- Featured Stories
- Douglas County
- City of Ava
- General Interest
By Whitney Keith
The Ava High School football squad of 1954 might seem to belong to a long-gone era, but these players are still holding their own in the local record books against today’s gridiron giants.
The 1954 season ended with a 9-1 record, and the team was state-ranked through the entire season.
The team was coached by J.W. Emerson, who went on to have a very successful career coaching at large schools in Kansas and Oklahoma.
“He was a very young coach,” former player Weldon Sanders said. “A school board member later said that they were a bit hesitant to hire him, because he was so young and slight of build that they weren’t sure if he could keep discipline.”
Sanders noted that Emerson developed the weight program at Ava, and said that weight programs were not very common in those days.
“This was the best team out of the first 10 or 15 years of Ava football,” said former Ava Athletic Director Larry Silvey.
The times were different then, as many former players said.
“We just put up hay all summer, played football in the fall then waited for winter to get over so we could do it again,” said Ron Hartley, who was a junior in 1954 and played on the squad.
Sanders said that in those days, there were three high schools in Springfield – Greenwood Laboratory, Springfield Senior High and Lincoln High, which was a “black” school.
Soon after the 1954 seaosn, Parkview High opened, and many of the stand-out players began migrating that way.
The 1954 team scored 349 points while only allowing their opponents to score 74 points.
That team still holds the record in Ava’s books for the best won-lost record at 90 percent of games won.
“In those days, there wasn’t a state playoff,” Silvey said.
Sanders said that most of the schools surrounding Ava had had football since the 1920s, so Ava had to work hard to catch up.
He remembered that Willow Springs and West Plains always played a game on Thanksgiving Day.
The 1954 team’s only loss was to Rolla, and they beat every team that is in the current South Central Conference.
Sanders said that he remembered the Rolla game well.
“It was a very, very big game,” he said. “Back then, the SCA was a pretty tough conference. You had to beat everybody to get the championship.”
The Rolla game was the second in the season, and the Bears lost 21-12.
Rolla went on to have an undefeated, 10-0 season.
“Many people said that if we had played them mid-season, we would have beat them,” Sanders said.
“This was obviously a very talented football team,” Silvey said. “The statistics indicate that.”
The squad also holds the record for the most points scored in a game, with 67 points scored against Willow Springs.
“That was a pretty good team,” Hartley said. “They had those Hart twins, and they were big ol’ boys.”
The team had the highest average of points scored per game with 34.8 points per game in 1954.
They are third in the record books for the fewest points allowed per game, only allowing an average of 7.4 points per game.
“This was just a very strong team in all aspects of the game,” Silvey said. “They were strong running, passing and in their defense.”
Basil Garland is in the Ava record books for having the sixth-highest number of yards gained in a season (receiving) with 622 yards.
Classmate Bob Cooper, who served as quarterback for the squad, has the fourth-highest passing percentage in Ava’s history, with 55.9 percent of passes complete (33-for-59).
Cooper and Garland teamed up to have the second-longest pass play in Ava’s history, a 87-yard rocket against Mountain Home.
Garland received 10 passes in that game, good for third place in the record book for the most passes received category.
Garland gained 251 yards receiving that game.
Joe Hart, Jerry Hart and Sanders all made the SCA All-Conference first team.
Sanders said the squad was very balanced, with four or five backs that had near-equal yardage that year.
“So if the opposing team put pressure on one guy, the others could easily take over,” he said.
Sanders was an All-State fullback.
“He averaged eight yards per carry, which is a phenomenal average for the a fullback,” Silvey said.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. Current topics include local day trips, school history and Douglas County residents who have a special talent. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org