EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – 100 years ago the city of Evansville was barely 100 years old. It had plenty of new things its neighbors didn’t, including a new second high school.
“It was Thanksgiving of 1921. It was the first time ever. Central had been around since 1894. It was Evansville High School when it first started. Now there’s a new kid on the block. Evansville’s said okay, we’re going to have a second high school, which is now known as Reitz High School,” said Dan Engler. Engler is a Reitz grad and former football player. In his years since graduating he’s researched high school football Evansville at a high level, and even published multiple books on the subject.
Opening just a few years earlier, Reitz made the decision to challenge Evansville High School, now Central, to the first ever game between two public city schools. The reasons, as they can still be today, were bigger than football.
“Reitz was originally built as the west side junior high school. Because the junior high school and high school downtown was the only other school,” said Stan Schmitt, Evansville Willard Library Historian.
“Reitz was started because the westside of Evansville wasn’t getting the representation. Back then there weren’t as many cars so it was harder for them to travel to Central High School which was downtown at the time. For them to get their own school was a big step. Then for them to have their own football team, and to play the city team, Evansville High School, now Central was a big moment for them,” added Engler.
It was the newest school, against another that had been playing football since 1894. From the moment the ball was snapped that experience was evident.
“They weren’t very big. Central was a state power. 1921, they’re big enough we’re going to try and go at it. They probably weren’t big enough yet because the final score was 104-0 in favor of Central,” said Engler.
That’s right Evansville’s first ever matchup in its oldest rivalry was a blowout.
“The kicker was 14/14. There was a gentleman by the name of Herman Byers who scored 3 touchdowns for the Bears. Reitz fans know him as really the preeminent coach in Reitz High School history. The fact that the coach that led them to the most success also led them to one of their greatest defeats all time is kind of ironic,” said Engler.
Today, few remember that game. To get many details you have to go back in the school’s records which seem to tell different tales.
“If you look at both yearbooks there especially. It’s kind of one of these where each of them has their excuses and stuff. Reitz complained the field was so wet they just couldn’t run. They had faster players and stuff. The pit there they were playing in they couldn’t do anything,” remembered Schmitt.
In the 100 years since, close games across the city have been remembered as classics by fans and alumni. But the truth is, the original classic, wasn’t close at all.
The first game between Central and Reitz is the oldest rivalry, but not quite the first game ever played between two schools in the city. It was just one week before Thanksgiving 1921, that Evansville Central played a game against Evansville Boys Catholic High School.