With the 2007 Groveport Madison High School Cruiser football team’s success this season, and following its 41-27 victory over Brookhaven in the first round of the state playoffs, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at some of the great Cruiser football squads of the past.
The Cruisers have been playing football since at least 1909 (the earliest record of a game I can find is a 19-0 win over Canal Winchester that year). For much of the team’s history, they played in the old Franklin County League before joining the Mid-8 League in the late 1950s and the Ohio Capital Conference (OCC) in the fall of 1974.
The Cruisers have fielded some exciting OCC teams, including this year’s squad, the 1986 and 1988 state playoff teams, the teams of the early 1980s lead by quarterback Chris Downing, and the teams of the early 1990s featuring Daryl Royal among others. But for the purpose of this column I’d like to spotlight what I think are the five strongest Cruiser football teams of the pre-OCC era.
The Cruisers overall have had some strong teams, as well as some champions in the World War I era, the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s; but the five I’ve selected as a cut above the rest are the teams from 1924, 1944, 1963, 1971, and 1973.
Here we go.
Records from this hard nosed era of leather helmets and minimal uniform padding are sketchy at best, but information compiled by the late Groveport historian Nora Carruthers (who was noted for her attention to detail) show that the 1924 Cruisers were a dominating force in winning the the Franklin County League.
The team went 8-0 and shut out six of its opponents, outscoring the opposition by 254-8 with a two point safety by Liberty Union and a touchdown by St. Mary’s as the only tallies against the Cruisers.
The team averaged 30 points a game while allowing 1 point a game. Except for the 19-6 win over St. Mary’s, no opponent got within 20 points of the Cruisers that year. Pretty formidable.
The 1944 Cruisers were champions of the Franklin County League and posted a 7-1 overall record.
They shut out six opponents and hold the record for the most points scored in one game by a Cruiser football team in a 64-0 pasting of Liberty Union. In that game Kenny Zarbaugh, who was named captain of the all county team at the end of the season, scored six touchdowns.
The team’s only loss came at the hands of St. Charles by a score of 35-6 in game where stars Zarbaugh, Ray Milless, and Lee Winters were unable to play due to injuries, according to the school’s yearbook from that year.
Probably one of the most complete Cruiser teams ever assembled, the 1963 Mid-8 League champions went 8-0-1 and boasted both a dominating defense and an unstoppable offense.
They shut out three teams in row and allowed only 4.6 points a game while averaging 27 points a game, scoring a total of 243 points.
Standouts on the team included lanky quarterback Jim McKee, bruising fullback Tom McClure, fleet footed Danny Sims, and many other talented players. They could score on you through the air and on the ground with equal effectiveness.
The only blemish on the team’s record was a frustrating 14-14 tie with Westerville.
After several tough years on the gridiron in the late 1960s, the Cruisers returned to prominence in 1971 winning the Mid-8 League and finishing 7-1-1.
This was a physical team that manhandled opponents with five shutouts and, except for a 14-0 loss to Bexley and an 8-8 tie with Springfield North, they romped over every other team they faced.
The team featured league leading rusher Pat Curto, who scored 16 touchdowns, and the crafty Mark Green at quarterback.
Defensively the team holds the school record for the least amount of rushing yards allowed for a season, 605 yards.
The once proud Mid-8 League was bleeding members and was in its last year in 1973 as teams shifted to other leagues for various reasons, leaving only six teams in the Mid-8.
Because of this, the league instituted a two game playoff system at the end of the schedule to determine its champion, which lead to the unusual situation of playing some teams twice in one season. The 1973 Cruisers rose to the challenge and were Mid-8 champions finishing 7-1-1.
The 1973 team was known for its grit and scrappy personality. While it did blow out London and Hilliard that year, the team had a talent for winning close, pressure packed games over its closest rivals – the Grove City Greyhounds and Urbana Hillclimbers – for the title.
Twice the Cruisers thwarted the Greyhounds’ title hopes by scores of 14-12 and 20-15.
In the Cruisers’ first meeting with Urbana that year, they nipped the Hillclimbers 13-12 on the strength of two Craig Ottman (who also excelled on the offensive line) field goals. In that game the Cruisers trailed 12-3 with seven minutes remaining before Ed Cunningham scored on a nine yard run and Ottman kicked his second field goal.
They met Urbana again in the season finale and where they played to 7-7 tie sharing the title. In that game running back Jeff Baker churned for over 100 yards rushing.
So who is the best of this bunch?
The 1973 team had a lot of heart, the 1971 team was a powerful force, and the 1944 team was explosive offensively and a defensive brick wall, but all of these teams had at least one loss.
So that leaves the undefeated 1924 squad and the 1963 team and, though their record is slightly marred with the tie with Westerville, my vote goes to the 1963 Mid-8 champs as the best Cruiser football team of the pre-OCC era.
My choice is based partly on the fact I watched every game the 1963 team played when I was a young boy. I can still recall how they simply took teams apart. They were a red and black storm on the field strong in all facets of the game – a complete team.
All in all, Groveport Madison has a rich athletic history that lives up to the reputation of its mascot, the fiery stallion Cruiser.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.
(Sources: Groveport Heritage Museum archives, Groveport Madison High School yearbooks, and my own recollections.)