Steve Naumcheff, where are you?
Dale Leslie, a native of Ann Arbor, owns an office supply business
By DALE LESLIE
No one can remember Ann Arbor as a one-horse town but many of us recall when there was one public high school.
And on crisp, cool Friday fall evenings during the early 1960’s, nearly the whole town would file into Hollway Field like ants to a nest to watch the local schoolboy heroes in action.
The artifically-lighted football field created a brilliant glow above the stadium that served notice that the Pioneers were home to play another Six-A League foe.
Youngsters like myself would shadow the hometown blue-clad warriors, wearing silver helmets with a single purple stripe, as the team walked the short distance from the high school lockerroom to the stadium. The militia-like scraping sounds of their football cleats rubbing the asphalt street still echo in my mind.
Noisy, enthusiastic high school students at one end and supportive parents and townspeople at the other would pack the main grandstand. The northern end zone bleachers would rock and weave, filled to capacity with junior high school kids where the silly game of nonsense was more popular than football.
The Six-A League was a diverse geographical lot-composed of Ann Arbor High, Battle Creek Central, Jackson High, Kalamazoo Central and two Lansing schools, Eastern and Sexton. What they shared were some of the top schoolboy athletic programs and an intense level of competiveness.
One could suggest Yogi Berra had Six-A football in mind with his profound statement, “It’s never over until it’s over!”
No better example existed then Ann Arbor’s wacky 1961 homecoming game against Lansing Eastern. Coach Jay Stielstra’s squad had suffered a first-quarter 14-0 deficit following a short wind-blown Ann Arbor punt and a recovered fumble on the home team’s 30-yard line.
But the stage was set for a Ripley finish when the Pioneer defense stiffened and didn’t allow the visitors another first down rushing or passing the rest of the night.
The locals, under the leadership of quarterback Skip La Roe, culminated two fourth quarter drives with scores by the
senior signal caller. Alas, both extra point attempts failed leaving them two points behind.
As the last seconds of the game ticked away. Eastern’s quarterback rolled out to kill what time remained. Wham! Pioneer co-captain Kelly Rea raced in from the far end and his jarring tackle knocked the ball loose. Defense cohort, end Steve Naumcheff proved to be in the right place at an opportune time as he calmly scooped up the fumble and galloped 35 yards for the winning touchdown. The scoreboard clock showed nothing but goose-eggs.
The last second win ignited a high school version of the recent Tiger pennant-clinching party. The stands erupted into a wild celebration on the field by fans and players delirious over the storybook finish. Ann Arbor coaches were the closest to maintaining composure as they tried to assemble 11 players for an insignificant point after touchdown attempt. Instead, the celebrants were assessed a 15-yard penalty for delay of game (the game was over!). A half-hearted running play was whistled dead and the officials scurried for cover.
The thousand fans who had streamed out of the stadium moments earlier convinced of defeat, stood in the high school parking lot wondering what all the excitement was about. I’m sure many to this day aren’t aware of the final outcome.
Around the jubilant Ann Arbor locker-room circulated the rumor that the heroic Naumcheff might replace the homecoming queen at the ball the following night. That too would have been one for the record books.
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