Wednesday, May 14, 2008

53 Years Later, A Rivalry Revealed, Part II

Author's Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on the stories behind the names of the men who played in the Monroe - Royal Oak high school football game on October 14th, 1955, won by Royal Oak's Acorns 34-6. A newly-added 'bonus' to the series comes out Saturday morning!

MONROE -- Few, if any four-page game programs at all, from the high school SockHop era come with as many decorated story lines as Monroe's encounter with the visiting Royal Oak High Acorns in October of 1955. Certainly few games as one-sided as this one contain as many colorful characters on both sides of the gridiron. Monroe's sideline is filled with homespun stories of favorite sons, hometown coaches and one Eugene 'Red' Davis, a man so revered in Monroe his memory eternally fills the hearts of so many Trojan faithful. Royal Oak, by contrast, is a tale of established leaders, a lineage of sweet fruit from the wide-branched tree of success. They young men and boys that played under them went on to be the foundation of one town's success and one college's rise to prominence.

The only player to score for Monroe that night? Richard 'Bud' Jeric, No. 46, who ran in from four yards out after Royal Oak fumbled and Monroe recovered at the Acorn 32-yard line. It took 10 plays for the Trojans to score in the 3rd quarter, already trailing 21-0. Jeric went on to play at Western Michigan University and would return in the late 1960s to become Monroe's varsity football coach. One of his players was a young man named John Ray, now better known as Dr. John F. Ray, Monroe Athletic Director. Also playing for Monroe that night was Ron Gruber, No. 48, who's family owned Gruber Grocery Store, later sold to Food Towne Stores. Harry Herkimer, No. 50, was a tackle in '55 and now owns Herkimer Radio, a store specializing in two-way and short cell equipment.

Monroe's Athletic Director in '55 was Dick Waters, also the Monroe varsity track coach, for whom the Dick Waters Relays are named for. Monroe also named the school's pool for Waters, who ironically, couldn't swim. Head coach for the Trojans in '55 was Cleo Winchell, who was also a high school math teacher. It would be safe to assume Winchell enjoyed X's and O's no matter if they were of the algebraic or off-tackle variety, before and after the day's final school bell. Winchell passed away in the final days of 2007. Paul Wilder was also an assistant football coach and served as the school's baseball coach for many years later on, including when Ray played for the Trojans. Wilder passed away five years ago.

And then there was Eugene 'Red' Davis, listed as an assistant coach in the '55 program but clearly a man who was an icon in the Monroe athletic annuls for many years after his coaching days ended. Ole' Red Davis enjoyed a pipe from time to time, and was never at a loss for a few feet of homespun yarn. When he wasn't on the gridiron, he was the Trojan varsity baseball coach and served as the school's athletic director for many years, including the years Ray attended Monroe, from 1967-1970.

Ray recalls the Grosse Pointe football game of 1954, when Monroe traveled up to what is now Grosse Pointe South and came up on the short end of a hard-fought 12-7 decision. After the game, the Grosse Pointe students decided it was time to mix it up with the downtrodden visitors from Monroe, until Red Davis entered the fray. "He came up on this ruckus and said, 'Now listen here, I can't take all ya' on at once, but I'll take on every one of ya' one at a time -- now who wants to go first?' That was the end of that right then and there," Ray recalls with a chuckle.

One of the players Davis coached on his baseball teams was Dean Duffey, who in '55 was voted Monroe's Most Valuable Player in that spring campaign. Exactly 50 years later, Duffey's son, Dustin, would follow in his father's footsteps, earning the honor of Monroe's Most Valuable Player.

Monroe is all about its' favorite sons, but like any school, there are those who have left Monroe to fill other positions at other schools. One such name that comes to mind is Charlie Jestice, a native son of Oklahoma and Monroe assistant coach, who applied for the head coaching position but didn't get it. John Ray offered his opinion: "Maybe it was his country-western drawl that some had trouble understanding, but he left Monroe and took the job at Dearborn Fordson and hated Monroe for the rest of his life," Ray told me today. "I do know he was inducted in an Oklahoma Hall-Of-Fame recently that he and (former Fordson head coach) Jeff Stergalas attended together." Obviously the seeds of the Fordson-Monroe rivalry have been well-planted over the years. When Monroe's football job opened this past fall, it was rumored Stergalas could become Monroe's new leader, which would have stoked the game's flame even more.

One man who left the Trojan fold from the '55 Royal Oak - Monroe game was Trojan assistant football coach Vince Sigren. Two years after the Acorns thumped Monroe in '55, Sigren was named varsity basketball coach at the newly-opened Royal Oak Kimball, stocked with half of the players that had been Acorns two years earlier. Sigren would hold the Kimball post for seven years, going 40-71 with a district title in 1961 before ceding control of Kimball to Dave Gunther before the start of the 1964-65 season.

One of Sigren's players in the 1959-60 campaign? A junior named John Scott Cameron, who also played for Prentice 'Pin' Ryan in football.

The author knows Cameron by a different name: Dad.

BONUS: Check back in two days for the Royal Oak side of the story, including how two assistant coaches became bitter rivals and how the last man standing became a Central Michigan University legend.

~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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