100 years: Football’s tragic history in Evansville

100 Years of Football


EVANSVILLE, Ind (WEHT) 100 years of high school football in Evansville has produced timeless moments of triumph, teamwork, and touchdowns. But it’s also been marred by tragedy. According to a report from the National Center for Catastrophic Injury, 218 middle school and high school players died from football injuries from 2000 to 2018.

A century of football has produced three known deaths in Evansville that exemplify just how brutal the sport can be.

 In 1908, Albert Daugherty was playing with an Evansville YMCA team when he was caught under a pile. Daugherty broke his back, and passed away days later.

The response to the tragedy shook the community, and prompted parents to reconsider letting their children play football.

“The outcry about young men being hurt and crippled like that from football, they requested that everybody on the football team’s parents gave permission to play because it was dangerous,” recalls Stan Schmitt, the Vanderburgh County Historian, “And the majority of the parents refused to sign, so the rest of the high school football schedule for that year in 1908 was cancelled.”

But it wouldn’t be the last death on the gridiron. In 1951, Bosse’s Richard Stock collapsed from a brain injury during practice, and was pronounced dead when he reached the hospital.

The most recent death occurred in October of 1982 at Central High School.

On the eve of the Bears’ season finale, junior linebacker Scott Cowen complained to coach Don LeDuc of head pain after making a tackle. LeDuc sent him to the sidelines to rest, but what happened next, teammate Scott Pfingston will never forget:

“He pulled his helmet off, and he immediately held his head. And he just went and laid backwards. It kind of hit a crescendo. He cried out, it was kind of this eery, high scream. He said ‘My God, my God, I’m going to die.’ It was a matter of moments even before the ambulance got there, he just got real quiet.”

Cowen underwent emergency brain surgery, but passed away more than a week later.

A defensive captain on the football team, a star on the baseball team, and a 4.0 student in the classroom, Cowen’s loss was a crushing blow to the community.

“It resonated through the entire class. You felt it at the school as well. That whole year was different. It was just weird.”

Cowen’s legacy has been preserved at Central High School. The weight room at the school was named in his honor, and a baseball field also bears his name.

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