Down from the Rockies the snow came, driving across Montana and the Black Hills, across Deadwood and Spearfish and the wide plains of South Dakota to lay a blanket upon the town of Huron the Wednesday before the game. Fat cattle along the Missouri and the James turned their tails into the biting wind and sought shelter in the brakes. Farmers in the eastern part of the state, struggling into their storm coats and their boots, watched the temperature drop below zero and allowed as how it was going to be a long winter. At tiny Huron College they worried only about how the snow and cold would affect the game.
As it turned out, the weather didn't affect the game, at least not Huron's part of it, although there was a lot of mud from the melting snow and something certainly seemed to be bothering General Beadle. General William Henry Harrison Beadle came to the Dakota Territory in 1869 as surveyor general and remained to become superintendent of public instruction; he is recognized as the man who saved South Dakota's public lands for the schools. Today, however, General Beadle is no longer a him but an it, a small college once called Madison State Normal but renamed in the old soldier's honor a few years back. On Saturday the Huron Scalpers took care of his namesake as the Sioux were never able to do with the general himself. The football team massacred General Beadle.
The score was 31-7, but neither its size nor the victory was surprising, for Huron College has one of the most amazing football teams in the land. It is undefeated and untied and only two touchdowns have been scored against the Scalpers all year. Meanwhile, Huron has scored 408 points of its own in nine games, far more than any other team in the nation, and with traditional old foe Northern State Teachers still to play, the Scalpers may be on their way to a record. In fact, Huron thinks it already has a record, but where small-college football statistics are concerned, it is sometimes rather difficult to nail down the figures.
To the millions of football fans who focus their attention each Saturday afternoon on Syracuse and Southern Cal, on Northwestern and Texas and LSU, small-college football is a world apart. Yet there are far more small colleges in the U.S. than big colleges and hundreds of them play football every weekend in the fall. Some play very good football indeed.
DEGREES OF SMALLNESS
In this number there are big, wealthy schools, which are smalltime only in an intercollegiate athletic sense: Cal Poly, with its enrollment of 5,000; Mississippi Southern, with 3,825; and dozens of schools, such as East Texas State and Mankato Teachers of Minnesota and Hofstra on Long Island, all around 3,000. Then there are the medium-size small colleges, schools with 800 or 1,000 or 1,200 students, like Lenoir Rhyne in North Carolina, Juniata and Bloomsburg in Pennsylvania, Hope and Hillsdale in Michigan, Adams State in Colorado, Whittier in California, Willamette in Oregon. They play good football, too.
And finally there are the small small colleges: Emporia of Kansas, Presbyterian of South Carolina, Sewanee of Tennessee—and Huron. Governed in most cases by the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) rather than by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), even their rules are different. They still have unlimited substitution, for example, to which the big schools are slowly returning. Freshmen are eligible for varsity competition. They have never adopted the two-point conversion nor have they widened their goal posts, partly because many of them can't afford to pull down and put up new goal posts every few years. But the game is the game; that isn't hopscotch Huron has been playing out there.
Huron is the fifth-largest city in South Dakota, a statistic which fast begins to lose its impressiveness when one remembers that there are fewer than 700,000 people in all of South Dakota. Only 16,000 of these live in Huron, and of these only 395 attend Huron College, which makes Huron not merely a small small college but almost invisible.
There is no great campus, only a small plot of land located near the downtown business district of Huron which an energetic hiker can cross in a couple of minutes. No ivy-draped towers grace the land, only three aging red-brick buildings and one shiny new one. The football coaching staff does not have to be reintroduced before practice each day; there are only two members, and by now they know each other pretty well. No vast, tiered stadium rises close beside the school; there is a small one, but this belongs to the local high school. It is 10 blocks away and seats but 1,500. The team does not travel by jet; in fact, not one of the players has ever been on a jet and some have never been on any kind of an airplane. They travel by bus, chartered from the Jackrabbit Lines. There are no shining rows of white cabinets or whirring diathermy machines in the trainer's room. There isn't even a trainer. But Huron College plays good football.
The line averages 200 pounds and is rangy and quick. They gang-tackle viciously, their blocking opens gaping holes and there always seems to be a cluster of them downfield whenever a Huron ball carrier breaks loose. And in the backfield there are a couple of honor students at quarterback, two big, rough brothers, Bob and Dick Lopour—one a senior, the other a freshman—at fullback and a 205-pound right halfback, Ken Heier, who can move.
But the pride of Huron College is a slender, soft-spoken boy from the little town of Hayti, who wears glasses, weighs only 175 pounds and looks more like the assistant librarian than a Little All-America halfback. His name is Garney Henley, and he is leading the nation in scoring with 141 points. The two touchdowns he scored against General Beadle on Saturday gave him a four-year career total of 394 points. This broke the national record of 384 set by Lincoln (Mo.) University's Leo Lewis two years ago.
Henley doesn't say much; he does everything. He was all-conference in basketball and won five first places—100, 220, high and low hurdles, broad jump—in the South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference track meet last spring. He ran a 9.7 heat in the nationals but failed to make the finals. Football, however, is his sport. His speed, poise, remarkable quickness, good hands and unusual jumping ability (at 5 feet 11 inches, he was an all-state basketball center in high school) make him a great runner and a truly outstanding pass receiver. At Huron, however, they will tell you he is even better on defense.
He scored 91 points as a freshman, 96 as a sophomore (including five touchdowns in six carries against Dakota Wesleyan) and 66 last year when he was unable to play on offense in five games because of a hairline fracture of the ankle. Yet never has Huron fed Henley the ball with the idea that he might set records. He has carried only 79 times this season, and on his biggest day of the year, when he scored five touchdowns against Sioux Falls, he ran only seven times from scrimmage.
Good football teams seldom just happen, and Huron hadn't won a South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference Championship since 1934. Then in 1954 Jim Long and Gil Peterson took over. Long, a quiet, intense, good-looking man of 32, graduated from South Dakota State in 1951 and after two years of high school coaching became an assistant—or rather, the assistant—at Huron. The next year he was made head football coach.
Peterson isn't even on the faculty. A mountain of a man who played tackle for Omaha University and later had a good shot at a job with the San Francisco 49ers until an ankle injury stopped him, he was working around Huron as a salesman and inspector of grain elevators for an agricultural insurance company when Long appealed to him for help. So now Peterson holds down two jobs ("full-time assistant coach with half-time pay," Long says) and still spends his time away from the practice field climbing up and down grain elevators. "There's a good view from up there," he says, "and it's not a bad spot to look around for football players." Don Bartlett, who coaches basketball, helps with the football scouting. And that is the coaching staff at Huron College.
ALL WORK AND NO PAY
Huron gives no full athletic scholarships. For some students it does pay the tuition of $400 a year, but it takes an exceptional boy to qualify for one of these. "They just about have to be able to help us in all three sports [football, basketball and baseball]," says Long. Most football players are on partial scholarships, some get by without any. There is no free room and board, and laundry money is out of the question. But Long and Peterson find for their athletes jobs among the merchants downtown or around the school, and the people of Huron have discovered that these tough, friendly kids from the farms of the tough, friendly pioneer country are among the best baby sitters in the world.
At first the coaches went out into the state and down into Nebraska, extolling the virtues of a Huron education. They showed the boys the town's big, beautiful, new basketball arena, which seats 7,000 and is the largest in South Dakota. They also showed them the new girls' dormitory, and explained that the boys, too, would have one in a few more years (construction begins in 1960) and that a new library would follow soon after. They told how the little Presbyterian college had grown from four students in 1883, when it was located on Rattlesnake Hill, a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, to 140 students in 1951, to 395 now, and of its eventual goal of 800. And pretty soon the athletes began to show up.
After that the job was easier. Long is a good coach and so is Peterson, and you have only to watch their teams in action to tell. When they came to Huron, every team in the conference was running from the split-T. So Long put in an unbalanced line and began to use flankers and the slot offense. He now has added other variations, including a pro-type attack which sometimes finds two backs deep, a flanker and Henley running from a split end.
They impressed their boys, over and over again, with the necessity of wanting to be better than anyone else. They dressed them all in blue blazers and gray flannel slacks for trips and built up their pride. And then the victories began to come and football became a tradition at Huron. "Now," says Long, "none of these kids want to leave here knowing that he is the one who let down. The spirit is wonderful."
Coaches and players are close. They see each other constantly during the day, talk over mutual problems and the boys always find they can count on Long and Peterson and Bartlett for help, whether it involves classwork, family, girl friends or money. And the student body and players are close, too, for there the athlete is not just a representative of the school, he is the school. Of 236 male students, a third try out for varsity teams; almost a fifth of them play on the football team alone. At pep rallies there is a spirit unknown to big universities. The band—and this is no bunch of squares out there, they can really blow—leads the way, a bevy of cute cheerleaders dances around the gym and everyone yells, including the faculty. You can't help but yell if you are there. It is a spirit of togetherness that would seem slightly on the corny side if it were not so sincere—and so very effective.
It is not very likely that Huron College would overpower Northwestern, and it might have some serious trouble with Mississippi Southern, too. But in its own class tiny Huron College of South Dakota has risen above the pack. It excels on the field and it has fun, and this is really what college football is all about.