REFLECTIONS

Reflections by Sammy Way: Part III - Shaw football hits its stride

1955-1956 saw Fliers become comeptitive

BY SAMMY WAY
The Sumter Item
Posted 1/20/19

Because of the volume of material about the Shaw football team in the 1950s, there will now be four parts to this series about the team. The third segment of Shaw's football expose spans the years of 1955 to 1956. The team had developed into a …

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REFLECTIONS

Reflections by Sammy Way: Part III - Shaw football hits its stride

1955-1956 saw Fliers become comeptitive

The starting line from end to end for the Ninth Air Force Commanders  was, from left, end Doug Goodsell, tackle Harvey Achziger, tackle Stacey Young, center Pete Brown, guard Carl Weiler, tackle John Gordon and end James Wittlesey. Absent at the time was guard Bobby Burrows.
The starting line from end to end for the Ninth Air Force Commanders was, from left, end Doug Goodsell, tackle Harvey Achziger, tackle Stacey Young, center Pete Brown, guard Carl Weiler, tackle John Gordon and end James Wittlesey. Absent at the time was guard Bobby Burrows.
SUMTER ITEM FILE PHOTO
Posted

Because of the volume of material about the Shaw football team in the 1950s, there will now be four parts to this series about the team. The third segment of Shaw's football expose spans the years of 1955 to 1956. The team had developed into a well-coached, efficient organization and a consistent performer. They battled numerous service league teams for dominance at their level of play. 1955 was an exceptional year as Shaw's consistent performance assured them an opportunity to play in several post-season bowl games. In addition to improved play, the team encouraged fans to select a new name for the organization.

At the midpoint in the 1955 season, Shaw's team boasted a 3-l record with its next game scheduled against a powerful Fort Benning Army team. The Fliers featured Jerry Barger at quarterback and fullback "Touchdown" Tom Wilson, who had made all-conference following the '54 season. The team depended on Bob Burrows, Bill Baldwin and Jim Bennett to lead the defense. The Benning team was led at quarterback by Yale Lary, "a former Texas Aggie standout. He was tri-captain along with Ernest Stockert, an end from UCLA, and Ray Correll, an All-American guard from Kentucky." Shaw's stadium was expanded with the addition of a 1,000-seat bleacher, added to meet the increasing need for additional seating. The Fliers defeated the Fort Benning Army squad 21-14 setting the stage for their Thanksgiving Day Elks Charity Bowl against Fort Jackson at Carolina Stadium in Columbia.

The Fort Jackson team featured several all-star players including three former All-Southeastern Conference selections, fullback Tommy Lewis (Alabama), center Ralph Carrigan (Alabama) and guard John Hammock (Florida). The head coach, Lt. Hal Miller of the Fort Jackson Eagles, expected "an even game" against the Shaw 11. Miller reminded football fans that the Fliers had played one of the Fort Benning teams earlier in the season and won 27-13. The Jackson Eagles played the same team and lost 16-0. The week prior to the Bowl game Shaw played Fort Benning's second team and handled them the score of 33-6.

Shaw Coach Bill McDonald was pleased with the play of his men in the Elks Charity Bowl, tying Fort Jackson 20-20 before a slim turnout of 4,000 fans.

"It was one of the best games we played all year," Coach McDonald said. "We made mistakes but controlled the ball most of the game," noting that his team didn't get any breaks. He singled out several players for their exceptional play. The team was invited to play in the Conch Bowl at Key West, Florida, where they fell to a Fort Belvoir Army team 32-13. That was not indicative of Shaw's ability as several of its linemen were injured and had to be removed from play. This allowed Belvoir's offensive unit to move the ball at will. This game ended Shaw's 1955 season.

The team, again led by Coach Bill McDonald, began practice for the 1956 season in July. McDonald had played for Coach Bray on the 1954 team. He was considered by Bray to be a dependable and knowledgeable player. The team opened its season on Sept. 21 against Fort Bragg and prior to the game a "name the team" contest was conducted by Shaw Air Force Base personnel with the winner receiving $25. Airman Second Class Jimmie Randolph won the contest, choosing the name "The Commanders."

Coach McDonald announced his 1956 line which included "Doug Goodsell at right end; Harvey Achziger, right tackle, All-American from Colorado A&M; Stacey Young, right guard; Pete Brown, center, Georgia Tech and the San Francisco 49'ers; Bob Burrows, former Duke player, left guard; John Gordan, left tackle; James Whittlesey, left end; Jerry Barger, quarterback; Willie Lightfoot, right half; David Railford, left half; and Gil Gonzales, fullback. The games would be broadcast on WSSC with Jim Kingman doing the play by play.

In their first game of the '56 season, the Shaw Commanders easily dispatched the team from Fort Bragg 45-0 and immediately began preparations for the Fort Campbell, Kentucky, squad. The team boarded a C-119 and was flown to the game for the first time. Shaw steamrolled Fort Campbell by the score of 66-0 to remain unscored on. The Commanders gained a total of 525 yards rushing and passing, compared to the Engineers' 81 yards of total offense.

The Shaw program fell from the ranks of the "unscored on" as their next opponent, the Eglin Air Force Base Flyers, scored six points against 26 registered by the Air Force. The Eglin team was led by Zeke Bratowski, All-American from Georgia and the Chicago Bears. Eglin's only touchdown was caught by Max McGee, former Tulane and Green Bay Packers star. Following Eglin, Mitchel Air Force Base provided the Commanders' next competition at Shaw Air Force Base. The remaining schedule featured Parris Island, Oct. 19; Bolling AFB, Oct. 27; Keesler AFB, Nov. 2; Norfolk Navy, Nov. 10; Pensacola Naval Air Station, Nov. 16; and Fort Jackson, Dec. 1.

The Ninth Air Force Commanders swamped Mitchel Air Force Base by the score 54-0 as their first stringers saw little action, allowing Coach Bill McDonald to play every member of the team. Their next game saw the Shaw Commanders, ranked third in service play, take on the top-rated service team in the nation - the Bolling Air Force Base Generals. Shaw officials expected the largest crowd of the season to watch the contest. The Bolling Generals lived up to their top-ranked billing by defeating the Shaw Commanders 33-6 in a hard-fought contest before 7,500 appreciative fans. "Bolling's depth and Shaw's first half attack of fumble-itis accounted for the final score." "The U. S. Air Force Marching Band from Washington, D.C., performed at half time while a short-wave transmission carried a description of the game direct to the Pentagon."

Following their loss to the powerful Bolling team, Shaw rebounded by soundly defeating Kessler AFB, Norfolk Navy and the Pensacola Goshawks before taking time off to prepare for their Thanksgiving clash with the Fort Jackson Eagles. The army unit was successful in ending Shaw's regular season by defeating them 26-20 leaving the Commanders record at 8-2.