by Susan Price ’86
(originally published in 2006)
In the Fall of 1931, BFS held the distinction of having the only football team in New York Citywith a perfect record for the season among both public and private schools. Our 1931 team was undefeated, unscored on, untied on and scored the highest point tally of all New York City scholastic teams that year—an enormous accomplishment for a high school (grades 7-12) with less than 130 students. Even the public school powerhouses of that season, Erasmus Hall and Theodore Roosevelt, tied in their final championship game. BFS has not had a football team in over sixty years and we have had countless incredible seasons in other sports. With the help of newspapers and memories from our alums, their families and friends, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of this remarkable moment in our school’s history.
The statistics for the 1931-32 year are astounding even today. Not only was our team undefeated, unscored on and untied on, but we scored a city-high total of 213 points in the six games we played, a typical number of games at the time. The private schools held no football championships in those days, but we garnered accolades in every newspaper of the day. The New York Evening Post named left tackle Ernest Robert Troeger ’32 and quarterback George Onken ’32 to its all-city private school football team, a huge honor for them and for our school. To celebrate this successful season, team members attended a special dinner at the now-gone Hotel Margaret, managed by the DePuy family, and were commended by Coaches Alan Hughes and Bill Simkin for their great sportsmanship and teamwork. Their parents were thrilled as well and eventually presented gold football pendants to each player to commemorate the season. Arlette Philippous Brauer ’34remembers that season well and even wore one of the football pendants for a time.
Our two coaches that year, Alan Hughes and Bill Simkin, were both Quakers. Edwin Bertsche ’32 and Bob Troeger ’32 were the only Quaker students on the team and Bertsche recalled that Hughes and Simkin were the only two Quakers on the faculty that year. Head Coach Alan Hughes is well-remembered by many of our alums: Mr. Hughes led our boys athletic program from 1921 to 1942 and he also owned the boys summer camp, Camp Minnewawa in Raymond, Maine that had been founded in 1911 by Guy W. Chipman, BFS Principal from 1918 to 1931. Camp Minnewawa was eventually absorbed by Camp Agawam.
Assistant Coach Bill Simkin, an Earlham College football star, taught science and coached at BFS for almost two years, before leaving to volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee assisting West Virginia miners. He later went on to an illustrious career in labor mediation and arbitration. Simkin was appointed Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service by President Kennedy, and was even called out of retirement to finally settle the 100-year-old Hopi-Navajo Land Dispute in the 1970s. These two men were remembered by Bertsche as having had a strong, positive influence on his life and “they each,” Bertsche wrote, “inspired their students to build their own lives better.”
It’s been said that Coach Hughes knew he had a formidable team from the outset. Many of our male students attended his summer camp and he probably worked with much of the team during the summer of 1931. Our players were physically larger in 1931-32 than in other years. In those days, our students were often younger, and therefore smaller, than students at other private schools. George Onken’s mother rarely attended his games, but after one, she expressed to Onken her concern that BFS was playing against “men.” In fact, Coach Hughes shared her concern for our students’ well-being and, after the 1938 season, we switched from eleven-person to six-person football because of it. We were lucky to have Stephen Epler, the originator of the six-person game, work with us for a time, but football at BFS was gone within a few years of Coach Hughes’ departure in 1942.
While reading articles from The Life, The New York Times and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle it became clear that each team member was allowed opportunity to play and to stand out. This incredible season was a team effort from start to finish, no matter which position anyone played. Each player had been on less successful BFS teams before, many in other sports. Each welcomed the commitment and responsibility that is part of being on any team. Mildred Onken, wife of George Onken ’32, said, the 1931 football season “was mentioned so often, it was the highest point for them. Maybe it was the feeling of being invincible that fall” that affected each of them so deeply, tied them to one another and encouraged each to believe that anything was possible. Many of these men stayed in touch until the ends of their lives. Our Athletic Department still emphasizes the same things so many of our students, including the 1931 football team, left BFS with.
According to David Gardella, our Athletic Director today, “Developing the mind, body and spirit through teamwork, commitment, sportsmanship, and the life skills we learn through winning and losing all support a productive life of leadership and service.”
Caption for top photo from 1932 commencement book:
Back row: Coach Alan M. Hughes, John Edson ’32, Edward DePuy ’32, William Winey ’32, Jack Ardery ’34, Crampton Trainer ’32, George Onken ’32, Edwin Bertsche ’32, Richard Woodrow ’33, Armand Cantor ’33, Charles Orren Blaisdell ’33, Asst. Coach William Simkin.
Front row: Walter Isbrandtsen ’34, John Briggs ’35, John Parker ’34, Captain Ernest Robert Troeger ’32, Edwin Thatcher ’32, Reed Murphy ’33, Manager Will-David Doyle ’33.
The Fall 1931 Football Season