Manhattan Mercury article by Mark Janssen, Sports Editor
The record is sure to improve from 9-0 to 15-0, the heroics will be magnified, the yardage gained and touchdowns scored multiplied two-fold. And for sure, a ton of fun will be had by life-long friends Friday when the Manhattan High football senior class of 1961 stages its annual get-together. “We grew up together playing football on the sandlots,” said Tim O’Hara, a two-way performer at end for the Indians. “Then we played together in junior high, and then into high school. We were just close friends. My best friends today are members of that football team.
“We had 19 seniors and I think we’ll have 18 with us Friday night,” O’Hara said. And all four coaches are expected: head coach Dick Towers, assistants Earl Gritton and Roy DeWitz, plus scout Brent Yancey.
“One of the reasons they won back then is because of the closeness that they continue to demonstrate today,” said Towers. “These guys started by going undefeated at the junior high level under coach Gritton, went undefeated as freshmen, and again undefeated as seniors.
“They had a unique closeness. They were good athletes and they were good students,” said Towers, who coached the Tribe from 1958 through 1963 when he became the head coach at Hutchinson Community College. “It really was a special bunch.”
On successive Friday nights, five on the road and four at Griffith Stadium, the Indians marched through Lawrence, Wichita Campus, Shawnee Mission North, Junction City, Clay Center, Emporia, Abilene, McPherson and Salina, allowing a total … that’s a total … of 19 points for the entire 1961 season.
Most historic of the wins was the opening 7-0 victory over Al Woolard’s Lawrence Lions, which ended that school’s 47-game victory string. The skunking was the first time in 181 games that the Lions’ had been blanked.
“They out-hit us, out-ran us, out-blocked us, and just plain out-played us,” Mercury sports editor John Eidson penned in a quote from Woolard. The score was 7-zip, but as Towers reflects, “It should have been a bigger margin. We had the ball at their 1-yard line on our first series, but fumbled and they ran it back about 80 yards before we caught them.”
The defense did the rest, which included set up the lone score of the game. That’s when defensive lineman Dale Schruben snatched the ball away from Lion QB Dennis Harris and raced it down to the 6-yard line. Three plays later, Bruce McGehe ran in for the score out of the Indians’ Wing-T formation. The defense held Lawrence to four first downs, and just 89 yards of offense.
The only teams to score on the Indians were Clay Center, McPherson and Junction City, but no team scored more than seven points.
“We played a 5-2 defense and did a lot of stunting,” Towers said. “I think we were good enough to play pretty straight, but we made people think about a lot of things.”
On the final Friday of the season, 8-0 Manhattan High faced 7-0-1 Salina High School. “I don’t think the guys felt any pressure. We had a very dedicated bunch of kids who had the heads screwed on right and played extremely hard,” Towers said. “These were exceptional young men who also excelled in basketball and academics.”
The Indians rushed the ball for 234 yards, while holding the Mustangs to just five first downs and 135 yards of total offense. Ed Dissinger passed to Bill Lowman and Rod Moyer scored from the one to give the Tribe a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. The final score in the fourth period came on a 50-yard dash by Lloyd Duncan to wrap up the 20-0 win.
In an era prior to the playoffs, Manhattan High was named the No. 1 team in Kansas by the Associated Press. “Independence (8-0) had a very fine team, but I think most people in the state considered Manhattan High to be the best team,” Towers said of his squad that defeated No. 4 and 7-2 Lawrence, No. 8 and 7-1-1 Salina, plus 6-1-1 Junction City during the course of the season.
On Towers’ coaching, O’Hara said, “There wasn’t a lot of humor. He was very disciplined and made sure we didn’t make many mistakes.”
All of this is a good enough story in itself, but as O’Hara said with a laugh, “There will be stories Friday night about us being number 4 in the final USA Today poll, even if there wasn’t a USA Today back then.”
MHS 1961 Starters
LE — Tim O’Hara; LT — Phil King; LG — Dale Schruben; C — Andy Hemphill; RG — Karl Farris; RT — Stan Pine; RE — Roy Teas; QB — Ed Dissinger; LHB — Bill Lowman; RHB — Lloyd Duncan; FB — Rod Moyer
Most all starters were two-way performers.
The seniors of the ’61 MHS team were:
Terry Arthur, Larry Coffman, Jack Dailey, Ed Dissinger, Lloyd Duncan, Mike Duncan, Karl Farris, Andy Hemphill, Clyde Holiwell, Marcus Johnson, Phil King, Art Langvardt, Bill Lowman, Bruce McGehe, Brian Minturn, Rod Moyer, Gary Nelson, Tim O’Hara, Stan Pine, Dale Schruben, Larry Tousingnant, Tim Trubey, Randy Wright
Coaches: Dick Towers, Head Coach, Scott Hayden, asst., Earl Gritton, asst., Roy Dewitz, asst.