- - - Shelby Football - Beginnings: 1894 - 1906 - - -

Part I - 1894 - 1898

The origins of football in the United States are derived from the early games of rugby football in Britain. The first game of this sort was played in November of 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton Universities. After many modifications and rule changes the first game of "professional football" was played in 1892 between the Allegheny Athletic Association and the Pittsburgh Athletic Club.
In this discussion, the focus will be on the first ten or twelve years of Shelby area football and the major resources will be early Shelby newspaper articles, Shelby Museum memorabilia and the book "The History of Shelby Football 1894 - 1985", written by Fred Eichinger and published ca. 1986. Combining these materials with a genealogist's perspective will produce results that are new and surprising to those who are only familiar with Shelby football of "modern" times. It is the intent of this article to introduce the players, their lives and families into the story of the growth and development of early Shelby football history.
Any references to census material will assume the United States Federal Census unless otherwise noted.

It wasn't long before Shelby caught the football fever and two years after the first professional game was played in America, the Shelby High School formed its first official organized football team: The 1894 Shelby High School "Orions". Wikipedia's definition: Orion, sometimes subtitled The Hunter, is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous, and most recognizable constellations in the night sky. Its name refers to Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology.
Perhaps someone on or associated with the fledgling team thought they would become bright stars like Rigel and Betelgeuse (within the constellation Orion) and be visible throughout the world. The name did not survive and they soon became just the Shelby High School Football team. But what a football team they became!
Just whose idea was the formation of the team and who were the players in that 1894 squad? Fred Eichinger (1) gave the credit to first coach Jeff Morris for organizing and inspiring the local high school talent. The early newspaper accounts of the 1894 team are nearly non-existent and if reported, extremely sketchy. It is quite obvious that both papers, Shelby Independent News and the Shelby Times, considered them to be unimportant compared to the other local news events. It was not until 1900 after several great years of football history, the demise of the Shelby Times, and the coming of the Daily Globe, that football became a well covered newsworthy event.

Photo courtesy of the Shelby Museum
So who were the young high school boys and their inspirational coach?
The earliest local newspaper mention of anything associated with Shelby football discovered at this time, was a
short notice appearing in the September 5th, 1894 edition of the Shelby News. (see below)
Shelby News - September 5, 1894

These short two sentences provide significant information concerning "Coach Jeff Morris". This name appears on copies of the above photo, and in his book, Fred Eichinger makes the statement: "The high school football program was started by a man by the name of Jeff Morris, who was fresh from his glory days of playing football at Bethany College". The above newspaper clipping re. Geffra Morris will prove to be "Coach Jeff Morris".
Geffra/ Jeffra/ Jeff Cline Morris was the oldest son of William H. and Neotia Elizabeth Cline Morris. William was born in Beaver County, Pennsylvania and his wife Neotia was born in Rome, Ohio. William and Neotia were the parents of five children, the second in age was Ada Jane who was also mentioned in the above article. We have not discovered football records at Bethany College to indicate what position Jeffra Morris played while at college, but he obviously had football experience to impart to the Shelby high school boys in the fall of 1894. Newspaper accounts verify that he was a player / coach and played many positions and kicked goals as well.
Who were some of the other players on this earliest of Shelby football teams? Most of those named in the photo were identified by Frank Schiffer who coached the Shelby professional teams in 1902 and 1903 and remained closely associated with Shelby football.
Starting in row one left, sitting, is Arthur Collins who graduated from Shelby High School in 1895 and would have been a senior when the photo was taken. Note his jersey displays the letters: "S H O" (Shelby High Orions?). Art was born in June of 1875 in Kansas, a grandson of Moses Rambo an early Sharon Twp., Richland County, Ohio pioneer. His father was Elkington "King" Collins and his mother was Sarah Rebecca Rambo. Arthur Collins played both the 1894 and 1895 seasons at the fullback (FB) position. He must have left Shelby shortly after his graduation from high school. Twin brother Edward is living with his mother Sarah (widowed) and grandfather Moses Rambo on Auburn Avenue in Shelby in the 1900 census, but Arthur apparently is not living here. Sarah's information indicates that she is the mother of three children and they are living. The 1910 census finds Sarah, Edward and older brother Elkington living at 79 South Gamble Street in Shelby and Sarah indicates that her three children are still living. Ohio marriage records reveal that Francis Arthur Collins married Emma Schwarzer, May 1916, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. The 1920 census locates a Francis A. Collins living in Cleveland, Ohio with wife Emma. Arthur is working as a superintendent of construction. Arthur Collins died in 1929 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
Sitting in the middle of the front row, Bert Sutter was also a 1895 graduate of Shelby High School. His parents were Valentine and Catherine Anna Miller Sutter. Burton was a grandson of Samuel (founder of the Sutter Furniture Company in Shelby) and Elizabeth Will Sutter. Bert was on the Shelby High School team in the 1894, 1895 and 1896 seasons, playing both quarterback (QB) and end (E) in 1894 and left half back (LHB) in 1895 and right guard (RG) in 1897. After graduation Burton continued working in the Sutter Furniture factory in Shelby.
The final member of the first row is Vivian Abernathy who was probably A. V. Abernathy who graduated from Shelby High School in 1897. Vivian Alexander Abernathy was born in 1879 in Galion, Ohio. He was the only child of John and Mary Elizabeth Downing Abernathy. Alexander, as he preferred to be called later, played with the high school team four seasons: 1894, 1895, 1896 and 1897. In 1894 he played half back (HB), in 1895 he was QB and in 1896 and 1897 he played the FB position. In 1906 he married Susan Hedges Houston in Mansfield, Ohio. Several years later their only child, Frances, was born. Alexander and family moved to Lakewood, Ohio where he and his wife resided until their passing.
Only four members of the second row are known at this time. First on the left is Blain Tracey who evidently only played the 1894 season as his name does not appear on any lineups in the following seasons. He was born Calvin Blain Tracey in Galion, Ohio in 1876, the youngest son of Calvin Dorvin and Elizabeth Rachel Bloom Tracey. Elizabeth Rachel Bloom was raised in Jackson Township, Richland County and her parents were Samuel and Mary / May Campbell Bloom. Blain married Elsie Lundry in Shelby in March of 1898. This may be a reason for his short career in Shelby football. Their first three children were born in Ohio, however by 1910 they were living in Comanche County, Oklahoma where Blain was farming. Their last child, Charles, was born in Oregon in 1912 where Elsie probably passed away, since she was not in the 1920 census. Calvin Blain Tracey died in 1950 in Washington County, Oregon.
The second person in the middle row is unidentified at this time. Please contact us if you have any information on this player. (Note he has a Shelby Orion logo on what appears to be a vest - under the last "n" in "unknown"). Third from the left is George Peter Koch, actually George Koch IV (at least), who graduated in the Shelby High School class of 1897. It is believed that George played on the Shelby High School team four seasons: 1894 - 1897 in the tackle (T) and guard (G) positions. He was born in Shelby in 1879, the second child of George and Mary Catherine Weaver Koch. His older sibling, Catherine Elizabeth, born 1877 would later marry Newell Price. After his four seasons playing football, George went into the ice business. In the 1900 census, he was living with his family at 90 West Main Street and listed his occupation as ice merchant. He married in August of 1900 to Grace Mack, a daughter of George and Bertha Frank Mack. They were to have a family of two boys and two girls and George would continue to grow the ice business, which was located on Mansfield Avenue, next to the Shelby Light Plant. George and Grace are buried at the Oakland Cemetery. He died in 1958 and Grace in 1953.
Cloyd Chester Miller, born 1876, played positions on the line and probably only played the 1894 season. (Note the logo on his jersey.) Cloyd was the oldest of three sons of Samuel and Sarah Wentz Miller. Sarah was a daughter of Heinrich and Elizabeth Scheibly Wentz and a younger sister of Henry Wentz who went on to establish the Shelby Mutual Insurance Company. Cloyd never married and worked for the railroad and as a steel worker in Shelby, before becoming a plumber and moving to Mansfield where he died in 1946. Younger brother Harry Blaine Miller born 1880 started with the team in 1896 and 1897 playing at the half back (HB) position. During the 1896 season, Harry also played for the Shelby Tube Works football team and later after high school he continued with the Shelby Tube Works team in 1898 and 1899 until the Tube team became the basis for the Shelby Athletic Association teams. Harry never married; he continued on in life as a steel worker at the Shelby Steel Tube and he and younger brother Harlan Wentz Miller, born 1887, lived at the family home at 64 North Broadway in Shelby until several years before Harry died in 1948. No record has been found that Harlan Miller played football in high school. He married Maud Pittenger Frakes in 1926 and they had one child, Robert Miller born c. 1927. Harlan died in 1956 and Maud in 1968. Maud and all the Miller brothers are buried at the Oakland Cemetery.
The person on the right end of the middle row is Benjamin Franklin Frank Brown, born in 1878 in Crestline, Ohio. Frank was the oldest son of Chauncey and Mary Webb Brown. He must have been named in honor of his grandfather Benjamin Franklin Brown born 1828, who served in the Civil War in Co. I., 10th Regt. OVC*, who died in Shelby in 1896 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery. Frank had quite an extended football career playing the HB position first with the 1894 high school team. In 1895 he played left tackle (LT) and in 1896, 1897 and 1899 (no high school team in 1898) played at HB . He also played with the start up Shelby Tube Works team in 1896, and then again in the 1898, 1899 seasons and probably also played in the 1900 Shelby Athletic Association team, mostly at the HB position. Note that Frank is wearing (hanging from it's strap or band) an early style leather nose guard. During most of this time, he was employed as a day laborer at the Tuby. In 1909 he married Pearl Blanche Sayles. In the 1910 census he was employed in a dray line business and in the same year a daughter Eldred Almeda Brown was born. A son, Forest Leslie Brown, followed in February of 1916. Within months Frank died in Cleveland, Ohio. He, his father, and his namesake grandfather and grandmother are buried in the Shelby Oakland Cemetery .
The only player who has a Shelby Orions logo on a dark jersey in the picture above was identified as Ike Roberts by Frank Schiffer who coached in 1902 and 1903 and remained closely associated with Shelby football. The logo could apply to Shelby, Ohio as well as Shelby Orions and may have been another reason for choosing Orions for the first team name. As we will see, Ike Roberts was probably Coach Morris's future brother-in-law. Elijah Lamar Roberts was born in June of 1878 and would have been 16 years old when the above picture was taken. He was the only son of the seven children of Isaac Calvin and Zurviah Sophia Case Roberts. Elijah's next older sister was Sara Z. Roberts who would become Mrs. Jeffra Morris in 1900. Ike and Sara Roberts were born in Mansfield, Ohio but their family moved and they were living in Shelby on Second Street in the 1900 census. Sometime c 1906 Ike married Nora E. ???? and by 1908 their first child, Ruth, was born. James followed three years later. By 1920, their family of four was living in Urbana, Illinois and Ike was working as a machinist in a tool and die company. The 1930 and 1940 censuses finds Ike and Nora back in Shelby living at 110 East Main Street. He was employed at the Shelby Metal Products Company as a tool and die maker. Elijah Lamar Roberts died in 1963 and Nora in ????.
Next to Ike Roberts is a player known at this time by his surname of Simpson. He does not appear in any known newspaper accounts and is absent from any other football team photos. No candidates appear in the 1900-1901 Shelby directory or the 1900 Federal census. Until more evidence emerges Mr. Simpson will remain a mystery.
The final known person in the back row is the coach, Jeff Morris, who was introduced at the start of this section. We now know he later became a brother-in-law to Ike Roberts. Jeffra Morris remained coach of the team for only two years, but remained a staunch follower of Shelby football. His father, William H., came to Shelby in 1884 and immediately started an elevator and coal business which was located on Main Street next to the B & O Railroad. He remained in that business at that location until months before his death in 1912, when he passed the business to J. C. Morris, a name familiar to long time Shelby residents, but not necessarily recognizable as Jeffra Cline Morris and definitely not Coach Morris.
A biography of Jeffra C. Morris that appears in the History of North Central Ohio, Volume II by William A. Duff states: "Jeffra C. Morris, who is the owner of the Morris Elevator, at Shelby, is a representative and highly esteemed citizen of Richland County. He was born near Shenandoah, Richiand County, Sept. 25, 1875, the son of William H. and Netoia (Cline) Morris. Jeffra C. Morris attended the district schools of Richland County, and Shelby High School. He received the degree of Bachelor of Science at Bethany College in 1895, and at that time became associated in business with his father. When the Morris Elevator was sold to R. C. Winbigler in 1912, Mr. Morris made a trip to California. He returned, however, in November of that year and purchased the interest of Mr. Winbigler in the elevator. The company also handles coal, grains, seeds and builder's supplies. Mr. Morris is a director of the Citizens Bank of Shelby." No mention of an achievement that would affect Shelby sports for over 100 years.
Jeffra married Sara Z. Roberts, a daughter of Isaac and Zurviah Roberts, in June of 1900. This may have been a part of his decision to give up the coaching (and playing) position. Jeffra and Sara were parents of two daughters, Harriet and Lucety Louise, and their youngest, a son, William Roberts Morris, who would one day become mayor of Shelby.

The 1894 Shelby High School Football Team
The following newspaper clippings give an indication of the level of interest in football displayed by the newspapers in 1894. The
Shelby Times, a contemporary competitor, published even less during this period.
Shelby News - November 1, 1894

Shelby News - November 22, 1894

The Shelby - Galion game originally planned for Thanksgiving Day was evidently changed to Saturday, November 17th.
There was no mention of a Shelby - Crestline game in the Shelby News.
The 1894 schedule probably only included two games.The first game was against a Crestline High School team that had played a previous season and was better established than the newly formed Shelby Orions. The game was played at the old fairgrounds (in the current Williams Court area). The Shelby team must have looked a bit amateurish and they lost to a previously undefeated Crestline team 33 to 0. It was suspected that some of the Crestline players were not actually from Crestline High School, but since there were no rules concerning eligibility established at that time, it was ignored.
The second game, Shelby played Galion at Galion. The Shelby team had additional time to practice after their defeat to Crestline and this proved to be valuable as they played Galion to a 0 to 0 draw. Neither team was able to move the ball successfully against the other. The season closed with the Shelby team gaining the experience and confidence to continue the next year with a more ambitious schedule.

The 1895 Shelby High School Football Team
In the fall of 1895, the following clipping indicates the attitude in Shelby toward the newly organized game of football was
something a bit less than serious and supportive.
Shelby News - October 10, 1895

Then just a few weeks later and perhaps after witnessing the developing Shelby High School team in practice,
the following article was published:
Shelby News - October 31, 1895

The 1895 season started with a team composed of many of the same players as in 1894 with the addition of one player who was to become a key player on future Shelby teams, Russell Johnson. Shelby began with a game against rival Crestline and found them much improved from the 1894 season. While Shelby lost 12 to 6, in the second half of the game, Shelby began to knit together as a team.
Shelby News - October 24, 1895 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Shelby News - November 7, 1895

The second game of the season was significant for the Shelby team. With much encouragement from their fans, and greatly increased effort, Shelby won their first football game with a score of 8 to 4 against their Crestline foe. As the above article relates, this was the Crestline High School football team's first defeat! It was a confidence builder!
Shelby News - November 21, 1895

The Mansfield High School football team lost to Shelby High School by a score of 8 to 4 with the Mansfield players outweighing Shelby by an average of over 20 pounds. The loss must have been difficult for the Mansfield team to accept, but a huge confidence builder for Shelby going into the fourth and final game of the season. Another match up with Crestline....
Shelby News - December 19, 1895

The almost unbelievable happened, Shelby WON !
Not only was confidence building in the Shelby team, but as can be seen from the above article in the Shelby News, the newspaper was beginning to sense something special was happening in the Shelby community. Other groups in Shelby were beginning to get a case of football fever. The 1896 football season would see a new development that must have been inspired by the success of the Shelby High School football teams in 1894 and '95.

The 1896 Shelby Football Teams
When football season arrived in the fall of 1896 the community was ready to help prepare their high school football team financially.
Shelby News - September 18, 1896

The above clipping is interesting on several levels. It is not known what "subscription" in this context might mean but it appears the community is going to help the team with the acquisition of uniforms and a football. This implies the high school team members may have been purchasing their own uniforms (jerseys at this time) and other equipment. This would explain the various styles of jerseys in the above 1894 photo. Note there is no evidence of helmets in the 1894 photo, nor mention of them in the above clipping. While the article gives player/position information, it also indicates a game with Ashland is upcoming. Ensuing issues of the Shelby News make no mention of a Shelby - Ashland football game. The only other football game result appearing in the Shelby News in the fall of 1896 was a scrimmage game and a game played against rival Crestline (see below). Fred Eichinger writes of two games with Crestline and one other game with Marion Y.M.C.A. This shows there is still no sustaining newspaper interest in the Shelby High School football team.
There are several new team players listed:
Fred Tucker playing left guard (LG) position is listed in the 1901 Shelby Directory living at 64 South Gamble Street with his brothers, Don and Charles and father, J. R. Tucker. Fred, who was elected team captain for both the 1896 and 1897 seasons, was born in 1879 in Shelby. His parents were Joseph and Eva Lybarger Tucker and his father worked on the railroad at the time Fred was born. In June 1905, Fred married Cecilia Allie Fisher, a daughter of George and Mary Mott Fisher. Fred and Allie soon began their family and by 1910 they and their children Robert bn 1907 and Marie bn 1909 were living in Cleveland, Ohio. Fred died in 1958 and Allie in 1961. Both are buried at the Oakland Cem.
It is not clear who Reuben and Walter Sutter were. Reuben is living in the Samuel S. Sutter household at 18 West Whitney Avenue in the 1901 Shelby Directory, while Walter is living in the Valentine Sutter home at 13 East Whitney Avenue. They were listed with the initials: 3rd A. B. L., USA Manila. Both Walter and Reuben enlisted to serve in the Spanish-American War. The initials may indicate 3rd Artillery Battery Company L in Manila. Military records show both Reuben and Walter were born in Shelby. Reuben listed his parents as C. Z. and Lou Scheffer Sutter. Walter's parents were Walter and Annie Miller Sutter. Walter graduated from Shelby High School in 1898. Reuben died in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in 1957 and Walter in Washington County, Pennsylvania in 1965. More study is needed.
Fred Baker was probably Fred Earl Baker, son of Ezra and Louisa Segrist Baker, born in 1879 near Republic in Seneca County, Ohio. Fred Baker was boarding at 110 East Main Street, Shelby, the home of Byron Roseborough. He described his occupation as news agent. Little more in known at this time.
John Burrer was probably John Wilbert Burrer, born in 1878 in Hinesville, Richland County, Ohio, a son of Francis S. and Lucinda Hunt Burrer. John may have only played football for this one season. His name is mentioned only in this article and in the 1900 census he and his new wife (married April, 1900) were living in Ashtabula, Ohio. The family including their son Wilbert, born in 1902, moved back to Mansfield, Ohio by 1906 and they continued to reside in that area until their deaths, John W. in 1964 and Lela in 1943. Both are buried in Oakland Cem.
Fora Houpt, who is mentioned in the following article, was a player / coach for the 1896 and 1897 high school football seasons. Fora Gavin Houpt was a son of William and Mary Keele Houpt. In 1880 William was a marble dealer in Shelby and he passed this trade on to his sons. Both Fora and his older brother Harry adopted the occupation of marble cutter or monument dealer, Fora for several years and Harry for most of his life. Harry's business in Shelby was located at 20 Washington Street. In 1897 Fora married Effie Etta Epley which may have been the reason his football coaching career with the Shelby High School team ended with the 1897 season. The marriage didn't last and Effie remarried in 1905. In 1910 Fora was living in Kankakee, Ill., employed as a marble cutter and married to
Mary F. ??? Fora shortly became involved in sales and for a time they lived in Columbus, Ohio, but by 1920 they were again living in Kankakee and Fora was a district sales manager. In 1940 Fora was living in Beeville, Bee Co.,Texas. He died in 1946 in San Bernardino, Ca.
Shelby News - October 9, 1896

"Long haired boys" was also a comment in the previous September article. Perhaps the longer hair provided a bit of head protection since they had no helmets. Maybe it was common among those who played football and the Shelby players were now adopting it. This was the second time Shelby was to play Crestline in the 1896 season. The first game must have escaped the notice of the Shelby News, however Fred Eichinger noted that the score of that game was Shelby 14 and Crestline 0. To win against Crestline was significant and to win twice in one season was notable. The Shelby High School football team was becoming the team to beat in the area.
In addition to the Shelby High School team, there was another team started in the Shelby area in 1896. Area adult men had evidently been watching with growing interest the local high school football team and organized a men's team. It was primarily composed of men who worked at the Shelby Steel Tube Company. When they formed their team they were known fittingly enough as the "Shelby Tube Works Football Team". They were the first Shelby "professional" football team. Many of the player's names will be recognized as they were largely men who had played (or were still playing) on the Shelby High School football team: George Koch, Harry Miller, Fred Tucker, Russel Johnson, Frank Brown and several other players that will be discussed later. Nothing was published in the Shelby newspapers in 1896 concerning the "Tube Works" team.
The 1897 Shelby High School Football Team
The 1897 Shelby High School football team was largely the same composition as the 1896. Fred Tucker continued as team captain and Fora Houpt was team player / coach. There was an additional player that is mentioned in the article below, Ben Sloane.
Shelby News - November 5, 1897

Ben Sloan was not a Shelby High School student, but he played for Shelby against their arch rival Crestline. Fred Eichinger wrote the following: "Shelby, with the help of a giant of a man by the name of Ben Sloan, rolled over Crestline 16 - 0.... Sloan played for the Mansfield YMCA team, and was said to stand 6' 5" and weigh around 245 pounds. He was 23 years old and every time he would be tackled, it would take three or four Crestliners to bring him down. As far as can be determined, the Crestline game is the only game that Sloan played for Shelby, and it was thought to be in retaliation for some of the bar room sluggers that Crestline employed against Shelby the previous year."
Shelby News - November 22, 1897

The Wellington game was played at the West Side, or Sharon Park, in Shelby. The Wellington team had many opportunities to score, however the Shelby team prevailed in each case. The fact that Wellington called it quits with 3 minutes left in the game speaks to their level of frustration. There were only two games on the 1897 schedule and Shelby easily won them both.
Shelby Football in 1898
Fora Houpt was no longer available as a high school team coach since he was not living in the Shelby area. The lack of a coach may be the major reason for Shelby to suspend it's high school football team. The Shelby Tube Works team did not play during the 1897 season, but got another team organized for 1898 with Russell Johnson elected team captain and coach. Games were scheduled with Newark and Akron. The Newark game may not have developed (The Shelby newspaper was mum about football games in 1898.), but the Shelby team traveled to Akron and were amazed at the size of the Akron players. Fred Eichinger wrote that the Akron team averaged 230 pounds per player while Shelby averaged only 165. The resulting score of Shelby 10 Akron 0 proved the mettle of Shelby's team. Other games may have been played in the 1898 season, but no more have been discovered at this time.

Part I

 1894 - 1898 Teams

Part II

 1899 - 1900 Teams

  Part III

  1901 Teams

  Part IV

  1902 Teams

 Part V

  1903 Teams

  Part VI

  1904 Teams 

(1) "The History of Shelby Football 1894 - 1985", written by Fred Eichinger, published ca. 1986.
(*) "Deceased Veterans Shelby, Ohio Richland County & Vicinity Obituaries to December 29, 1998"
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