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Bayfield, Farmington football meet for first time since 1947 ‘debacle’

Wolverines set to visit Scorpions for opener
When the Bayfield High School football team steps on to the field for its regular-season opener Friday night, it will be against a team the Wolverines haven’t faced in 71 years – the Farmington High School Scorpions. Since that last meeting in 1947, the teams have combined to win five championships in their respective states.

The Bayfield and Farmington High School varsity football teams have not faced each other since 1947. The opening game of the 2018 season will renew that rivalry. It’s probably not common knowledge and few are around to remember that 1947 game. As the headline read in the Farmington newspaper, it was a “debacle.”

Early football in the Four Corners was limited to a handful of schools. Bayfield and Farmington had played each other starting in the 1920s, but in six outings, the Scorpions prevailed three times, with the other three being ties in that low-scoring era. Like most small towns during the Depression, Bayfield dropped football after the 1936 season, amid a 21-game losing streak. A brief schedule in 1946 against new teams in Pagosa Springs and Silverton revitalized the sport.

Farmington, on the other hand, was starting the boom that would make it the largest town in the area. Though the population in 1947 was only 3,500 – compared to Bayfield’s 300 – the town was shedding its reputation as the “Home of the Big Red Apple,” which definined its early days as an orchard town. It was becoming an oilfield town.

FHS had 257 students in high school on its first day of school in 1947. BHS had less than 50, with only eight boys in the senior class.

The habit at the time was for the coaches to meet at the beginning of school to lay out a schedule. The meeting would be informal at an agreed-upon café. The six area schools would plan on playing each other. Bayfield would always defer, since it was unknown if enough boys would suit up for football. The male students were helping their families with the fall harvest and wouldn’t be released for school until after it had started. The Bayfield coach – and superintendent – Aaron Baker attended the meeting and said his team, if there was one, would fill in any spots available in the other schools’ schedules.

Bayfield did have enough players, but just barely, as 12 came out. While teams were converting to plastic helmets, the Wolverines had old, woolen army tank-helmet liners. Their canvas jerseys lacked numbers or color. Farmington had new green and white jerseys with new shoulder and rib pads for its 35 players. Coach Floran Hutchison expected a good team with 11 returning lettermen plus a couple of transfers from Raton and Los Angeles. Additionally, a three-year letterman, Billy Woods, had returned from military service and would compete for his fourth letter.

In 1947, news came that a surveyor had arrived to survey the Colorado-New Mexico stateline and help those Cedar Hill residents know for sure in which state they lived. A new car cost $1,300. The average annual wages were $2,850, and gas was 15 cents a gallon. And the San Juan County Fair was on the weekend of Sept. 16. A football game at the fairgrounds, “one mile east of Farmington,” was hurriedly scheduled with Bayfield.

It is likely that the Wolverines had no more than a week of practice. It’s equally likely that coach Baker failed to recognize the growing differences between the schools and communities. The post-war boom was on in Farmington, not in Bayfield.

After the kickoff, young Jimmie Frahm of Bayfield fumbled and the rout was on. It was only 21-0 at the half. Early in the third quarter, Wolverine sophomore quarterback Harold LePlatt broke his shoulder and left the field. The Farmington paper credited the 4-foot-11 LePlatt as a “shifty” runner, but one has to wonder how effective he might have been against the Scorpions.

It was 41-0 after three quarters. By all accounts, coach Hutchison put in subs early in the game, but a final score of 60-0 does seem a little much for the victors. Only twice over the next 500 games would Bayfield lose a football game by more than 60 points.

Bayfield would go on to improve in its brief schedule with two games against the Navajo Mission “B team” and the Durango junior varsity and Cortez squads but would end the season 0-4-1. FHS finished as the best team in the area with a 6-2 record.

The Bayfield administration realized the difference and settled into a 6-man football schedule from 1948-55. Farmington grew to more than 23,000 by 1960 and would eventually have the largest high school in New Mexico, splitting into two high schools with the addition of Piedra Vista High in 1998.

The Scorpions football fortunes also grew with the hiring of University of New Mexico Lobos star Lou Cullen in 1948. FHS would outgrow and drop Aztec, Kirtland and Navajo Mission from its schedule in favor of Albuquerque schools more their size. Farmington won the state championship in 1952.

Bayfield has won three state championships in Colorado with wins in 1996, 2015 and 2017. Farmington added another state championship in 2013.

After a 71-year hiatus, now they have scheduled each other again. Farmington is coming off of a successful season when they won eight games and their district championship. With more than 1,400 students, they will host Bayfield at the “Hutch,” a stadium named after coach Hutchison.

Bayfield’s state champion Wolverines lost some core players among its 84 graduates last May and sport a 13-game winning streak.

Possibly because of the 60-0 debacle, Bayfield’s football fortunes took a different route only to come full circle back to Farmington after 71 years.

Dan Ford is a football historian. He also broadcasts Bayfield football games on KPTE 92.9 FM. Ford can be reached at www.danfordsports.net.

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