BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Lee Thomas was a 5-foot 8-inch, 135-pound junior from Whitehouse when he took the field as a linebacker on the first Anthony Wayne football team in September 1950.
“There were 30 of us. We had no Anthony Wayne name. No General. No blue and white,” said the 88-year-old, noting that the first uniforms were red. “It’s for sure that what we didn’t have was a 6-foot-2, 200-pound player like we do today.”
Frank “Bud” Walbolt was a 6-foot senior – the tallest and fastest on Waterville’s football team. But Waterville’s pool of football players was so small that they played six-man teams in Wood County and more rural areas. Home games were played in what is now Waterworks Park. On the road, the field quality could get iffy.
“We played in a cow pasture a couple of times,” Walbolt said. “That was a bad field.”
When Waterville, White-house and Monclova schools consolidated into one district during the summer of 1950, Walbolt was one of the few experienced players to join the new “Anthony Wayne Consolidated” team, as it was known that first year.
Although the team came together to play in Whitehouse, each of the boys continued to attend their original school until a new Anthony Wayne High School was completed in January 1953. The fieldhouse and football stadium for 2,000 fans weren’t completed for another few years.
While it’s been nearly 70 years, both Thomas and Walbolt have memories of that first season and how different it was from the Friday night football experience of today.
Many of the guys who came from Waterville and Monclova had never played 11-man football, and that wasn’t unusual. During most of the 1940s, money was tight and coaches were scarce as U.S. efforts were overseas fighting in World War II.
The boys too young to fight were home working on the farm, Thomas said.
So when Anthony Wayne was formed – the second in the state to consolidate –coaches Carl Campbell and Ralph Pugh were tasked with getting together former rivals to work together as a team.
“We played basketball against Whitehouse and Monclova, so I knew most of the guys or I got to know them,” Walbolt said.
Going to the Whitehouse field was a step up. The field was located where the current Whitehouse Primary now stands, and it was flat and well-kept.
“Playing six-man, we had leather helmets. When we went to Whitehouse, we had better equipment,” Walbolt said of the uniforms and shoulder, hip and thigh pads.
Flipping through the 1951 yearbook housed at the Whitehouse Library, Thomas pointed to some of the seniors: quarterback Ronnie Disher, center Dennis Baldwin, tackle Bob Strayer, guards John Grzegorzewski and Leonard Sanders, fullbacks Dale Baker, Bill Stamm and Bud McClure, halfbacks Thurlow Bialecki and Dick Wiles and ends Cliff Eck, Chuck Suhr, Walbolt and Bill Wittes.
He also recalls other first-team members, including Dick Yantiss, LeRoy Lashaway, Tom Vitello and Don Ellerbrock.
“Ron Disher was the quarterback and an all-around great athlete. So was Johnny G – that’s what we called Grzegorzewski,” Thomas said.
Pointing to a pristinely kept scrapbook, Walbolt flipped the pages to a section that includes newspaper clippings and scores for that first football season. The first game was on September 15 with a 19-0 win over Perrysburg – a streak that Anthony Wayne would continue for several years.
The new consolidated district team etched out six wins and three losses that first season – to Bedford Rural, Delta and Oak Harbor – wrapping up with 154 points and sharing the league championship with Delta.
The Blade headlines announced other wins: “Consolidated Beats Swanton by 21 to 6” with touchdowns by James Studer and Dick Wiles with extra points scored by Dale Baker and James Studer.
At homecoming that year, AW beat Rossford, 26-0. Thomas only remembers some of that night. He had been dating a girl named Coral Smith – she was the homecoming queen for Whitehouse.
During the years before the high school was built, each of the communities sent a queen and an attendant to the game, and one winner was selected to be crowned by the captain of the football team, he explained.
Thomas was supposed to accompany Coral to the homecoming dance, but at some point during the game, “I got my bell rung,” he said.
“I knew all of the numbers of the plays, but one of the other guys said I stood there and said, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I suppose I had a concussion. I woke up in bed looking at the ceiling. I never went to the dance,” he said.
These days, the high school has trainer Noelle Matson on the sideline to monitor athletes for signs of injury and provide a quick analysis if something happens.
Back then, you just went home, Thomas said. He also marvels at other changes in the game: the weight room, the helmets and the training, to name a few. And the athletes are just bigger.
“Back then, everyone was 5-8 to 5-11 and 130 to 185 pounds. The Bender twins are taller than 90 percent of the 1950 football team,” Thomas laughed, referring to Generals basketball players Brooke and Elise Bender.
After graduation, similar to most of their peers, both Thomas and Walbolt fulfilled their draft obligations right away.
Walbolt joined the Navy, serving in the repair shop for a ship that traveled around repairing destroyers. He wanted to go to Korea but instead was sent to Cuba for two years.
“It was boring,” he said, though he did have the opportunity to play basketball, visiting nearby islands to play other teams.
When he returned home, he married his wife of 64 years, Bev, and spent 40 years working for National Family Opinion, a market research firm. As he lived in Toledo, Maumee, Perrysburg and now Whitehouse, he joined the American Legion in Toledo, then Waterville and eventually Whitehouse.
“For several years I posted the colors at the football games,” Walbolt said, referring to the Legion members who walk the American, Ohio and Legion flags along the field to the pole that is near the scoreboard, saluting during the national anthem.
Thomas joined the Army, serving in Nuremburg from 1955 to 1956.
“When I got home, there it was. The Schallers paid for the stadium to be put in. What they didn’t know until later is it was in a flood plain,” Thomas said.
He settled on Heller Road, married his late wife Joyce and raised a family while working for Libbey-Owens-Ford. Over the years, he’s been involved with Anthony Wayne athletics and the Anthony Wayne Alumni Association and attends nearly every game.
“I’m pretty proud of this school,” Thomas said.