Thursday, May 15, 2008

EXTRA! EXTRA! Tiny Acorns, Mighty Oaks & Knotable Knights

Author's Note: This is an Extra! edition of the two-part series 53 Years Later, A Rivalry Revealed, detailing the story of one seemingly innocuous high school football game played between two communities with little in common on October 14, 1955.

ROYAL OAK -- 53 years ago Royal Oak was the place to move to. It had a movie theater with a brightly-lit marquee and the Farmer's Market was the place to be on Saturday morning. A Friday night win got a player a free Saturday trim at the barber shop. Fish 'n chip dinner at the local diner and phone numbers that began with LI or MI exchanges. Woodward Avenue was best cruised with a four-seat Bel Air or convertible Thunderbird by kids fashioned in letter sweaters and crew cuts.

In 1955, Royal Oak was teeming with families forged from the post-World War II baby boomers. The city's school board approved a second high school, the uproar over its name a Royal Oak argument second to none. It was determined that Royal Oak High would be renamed for Congressman George A. Dondero and be called the Oaks, and the new school would be christened for School Board President Clarence M. Kimball under the theme of Knights. Royal Oak's annual Thanksgiving Day tilt with Birmingham would be replaced by the Oak Stump Game between Kimball and Dondero.

A rivalry was born and dividing lines had been drawn, but in '55, Royal Oak was still a one-school town. From the '55 Royal Oak roster that night was one Darrell Harper, a gifted, fleet-footed halfback who was an consensus All-South Oakland County pick. Harper would go on to be a starter at the University of Michigan and earn three varsity football letters, first under Coach Bennie Oosterbaan and then Chalmers 'Bump' Elliott. Harper played with Michigan greats Ron Kramer and Don Dufek, and was followed to Michigan by Kimball's Wally & John Gabler, Dick Ries and Craig Kirby. Harper later became the head coach for the Chargers of Southfield Lathrup High.

Royal Oak was coached in '55 by Jim Manilla, who won the last five Birmingham - Royal Oak Turkey Day games by a combined count of 105-26. Manilla hung up his whistle & knickers following the '56 campaign to accept the district's athletic director post. His first order of business was appointing two varsity football coaches. Ivy Loftin took of the reins at Dondero, going 151-79-8 in 27 seasons. Prentice 'Pin' Ryan was awarded the job at Kimball, going 48-16-5 in eight seasons. Manilla tabbed Paul Temerian to replace Ryan at Kimball in '65 and Temerian went 131-39-1. Loftin and Temerian, assistants under Manilla in Royal Oak High in '55, retired in 1983, when they were part of the inaugural class of inductees of the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall Of Fame.

The three coaches (Loftin, Ryan, Temerian) combined to win 26 league titles and earned 12 appearances in the season-ending Associated Press Top 10 poll, but it would be an unheralded halfback and assistant coach who would make the most significant mark in Michigan's sports annals from the Monroe - Royal Oak game on October 14, 1955.

Herb Deromedi.

An Acorn in '55, Deromedi was playing his senior season behind Harper and halfback Ralph Forbes during an 7-2 campaign. Deromedi would accompany Harper to Michigan as a common student, roommates for each other's freshman year. As a U-M senior, Deromedi earned a position under Jack Stovall at Ann Arbor's University High. He followed that with a stint at Bryon High.

In 1964 Deromedi returned to his Royal Oak roots at Kimball as assistant to Ryan with Temerian, who had coached Deromedi in '55 in the same role. After a 7-1-1 mark in '64 that landed Kimball a league title and the AP's 10th spot, Kimball marched to a 9-0 showing in '65, Temerian's first as head coach, and was rewarded with another league title and the state's 4th-place ranking in the AP poll. Deromedi and sister, Sue, then a Kimball cheerleader, are pictured here after Kimball pasted Dondero 33-0 at Kimball Stadium.

Opening with two consecutive losses in '66, Kimball's Knights rallied to a 6-2-1 mark in winning the Southeastern Michigan Association (SMA) crown. That season Deromedi helped Kimball thwart his former school, Dondero, from winning the state championship by tying the No. 1 Oaks (8-0-1 in '66 / 5th AP) in front of 10,000 fans at Cass Field. The '66 game was perhaps the most memorable game of the series. After a potential winning score by Dondero had been called back thanks to an assisting the runner call, Kimball raced to Dondero's eight-yard line when the referee's gun sounded the end of the 14-14 thriller.

The same gunshot that ended Dondero's dream also ended Deromedi's high school coaching career. Roy Kramer, who had spent a night in Grand Rapids at a coaches' clinic talking football and diagramming plays on a blackboard with the young Kimball assistant that summer, was named head football coach at Central Michigan University in 1967. The first person he called to join him was Deromedi. No one knew it then but the young man, who had played behind Harper and Forbes, who never played a down of college football, had earned the break in a career that would lead to making him the dean of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), a conference that arguably owns the best lineage of legendary college football coaches.

After 10 years as faithful assistant, Deromedi was named head coached when Kramer moved on Vanderbilt University as athletic director. Deromedi won three MAC titles and lead the Chippewas to back-to-back victories over Michigan State in 1990 and 1991, the only losses the Spartans have ever suffered in MAC tilts.

Deromedi's Chippewas were an amazing 25-4-1 versus in-state rivals Eastern and Western Michigan. His 110-55-10 record, including 110 wins overall and 90 wins in the competitive MAC are bests for any MAC coach in both categories. The legendary coach followed Monroe's Dick Waters and Royal Oak's Jim Manilla and Pin Ryan when he hung up his whistle and clipboard for CMU's athletic director's post in 1994. Deromedi retired from CMU in 2006 and was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame in 2007 in South Bend, Indiana.

One high school football game between the city high schools of two towns separated by 61 miles. Monroe, almost exclusively rural compared to today and removed from the big city like TV's Mayberry was removed from the real world. Royal Oak, emerging as a suburban nesting spot, with top-down cruisers and car hop service at restaurants and filling stations. Mt. Pleasant, still 20 years from Division-I football, then a sleepy, suitcase college for teachers.

The Monroe - Royal Oak game was played among hundreds of others locally and thousands nationally, but October 14, 1955 produced emerging story lines and leaders who created memories in three separate Michigan communities to last for generations to come.

(Picture courtesy 1965 Royal Oak Kimball High School Lancer yearbook)

~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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got to play for Coach Harper (RIP) at Walled Lake Central and coach Herb was the AD at CMU when I was there. The lives and people that they have touched make them legends that should never be forgotten.

May 22, 2008 at 11:16 AM 

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