Leatherheads: Raiders Strike a Pose From 1938
The Lebanon Football Team recreates a 1939 photograph at the former Lebanon Junior High building in Lebanon, N.H., on Oct. 17, 2013.
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Steve Marchewka, the only living player from Lebanon High School's 1938 football team, speaks with current high school players at the former Lebanon Junior High building in Lebanon, N.H., on Oct. 17, 2013.
(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Lebanon — The Lebanon High football team experienced a sort of time warp earlier this week when 13 of its members and coach Chris Childs recreated a photo pose first created 75 years earlier. The original shot was of Lebanon’s 1938 undefeated state championship squad taken on the east side of what was then the high school building.
That structure, at 75 Bank Street, went on to house middle school students until the opening of a new building for that purpose last year. The original photo’s location was identified by the presence of a distinctly shaped air vent in the image’s upper right corner, allowing the current players to be placed in their long-ago predecessor’s figurative footsteps.
The idea started out of a story written earlier this year about Childs’ father-in-law, Mickey Bagley, who played on the 1938 team. Childs and his wife, Marilou, showed me the shot and we discussed how recreating it with 2013 players would be a nice link to the program’s past.
So on Monday, several cars rolled up and out piled a bunch of Raiders, dressed in their uniform jerseys and pants and wearing slightly puzzled looks.
Once shown the 1938 photo, they had a better idea of what was going on. But it wasn’t until after the photos were taken and they met 91-year old Steve Marchewka that they truly became engaged.
Marchewka was the last-known surviving member of the 1938 team, which was followed by another undefeated Lebanon squad in 1939, when he was a senior. He told the boys how the Raiders won only one game during his sophomore season, but that it was against arch-rival Hanover, prompting cheers and applause from the current players.
They wanted to know what kind of helmets the 1938 players wore and how hard the hitting was back then. Marchewka described the leather bonnets he and his teammates donned, noting that they didn’t include face masks, which drew a murmur of wonder from his audience.
“That sure changes the game,” said Ian Girdwood, who had commented earlier on how the players in the 1938 photograph look notably older than their current counterparts, and how their haircuts differed from those of he and his teammates. “It must have been more like rugby.”
Marchewka recalled how he was knocked out by a blow to the chin during a game and spent the rest of the second half sitting woozily on the bench while a friend waved smelling salts under his nose.
“You stayed in there until something happened to you,” said Marchewka.
In those times of players competing on both offense and defense, injury was about the only reason to come out of a contest.
“I was an end and I did a lot of blocking,” Marchewka said, adding that his team ran the single wing offense and practiced on the field below the high school, widely known as “The Basin.”
When Marchewka brought up the name of a teammate, Donald Burnham, it rang a bell with Childs and several of his players. Burnham’s name remains on Lebanon’s track records board in several running categories, a talent where Marchewka was able to shine some light.
“Don had a paper route in the morning, and he’d run from house to house so he could get it done before school started,” Marchewka said.
The older man later reminisced about how he and his friends regularly walked to Hanover and sneaked between the bars of Memorial Field’s wrought iron fence to watch Dartmouth College football games. Marchewka also played basketball and baseball for Lebanon, performing for coach Don Lisabeth during each season.
Although Marchewka doesn’t recall the 1938 team’s photo being taken, he easily recalled each of the players’ names. Running a crooked finger across the image, he rattled them off: Don Mossey, Louie Goodman, Royal LaBarre, Richard Wallace, Norman Lambert, Carl Morrison, Paul and Evo Cattabriga, Francis Benton, Marty Harwood and John O’Grady, along with Bagley, Burnham and himself, kneeling in the image’s lower right corner.
On a somber note, several of those in the photo died during World War II. Marchewka enlisted in the Air Force during 1942 and served three years as a mechanical crew chief. He was stationed in India, working on bombers that would make the perilous climb over the Himalayan mountains to China, from where they would later bomb Japan.
“I don’t know how I could have been 20 years old and in charge of something like that,” he said, staring into the distance and shaking his head. “The pilots would come to me and if I said the plane was ready, off it went. We never lost a plane, but you worry like crazy.”
Childs and his players invited Marchewka and his wife, Madeleine, a 1943 Lebanon High graduate, to attend Friday’s home game with John Stark, an offer the couple said they planned to accept. Childs told Steve Marchewka he was welcome to stand on the sidelines with the players, but the old end seemed a little reluctant.
“I don’t move as well as I used to,” he said. “I don’t want to get knocked out again.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.