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Bob Mitchell: Cassville Wildcat football history
It’s been 73 years since the Cassville Wildcats re-entered the world of sports with a football team.
The sport had been dropped from the CHS athletic program during World War II. In those days, many male students didn’t finish their senior year in favor of picking their branch of service.
The resumption of football on the campus followed a rocky road since the conservative segment of the community, including the board of education couldn’t bring themselves to provide the funding to completely outfit a team. It was at the persistence of former players such as Jimmy Turner and Glen Truhitte that the effort stayed alive. Naturally, it was some funding from the community, which was provided by the leaders and others, that eventually swung the decision.
It was Dr. E.E. McDaniel, DO, who had sometime in his career coached the sport, who pushed for football. He was always on hand Saturday mornings at the team gathering at the Music Store, to handle any injuries.
So, in the summer of l946, a coach was hired and the equipment began arriving at the gym. There was nothing elaborate about the pads and equipment, only the bare necessities were available. Prospective players purchased their shoes, practice-type pants and jerseys with the tops taken home Thursday after practice for washing and there were no numbers on the white pullovers.
Coach out of AF
Baird Vermillion, a native of Seneca, was fresh out of the Army Air Corps, when he took the job of forming the team, getting a field ready and becoming a member of the Tri-County League.
The field, now covered with buildings, had been used as a Rodeo Arena just months before the team was formed. One of the initial duties was to remove the cow and horse dropping from the grounds and acquire adequate lighting.
There were no bleachers and early arrival vehicles were parked around the field with spectators virtually surrounding the field waiting for game time.
Vermillion was a new civilian whose wardrobe sometimes included parts of his military uniform for at least part of his initial months.
Teams of the Tri-County League included Sarcoxie, Greenfield, Miller, Pierce City, Crane and Marionville. The first listed proved to be a problem for the Wildcats, which has been covered previously and might be approached again in the future.
The season began with a loss at Crane, but the home opener proved out better with a close 7-6 win over Pierce City. The victory was even sweeter realizing I was the only one to put on pads previously during high school years in Springfield.
Personnel quickly got the hang of the sport with the tailback-quarterback Leonard Stansberry, standing high in Wildcat sports history as at least one of the most talented athletes to wear the Black and Gold (which wasn’t available the first year).
There were others who developed into players, despite their lack of experience. But “Berry’s” skills, not only in football, but basketball and baseball, have to put him near the top. During his Air Force career, he was radio communicator on Air Force One.
Marked game difference
Today’s games put a different appearance on the field since there were only two officials in striped shirts all those years ago. One of the most popular ones was Shelby Rainey from Springfield. Teams were always glad to see him at the coin toss.
Shelby’s reputation always encouraged a good game. He might be remembered by some during one incident when a home coach disagreed with a call, telling him, “Shelby you stink!”
After marching off a 15-yard penalty against the sideline, Rainey inquired, “How do I smell from here Coach?”
First face guard
Another piece of history visited this team as the first face guard to appear on a gridiron was for a Wildcat.
Jay Dean (Chick) Cox was our very capable center and linebacker weighing about 145 pounds soaking wet. During one game, he came back to the huddle with a handful of blood and a broken nose, his only comment was, “What will Edith (his mother) think?”
Frank Snider’s welding shop solved that problem by installing a metal bar on the helmet, and Chick never missed a snap all season.
Expanded Big 8
Although the conference remains the Big Eight, there are actually 13 members now, as a result of state edicts.
Cassville’s Wildcats, opening this Friday night at home against Aurora, will have 17 seniors on their roster of 65 members. Jared Lankford, sports writer for the Cassville Democrat, says there are only two other teams in the league who will put that many on the field—Marshfield and Lamar.
His comments included, “the team has returned from a camp outing at William Jewell College, where they became a team and a football family.”
When the Wildcats take the field Friday, they will put their new, informational scoreboard on display for the first time.
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.