Fall football remembered
Difficult to believe, but nearly a quarter of a century has now passed since Bradley University fielded its last football team. It was a warm autumn afternoon on Saturday, November 14, 1970, when the last Braves’ gridiron heroes took the field at Hancock Stadium, home of their archrivals, the ISU Redbirds. I happened to be one of the five-man officiating crew on the field that day — the back judge, to be precise.
As usual, Coach Billy Stone’s charges gave a good account of themselves. Still, as happened so often that season, it was not enough. ISU triumphed by the score of 17-7, ending a 1-8-0 campaign. It was another disappointing season for the charismatic, 16- year coach who also taught a full schedule of classes each day before spending countless hours at practice.
In May of 2004, Coach Stone passed away. Most know of Stone’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears after a brilliant career at Bradley. Many know of his great career at Springfield Lanphier before that. Few, however, know that while at Lanphier, he was the catcher for future MLB Hall of Fame hurler, Robin Roberts. He was a gifted athlete, a caring coach, a great man, and that’s the way I will remember Billy.
It may surprise today’s students to realize that at one time the football program outshined the basketball program. Pre-WWII was the pinnacle! A 1938 scoreless tie with Illinois at Champaign was part of the 21-game unbeaten record. The 1941 team missed a major bowl bid by losing the last game of the season after two stars were ruled scholastically ineligible. When the war was won and the students returned from service, 148 candidates competed for the 32-man Hilltop football squad. But, the school could not compete with larger schools that offered full scholarships. The program was dead.
I shall never forget those games of my youth, played on the campus athletic field behind canvas-covered wrought-iron fences, nor the football coaching staff visiting local grade schools to hawk “Knot-Hole-Club” memberships, which allowed the “12-and-under” crowd to gain entry at steeply reduced prices. And, I wish once more to witness those fantastic house decorations in front of the Sigma Phi fraternity at Main and University, the floats parading through downtown streets, and the marching bands.
Much as I miss it all, I shall forever be grateful that fate placed me on that field on that particular day.
Soccer...Bradley beat Drake 3-1 in a quarterfinal game November 6 at Shea Stadium, extending its streak of consecutive appearances in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Final Four. For the second year in a row, however, SMU won a penalty kick shootout against Bradley after playing to a 1-1 draw through two overtimes. The team ended the season with a 10-6-3 overall record. Average attendance for the season was 1,220 fans per game.
Volleyball...The volleyball team ended its season with a 9-20 overall record.
Cross Country...Bradley hosted the NCAA Midwest Cross Country Regional at Newman Golf Course on November 13. Sophomore Sarah Westrick was the Bradley women’s top finisher, and freshman Chris George led the Bradley men.
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