Article by Mike Shaffer (Star-Beacon)
Jim Orr said that his players on his 1968 championship Harbor football team “paid the price.”
Orr was at the helm of the Mariners when they had their perfect 10-0 season and captured the Northeast Conference Championship.
Orr, along with his assistant coaches Fran Bedont and George Shreyer, and about two dozen of their former players, reunited to commemorate the golden anniversary of their team prior to the Lakeside football game Friday night.
Though the players are now into their retirement years and pushing 70, it was obvious they are still reaping what they sowed from their hard work.
“They paid the price,” Orr said of the team. “They worked all winter, then all summer — everyday. … When no one else was working, they paid the price. The old-fashioned stuff that you read about today, they were all that. They weren’t the biggest, they weren’t the fastest, but they committed themselves so much .”
The players paid the price, but according to Bill Olin, who was a lineman on the team, it was Orr who inspired them to do so.
“We’d been playing together at Columbus Junior High,” Olin said. “Then we got to Harbor where we played on the freshman team. Coach Orr came along our sophomore year. He told us during a team meeting — study hall or something — that he believed if we committed ourselves, that he thought we could be undefeated by time we were seniors.
“We all committed ourselves to that with lots and lots of hard work. We started lifting weights, we started a weight program that nobody else had back then. We built the weight benches, all the machines and we lifted everyday.”
The ‘68 campaign started with a 14-0 shutout over Erie Strong Vincent, followed by a 26-6 win over Warren Howland in Week 2.
Week 3, they came from behind to knock off Geneva 22-14.
“That Geneva game put us over the hump,” Orr said.
The team was 3-0 and the players were believing in themselves and each other.
“The thing that was unique about that team was more off the field than on the field,” tight end and team captain Roger Goudy said. “We would go to a different team member’s church every week. I’d go to Jim Henry’s Baptist church, next week they’d go to my Catholic church. We built really a team camaraderie and I think we believed in each other. Nobody believed in us. We were smaller than every other team we played, but we really believed we were faster and stronger because of the work we put in.
“The coaches instilled confidence in all of us, in kids that probably never had any. By them doing that, I think we came together as a team and each week we got stronger and stronger to the point where we just steamrolled. Once the momentum started, it just didn’t stop.”
It certainly did not. After the Geneva game, the Mariners barreled their way past Conneaut and Pymatuning Valley to run their record to 5-0 ahead of a three-game set with crosstown rivals Ashtabula, Edgewood and St John.
They took care of Ashtabula 14-6, then pounded the Warriors and Heralds by scores of 36-12 and 28-0.
Jim Henry, who was a player on the team before becoming a long-time city police officer, remembers the impact the winning had on the community.
“The whole harbor area got behind the football team,” Henry said. “It was incredible, you’d see signs in people’s yards, we got compensated for meals. When you’re winning, things happen.”
And things continued to happen as the team continued to win. After taking care of the city series, the Mariners closed out the schedule by beating Jefferson and Wickliffe to complete a perfect season.
“The school and community was proud of us, especially since we’d struggled for so many years in the NEC,” Henry said. “People don’t realize how tough the NEC was back then. There were no kid sisters to pick on back then, but whoever won the city series, usually won the NEC.”
The unfortunate thing for the team was the success came four years before the Ohio High School Athletic Association began a postseason playoff system.
“There was no such thing as state playoffs,” Henry said.
Surely, Henry and the others have wondered what kind of run they could have made. Fifty years later, though, the memories of a perfect season still linger strong. And for so many of them to keep in touch and be able to reunite after a half a century is something Goudy says is very special.
“To this day, we’re all friends,” he said. “We all still hang out together, we have people here from California, Texas, Florida, all three of the coaches came, from South Carolina, Washington DC and southern Ohio, that says a lot about this group, about what kind of people they are.”
And also about what kind of team they were.