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'Knights of the Pigskin'

Medford’s high school football team got a lot of promotional help from the Mail Tribune back in November and December 1909. The local scribes just couldn’t resist declaring the youngsters “Southern Oregon Football Champions.”

Luckily for them, the third time was the charm.

There had been occasional football games in the valley ever since that first scrimmage, Jan. 4, 1896, when the Central Point boys dropped the Butte Creek Cowboys from Eagle Point, 8-0. Over the following years, most of the games had been spur of the moment “pickup” affairs, or challenge games, sometimes for money.

In 1909, just after summer heat turned to falling leaves, Medford High School agricultural science teacher and sports fan Sylvester Hall announced his arrangements with nearby towns for a high school sports league in Southern Oregon. Hall, a 26-year-old Harvard graduate, had just arrived in Medford from his boyhood home in Northern Oregon.

Hall agreed to coach the Medford football team and began recruiting his players.

“The local boys feel strong,” said a Mail Tribune reporter. “They probably have a better combination of muscle and nerve than any other school with which they will compete.”

First up was a game with Ashland, but not against the Ashland High School team. The Granite City crew was a blend of boys from a private school and students from the Ashland College. The Tribune gulped at the news, worried that the “local boys don’t have enough experience to win.” In the end, neither side could score and the game ended in a tie.

Ashland’s real high school team came to Medford Nov. 6 for the second game of the season. Medford scored first and looked to be headed for victory, but in the second half, when the locals had to punt, Ashland’s Merle Lovelady took the kick and ran the length of the field to even the score. It looked hopeless, but with three minutes to play, Ralph Burgess passed into the end zone for the deciding score — 11-6, Medford.

A week later, in a cold and windy rain, Grants Pass went down to defeat on a 25-yard field goal made by Medford fullback and kicker Walt Childress. For some reason, the Mail Tribune reported the game with the headline, “Medford Cinches Championship.”

The Thanksgiving “Turkey Day” game between Medford and Central Point brought the undefeated “Pointers” to town. The Mail Tribune urged a crowd to show up and help propel Medford to the Southern Oregon football championship. “Every man, woman and child with an ounce of red blood in their veins should attend this game. If you don’t understand football, at least you can yell, and that is one of the main features.”

The game was a rout. Medford scored an 18-0 victory, and for the second time, the Tribune declared them the “Champions!”

The five-game season ended with another game against Grants Pass that would finally decide the Southern Oregon Football Championship. Five minutes into the game, Burgess, the quarterback, scampered untouched around right end for the only touchdown of the game. Medford fullback Childress converted the extra point, giving the Medford boys a 6-0 lead that would hold up for the rest of the game.

To that fan out there shouting, “Hey! The score should be 7-0. A touchdown is worth 6 points” — true today, but not in 1909, when a touchdown was worth 5 points. That rule changed in 1912.

So, finally the local reporter got it right. For the third time that season, Medford’s team was the Southern Oregon Football Champion, and proclaimed “Knights of the Pigskin.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.