Claflin Wildcats vs. Wilson Dragons-1955

....or Blood, Mud and Revenge

During my days at Claflin High School between the years 1953 and 1957 our bitterest football rivalry was with Wilson High. Wilson is a little more than 20 miles north of Claflin with a population of about 800 today. In the ‘50s it was comparable in size to Claflin with a population of just under 1000. It was settled by Czech immigrants in the mid 19th century and has retained that culture to the degree that it is known as “The Czech Capital of Kansas”. The city has a Czech Festival every summer after the wheat harvest is in.

                                                                                     Wilson License Plate

 It seemed that every time we met on the gridiron things went from bad to worse. Whatever it was that caused such animosity seemed to bring out the worst in the players on both sides. It was different when we met on the basketball court. Then the Wilson Dragons were just another team in the Quivera League. But football was different. (Today they are the Leopards. I don’t know what happened to the Dragons. And because of school district consolidations amongst several small towns close to Claflin, the Claflin Wildcats no longer exist either. They are now known as the Central Plains Oilers, although the high school building is still in Claflin. But I digress.)

Claflin’s quarterback Roland Buehler was dating one of the Wilson cheerleaders whose name was Carol Vopak. She was a gorgeous young girl and she and Roland were going steady. She took so much crap about dating a Claflin football player, and was made so uncomfortable by the situation, that she and Buehler finally had to break up. That is how intense the rivalry was. However after a hitch in the Navy and getting a college degree, Roland and Carol got back together 13 years later and were married. They are still together. The quarterback finally gets the cheerleader.

In schools the size of Claflin and Wilson…each with a student body of around 100…most of the boys played on the football team. You couldn’t field a team in the eleven man game if this wasn’t so. When I go back to Claflin for reunions the one thing that most of the guys have in common is that they all played football. I now live in Northern Virginia where the high school student bodies are usually about three or four times the total population of Claflin. The football teams at these schools are normally a small clique within the huge numbers of students. Not so in places like Claflin and Wilson. Football is the common denominator.

For the 1955 season…my junior year…I was a starting center, tight end and linebacker. That year we only lost one game and won the Quivera League championship. Back then there were no playoffs for state titles in the various classes of schools, so when the schedule was finished, the season was over and basketball started the next Monday. My senior year we were 6-3…not as successful as previously. In 1955 we beat Wilson, but lost to them my senior season 21-6. The ’55 victory over the Dragons was memorable.

The game was the next to the last on the schedule making it occur sometime around mid-November. It was a home game for Claflin. The day of the game was cold and rainy, and by kickoff, which was usually around 7-7:30 in the evening, it was raining hard. Our field could never be mistaken for one of the finely manicured gridirons at some of the larger high schools in Wichita or Kansas City. Being November it had already taken on a brownish hue. By game time the field had turned to mush. Claflin wore white jerseys with purple trim, white pants and white helmets with a purple stripe. Wilson sported light blue jerseys, white pants and white helmets with a light blue stripe. After the kickoff and several series the players were so covered with mud that it was literally hard to tell the teams apart. The only real difference in the uniforms was the jerseys, and they were covered with layers of brown mud.

Claflin Wildcats before 1956 Homecoming Game. Yours Truly is Number 40. Note the cool white shoelaces.

Add to this mess the fact that the teams hated each other to begin with. Besides flinging mud in each other’s faces and talking trash there was a lot of pushing and shoving going on after plays and extracurricular activity in the form of punches, elbows and kicks in the pileups after tackles. I specifically remember two incidents that helped seal the outcome for the Wildcats. There were two Wilson running backs named Robinson who were twins. They were very good players and were a couple of snotty, surly bastards. During the kickoff return by Wilson one of the Robinsons was hit hard along the sideline across the field from where I was running, fumbling the ball in the process.  I remember him flying asshole over teakettle through the air and landing on his head. He had injured his leg pretty badly. He was hollering in pain and was carried off the field. I don’t think his leg was broken, but he was out of this game. That took care of one of the Robinsons. We recovered the fumble and drove for our first touchdown. After the score a Wilson lineman grabbed one of our big tackles, Don Curry, by the single bar face mask and swung him into the goal post…by the head, for God’s sake. Don crumpled into a moaning heap. He recovered and returned several series later and finished the game. This was in the early days of face masks. We didn’t have them until my junior season and I don’t think the face mask penalty had been invented yet. That really pissed us off and we went on to win by a score of 27-0. Skunked the bastards mud, blood and all.

To this day I can’t remember why we hated each other so much. I can’t recall having as much animosity toward the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army during my time in Vietnam. But ultimately we just kicked the shit out of each other during the football games. We killed the VC and NVA, but didn’t really hate them that much. Maybe the Robinsons defected and fought for the VC just to get back at me and any other former Claflin Wildcat player who happened to end up in Vietnam.

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends