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Introducing first Bluffton HS football team

By Fred Steiner

Wouldn’t you know.

Bluffton High School’s first-ever football opponent was Columbus Grove. That game at Grove took place 121 football seasons ago.

Bluffton played Grove to a scoreless tie in a bruising contest, according to Fred Zehrbach, a lineman on the team.

Zehrbach recalls a heated argument, which ensued following the game between the players as to which side had the fastest runner. Joe Owens was selected from Bluffton to race with Moon Mullins of Columbus Grove.

The crowd raised a $10 wager and the race was on. Owens finished first by some 10 yards.

So, the Bluffton story has Bluffton as the game winner. We’d love to hear the Columbus Grove version.

Needless to add, if the tie was broken using today’s rules both schools would be on probation by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Coincidentally, Zehrbach’s Bluffton claim to fame includes more than being a member of its first-ever football team. He was a Main Street witness to the John Dillinger bank robbery in 1933.

1901 team members
Members of the 1901 team included Ray Triplett, founder of the Triplett Electrical Instrument Co., (quarterback), Earl Mohler, Menno Triplehorn, Frank Mack, Harvey Frazier, William Plattner, Victor Green, Dr. Cliff Wetherill, Guy Hawk, Sam Romey, Joseph Owens and Fred Zehrbach.

It was noted that Menno Triplehorn consistently punted 40-50 yards with a ball that became soft with constant use. It makes one wonder if the team had only one ball.

Lou Smith, originally from Mansfield, coached the team. Smith later was connected with the veterinary department at Michigan State University.

The games were quite different from today’s football. Zehrbach stated that the players were rounded up at random and the uniforms were makeshift affairs of odds and ends.

Mothers collected, sewed and stitched most of the padding, for what it was. In spite of this, few injuries were incurred.

This was somewhat surprising in view of the fact that the razzle-dazzle of today’s game was virtually unknown. Plays were run from a standard formation and straight power plays through the line predominated. The only shifts were made by the linemen, similar to over shifting or unbalancing.

The greatest thrill the team had in its initial season was playing in Lima. This was the only place where dressing room facilities were available and showers could be taken after the game.

Lima's flying wedge
Zehrbach recalled the Lima fullback wore a belt, resembling one a motorcyclist wears, with handles on the back. Teammates grabbed the handles and formed a flying wedge which made tackling extremely difficult. This ploy is now illegal.

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Friday, September 23, 2022