Tuesday, May 13, 2008

53 Years Later, A Rivalry Revealed, Part I

Author's Note: This is the first of a two-part story of a football program, the game it featured and the season of 1955 for several metro Detroit schools. The 'golden age' of high school football was the period that stretched post-World War II into the late 1960's.
MONROE -- If you noticed the dateline, you already know Oakland County's prep sports scene these days has few ties to Monroe, Michigan, but that wasn't always the case. And as it relates to high school football, the 1955 game between the host Monroe Trojans and the Acorns of Royal Oak High played on October 14th reveals the story of rivalries since lost and a platform for so much Michigan sports history.
Why the Royal Oak - Monroe game of 1955? I came across an eBay listing for the program featured here. I bid on and won the program's auction and decided this would be a fun, internal fact-finding mission. What I discovered was a significant piece of local and statewide history, hidden neatly in a garden variety, four-page, high school hopsock-era program.
The victory on this night went to Royal Oak's Acorns by a 34-6 count. The win put Royal Oak in a three-way tie for second place in the now-defunct Border Cities League (BCL) with Grosse Pointe High and Wyandotte, thanks to Wyandotte's 17-0 blanking of the Pointers. That left the Tractors of Dearborn Fordson High atop the BCL, a league former Royal Oak resident and Detroit Tiger broadcaster Paul Carey called, "the toughest league in the state, hands down", in a recent 2008 interview. Royal Oak got a pair of touchdowns each from halfback Ralph Forbes and tailback Darrell Harper. Oakland County residents will recall that Harper went on to star at the University of Michigan and would return to south Oakland County as head coach of Southfield Lathrup's gridders. Harper passed away late in 2007.
Also of note is Royal Oak's No. 29, Herb Deromedi, who played but wasn't mentioned in the game's recap found in Royal Oak's Daily Tribune. Royal Oak's Jerry Snider netted Royal Oak's last score, a 37-yard touchdown. Monroe tailback Richard 'Bud' Jeric notched Monroe's lone tally. Joe Vestrand also earned praise for Royal Oak.
The Tractors would best Royal Oak for the BCL title in '55 with an 8-1 slate, one game better than the Acorns' 7-2 ledger. Fordson earned a No. 8 ranking in the Associated Press season-ending state poll. Birmingham High, now renamed Seaholm High, took the state's No. 5 spot with an 8-1 mark, including a perfect 5-0 as champions of the Eastern Michigan League (EML). Ann Arbor High was the top-ranked team in the AP poll with an 8-0 record. Lincoln Park's Railsplitters earned the state's No. 9 slot to round out teams from the metropolitan Detroit area in '55.
Royal Oak was a perfect 4-0 in '55 against their Oakland County counterparts. The Acorns ran around Hazel Park's Vikings 25-7, blanked Ferndale's Eagles 20-0 and earned a 26-2 decision over the Chiefs of Pontiac High at Wisner Stadium. Finally, in their annual Turkey Day game, Royal Oak survived a gritty showing by the then-undefeated Birmingham High Maples in the last Thanksgiving Day affair played at Maple Field, 27-20. Birmingham was coached by Vince Secontine, whose son Marc operates The Varsity Shop, a downtown Birmingham staple and the source of letter jackets for scores of Oakland County youth. The Varsity Shop also houses the old Royal Oak - Birmingham Game trophy, a red, white and blue-painted jug.
Royal Oak's '55 showing was part of a five-year span from 1952-56 that saw Royal Oak go 35-9-1, claiming a share of the BCL title in both '53 and '54. The contests of 1955, as recorded by The Daily Tribune, revealed the school's future name as the paper began referencing Royal Oak High as Dondero before the school was re-christened in the name of Royal Oak Congressman George A. Dondero in September of 1957. That fall the Acorns would become the Oaks and gain a bitter crosstown rival, a school christened for the Knights of Royal Oak Kimball, named for former Royal Oak school board president Clarence M. Kimball. The famed Royal Oak home at 1705 Greenleaf Drive is still referenced in the city's municipal building as The Kimball House.
The BCL champion Tractors completed a rivalry hat trick in '55 by virtue of their 19-0 win over Monroe, a 21-0 blanking of neighboring Dearborn High and a 42-6 pasting of Dearborn Edsel Ford, the inaugural year of varsity competition for the Thunderbirds.
Monroe, by contrast, was suffering through one of it's worst spans of football in their long history. From 1954-1958, the Trojans went 9-29-1. Royal Oak defeated Monroe consecutively from 1953-1956. Monroe's lone victory from the '55 campaign was a 7-o win over the Adrian High Maples, a rivalry that dates back to 1896, easily making the game one of the longest-running feuds in the entire state. To date, Monroe's rivalry with Adrian has been played 106 times, with Adrian holding a narrow 51-49-6 margin through 2007.
Part II: A look at the many participants from the 1955 Royal Oak - Monroe football game and how the players and coaches from a single HS football game went on to play pivotal roles in Michigan's local and statewide sports scene for years to come.
~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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