By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – John Hoover figured Whiteford didn’t have anything lot to lose.
A first year head coach, in his mid-20s, Hoover had raised a few eyebrows in getting the 1979 Bobcats off to a 2-0 start. After all, the Bobcats had gone six years without a winning record. But, with 2-0 Summerfield next up on the schedule, he knew it would be a test. He had a something up his sleeve that even he wasn’t sure would work.
“I don’t remember when I decided we would do it,” Hoover said of a delay-game tactic that is still talked about in Whiteford football circles to this day. “But, the night before our game, I got in my car and I drove about the speed that I thought the bus driver would take from Whiteford to Summerfield. I had a stop watch to time it just right. I didn’t tell anybody, not even my assistants, at least not right away.”
But Hoover, who had been a part of a similar scheme a couple seasons earlier as an assistant coach in Franklin, Ohio, planned it out. The 19-player Bobcat squad would get dressed in their home locker room, warm up on their own field, board the bus according to his stop watch and arrive at Summerfield just before kickoff.
“It’s only like 20 minutes between schools, so warming up at Whiteford and driving was no different than warming up at Summerfield and walking out to the field and waiting through the National Anthem and the coin toss,” Hoover.
The ploy was meant to rattle the opponent, perhaps make them lose focus on the game at hand.
“I don’t know if it worked,” Hoover said. “But, when the bus got near, when we were driving up the road where the Summerfield stadium was, the head coach (LeRoy Wood) was out in the middle of the street, looking down the road, looking for us. I knew right then that it probably worked.”
The bus arrived just moments before the game was to begin. Hoover had positioned the captains of that team – Chris Donnelly (my brother) and Tim Whalen – in the front seat so when the bus pulled up to the Summerfield end zone they could run directly onto the field for the coin toss. The kickoff team had no time to warm up or to stretch. They got off the bus and ran right into formation as the Bobcats began the game by kicking off to the Bulldogs.
Ron Montri has watched high school football in Monroe County since early 1960s, reporting on it for more than 45 years for The Monroe Evening News.
“To my knowledge, no one had ever done anything like that,” Montri said.
No one knows if the trick worked, but the Bulldogs did fumble on its first play from scrimmage, The Evening News reported. The Bobcats recovered and went into to score on a short touchdown by Scott Stone. It would be the game’s only touchdown in a 7-0 Bobcat victory and a perfect, 3-0 record through three weeks.
A key note to the story was that in the three seasons before that 1979 game, Summerfield had beaten Whiteford 40-0, 61-7 and 24-0.
“The seniors came to me and told me this was something they felt they needed to do – to beat Summerfield,” Hoover recalled. “They wanted it.
“Every coach steals something from a coach they learned from,” Hoover continued. “I got that from a coach I worked with. I thought it was pretty cool and, heck, I was a young kid. It wouldn’t have worked if we had cell phones like they do today. “
The 3-0 start was a catalyst for a 6-3 season by Whiteford. Hoover would coach one more year before Jack Luettke and Tom Shafer took over the program as co-head coaches. After that two-year stint, Luettke, a former Bobcat player, became the head coach for more than 25 years.
But, that game might have been the catalyst for something else. Luettke said he believes it helped kick start the Whiteford-Summerfield rivalry that, today, easily ranks as one of, if not the the best in Monroe County, and spreads across all sports and all levels. At times, it’s a fierce rivalry, although off the field or court, many Bobcats and Bulldogs are friends.
“I think that game might have had something to do with it,” Luettke said of the rivalry. “That was a big win for us. I remember Lee (LeRoy Wood) and (assistant coach Darrell) Polter in the road waiting for us. … All of our wins against Summerfield is big for us and all of their wins against us are big for them. It’s a great rivalry. There have been a lot of big games.”
Rivalries don’t just happen or start with one game, especially one as strong as the Whiteford-Summerfield rivalry. It’s an attitude, a sense of pride for current players and alumni alike. Neither side likes to lose, but losing to Summerfield can get under the skin of any Whiteford fan – and the same be said for Summerfield faithful. Simply put, every game between the two teams is a big one. Forget about the records.
No matter when it began or what makes it so special, it is. And, Friday night, at 7 p.m. at Whiteford, the rivalry will be renewed. And, as a footnote, it should be noted that both teams are 2-0. The last time both Summerfield and Whiteford played with both teams undefeated? You guessed it – 1979.