A few years ago, Philomath High’s 1939 state football championship banner hanging in a corner of the gym caught my attention. I wanted to know more about the team, especially when I realized it’s not recognized as an official state title by the Oregon School Activities Association.
Well, in short, the OSAA had not been organized and champions before 1943 are not recognized. According to newspaper accounts that I could find, Philomath won the “B” championship, 7-6, over Arlington. Don Davis scored the team’s touchdown on a short run and Bud Blanchard kicked the extra point for the winning margin.
So, that made me wonder: Just how far back does Philomath High’s football history go? Early 1930s? 1920s? Earlier?
At the moment, my research has led me to the early 1920s for the first PHS football team. But I went back further and came across some interesting pieces of information from 1894. This coincides with a time when football was really taking off in popularity around the mid-valley. Oregon Agricultural College (which is what Oregon State was called back then) played its first intercollegiate game in 1893 and the University of Oregon program was established in 1894.
In Philomath, there definitely was an interest in football — not necessarily at Philomath College but among the general population. Town teams were starting to pop up in mid-valley communities.
A Corvallis Times article in 1895 reported that “interest in football is so aroused that juvenile teams with members scarcely out of swaddling clothes are in training all over town, and contests are almost as numerous as there are backyards and alleyways for them to happen in.”
The first mention of a Philomath football team that I’ve been able to find appears in a Corvallis Gazette article in February 1894. “Philomath footballists are ‘rehearsing’ for a game with some of our efficient sports. We are told a match has been made with the Corvallis team.”
Less than a week later, the Corvallis Times wrote that “Philomath has a football team that began active operations last week” and that the county’s superintendent, Ed L. Bryan, even participated in a practice.
However, all did not go well for Mr. Bryan.
“He claims to have lasted but three minutes, when his knee went out of gear,” the Times wrote. “He has been in town several times and continues to go on three legs. It is said that when the first practice game wound up, nine of the Philomath boys were hors du combat.”
A result of a Philomath-Corvallis game wasn’t found but on March 3, approximately 100 people were in attendance on the city’s football ground — I wonder where that was at — to watch two local teams square off. William Buoy and George McDonald were the team captains.
“Mr. Buoy’s eleven being of superior weight worked the wedge to good advantage several times, but was outdone by Mr. McDonald’s eleven by their running and working the crisscross successfully,” the Times reported.
McDonald’s team won the game, 14-4.
In November of that same year, Philomath’s team issued a challenge to OAC’s second team. Wrote the Corvallis Times, “This would be a very good time to play and we hope arrangements can be made to play Saturday.”
However, the “scheme did not materialize” as reported the following week with the Times writing, “Try it again boys.”
No reports of a game against a college team can be found, but the Philomath team did arrange a game for Dec. 1 against a Marys River squad, coming out of it with a 6-4 win. A short article on the game reported that Ed L. Bryan served triple duty as referee, umpire and linesman — an indication that the man must’ve had a true interest in the game.
I’ll keep collecting information when I can find time to do the research (which isn’t often). Maybe someday I’ll put it all together into a book that chronicles football and the other PHS sports.
(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).