Football passion, continued…
A four-decade-old mystery was revived last Thursday when alumni of Washington-Lee High School teamed with the Arlington Historical Society for a fascinating evening of reminiscences by graduates from every decade since the 1930s.
Representing the class of 1971 was the highly reliable George Dodge, former president of the history society. He told the crowd of 100 that his most vivid high school memory is the November 1970 mud-caked championship football game between Yorktown and W-L. My jaw dropped as he delved into long-standing rumors that W-L coaches had watered down the field, supposedly to thwart Yorktown’s vaunted lickety-split running game.
Dodge may not have known the extent of it, but he was messing with a story that has haunted Yorktown graduates and ex-players (like myself) lo these 41 years.
Yes, W-L has a proud history of first-class teaching and alums who’ve excelled in movies, philharmonics and the National Football League. Speakers recalled the 49 students lost in World War II, racial tensions in the ‘50s on prom night, hanging out at Mario’s Pizza and the school’s stellar international baccalaureate program.
But the drama came when Dodge reviewed how the 1970 Yorktown team was 9-0 and W-L’s 7-2. War Memorial Stadium was packed with a record 10,000 spectators. The night was misty – rain had poured for several days. Which may well be why W-L won 12-0 (extra points aren’t easy in the mud).
That shocking outcome denied undefeated Yorktown a trip to the regionals, a feat repeated in 2010 when, after 28 years of victories by newcomer Yorktown (it opened in 1961), W-L (opened in 1925) again took district honors.
Fights broke out when the clock wound down, and the loss left many in North Arlington bitter at our team’s misery from what newspapers called “a quagmire of mud.” (Some of us have the framed photographs to prove it.) Yorktown coach Jesse Meeks still spoke of the heartbreak decades later, saying the game should have been postponed.
Last week Dodge said he was amazed after all this time to encounter Yorktown grads who insist W-L cheated by pouring water on the already sopping field. “Tonight I’m going to set the record straight,” he said, and declared that a W-L lineman assures him there was no foul play.
Once word was passed, a contrary view lit up the Yorktown alum e-mail network. “I know that field was watered down–we got hosed, literally,” said defensive back Sam Houghton. “I went to the junior varsity game at W-L that Thursday afternoon. The field was a little muddy but nothing like what we played in.”
Offensive tackle Andy Extract disagrees. “They didn’t need to water the field because it started raining the preceding Monday and it hardly let up until hours before kick-off Friday evening,” he recalled. He doubts W-L could organize enough hoses. “The field was a mud bath. I don’t know how the refs managed to keep track of the lines,” he added. “I was completely soaked and was carrying about 15 lbs. of mud by the end of the game. It was even in my ear and never completely washed out of the jersey.”
So my Yorktown mates shared one more round of might-have-beens.
But having just heard about all of W-L’s character-building accomplishments through time, I’ve decided we should drop the charges.
Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]