Legendary Game Series
Reitz vs. Memorial: November 30, 1940
by Mike Whicker
Tragedy was no stranger to the world in 1940. The planet was busy engulfing itself in global conflict. This country would soon join the war, and take with it many of the young men who were engaging in much more pristine combat on the gridiron for Reitz High School.
Tragedy was also no stranger to Reitz High in 1940. Senior halfback Harry Mortis Jr. lost his life when he drowned in the Ohio River. Mortis and four of his football teammates were attempting to cross the river in a borrowed boat when it capsized. The other boys survived but the river claimed Harry.
But triumph and victory also would be a mandate for Coach Elmer Weber‘s Panthers in 1940, a year that would see games under the stars in Reitz Bowl for the first time. Night games were now possible thanks to newly installed lights paid for by the West Side Nut Club.
Entering the final week of the season, the Panthers boasted an undefeated record and the state’s number one ranking. This set up a much awaited grudge match against perennial power Memorial, a team Reitz had not beaten since 1933.
An eager Reitz eleven took the field that day at a packed Bosse Field.
The Boys from the Hill came to play and it looked early as if Reitz might have their way with the Tigers. On the opening kickoff, speedy Jack Dezember fielded the ball at the 10-yard line and brought the hordes of Reitz fans to their collective feet when he broke through and romped down the sideline for what looked like a 90-yard touchdown run for Reitz. But Dezember, in skirting the sideline, stepped out of bounds at the Reitz 42. This would serve as an omen for this game—nothing would come easy.
Midway through the first quarter, a hard hit by the stout Panther defense forced a Memorial fumble on its own 37 yard line. After a mad scramble for the ball, and a huge pile up, Reitz tackle Ray Gooch claimed possession for the Panthers on the Tiger 34 yard line.
With the Memorial goalpost looming, the Panthers took advantage. Jack Dezember picked up a tough four yards on first down. Dezember was called upon again and the speedy halfback came through with a sparkling 17 yard run, which put the ball on the Tiger 13 yard line.
Fullback Bob Ritter, one in a long line of Ritters to proudly wear a Reitz football uniform, punched the ball to the 10. The jack rabbit, Dezember, behind fine blocking, sliced through the line and went airborne, bringing the ball to rest on the Memorial four yard line. Back came Ritter and he pounded it down to the one, going down under a wedge of Tiger defenders. A desperate Memorial front wall turned back Dezember on the next play. The referee spotted the ball on the one foot line — 4th down. Reitz quarterback Don Savage knew this was a job for the slower, but hard-nosed Ritter. The ball was snapped. There was a ferocious surge by both teams. Ritter knew he had to deliver, and he did. When the bodies were untangled Ritter was clearly across the goal line and Reitz had the lead.
Taking plenty of time as they lined up for the conversion, Dezember booted the ball squarely through the uprights for the seventh, and what would prove to be the last, point of the game.
The rest of the game was a no-holds-barred brawl. All afternoon the Reitz defensive line would sift through to worry George Ellspermann, the Memorial passer, several times sacking him for huge losses when he couldn’t find an open receiver.
A proud Memorial squad was not without their moments. After stopping the Panthers and forcing them to punt near the end of the second quarter, the Tiger’s Joe Mattingly broke through and blocked the kick. Memorial recovered on the Reitz 46. But the Tiger’s couldn’t take advantage against the rugged Panther defense which, as it did all afternoon, rose to the occasion.
It was a game that would be long remembered as one of the toughest, hardest hitting games the locals had ever seen. The papers the next day would call it “a cruel affair.”
It would elevate the Panthers to a final 8-0-1 record, with a scoreless tie with Central the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season. Two players that year, Art Deig and Harold Wolf, would be accorded All-State honors. It was Reitz’ second undefeated season and would gain them their second mythical state championship.
1940. A season of tragedy and triumph for the Boys from the Hill.