Derived from the English game of rugby, American football was started in 1879 with rules instituted by Walter Camp, player and coach at Yale University. The birthday of football in the United States is generally regarded by football historians as November 6, 1889, when teams from Rutgers and Princeton Universities met for the first intercollegiate football game. Since that day the game has undergone numerous rule changes to bolster excitement of the game and to increase the game’s safety.
Walter Camp is considered to be the father of football in America. However, many coaches and players, including Amos Alonzo Stagg, Knute Rockne, and Glenn “Pop” Warner contributed to its popularity during the early years. From 1900, the game expanded greatly due to modernization and innovation.
Football is a popular sport for high schools in the United States. The National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) was founded in 1920 as an umbrella for state level organizations to manage high school sports, including football. The NFHS publishes rules followed by most local high school football associations. More than 13,000 high schools participate in football, and in some places high school teams play in stadiums that rival college level facilities. The growth of high school football and its impact on small town communities is documented by such works as “Friday Night Lights,” “Remember the Titans,” and “The Bleachers.”
The Alabama High School Football Historical Society has as its goal to provide a complete history of high school football in the state of Alabama. The organization provides the most accurate team-by-team record of every game played within the state. Their web site contains other information including coach’s records, state wide polls, and state champion summaries.
Also, within the state, there is a private agency organized by its member schools and promotes their athletic programs. It, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA), was founded in 1920. The association provides a vehicle by which member schools may write and enforce their own rules and regulation. Another basic function is the training and regulation of game officials. The AHSAA classifies member schools in one of six classifications, 1A – 6A. 1A is the smallest and 6A is the largest. Both Decatur High School and Austin High School are classified as 6A. As I researched our history, I learned much about the quality of its citizens. The historians covered in detail the impact the civil war, the railroad, the river, and the yellow fever epidemics had on the citizens. They were a proud and determined people as evidenced by their “never-give-up attitude” in rebuilding the city three times; first after the civil war and next after the two yellow fever epidemics. After the second yellow fever epidemic, the city experienced a steady growth period. We grew into two cities, Old Decatur and New Decatur (Albany). After some bitter feelings, the city finally merged into one, which is now named Decatur. We were known as the “Chicago of the South.” Decatur was ready for some football! We got it big time because a coach by the name of H.L. “Shorty Ogle was soon to start a legacy!
Decatur has always been a city with outstanding athletes. I was very disappointed during my research concerning our history because “little to nothing” is recorded about sports. As I researched the archives (1919-1963), much was found about independent teams; baseball, basketball, softball, and even football. In the past Decatur has produced some great independent baseball and basketball teams. As a young boy in the early 1930s, I would watch them play with excellent skill. These were my heroes – still are!
When did football have its beginning in Decatur? I have researched the Decatur-Albany Daily and the Decatur Daily as far back as 1919 and found the sport to be very popular. I do not know when and where the first game was played. In those days, the city newspaper did not cover the games in much detail, if at all. Games were not always played on Friday night, which made the research difficult and demanded much time and effort because a page-by-page search was necessary. In the Albany-Decatur Daily, I found an article dated October 10, 1919 with the headline titled “Decatur A.A. Wins From Albany High.” It read, “Albany-Decatur was given their initial taste of football on the gridiron Thursday afternoon when the Albany High School met the picked team of the Decatur Athletic Association, which was made up of experienced men of other pigskin battles.” The Decatur Athletic Association beat Albany High School 13-0. Only the last name of each player was listed; included on the Albany High School starting lineup was an individual named Putnam, who is the father of Theo Putnam, one of Shorty’s Boys who played on the 1944-1946 teams.
Further research of the Albany-Decatur Daily dated October, 1919 showed that Albany played two more games in October and won both: Albany High 12 and Florence 0; Albany High 13 and Sheffield 0. The writer noted that Coach Templeton of Albany High was an expert in the forward pass and used it as the team’s major offensive weapon.
In those days, before games were played on Benson Field and later Ogle Stadium, they were played on either Cooper-Wells Field or the Y.M.C.A. Park. The sports writers usually did not quantify attendance; they wrote such words as, “Sold Out” or “the largest crowd to ever attend a Decatur-Albany game.”
There is one game between Decatur and Albany that is interesting. Decatur fielded their first football team in 1921. Albany had been playing for several years. The two would play each other on Thanksgiving Day, November 29, 1922. On the Wednesday prior to the game, the Decatur Daily had a full page ad promoting the contest. The game would be played at the Y.M.C.A. Park with kick off at 2:30, and the admission would be 50 cents.
The day after the game, on the front page of the Decatur Daily, were the following headlines:
“Biggest Football Crowd Sees Great Turkey Day Game, Albany High Wins”
“Purple & Gold Machine Sweeps Through To a 26-0 Victory”
“Albany High 26, Decatur High 0”
“Penalties Rare and Conduct Splendid”
“Spectators given thrill upon thrill in Thanksgiving Day Contest”
From that day forward, football in Decatur grew as an exciting and thrilling spectator sport. Later Decatur and Albany High Schools would be combined into one school, Riverside High. Football in Decatur would no longer be an up-and-down program because a coach by the name of H.L. “Shorty” Ogle became Decatur High School’s football coach in the year 1933. Aubrey Fuller would serve as his assistant.