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Today's Tidbit... The Big Butte Turnaround of 1907
The Tidbit from a few days ago told the story of the Carlinville-Taylorville scandal of 1921 in which towns teams in Central Illinois engaged players from Notre Dame and Illinois to play for their team to bring glory and winning bets to the respective towns. In short, the Carlinville-Taylorville scandal is another in a long line of tales of how far people will degrade themselves to win a football game.
Here's another one.
A season-ending game occurred between Spokane High School of Washington and Butte High School of Montana back in nineteen and seven. Both schools had solid football reputations and had gone through the season, winning every game against high school teams. Butte was unscored upon and the Montana state champion, while Spokane had beaten Seattle and other high schools while tying the University of Idaho 0-0 and losing to Whitman 28-0.
Scheduled to determine the Champion of the Northwest, the intrigue surrounding the highly-touted game was heightened by the presence of Spokane's principal, Mr. Hart, who had been the principal at Butte the year before, and acknowledged he had received Butte’s signals (play calls made at the line of scrimmage) from an anonymous Butte student, though he did not pass them on to the team.
Hart and the Spokane team arrived in Butte the Friday before the game for a game nearly called off due to Spokane's insistence that they had the right to name the game's umpire.
Butte, who did not have the opportunity to name the umpire when they played at Spokane in 1906, finally relented, so the game went on as scheduled. Slated for a 3:00 PM start, Spokane took the field at 3:24 PM, pushing the game's end into near darkness.
It proved as tough a game as any in attendance could recall. Outweighed by 20 pounds per man, Spokane's giants pushed around the Butte team, but time and again, Butte kept the Washingtonians from crossing the goal line. Spokane managed a first-half field goal to take a 4-0 lead, but Butte responded, spurred by the play of fullback Reno Schraeder, whose play that day earned substantial praise.
Schroeder (sic) played a remarkable game in every department. He was in every play and seemed to be everywhere at once. He tackled like a demon and never once missed his man. He tore great holes in the line on offensive plays and made gain after gain through the ponderous rush line of the Spokane team...
...once when Spokane had very cleverly executed a forward pass of twenty yards, snatched the oval, just as it was about to nestle snugly in Rouse's arms, and made a twenty-three yard run before he was downed.
'Butte High School Team Wins Championship Of Northwest From Spokane's Eleven Giants,' Butte Miner, November 17, 1907.
During the second quarter, Butte had the ball inside the Spokane 20-yard line when one of the game's many controversial calls occurred. What is clear is that Spokane was penalized for coaching from the sideline, which put the ball near the Spokane goal line. Spokane supporters claimed that the person who came onto the field to "instruct" a Spokane player was a Butte fan harassing Spokane. Either way, Spokane received a penalty, the ball was spotting inside their 2-yard line, and Butte's Schaeder soon bulled it over for a touchdown, giving Butte a 5-4 lead, which held the rest of the game. Butte, of course, celebrated their Northwestern championship for days following the game.
Within the month, however, Spokane announced they had lodged a formal complaint with the Montana High School Athletic Association, charging that two Butte players were ineligible, so Butte should forfeit to Spokane. Montana's standards held that only those under 21 years old who had not graduated from high school could participate in athletics. Further, players were limited to four seasons of eligibility.
Spokane charged that Butte's star fullback, Reno Schaeder, had graduated from Wisconsin's Merrill High School in 1906 after playing four years of football. They also charged that Butte's left end, Joseph Phillips, who also attended Merrill High School the previous year, was 22 years old at the time of the game. On top of that, Phillips was the brother-in-law of Butte coach George F. Downer, who had coached Merrill High School in 1906 and was fully aware of Schrader and Phillips' situations.
Montana's high school athletic board did not convene until the state track championship in May 1908. Still, based on letters from Merrill High School confirming Spokane's accusations, they stripped Butte of their 1907 state title and forfeited all their games.
Despite the scandal and turmoil, Butte kept Downer as coach, and they had another strong team in 1908 that lost to a team from Chicago for the supposed Western United States Championship.
As for Reno Schraeder, he and another crack player from Butte moved on to the Denver University for the 1908 season, leading to an article reporting on their success in Denver's training camp, which bore the headline:
And that, as they say, is:
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