Football Team Fronts Newport Hall
Newport — Bob Underhill coached the Newport High football team on three different occasions, leaving each time for what he thought was a better opportunity.
His accumulated experience, including some with a particularly special team, will land Underhill a permanent place this fall. He and seven others will join the Newport High Hall of Fame on Oct. 4 during a ceremony at the school.
After coaching the Tigers from 1954-57, Underhill’s wife, Barbara, told him that the family was spending more money than he was making. That’s when the head basketball coaching job at Portsmouth came up.
“At the time it was one of the premiere coaching jobs around,” said Underhill, now in his 80s and living in Warwick, R.I.
After a while that didn’t work out, so back to Newport he came to coach the football team from 1960-64 before leaving once again, this time for a football position in Pearl River, N.Y., which lasted until he returned to Newport a third time in 1967, staying until 1977.
“I never should have left,” said Underhill, who also took head football jobs at Stevens (twice), Fall Mountain and Mount Anthony Union High in Bennington, Vt. “I should have stayed in Newport 100 years.”
Underhill coached a lot of good Newport teams, but the 1961 team was special and will be inducted as a group during the October ceremony. The team went 7-0-1 to win the Division IV Granite State League championship.
In order to win the title, Newport had to beat Franklin in the last game of the season. Even though the game was played 53 years ago, Underhill and his quarterback, Paul Dodge, remember the game well.
“The game had about 90 seconds to go, and it was scoreless,” Underhill recalled. “We were in a single-wing formation and disguised a play pretty good with our halfback, Donnie Rowell, throwing a pass into the end zone to Tommie Scherwerts for the touchdown.”
However, the try for the 2-point conversion was what got a whole bunch of folks excited.
“One of the officials said I jumped over the moon and back again,” said Underhill.
Dodge, 69 and living in Middletown, Conn., remembered the play very well.
“I was the quarterback and we ran that pitch play again, and Donnie threw the ball this time to our end, Wendell Decoteau, who caught the ball on his knees,” recalled Dodge. “The official said it was not a catch.”
“I went nuts,” said Underhill. “There was a lot of time left, and we needed those points. Of course that was a catch. I was screaming and running all over the place. I should have gotten a penalty. I should have gotten a bunch of penalties.”
As it turned out Franklin never did score, but after the game the officials realized they have erred and gave Newport the two points.
“They were wrong, and they just made a mistake,” said Dodge.
Dodge said other members of that team were Peter Sartwell, Tom Shadis, Larry Cote, Warren Brock, Dave Perry, Dave Harlow, Dick McAllister, Phil Baton, Mike Patten and Dick Murgatroy.
Dodge is also going in the Newport hall individually for being an all-state football player during his junior and senior years. “I nominated the 1961 team,” he said. “It was the first undefeated team since 1926.”
In addition to Underhill, Ollie Turpeinen, now 90, was also on the coaching staff.
Others who will be enshrined include Paul Dodge’s father, Ray Dodge, from the class of 1910, who won over 20 track medals. The remainder of the induction class includes Virginia Parker (class of 1942), Beth Pitkin Cornish (1983), Matt Spanos (2003), Don Pavlik (1964) and former head football coach and athletic director Dennis Hoffman.