Bob Mitchell: 3 Wildcat football fields in 71 years

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cassville’s football teams have undoubtedly enjoyed playing on the biggest number of home fields than any other squad in the region. Since the resumption of the sport in 1946, there have been three fields on which Wildcat squads have played.

It was 71 years ago that football returned to Cassville after an absence of pre-World War II days when football was dropped, supposedly for a number of reasons. First, providing updated equipment for the team was thought to be excessively expensive by board and administration officials. Second, looming war situations had some prospective players leaving school for military service, while others got themselves involved in essential services to avoid being drafted. Whatever the reason, the sport was dropped before the war.

Public clamor in 1945 brought a decision to resume the sport the following year, giving time to assemble equipment and take advantage of possible coaches coming out of the service.

Summer of 1946

The summer of 1946 saw the initiation of American Legion Baseball in Cassville, under sponsorship of Ford. This assembled a group of athletes who gave resumption coach B.O. Vermillion a preview of some possible players. Vermillion was a native of Seneca, who was still wearing parts of his Army Air Corps uniform while teaching aviation at Cassville High School.

Wildcat football had only the bare necessities to field a team. Game uniforms were the same as worn in practice, and a washing on Thursday night was required for the uniform to be ready for game time Friday. There were no numbers on the white jerseys.

That first field was a pretty poor excuse, since it had been used for everything from rodeos to softball activities. Cow chip crews used part of practice sessions to remove this factor from the field. There wasn’t any grass on the field and no bleachers. Spectators who were early enough got to park their cars back of the sideline. Others watched the game from behind restraining ropes, which was often patrolled by law enforcement.

Need for class space

The next field, pushed east by a need for more classroom space, was to be a community affair. School board members sought help from the baseball Blues, who were abandoning their Crystal View field, to provide support. The new field was to be for Little League, adult and school baseball and football.

Taken on by the community for such things as digging 20- foot-deep light pole holes, assembling seats on new steel bleachers and other chores, the field was one of the most modern in the region. This was back in the Big 13 Conference era when the Wildcats’ scoreboard frequently displayed embarrassing defeats at the hands of larger schools.

The community aspect of the project nearly fell apart the first time the Blues baseball schedule called for use of the field. The first decision was negative by board members. After being reminded of $100 lifetime admittance contributions from the community — by a sizable representation at a board of education meeting, touting an all-purpose field promise — the board’s decision quickly changed.

Signers of the card were Glen Truhitte for the board of education and Chan Griffin for the Booster Club. I may have the only one of these left in existence.

A Little League story fell in place for me while umpiring a game when a Flat Creek fog rolled onto the field. The little right fielder called time out and shouted from his position, “Hey you guys in there, is that a right or left handed batter?’

Another space needed

The current Wildcat Stadium — frequently targeted for a name change, most of which would have been unwarranted — was to find what might have been a rebirth of Wildcat football. It, too, was necessary for additional building space as district enrollment increased. Lighting is the best in the area. The success of the program resulted in an all-weather track, bleacher expansion (moved from the old field), and construction of a field house that is probably the envy of the conference. A pair of consecutive state championships didn’t hurt the prospects of this project reaching completion.

Playing field improvements in this third field stand with the best in the region. Spectator parking, at the east end of the field house, is adjacent to the practice field. As a sidelight, this space was once owned by the city and facilitated the town’s first wastewater treatment plant. This has nothing to do with football, just a side note.

A credit note

A recent column that dealt with the Cassville and Exeter Railroad demise included some date information that came from The First 150 Years history of Cassville, written by the late Emory Melton and published on the town’s sesquicentennial in 1995.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.