By Linda Emley
On Saturday Nov. 27, 1971, I paid $2 to watch one of the most memorable events in Richmond history. That was the going rate in 1971 to see a state championship football game.
Like many other lucky folks, I watched the Richmond Spartans football team win the 1971 3A State Championship at Fulton, Mo.
The season started strong and got even better by the time conference was over. The Spartans played 10 games in the fall of 1971 and only lost one, when Lillis won by a point in the season’s second game. Little did we know what excitement was awaiting the Spartans that year.
The Nov. 26 Richmond News said, “Turn Out – Turn out for our battling RHS Spartans at 5 p.m. today. A police escort will lead the Spartans squad through the business district … this evening. Let’s all turn out to give our fighting Spartans a spirited farewell as they leave for the state championship game at Fulton Saturday.”
Coach Tom Adams was quoted as saying, “We see no reason to do anything different than what we have been doing.” The two coaches had traded film so they knew what awaited them in Fulton. The RHS plan was set: “Stop Galbreath. Stop McBride.” The Kansas City Star had picked Fulton as the No. 1 team in Missouri, but that didn’t faze our Spartans because they were ready to play football.
The newspaper mentioned that there were a few seats left on the Greyhound bus that the Chamber of Commerce had chartered. The bus was leaving the Exchange Bank parking lot at 9 a.m. and cost only $5.30 a person. The school took a pep bus and many others drove their cars for the two-hour drive to Fulton. The weather was in the high 40s and low 50s, so it was a nice day for fall football. KLEX radio was on hand to broadcast live for fans that couldn’t make it to the game. A future sports legend, John Rooney, was one of the KLEX crew announcing the big game. One estimate said that around 1,200 Richmond fans were at the game. The local press was on hand, with the team of Lee Meador, Lloyd Brune and Randy Battagler. Many pictures and stories were printed about this game in the days that followed.
The two teams arrived around an hour before the game and it seemed forever before they got to take the field. The newspaper read, “Finally the two squads moved onto the field and begin their exercises. Easy to spot Galbreath. Easy to spot Henningsen.” We all knew our quarterback, Blaine Henningsen, but who was this Galbreath guy? Even today when I hear the name Tony Galbreath, I think of David slaying the giant Goliath , as our Spartans did that Saturday in 1971.
Richmond won the coin toss, and Galbreath stepped to the 35 yard line to kick off. There was a play-by-play account of the game in the Richmond News, but I am sure there are many people who can rattle it off from memory. To make a long story short, Fulton was leading by 25-22 with 21 seconds left. Fulton had a personal foul with :08 on the clock and suddenly it was first down and we were at Fulton’s 8. Blaine Henningsen ran the ball in for a touchdown. His brother, Dane, kicked the extra point and Richmond ended up winning 29-25.
The Star made up for its earlier error of ranking Fulton No 1. “Fulton, Mo. (AP) Richmond drove 67 yards in the last 48 seconds and defeated Fulton, 29-25, for the state Class 3A high school football title yesterday.”
On Nov. 29, the Richmond News said it all: “How Sweet it is … a 29-25 Cliffhanger. Cinderella Spartans Out-Step Fulton for AAA Championship.” “Even when the unannounced return of the champions came about at 9 o’clock,” the paper said, “a noisy crowd estimated at 1,000 was on hand at Woodson school to welcome home the newly crowned state football champions.”
On Monday, there was an assembly at the high school. Blaine Henningsen explained that the Fulton line was after George Robinson and Dennis Collins, which gave him room to work. Blaine then presented the trophy to Mr. Whitmer, which he accepted on behalf of the entire school. Rick Hendrix, Rick Outersky and Larry Best also spoke at the assembly. Coach Tom Adams relived the last 55 hectic seconds of the game and thanked all the student body for a job well done. The coach was given a standing ovation.
There was no time to relax and enjoy the glory for most of the team because the basketball season started a few days later, as did wrestling the following week.
After reading all the 1971 Richmond News articles, I came across behind-the-scene stories, like the connection between the two band directors. RHS director Kenneth Seward and Fulton’s director, Lisle Moore, got together and worked out a joint effort for the half-time show. Lisle had been a student of Kenneth’s at Ruskin High School and was also a student under Kenneth at Central Methodist College at Fayette.
My favorite of the many memorable events was on Coach Simmons’s list. He said, “Ron Masters is really one of our unsung heroes. To see a 145-pound back like him flagging Galbreath down was a tremendous thrill for a coach.”
I recall saying to myself, “Masters, what were you thinking?”, and then I realized that football is about going beyond the call of duty. Galbreath later played at MU and in the NFL, including the 1986 N.Y. Giants Super Bowl champs.
NOTE: We were planning on having a 40th anniversary party for the 1971 Spartans but the plans have been put on hold since Coach Tom Adams is in the hospital. Tom needs to be protected from germs, so he is not up to visitors but please send him a card to: University of Kansas Hospital, 3901 Rainbow Blvd, Kansas City, Kan. 66160, Room 4228.