One Last Reunion, October 28, 1961 and a Firetruck and Traditions
There was one more reunion, just one day short of 40 years after the great 1921 victory over Harvard.
On October 28, 1961, during the halftime of a game with old rival Sewanee, the attendees were honored. My father had driven from Paducah for the reunion. I was a junior at Centre and joined him for the game. Because of his stories and introductions through the years, I recognized the Colonels who were there that afternoon. I knew what they had accomplished, much of which was near the very site on which they stood.
There were many photos taken during the 1961 reunion. This one above was taken in the Centre stadium and has 8 who were at the 1921, 6-0 win. All but George Chinn actually played in the game. Chinn had started in the 1920 Centre-Harvard game and was at Harvard Stadium in 1921 but didn't see any action due to having been injured earlier in the season.
All nine in this photo played in the 1921 game except George Chinn, explained in the first photo, above. The only missing Colonel who played is Hump Tanner, seen in the first photo.
It was amazing that 9 of the 16 young men who had gotten into the game during the great win over Harvard, along with George Chinn, substitute Les Combs, and head cheerleader, George Swinebroad, who was the longtime chief auctioneer at the prestigious Keeneland Thoroughbred Sales, were lined up on the playing field.
George Swinebroad, Centre '23, legendary chief auctioneer at the Kneeneland Thoroughbred Sales, 1944-75.
( See Chapter 41 for additional information about Leslie Combs II. )
They were all now well into their early 60's, but were still ramrod straight, and carried themselves like the athletes they had been.
Of the seven missing, three had died; Red Roberts in the hotel fire, Bo of complications from stomach cancer in 1952 at age 57, and Minos Gordy, who had plans to attend, but died suddenly from a heart attack just two months previously.
Bill Shadoan, Frank Rubarth, Buck Jones and Ray Class, the young man who got in on one play, the missed field goal attempt, sent word that for various reasons they couldn't make it to Danville.
Lined up on the turf, with those who saw action during the 1921 game in boldface, were Bill James, Fort Worth, Ben Cregor, Springfield, Kentucky, Richard Gibson, Louisville, Kentucky, Ed Kubale, Fort Smith, Arkansas, George Chinn, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Les Combs, Lexington, Kentucky, George Swinebroad, Lancaster, Kentucky, Army Armstrong, Fort Smith, Arkansas, Herb Covington, Mayfield, Kentucky, and the three from Owensboro, Hump Tanner, Tom Bartlett and Terry Snowday.
Many of the students in attendance at the 1961 game had seen the C6 HO still painted on the side of a favorite late night destination known as "The Cup," which was a restaurant down West Walnut near the railroad station, a little over a block from Breck Hall. Most only vaguely knew the history behind why the figures were there.
"The Cup," early 50's, unchanged from where the author attacked many after-party, greasy cheeseburgers from 1959-63. The building is now called Walnut House and houses the Department of Public Safety on the ground floor with student housing on the second.
The painted score, still visible on the east side of the building for over a century
"Was that the score of some game way back when?"
"Did it have something to do with Harvard?"
The old timers in the crowd, especially the many from Danville, knew exactly what C6 HO signified, and they cheered the old Colonels who were smiling and waving to the crowd.
My father spoke to some of my classmates who were at the game with me and explained.
It was when these few were young men, and had believed that they could accomplish anything, anything they could dream. They were known all over the country as the "Wonder Team."
Yes, C6 HO was the score when they beat Harvard. But they did more than just beat Harvard, as wonderful as that was. They provided the inspiration for a generation of young people, that if you can imagine it, and if you are dedicated, you can make your dreams come true.
That was their greatest accomplishment.
I was here at Centre when the "Wonder Team" played. They lived by a motto that was always on the wall in the locker room.
"Believe. Achieve. Succeed."
They had that great belief, instilled in them by their coaches. They worked hard, dedicated to achieving, to making their dreams come true. And they succeeded not only on the playing field, but throughout their lives.
I consider myself blessed by having known them. They truly were the "Wonder Team."
Of course, as I am writing this in 2022, all of those who participated in the Centre win over Harvard on October 29, 1921 are long gone, as is my father, who was named a Centre Distinguished Alumni in 1981 and served on the Centre Board from 1962-1974, continuing as an emeritus member until his death in October, 1988.
Obituary of Red Robertson with O.B.E. medal
However, the tradition at Centre still lives on, made somewhat stronger by the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 6-0 win on October 29, 2021. But, how long will that interest persist?
I fear not forever, because appreciation of events long past tends to fade even if it has momentarily been enhanced by such as an anniversary.
Which brings me to my feelings about tradition.
Tradition is veneration of a monumental, extraordinary event which is passed, or at least should be passed, from one generation to the next. Certainly, the Centre win over that bastion of the Eastern Establishment, Harvard University, fits that definition, and then some.
However, sometimes it takes a renewed effort by involved parties to maintain or even enhance a tradition.
In July 2014, I participated in a discussion about "The Wonder Team," a Danville Pioneer Playhouse production about the 1921, C6 HO game based on information from my 2008 book of the same name.
Discussion moderated by Centre's president, Dr. John Roush. The book was adapted by Robby Henson.
During the event, held at Centre, I brought up the fact that I felt the college could solidify and even magnify the tradition about the game by obtaining the firetruck which brought the team back from the Southern Railroad Station to the gigantic celebration held at the Boyle County Courthouse on the day that the team arrived back from Boston.
To refresh your memory, let me show you some pictures again.
Danville's new motorized firetruck, pride of the town
Bo on top of the firetruck's priming ball with the football brought back from the game
The team and coaches on the 1920 Ahrens-Fox firetruck coming back from the Southern Railroad Station
I invited the owner of the firetruck, Jerry Voisinet, who bought and totally restored it in 1973, to the event. He had authenticated that he possessed the same exact firetruck, not a similar model, but the actual one that the Danville fire department used to haul the team from the train station, and he had it brought to Danville. I asked him to stand up and introduced him and his nephew, Tony Gaier, and stated that I felt it would be wonderful if Centre or a group of interested alumni could purchase that important part of the Centre football history. I even stated that I would love to contribute monetarily to such an effort.
I made the comment that I felt it would be wonderfully unique to bring the firetruck out every Homecoming with the cheerleaders and the team captain riding out to the 50-yard line, cranking the siren and driving it around the field while having someone over the PA tell about the history of what happened all of those years ago. Have a descendent of a member of the 1921 team invited as an honored, recognized guest, and have them ride along.
I asked, "How many colleges could have an authentic participant in its most cherished athletic moment, now some century removed, be right there on the field for all to actually experience?"
I said, "That's tradition!"
I was disappointed to having never heard anything else about the firetruck.
The firetruck is still in perfect condition and stored in Ohio. It looks even better than when new. It runs. The siren which was cranked all over Danville after the great win, still bellows out.
That's tradition shouting out to be embraced and enhanced!
Hopefully, others will also recognize the possibilities. That firetruck should be in Danville, Kentucky! It should forever be a part of what has made Centre so extraordinary!
Tradition needs to be appreciated. It needs to be cherished and treasured. It needs to be honored. Or else, it is often slowly forgotten.
Hopefully, the firetruck could become part of Centre's wonderful tradition every Homecoming at the new Andy Frye Stadium.
Fire it up and parade it around as everyone in the packed stadium stands and cheers, remembering those who are now long gone but who contributed so much to what has made the little college in the Bluegrass of Kentucky so absolutely unique.
Jerry Voisinet in his restored firetruck in front of the old Danville post office