lifting yourself up, along with others around you. A legacy that would be handed down from fathers to sons, and to grandsons. Many other young men with the dream would follow, but the boys of ’33 were the first to make the dream a reality. They are the founding fathers of the Reitz football Legacy. Their gift to those who would follow can’t be held in the hand, it must be kept in the heart.

October 7, 1933. Drinks were on the house that night at Old Man Ritter’s speakeasy.

Note: For the game recap, a reproduction of an article appearing in the Sunday, October 8, 1933 Evansville Press is offered on this page. Written by the late Dick Anderson, it is an interesting example of the journalistic style of the day.

The Evansville Press                                    SPORTS                                   Sunday, Oct. 8, 1933

REITZ PANTHERS WHIP MEMORIAL, 20-6

WESTSIDE
OUTFIT IS
POWERFUL

______

Parrish Leads the Way and is
Given Grand Support
By Mates

______

McGANNON IS STOPPED

______

Tigers Score in Fourth Period
With Desperate Passing
Attack

 By DICK ANDERSON
Press Sports Reporter

With a roar that sent shivers up the spines of the football players in the Central and Bosse camps, the Reitz High School Panthers hammered their way to a 20-to-6 victory over Memorial’s Tigers Saturday afternoon in the Reitz Bowl before 7,500 frenzied fans.

Blond Tom McGannon, Memorial’s chief scoring threat, and his comrades fought every inch of the way but they had to bow to a superior team. With the score 20 to 0 against them, the Tigers opened a desperate passing attack that shoved over the lone touchdown in the fourth quarter.

It was up to Reitz to stop McGannon and this they did effectively after the opening quarter. In the first few minutes of the game the flashy Memorial halfback had the Panthers worried plenty. His one big run of the day electrified the fans and brought him a round of applause. Standing on his own five-yard line in punt

formation, McGannon started running, twisted his way around Reitz’s right end, and carried the ball to the center of the field on the 50-yard line, before he was tumbled.That run was his last big moment. He carried the ball time after time thruout the game but he could never break into the open and he took a world of punishment from the stiff Reitz tackling.A Big DayThe Panther’s Gene Parrish, running behind a big, hard working line, captured the individual honors of the day from a ball toting standpoint. He ran the ends, out thru the line, and ran back punts for a big gain in yardage. Schoettlin, Freeman and Buttrum alternated at the ball carrying job and they were mighty effective. Freeman drove into the line with a swish that could be heard yards away and scored two of the Reitz markers while Parrish got the other.In the line, Eakins, Mueller, Hape, Owens, Wunderlich and Fulton lived up to their advance reputation and smeared the Memorial running plays easily.Not until the Tigers took to the air did they have a chance. After Reitz scored the third touchdown, Memorial began tossing them. Hess passed to McGannon for 35 yards and he was downed on the Reitz 41. Another pass was incomplete and then McGannon passed to DeVault who caught the ball on the 15 and ran over for the lone marker. The pass was about 38 yards and Devault scampered home the remainder of the distance. The try for point failed when McGannon’s kick was wide.Just before the close of the game DeVault passed to McGannon who snatched the ball out of the air with three Reitz men at his elbows. He was flopped down hard on the 13 yard-line as the game ended.

1933 Reitz Football Results

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