MAHOMET – For one night, six-man football will share the spotlight with the 11-man variety at Mahomet-Seymour.
The state-ranked Bulldogs (sixth in Class 4A) play their home opener at 7:45 today against Peoria Manual and will use the nonconference date to honor and recognize a historic team that took the field 60 years ago.
In 1947 – two years after WW II had ended – the school added six-man football to its list of varsity sports, dropping kittenball (which is similar to softball) for boys. The football squad consisted of 16 players, 10 of whom are living and many of whom will be in attendance.
The team went 6-4, which quarterback Keith Dawkins called "amazing."
He and his teammates hadn't played sandlot football prior to that fall.
"We were a bunch of kids who'd never even seen a football," said Dawkins, who lives near St. Louis. "When I picked up a football at practice, it was the first time I ever had one in my hands. People were flabbergasted how well we did."
The key, Dawkins said, was "we happened to have a bunch of outstanding athletes at the time."
Dawkins and center Bill Herriott were the first Mahomet athletes to earn 12 varsity letters before graduating. Halfback Jean Davis earned 11 letters and end John Mohr received nine. Davis and end Larry Gnagey were the team's co-captains.
The 1947 season marked more than the return of football. After the 1926 season, when the school defeated Streator in its final 11-man game, football in Mahomet became nonexistent.
Two decades later, many smaller districts in the area had implemented six-man football.
"At the time, everyone played afternoon football," Dawkins said. "The thought was if we put lights up, more people could come and see the games.
"Arberry Yount and Lewis Hillman were school board members that promoted that and got the community behind it. They were the biggest backers of the whole thing."
Hillman (seven years) and Yount (three years) were veteran school board members, as was the president, Harold Moon (three years).
Local businesses donated money to purchase poles, and local electricians volunteered wiring and installation.
"I was a 16-year-old boy," Dawkins said, "but I recognized that it was a community affair."
The 1947 football team had another distinction. It was the final one as Mahomet Community High School. The following year, Seymour was incorporated into the district.
Thursday will mark the 60th anniversary of the triumphant return of football to Mahomet. Dawkins and teammates opened with a 36-14 victory on Sept. 6, 1947 at Colfax.
One week later, in its home debut under the lights, the team topped Mansfield 22-2.
The game was different than what those who watch tonight's contest will witness.
"The quarterback could not be under center," Dawkins said. "There had to be daylight and there also had to be space when the ball was handed off. You couldn't be beside the halfback and stick the ball in his stomach."
Rules were different.
Fifteen yards were required for a first down, and equipment did not yet include face masks.
"The helmets were leather, we wore canvas pants and had hard, half-inch cleats on our shoes," Dawkins said.
The positions were left end, center, right end, left halfback, quarterback and right halfback.
Dawkins said 14 of the 16 boys who played on the inaugural team eventually fought in the Korean War, and one (halfback Dick Parker) died overseas.
Tonight could also mark a milestone for the current M-S team. A victory would be No. 100 in the coaching career of Tom Shallenberger, who started for the Bulldogs' 1977 state championship team.