Story by Roger Moore
The journey from an old grass and dirt field at 12th and Duck to Couch Park’s Hamilton Field to the bright and shiny lights of North Boomer Road to Owasso is filled with a century’s worth of football memories. The 2018 Stillwater Pioneers added another chapter.
The first official high school football game for Stillwater teenagers came in 1911. In the years prior to World War I, and with collegiate and high school athletics still in a developmental stage, there were no Friday night lights. Just old wooden bleachers and a large group of folks still trying to understand the rules. Thanks to Ralph Hamilton, a veteran of that world-changing conflict in Europe, Stillwater football began to take shape in 1919. His teams competed at a high level for most of his 26 years on the sidelines and in 1948 the field where the Pioneers suited up on Fridays was renamed Hamilton Field in his honor.
There were good years and there were bad years. Most consider 1967 the “best” year as Donart High School battled to the Class 2A state title game and dispatched Okmulgee, 15-7, for the program’s first state championship. In those days, Class 3A was the largest of five classifications in Oklahoma. In 1970, based on enrollment totals, a Class 4A was added with the move to seven classifications in 1982. Class 6A, opened for business in 1992 and 2014 saw the split of 6A into a 6A-I and 6A-II.
The Pioneers made another run at a championship trophy in 1977 but came up short against Duncan. There have been great teams since with a long list of star players, but life in Class 6A with Tulsa Union and Jenks has been difficult for all Oklahoma programs. From 1996 to 2016 either Jenks or Union was crowned champion. Owasso and Broken Arrow ended that streak in 2017 and 2018. Stillwater tried to end a streak of its own in 2018.
With slick left-handed quarterback Gunnar Gundy at the helm, with lightning and thunder in the form of sophomore running back Qwontrel Walker, and the sure-handed Anthony Bland hauling in passes, SHS and head coach Tucker Barnard had a magical season. Although they did not score the touchdowns, perhaps the best offensive line in school history provided the necessary blocking and pass protection. Middle linebacker Winston Watkins made those from that 1967 team proud, probably reminding them of an old Chicago Bear named Dick Butkis.
Four solid wins to open the season set up a big district matchup with rugged Midwest City. It might have been the first indication of what was to come as the Pioneers, in front of a large crowd that included a group from the Class of 1988’s 30-year reunion, routed the Bombers, 31-13. Two weeks later, at always tough Lawton, Bland hauled down a Gundy pass on the game’s final play for a 23-20 victory.
Three more wins and the Pioneers were district champions and headed to the 6A-II playoffs at 10-0. Barnard’s crew took care of Muskogee, then beat the always-dangerous Booker T. Washington in the semifinals. The date was set, two weeks later, against Bixby at Owasso’s spacious stadium.
But the football gods did not cooperate. Zeus brought his thunderbolts on that Friday night and a stop-and-start evening did not provide championship memories.
The forecast called for Oklahoma thunderstorms. The first lightning strike came as the teams warmed up for kickoff. Pushed back a half hour, the Stillwater contingent rallied, brought out the rain gear and settled in for some football. Some, like Bobby Stites, a member of the 1967 championship squad, sported his classic blue and gold letter jacket. It was not just football alumni in attendance, it was, it seemed, half of Stillwater.
A back-and-forth game saw, most would argue, some questionable calls by officials; one led directly to a go-ahead score for the Spartans as they took a two-touchdown lead. And then Mother Nature with the help of Zeus decided to send everyone scrambling for cover. A two-hour delay did allow for some catching up with old friends, but the task at hand seemed difficult at best as only seven minutes remained if and when the game was set to resume. By 11 p.m. the teams were back on the field, but SHS could not muster a comeback. Bixby raised the trophy for the fourth time in five years since 6A became 6A-I and 6A-II.
For the Pioneers it marked the fifth time the program qualified for a state title game. Only 1967 saw success, but all involved with the 2018 team must understand that success is not always measured by wins and losses. Sports, high school and collegiate, can bring communities together. Sometimes, when all is measured by victories, fans can lose sight of the real significance in the developmental process for young people. You can blame the officials, the weather, bad luck, or maybe some cosmic curse, but, at the end of the day, or season in this matter, there is no one to blame. The 2018 SHS football team’s run to the 6A-II championship contest should be viewed as one of the better chapters in a century’s worth of high school football.
Editor’s Note: We want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Stillwater High School Football team for their historic 12 win season. Additionally, it should be noted that the 2018 SHS Pioneers are Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference Champions, District Champions, and also Academic State Champions.