City-Westminster stirs memories

On High Schools

December 02, 2005|By MILTON KENT

John Speers recalls that if not for a bit of luck 54 years ago, the first meeting between Westminster and City might not have happened.

Speers, an end on the 1951 City football team that ventured out west from The Alameda, said the Knights might still be wandering the Carroll County hillside.

"We came up the old back road and the bus driver got lost," said Speers, chuckling the other day. "The only reason the bus driver was able to find the field was because they turned on the lights early."

Speers, a retired surgeon who graduated from City in 1952, won't need the lights turned on at the Westminster stadium to find the field for tonight's Class 3A state semifinal match between the two schools.

Not only has Speers lived and practiced in Westminster for 35 years, he also was a team physician there for a lot of those years. Yet, when City and Westminster meet tonight for a berth in next week's state championship game, there's no doubt where his loyalties will lie.

"I've been on the Westminster side for the last 35 years, but I'm going over to the City side. I'm rooting for City," Speers said.

Speers and a number of City and Westminster graduates who played that night - the only time the schools have met - will gather for dinner and reminiscences before the game tonight at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in town before heading over to watch a new generation face off.

"It's lucky that you have a lot of players still around," said Albert Kelbaugh, 70, who played fullback for Westminster in that game.

The Sept. 21, 1951, contest, the second of the season for both teams, was, as The Sun's account described it, "sloppy throughout with numerous fumbles on both sides." Indeed, City scored its first two touchdowns after Westminster fumbles deep in Owls territory.

The Knights recovered a first-quarter fumble at the Westminster 15, and running back Dick Whedbee ran it in from 13 yards one play after the recovery. Two minutes into the second quarter, Westminster quarterback Gene Fisher fumbled twice, recovering the first, but losing the second at the 9-yard line. City back Chuck Doering punched it in from 1 yard to give the Knights a 13-0 lead.

Later in the second quarter, City punt returner Robert Lee couldn't handle a punt cleanly and the Owls recovered on the City 2. On third down, Kelbaugh scored on a controversial 1-yard plunge, with the Knights maintaining that he hadn't scored.

The 13-6 score held up through the third quarter, until City quarterback Jerry Sisson scored on a 9-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to seal the Knights' 20-6 win.

More odd, perhaps, than the fact that the two schools haven't played again since that night 54 years ago is the notion that they met in the first place. After all, even today, with more modern roads, the trip from East Baltimore to central Carroll County isn't a short one, and there were plenty of other schools to play, even back then.

Indeed, Speers said the City team played schools as far away as Portsmouth, Va., and Newport News, Va., as well as the Maryland Scholastic Association opposition, while the Owls, fresh off a 10-0 season the year before, played schools like Salisbury on the Eastern Shore and Gettysburg, Pa.

While there are theories on why Westminster coach Herb Ruby and City coach Andy DiFassio scheduled the game back then, no one seems to know why the schools haven't played since.

And why would one regular-season game from 54 years ago between boys who had never met before stir up such passionate memories among men a lifetime later?

Chalk that up to the power of athletics.

"The nature of sports is that you had such a pleasurable time participating when you were in school," said Dean Griffin, a Westminster team manager back then who shared team physician duties with Speers. "At high school reunions, the group of athletes that participated in these sports seem to congregate together. And they have a better reunion and they reminisce about the games. It's not unusual at all."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.