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Woodward Avenue in Detroit is one of the most famous thoroughfares in America.  Woodward runs from the Detroit River north to Pontiac (MI) 30-miles away.  North Tonawanda left on foot early for the D.A.C. field and arrived about 12:30pm for the scheduled 2:30pm start.  Madison took virtually the same route and arrived at 2:15. The field had been mapped out by officials with a rope that outlined noting where the fans and player substitutes could stand.  The Tigers quickly warmed up.  They had waited for the air temperature to rise from 20 degrees at 9:00am to the day’s high of 30 degrees.  There was a slight wind but no snow as some stories in national stories reported.  The walk to the field, three miles from their hotel, helped warm them up.   I note that most news stories have the game starting at 2:30pm but another had it at 3:30…typo?

1897 Madison High School Football Team

NT's fullback Billinger kicked off to Madison as 200-700 fans (Estimates by different news reports varied) looked on and soon the ball was on the five-yard line.  Because the players jerseys had no names or numbers on them and not watching from an elevated position the scoring is a bit muddled.  Newspaper reports has end Bob Rathburn carrying on what must have been an end-around to score.  Madison led 4-0,

The two exchanged the ball and the Tigers drove to the Lumberjacks three when NT dropped a Madison runner for a five-yard loss which brought out a loud round of applause from their fans.  The ball was exchanged, and North Tonawanda gained 25-yards but then the size of Madison took over and the Lumberjacks could not gain further.  The first half ended, 4-0 with Madison in the lead but NT was getting worn down after playing 30-minutes.  The two teams took a 15-minute break and then resumed.  During the break coach Frank Hinkey firmly attempted to fire up his Lumberjacks. But they could not make any headway.  Here’s where the scoring gets mixed up.  One report had tackle Art Curtiss scoring once and another story had him scoring twice.  Not knowing how the early offenses really worked beyond line plunges and end arounds but I don’t know how a tackle would get involved in scoring.  The first story had Paul Newman running about 15-yards for a score.  Both reports agreed having fullback Duffy Rowell kick an extra point goal.  After 15-minutes into the second half and Madison leading 14-0, Hinkey and the NT team captain Gray, told Madison captain Lucius Donkle that they were calling it quits.  They knew they were beat, and no comeback was possible.  Madison was now the first high school national champion.

Following the game the reporter for the Detroit News spent time talking first to Frank Hinkey and then to Harry Cochems.  It had been agreed that both Hinkey and Cochems act as umpire and referee and now they wanted to talk.  However, another story had Hinkey's brother. Larry listed as the umpire. The papers neede the get their facts straight.

Hinkey was a famed Yale end and he talked more about Yale than his Lumberjack team.  Hinkey heaped praise on his former Yale teammates, his brother Larry who was also an end for Yale and he spent talking up Eastern football, especially Yale vs. Harvard.  He conceded that the performance of the “Westerners” was surprising, and the Madison team was very good and disciplined but then switched back tom talking about Yale and Harvard.  In the same vein, Cochems stated that the East wasn’t the only area of the country that could play football.  He pointed out a few of the Tonawanda players notably fullback Bellinger, quarterback Gray, both starters and substitutes Ferris and Wallace.  Harry talked up "western" football.

Before the game, A.K. Brown, representing Ann Arbor (MI) High School offered a challenge to the Madison boys to play anytime and anyplace that the two teams could agree for honors of the "real" west.  Following the win Joe Jackson turned Ann Arbor down saying that the team was tired.  It was a long season and they just wished to end the year.  The Michigan squad left the invitation open should Madison reconsider. I couldn't find a record for the Ann Arbor team ro compare efforts.

Were you expecting more details/stats about the game?  Come on.  This was the 1890’s.  Newspaper details were usually wanting ands as this game shows the papers got things mixed up.  The above game report is the best I can do. But look at the Madison scores.  The team was undefeated, untied and unscored upon against high school opponents.  The Detroit News seemed to downplay the Madison team’s record.  However, Waukesha went 5-2-0, Minneapolis South weas the top team in the metro area of St. Paul-Minneapolis going 6-1-0.  Delafield St. John’s had a 9-1-0 record with their only loss was to Madison. There’s more info on St. John's.  The Lancers beat both Whitewater Normal and Lawrence University and allowed only 28 points, 22 to Madison.  Elgin was the Chicago suburban champions.  So, as you can see, Madison played a tough overall schedule.  Though they didn’t play each other, Eau Claire went 5-1-0.  The known record for Milwaukee East, if this is the Milwaukee team Madison played, had a 3-2-0 record.


I do not have any individual scoring stats on the season other than the championship game but the players “after high school” is overall very impressive.  On Friday, October 31, 1947, a “golden jubilee” celebration banquet was held at 3:45pm to honor the 1897 national high school championship team as well as teams from 1907,1917, 1927 and 1937.  However, the reason was to really honor the champions.  From the story in the Wisconsin State Journal, I got some info on the starters and the bench players.

Left End Bob Rathbun…Living in Milwaukee…Retired from business.

Left Tackle Dr. Lucius Donkle…Team captain…still seeing patients.

Left Guard Dr. Earl Schreiber…Played two years at UW but was kicked off the team for being a “professional” (no details) …Professor of Medicine at the University of Montana.

Center Ed Haight…Deceased. Former Madison businessman

Right Guard Dr. Harry Keenan…Living in Stoughton

Right Tackle Dr. Arthur Curtis…While at UW Curtis earned All-America honors at the guard position.  After college Curtis was the 1902 head coach at Kansas leading the team to a 6-4-0 record before taking over at UW in the 1903-04 seasons and directing the Badgers to a 11-6-1 record.  He went into business before going back to school and earning a medical degree.  He moved to Evanston (IL) and became a famed gynecologist with the Northwestern University Medical School…He passed in 1956 at age 74.  The papers in 1897 misspelled his last name a Curtiss.

Right End Matt Conlin…Former Madison businessman   

Quarterback Billy Roys…Current Madison businessman.

Left halfback Dave Wheeler…Deceased…Former Madison businessman.

Right halfback Paul Newman…Deceased

Fullback Duffy Rowell…Deceased

That’s the starters but there’s more:

Team mascot Dr. James Jackson…Age 10 or 11 in 1897…Graduated from UW with a medical degree and operated a clinic for many year's

Manager Col. Joseph W.  Jackson…Attended UW earning a business degree then worked for various times for the city of Madison and Dane County while managing his brother James’ medical practice.  Joe earned the rank of Colonel for his service in World War I.

Coach Dr. Joe Dean…Member of the 1896 Madison team and a member of the UW football team…Opened the Dean Medical Group in 1904 and it is still going strong 120 years later.


The newspaper story mentioned multiple people connected with the championship team that I was not aware of.  Phil King, deceased, was listed as the coach of the team and H.H. Jacobs of Verona was listed as an assistant coach. King and Jacobs may have been teachers at Madison who helped out occasionally but to my records, the team manager, Joe Jackson was considered the coach until Joe Dean and Harry Cochems stepped in to get the team ready for the Detroit game.  All further records list Cochems as the coach.  Other players mentioned, all deceased, were Dr. Stanley Welch, Max Couse, Tom Donovan, Jack Hayes and Roy Watrous.  With the event starting at 3:45pm, those special guests would then be escorted to Breese Stevens Field by taxis arraigned ahead of time to watch the Madison Central Racine Horlick high school football game.  When Madison East High School opened in 1922 Madison’s name was changed to Central.

Wisconsin State Journal, November 1, 1947.  Shown from left to right are Robert Rathbun, George Smith, Joseph Jackson, Elmer Pierce, Dr. Arthur Curtis and Dr. Harry Keenan.

The previous Sunday, October 28, the Wisconsin State Journal gave its first preview of the event.  The story listed Harry Cochems as the coach. The late Henry L. Doherty, manager of the Madison Gas and Electric Company was credited as the financial backer of the team’s trip to Detroit.  Each attendee received a miniature gold football with a black “M” imprinted on it.  When they watched the football game in the evening, they were along the sidelines sitting on a special gold painted bench.  Unfortunately, Central lost to Horlick 20-19 on a touchdown scored with 90-seconds left in the game.  The committee that set the celebration was headed by Joe Jackson.  Has there ever been a team with so many successful post-high school individuals?  Seven doctors, not including Joe Dean who assisted in coaching the boy’s prior to leaving for Detroit. And this is just the start.

Sorry, no recap on the North Tonawanda players can be found by me. Tough to research without first names.

Hope you are still with me.  Up next, the interesting stories of the two coaches…Harry Cochems and Frank Hinkey.


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