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By Mark Requet
The North Shelby Raiders have had some very good football teams in years past, but there is one team that stands tall over all of them and that is the 1973 State Championship team.
The Raiders just completed a perfect 10-0 season in 1972 but were not picked to compete in the playoffs that season due to a point system that deemed their schedule weaker than the four teams picked to compete in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Raiders had to wait another season and hope they could repeat what they did in 1972. North Shelby, who joined the newly formed Tri-Rivers Conference, was up for the task as they went 11-0 and won the Class A State Championship for the State of Missouri.
“The main objective for the 1973 team was to get better every game,” said former Head Coach Ted Michael. “We lost five seniors to graduation the year before, but we had top-quality players from top to bottom on the roster. Not just seniors, but clear down to the freshmen. The real credit goes to the school board and the faculty for how they led this group of players.”
Two members from the team are former captains, Roger Lair and Mike Daniel. Lair was a senior defensive end and wide receiver on offense, while Daniel was a defensive end and a fullback on offense.
“We had 22 lettermen coming back,” said Lair. “We were loaded, and we had them at the skill positions. We knew we were going to be good, but could we manage expectations? We didn’t back down from anybody. We didn’t play Shelbina, Monroe City or Macon, but we played Bowling Green, Kahoka, North Callaway, Marceline, Unionville, Milan and teams like that.”
Lair explained the team was focused on trying to stay undefeated because losing one game would wipe out any chance at the playoffs. Towards the end of the season, they were playing not to lose even though they were winning big.
“Yeah, we all knew we could do it, it’s just the point system didn’t work in our favor the year before,” said Daniel. “We were fairly confident that we were going to have another good season.”
As Coach Michael stated earlier, Daniel explained that it was totally a team effort in 1973.
“We were a team. Everyone got along with everyone. The underclassmen helped us quite a little bit because when we went to practice, it was like a full game. There was no holding back unless we were trying something different and we were going half speed, but it was always going full tilt all the time,” said Daniel.
Daniel reminisced about winning at Fayette in the 1972 season.
“Following the game, the team ate at a local restaurant. Back then we all wore blazers, a shirt and tie. The next week the restaurant sent a letter to the school commenting on how gentlemanly we were and polite we were,” said Daniel. “We wanted to be good examples, but when it came to playing football, we threw that out the window until after the game.”
North Shelby also had an elite running back they could rely on in the form of Robert Vanskike.
“Robert Vanskike was a heck of an athlete. We met each other in the first grade. He was always an athlete,” said Lair. “When he was a kid, he could outrun everyone in school. When we got into organized football, we started to give him the ball and he would always score.”
Both Lair and Daniel mentioned how the Raiders rarely won a football game when they were kids. North Shelby had endured a long losing streak and Lair remembers when the Raiders were never expected to win a game. By the time they reached high school, the expectations changed and then the team was never expected to lose.
“I think one of the things that helped us even back in junior high was Coach Gene Tuggle. He was up in years when he was coaching us in junior high and he and Coach Michael worked side by side,” said Daniel. “Coach Michael told him what kind of offense and defense he wanted us to run. Tuggle took over that and started teaching us. We ran the same offense and defense from junior high straight through high school. Coach Tuggle, as old as he was, could still put the fire in you.”
Daniel said they had known each other since junior high and played the same position all the way through high school, so they didn’t have the excuse that they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. Coach made the point to tell them that what they practiced, the other team may not do, but they must think on their own and learn to change on their own.
“When I was a kid, we were always listening to South Shelby, and I didn’t know those kids from South Shelby, but they played every Friday night on the radio,” said Lair. “I would always tune in and hear the names of Charlie Dieker, Jim Rutter, Carl Weatherford, Craig Morton and Coach Lukehart. Those guys were like Gods to me. This team was good!”
Lair always wanted to hear his name on the radio. He said it helped motivate him during his football days.
The season started in Kahoka and the Raiders showed their biggest strength of the team right from the start, which was its defense. North Shelby forced nine fumbles in the game, with four of the fumbles being returned for touchdowns. Dwain Sparks recovered three fumbles for three touchdown returns.
“We really liked our defense. Back then, you didn’t have the choice of deferring on the coin toss. We always chose to go on defense first because we wanted to see if we could shut you down and then we would go from there,” said Daniel.
Most of the players that played, had played that position all the way through high school. Each player was drilled into what they were supposed to do. Daniel said they didn’t take it easy on anybody.
“Coach would say if you were not going to do it, there is somebody on the bench that will. Coach wasn’t afraid to jerk you out of the game if you weren’t doing something right. He would just put somebody else in,” stated Daniel.
After Kahoka, the Raiders cruised to wins against Westran, Unionville and Paris without much resistance. The first real challenge of the season was game five at Marceline, who also entered the game undefeated to start the season.
Marceline ran a shot gun formation and Lair said they had never played against a team like that before.
“Marceline was always a tough game. First time of the year that we got scored on,” said Lair. “We went into halftime trailing. It had rained all day. It was like a pig lot. Just all mud. We wore all white that night and our quarterback, Jeff Glover, came running out there before the game and did a big slide in the water. That kind of broke the ice for us.”
Marceline went down and scored because the defense wasn’t sure how to adjust to that type of offense.
“We were kind of shook at halftime. We got scored on and we were behind. This hasn’t happened to us yet,” said Lair. “Coach came in and said the next time that kid goes into a shotgun formation, he told Daniel and I to go after him because he had nobody to hand the ball off to. He can’t do nothing if he’s flat on his back.”
As the offense settled in for the Raiders, Daniel remembers a key moment in the game.
“Bob Taylor was playing offensive tackle, and we ran the wing-T offense. It was a play where the wingman came around the other side and the offensive tackle from the right side would pull and go around and lead the play and I would fill the hole,” said Daniel. “There was a Marceline kid that was getting looks from colleges. We ran that play and I nailed him pretty hard. When Taylor came back, he said ‘Let’s run that again.’”
Daniel said they ran it a second time and he did the same thing to him again. Taylor came back and said, “Let’s run it one more time.” They ran it a third time in a row, and they ended up having to help the Marceline kid off the field. Taylor came back to the huddle and said “Ok, now we can run something different.”
The Raiders scored to take the lead in the third quarter and never looked back as they won 22-8.
North Shelby racked up wins against Milan, Scotland County, Salisbury, and Knox County to close out the regular season at 9-0, also winning the first Tri-Rivers Conference Championship.
The Raiders were rewarded with a trip to the playoffs and traveled to Maryville to play in the semifinal game against Mound City. Lair was having one of his goals fulfilled because going to the playoffs was something South Shelby did all the time. Being on the radio was something South Shelby did, and he had always wanted to be in that position.
“We took a chartered bus on Friday to St. Joseph to participate in a workout,” said Lair. “We spent the night and then traveled to Maryville to play the game the next day. It was a good experience for us.”
“We pretty much dominated the game,” said Lair. “We got Vanskike back from an injury and we took control early and never really was threatened.”
Lair added that Daniel did a lot of the dirty work, but Vanskike got the glory. He said Daniel was tough, strong, and big and was an unsung hero for the team.
“As the season went on, we had quite a few players who were suffering with minor injuries, but no one had an injury that would keep them out for the rest of the season,” said Lair. “We didn’t have the type of injuries that you would see in today’s game.”
Lair suffered a minor leg injury during the semifinal game, but it wasn’t anything that would keep him out of the championship game.
North Shelby would face Drexel in the state championship.
“It was supposed to be a home game for us because of the way the playoffs were set up, but our facility didn’t seat enough people, so we had to look for alternatives,” said Coach Michael. “We were very grateful to South Shelby for letting us play our game at their school so it would essentially still be a home game for us.”
“Playing at South was like a home field advantage. Of course, I remember we had huge crowds showing up for the playoff games,” said Daniel. “During the regular season, the
bleachers were full and there were people everywhere around the field. It made it that much more enjoyable to hear the crowd cheering you on.”
Lair remembers it being a windy day, and they had the wind to their back to start the game and “came out smoking!”
“We were on fire! They fumbled once and we were up 13-0 in the blink of an eye,” added Lair.
Drexel had a triple-option play on offense that the Raiders struggled to stop.
“Our coach told us the quarterback is not going to beat us and the fullback is not going to beat us, so we always crashed in on them,” said Lair. “The kid that is going to run the ball, coach said we can handle him, but we weren’t going to let the other two beat them.”
Once the fullback would get the ball, the defense was there to stop it. If the quarterback kept the ball, it was Lair’s job to hit the quarterback.
“My head was in his chest every play if the quarterback didn’t hand the ball off,” said Lair. “This kid was going to get worn out because my job was to nail that quarterback every single time.”
If the ball was flipped to the running back, it was the only play Drexel could run that the North Shelby defense couldn’t stop.
Coach Michael didn’t waver on the plan and told the defense to keep hitting the quarterback and the fullback. Lair said Michael told them the quarterback would soon get tired of getting hit every play.
Drexel drove down to the three-yard line late in the game, and on fourth down and inches, gave the ball to the fullback instead of flipping the ball to the halfback, and the defense was there to stop him.
That stop on defense was a memory that sticks out in Daniel’s mind.
“With people standing in the endzone, we could hear them hooting and hollering, and when I turned to look, there were all different colors of letter jackets, all high school students from Macon, South Shelby, Palmyra, Monroe City, Knox County, and other little schools all in their own sections,” said Daniel. “They were all right there together and the whole back of the endzone was filled with letter jackets, raising cane, trying to get us pumped up. That was when Nolan Gibson, our middle guard, broke through the line and tackled the Drexel runner as soon as the ball was handed to him. That was one of the most memorable plays that I remember from the championship game.”
The Raiders offense took over and Vanskike, on the second play of the possession, went 84 yards for the touchdown.
Drexel scored later in the game and went for two to try and get the lead, but the Raider defense held. North Shelby’s final score of the game came on a Drexel quarterback fumble in the endzone which was recovered by Daniel for a touchdown with less than a minute to go. North Shelby had just secured the title.
“It is a big honor. There have been several teams at North Shelby who have made it to the semifinals, but never to the championship,” said Daniel. “The last several years there have been teams that were capable of getting to the championship, but never made it. It’s just a big honor to know that we won the state championship, and it wasn’t a tournament round, but that we were picked to play because of the competition that we played. I’m really proud of it and I’m proud of the guys.”
“We felt like we finally got something accomplished,” said Lair, referring to winning the championship. “It was something that we all had worked hard for. Back in those days we didn’t have the distractions of social media and cell phones. We either went home and worked or played football. Football was the better choice.”
As time and years passed by, Lair started attending events that prompted him to have a celebration.
Last summer, Lair attended three funerals. Those funerals were for Alan Oliver, Nolan Gibson, and Randy McEwen, three of his former teammates.
“I was sitting at Randy’s wake with (Mike) Daniel and asked him if I had a party for the football team, would he come. He said ‘yes’,” said Lair. “I asked if he thought anyone else would come. He said yes, he thought it would be fun.”
It was decided to have the party on homecoming weekend.
“I started calling everyone, but there were no phone books anymore, cell phones aren’t listed anywhere, but my wife helped me out quite a bit and I was able to make contact with everyone, even the freshmen kids.”
There are several who will not be able to make it, but most everyone told Lair they were excited to come participate, including Coach Michael.
The team will ride a float in the Homecoming Parade on Friday, September 22 in Shelbyville, then have a meet and greet at Los Perez Mexican Restaurant afterwards. The team will attend the game that night.
“It will be good to see everybody again and get back in touch with people,” said Daniel.
“I wanted people to come to this reunion to hear stories from me, maybe that they haven’t heard from their grampa,” said Lair. “And I want to hear the stories from the others about that season.”
Coach Michael said he was looking forward to seeing the team again at the homecoming reunion.
“I was very fortunate to be there. All the credit goes to the players. They were great to coach and great to be around,” said Michael.