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High school football rivalry disrupted by work, war

Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald

The first time Bayfield and Durango met on the football field was Oct. 25, 1924, at the old Durango fairgrounds.

The “Purple and Gold” was new to the sport – only one Bayfield player had ever seen a football game before that encounter. There were 41 kids in the high school’s top four grades, 71 if the junior high was included. It could field a team if it could get some seventh-graders to be tackling dummies in practice. The players raised $75, enough for the equipment needed.

Although Durango was a much bigger school, it was new to the game itself. There were Thanksgiving Day games as far back as 1901 when the high school “boys” played the “Smelter” team. It was frequently noted in those early years that if the boys could not get enough players, they would recruit from the community. It’s fairly certain that the first game played in the Four Corners between two high schools did have strict enrollment requirements. That was in 1903 when Montrose came down on the “Southern” (Rio Grande Southern Railroad) by way of Telluride to challenge DHS. DHS won, 11-0, in the days when a touchdown was five points, a field goal also worth five, and the extra point worth one.

By the start of World War I, football dropped off for the high schools. Aztec and Farmington played each other in 1911 and 1913, but no other high school games were played during the war years. Then the Influenza epidemic came along in 1919, killing millions worldwide. Public gatherings in some communities were banned entirely.

Finally in 1923, all three major high schools in the area decided to field a football team. Durango, being the largest school, divided its team into two squads, labeled the Reds and Whites. A rivalry in the halls of DHS became fierce as the Whites called the Reds “Bolsheviks” and hung a white bedsheet on the building to signify how they would “tuck the Bolsheviks into bed when they met.” Aztec and Farmington were the other combatants. A loving cup was shared by the Whites and Reds in 1923 as they finished the double round-robin schedule with 4-2 records. Aztec was 2-3-1. Farmington was 1-4-1.

In 1924, football fever reached Bayfield and it decided to field a team. Games were played from mid-October through Thanksgiving. Bayfield scheduled the Durango “seconds” of coach Cecil Young for that Saturday afternoon game in late October. Durango won, 31-0.

They had a rematch at the Bayfield Fairgrounds, and, again, the Durango youngsters bested Bayfield, 24-0. It was the first game played in the Pine River Valley. Bayfield’s only other games that initial season were against the town team, which they split. The Demons – yes, they were the Demons back then as well – would again go undefeated in league play against Aztec and Farmington. They also had a win against Monte Vista and a loss in the regular season to Center in the San Luis Valley. DHS would go on to the state playoffs and lose 47-0 to powerhouse Pueblo Central in a quarterfinal game.

Bayfield and Durango matched up varsity teams for the first time in 1925. DHS was hungry for competition after Monte Vista canceled because of bad roads, as did Norwood. A trip to Center in bad weather with car trouble dominated the storyline. The score was not mentioned in the article that described the “three Fords and a Buick” that left Durango for the game, stopping for lunch in Pagosa Springs but did not arrive at Center until 3 a.m. the next morning. On the way back over Wolf Creek Pass – a one-lane, gravel road – the players had to carry the cars over snowdrifts.

Even the Bayfield game was postponed. It was scheduled for Oct. 30, a Friday. The Durango Democrat said, “The Bayfield boys had to stay home and dig potatoes. They wanted to dig on Saturday but their fathers insisted they dig the potatoes on Friday.” So the game was rescheduled for Nov. 21, the day after Durango traveled to Farmington to beat those “Apple Pickers,” 13-0. Durango prevailed in that first game over Bayfield, 13-0. They played again on Thanksgiving, and Durango won 21-0.

Bayfield did not field a team in 1926 because of an epidemic, and it would not put a team together again until 1930. Through 1936, they played Durango 13 times and failed to win a game, tying the Demons in 1930.

Bayfield quit football after 1936 and did not revive the game until it mistakenly scheduled Farmington to open the 1947 season. Bayfield had Army tank helmet liners and only 13 players. The freshman quarterback broke his arm on the first play, and the Scorpions went on to win 60-0 in a game I am told had all of the scoring in the first half.

Durango would go on to play but lose the state championship game in Class B to Brighton in 1934. It reached the semifinals before losing to Lakewood in 1946 and then winning it all – well, at least half of it – in 1954 when it tied Lamar for the title, giving each team a share of bragging rights.

Bayfield’s fortunes changed starting in the 1960s. It won the league and advanced to state twice but failed to win that first game. By 1990, it was winning playoff games. The Wolverines became the first Southwest school to win the title since 1954 when it won in 1996, and again in 2015.

And this year, in 2016, it will, after an 80-year hiatus, once again face Durango.

Dan Ford is a football historian. He can be reached at www.danfordsports.net.

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