By the time most of you read this article, Coach Burgbacher and his staff will be less than one week away from leading the Troy High School Trojans football team in the inaugural game of the team’s 122nd season. On Friday, August 24th, the Trojans will face the Belmont High School Bison football team at Troy Memorial Stadium. in the opening game of the season for both teams. High School football teams have always faced various kind of adversity in preparing for and playing each season, but sometimes the obstacles are serious. Let’s see what happened 100 years ago with Troy football.
One Hundred Years ago, the young men from Troy High School were preparing another season on the gridiron. The games usually began in October during those early years of the 20th century and continued through Thanksgiving Day, and sometimes even the first week of December. But, this particular year was a little different.
The season was shaping up to be an interesting one for the Trojans. The team had several returning players, but a new head coach. In fact, it was their third mentor in three years. The coach from the 1916 season, Howard F. Ross, was popular and led the Trojans to a 7-1-1 record that season. But Coach Ross was also a member of the Ohio National Guard and, in August 1917, as America became more involved in the war, he accepted a commission into the Army and became part of the American Expeditionary Forces.
In the fall of 1917, a former player, George Patterson, was thrust into the head coaching position when Ross’ original replacement suddenly resigned in early September to accept a principal’s position in Caldwell, Ohio.
Unfortunately, for Coach Patterson and the Trojans, with little time to prepare, they did not enjoy the success of 1916. Although he had played for Fielding Yost and was an All-American in 1913, Patterson was not able to translate his personal success into victory on the field for his charges. Another obstacle that season was Troy High played on at least three different fields … and those were just the home fields. Coach Patterson did not return for the 1918 season.
Earl E. Prugh, principal at the high school, offered to take up the coaching gauntlet and guide the young Trojans in their training. Coach Prugh had been a popular and successful teacher and athletic coach at both Lancaster, Ohio High School and North (Columbus) High School before coming to Troy.
The team had a full 7-8 game schedule before them and things were shaping up nicely, as Coach Prugh worked his players.
In 1918, the Great War was raging on, but it was not the only news people were following. There had been an outbreak of Influenza which was spreading rapidly. It was beginning to take its toll around the world but, thus far, there were few cases in Ohio and there were no reported cases in the area.
However, in September, a few cases appeared locally, then in October 1918, there seemed to be a worldwide spike in incidents and deaths, including locally. Schools were closed, events cancelled, and health officials cautioned people to take every precaution not to spread the grave illness. One advertisement in the Miami Union newspaper warned people that the Spanish Influenza was as dangerous to the war effort as a poison gas bomb. Workers were told to stay home until completely healthy. Of course, the pandemic effected the football season as well.
The first Saturday in October, Troy began their season by soundly beating Urbana on their field, 46-0. But then the season began to unravel. The team found out that the rest of the games would be cancelled until the pandemic subsided in the Miami Valley. As it turned out, three games in October were cancelled and it was one month until the games were resumed on Friday, Nov. 8, in Xenia, which ended as a 0-0 tie.
Although most of the teams Troy played would have been in the same position, it is likely (though not thoroughly researched yet) that the boys were not allowed to continue practicing during the widespread illness.
Troy was able to reschedule Sidney, so they finished the season by playing only three more games after the Xenia contest. They beat Piqua 28-6; lost to Sidney, 0-2 and then lost to Piqua on their field on Thanksgiving Day, 6-13. The Trojans finished with a 2-2-1 record for the season.
Earl Prugh would coach two more seasons before accepting a position at Antioch College as the football coach and physical education director. Several members of the team went on to successful careers and good lives. But, for one season, Troy football not only had to deal with their competition on the gridiron, but also with a World War and a pandemic of influenza.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org