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Six-man football at Shepherdstown High School

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Jan 1, 2021


SHEPHERDSTOWN — The country was intently watching Europe and the progress of World War II in Sept. 1941, when the Shepherdstown Cardinals under the direction of football coach Harry Lothes readied for the coming season of six-man football. Lothes, a native of Elkins, had also coached the Cardinals during the 1940 season, which was the school’s first season under the six-man rules.

Lothes had taken the coaching reins from Cletus Lowe, who had guided Shepherdstown’s football fortunes from 1928 through the 1939 season.

Six-man football rules differed from the usual rules associated with 11-man football. There had to be three linemen and eligible pass receivers were everywhere. The field was not quite as long, and the scoring for extra points and field goals was also different.

A seven-game schedule was arranged for the Cardinals. With roads and highways being only two-lane byways, there was no useful interstate system in the land. Traveling even small distances in West Virginia could cause heartburn for any motorist.

Shepherdstown found games with Capon Bridge High School, Woodstock (Va.) High School and New Market High School nestled in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

A fourth opponent was secured when Sidwell Friends School, a private school in Washington, D.C., was scheduled.

Capon Bridge, a small town in Hampshire County, trekked to Shepherdstown for the season opener, and then trekked back home carrying the weight of an 18-12 loss to the Cardinals.

It seemed to be a prosperous start to the fall season. Shepherdstown had never gone through any season with an unbeaten and untied record. If a person went walking through the downtown on German Street there was no talk of such a season at the barber shop, five-and-dime store, bank, few eateries or grocery store.

The Cardinals were on the home grounds across the road from Elmwood Cemetery for the second game, which turned into a 40-0 rout of Woodstock.

Then came three consecutive games on the road — a 20-0 blanking of Capon Bridge, a 36-12 win over New Market and a 27-0 victory in the second meeting with Woodstock.

At 5-0, the Cardinals came back to Jefferson County and saw New Market for the second time. The boys from apple orchard country fared no better than they had down in the valley, losing 38-6 to the high-flying Cardinals.

The season came down to Sidwell Friends. Could Shepherdstown actually attain the heights of an unbeaten, untied season?

In a game that must have been fraught with frayed nerves and turns of momentum, Shepherdstown finally prevailed, 27-26, to finish off a 7-0-0 season in fitting style.

Coach Lothes would leave Shepherdstown to coach varsity basketball at West Virginia University for the 1943-1944 season. His one-year record with the Mountaineers was 8-11 overall after playing games in Buffalo, New York City and in other cities along the East Coast.

Shepherdstown High School never recorded another unbeaten season, returning to 11-man football after Lothes was gone and Cardinal teams were guided by Ken Waldeck, Kenny Rentch, Jack Booth, Bill Osbourn and Jim Kessel through the years before playing their final season in 1971. Jefferson High opened in 1972 and had the consolidated student bodies of Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry and Charles Town.

Six-man football under Coach Lothes had brought the school its lone undefeated football season.