1971 state champs honored at WGH game
WARREN - Fifty years after the final buzzer sounded on the 1971 Class AAA state football champion Warren G. Harding Panthers, the team was honored prior to Friday night's game.
The Harding Raiders donned throwback Harding Panthers uniforms for the game, and a ceremony honoring the accomplishment of the team brought the large crowd to its feet as each former team member was called.
Warren Western Reserve and Warren G. Harding high schools merged in 1990, with the teams adopting the Raiders mascot and black-and-gold colors from Western Reserve, and created one high school building.
In attendance, The Head Coach for the 1971 Championship Team; Tom Batta.
Bob Stan, former offensive and defensive lineman for the Panthers, said being back at the stadium is a privilege.
"It was great to play here and it's great to be at this stadium once again," Stan said. "This is something you never forget."
Danny Ross, the team's quarterback, spoke fondly of the team and the buzz surrounding the city.
"We were a dedicated bunch. We had a great group of guys that started from freshman year, a great class, and we worked hard and deserved everything we got," Ross said. "This town was absolutely bonkers. The end zone seats were packed, along with both sides of the stadium."
Both Ross and Stan said the sheer size of the crowds the team pulled in was something they will never forget.
Another team member, tailback and cornerback Joe Kirksey, said, "It feels great to be back in here."
"It means a lot to be a champ," Kirksey said. "There's just nothing like it. It's almost hard to put into words."
THE UNDEFEATED SEASON
During the ceremony, a video highlighting the team's path to glory. The 10-game season saw the Panthers outscore its opponents 308 to 41, capped off by a 27-0 win over Niles to claim the title.
Stan, Ross and Kirksey all had different memories of when that final buzzer sounded and the Panthers were champions.
"We beat (Niles) 27 to nothing and we got on the bus and we just started singing all the way from Niles to Warren," Stan said.
"It was just pure jubilation," Ross said.
"It was almost as good as sex," Kirksey said with a laugh.
Harding's Athletic Director, Bill Nicholson, said getting the team to come back to honor the first of seven state championships was a good feeling.
"I played ball with a lot of these guys' brothers, so it's a good thing for them to come back," Nicholson said. "They're the ones that built this program."
Nicholson said the team earned the celebration and, judging by the crowd's thunderous applause, the team had an impact on the community then and continues to be a source of inspiration.
"... Some of our younger kids can appreciate what they've done in the past," Nicholson said.
The next few years are going to be busy for the athletic department. For the next three years, three different celebrations will honor 50th anniversaries of the 1972 Warren Western Reserve state championship team, the 1973 Western Reserve state runner-up team and the 1974 Harding Panthers state championship team.
The Warren Sports Hall of Fame will be honoring all the Associated Press and Computer Championship Coaches with portraits commemorating their accomplishments. These portraits will highlight all sports commencing in 1933 with Coach Dwight Lafferty for the WGH Baseball Team through the 2021 JFK Team Head Baseball Coach Jim Ciambotti.
All portraits will be hanging in their respective School Gymnasiums.
|JFK||Bob Todd||2000 & 2001|
|JFK||Bob Heltzel||2000 & 2001|
Track & Field:
|WWR||Joe Novak||1972 & 1973|
|WGH||Tom McDaniel||2002 & 2003|