A History of Whiting High School Football Before 1958
Alexander Kompier Fall 1992 (first printed in the Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society Newsletter)
Very few sports enthusiasts in Whiting are aware that Whiting High School had a football team in 1903. I was quite surprised to read an article in the Whiting "Saturday Sun" for October 3, 1903, which noted that the Juniors, a Whiting football team, was to play at East Chicago that afternoon. On Saturday, October 17, 1903, in the same paper, the following article appeared:
"The Whiting High School football team did not play last Saturday. That date being an open one, they spent the day practicing old plays and perfecting new ones. Their manager, Roy Green, announces the following games to be played this season: October 11-Hammond; October 18-South Chicago; and October 25-Crown Point."
Another article in the paper indicated that Manager Green had succeeded in arranging a game with the Hammond High School team for Saturday, October 17.
The manager of the football team, Roy Green, was a graduate of the 1904 School class and later served as the city judge of Whiting. These articles are the only early evidence I have found of such an early interest in football at Whiting I imagine that football in 1903 was rather primitive when compared with the football of 1992.
It is surprising that there is no mention of a football team in the first "Reflector" of 1913. However, the Whiting High School Basketball team of the 1911-12 season was given star billing in the yearbook because the Whiting team had won every game except the final game at the state meet, when they lost to Franklin. "Swede" Benson of Whiting was named All-State guard. An article in the 1916 "Reflector" indicated an attempt was made to start a football team under Mr. Sias, but nothing seems to have materialized.
In 1921, Coach L.B. Hart put a football team on the field for the first time, and Whiting became one of the few four-sports schools in Lake County. Coach Hart had served overseas in World War I and had won his letter at the University of Michigan as a member of the baseball team. Whiting made an inauspicious debut at Froebel, losing O to 48. However, the other games showed some progress: Whiting 14 - Blue Island 6; Whiting O - Michigan City 7; Whiting 14 -- Valparaiso 6. The football teams under Coach Hart continued under trying circumstances: a number of injuries, drop-outs, and, as I indicated before, since Whiting was considered a "basketball town, there was apathy among the students as far as football was concerned. Probably the most outstanding Whiting High School football player of this era was Joe Kopcha, who played football at the University of Chattanooga and was an All-Conference guard for the Chicago Bea.rs. Joe Kopcha earned his M.D. degree and practiced for many years in Gary and Merrillville.
In 1928 the Whiting school officials were successful in persuading a young graduate of the University of Illinois, Raymond P. Gallivan, a teammate of the fabled Red Grange, to take over the football program at Whiting High School, and thus began one of the most spectacular and one of the most successful football stories in the state of Indiana.
When Coach Gallivan issued a call for football players in the fall of 1929, the turnout was not encouraging. The entire squad of the previous year was gone, and, as a result, his debut as a coach was not spectacular. However, his 1932 team was the best that Whiting had had up to that time. In 1933 the lowly Whiting High School football team, representing one of the smallest schools in the state of Indiana, stunned the football experts by winning the Western Division title.
One Whiting graduate of the 1920s remembered that one of the football teams, possibly the 1921 team, played its games in a field east of Margaret's Restaurant on 114th Street. Prior to 1934, the Whiting High School football games were played on Saturday afternoons at Standard Diamonds, affectionately known as "concrete stadium" because of the hard, clay-like surface of the field. After being baked by the hot summer sun, the field, by September, was one solid mass. By 1934, however, the school officials were persuaded to build a modern, lighted football stadium, one of the best in the state, and the field was inaugurated in a game against the highly touted Horsemen. The crowd was so large at this inaugural game that temporary bleachers had to be set up on the field.
Horace Mann was led by Tom Harmon, who was already a legend in high school. He, later, went to the University of Michigan and won All-American honors. Whiting was led by Vin Oliver, who was to be named All-State quarterback for two years in succession…in 1933 and 1934. Needless to say, Whiting prevailed in this battle of the stars, 14-7. The Horsemen were the first team to cross the Oiler goal line, but only when the first team was out of the game. The Oilers continued to dominate the conference, going through an unbeaten season but losing a heartbreaker to South Bend Central, 14-13, for the mythical state championship.
Other successful teams followed in the 1930s, but in 1941, with the outbreak of World War II, Coach Gallivan left his coaching position to join the United States Coast Guard. Peter "Mope" Kovachic, an All-Stater under Coach Gallivan in 1934 and an ex-Illini player, also, became the head coach for the Oilers.
In 1946 Commander Gallivan of the Coast Guard returned from his wartime duties and resumed his coaching duties at Whiting High School. While his football successes prior to WW II were astonishing, after he returned from service, his record seemed incredible. In 1948 the Oilers, under Coach Gallivan, attained the ultimate: a perfect season and the mythical state championship. The outstanding player on this team was John Vetroczky, who won All-State honors. And then, to prove that the 1948 record was not an aberration, an accident, Coach Gallivan and his 1954 team, captained by current Whiting Mayor Robert Bercik, and after losing one game, again won the mythical state championship. The driving force behind this team was Ed Fritz, who won not only All-State honors but was the only Oiler to be named to the All-American high school team.
After 23 years of coaching and after having compiled a record of 118 wins, 66 losses, and 21 ties; four Western Division championships, two conference championships, and two mythical state championships--a remarkable record for a coach of one of the smallest schools in Indiana--Coach Gallivan became a principal in 1954, and ten years later he became the superintendent of the Whiting Public Schools.
What does the future hold for the Whiting High School football program? Coach Sherwood Haydock, in a recent interview, expressed optimism and believed the program would continue to be successful. Mr James Buckley, a school board member, hoped "the future may reflect the past." He added, "Just as the 1934 football stadium energized the football team, the school, and the community, we, the school board, hope that the new stadium will have the same salutary effect." He concluded by stating new families and another 100 new students could help to assure a successful future football program for Whiting.
In this article I may have, unfairly, placed all the emphasis on the coach and a few outstanding players because of space limitations. But we know where the emphasis should be, and someday an article should be written to honor those unnamed heroes whose hard work and devotion made possible the outstanding football program at Whiting High School.