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Out of the Morgue, Nov 16, 2017
Friendship trains and football in 1947
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The Undefeated and Untied 1947 Great Bend Black Panthers Varsity Football Team - photo by COURTESY PHOTO

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

It’s interesting to compare what we consider historically important today compared to what the actual top stories of the day were as reported in newspapers at the time that history was being made. Each week, we scan history websites to determine what was the most interesting point of history taking place over the decades that week. For this week, we landed on 1947. According to sites like, it was this week that the U.S. Screen Actors Guild implemented an anti-Communist loyalty oath, and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities found the “Hollywood 10” in contempt because of their refusal to reveal whether they were communists.
But, at least in The Great Bend Daily Tribune of this week in 1947, the national stories reported all had to do with Truman’s requests for legislation to curb inflation. He proposed legislation for Congress to authorize consumer rationing on products in short supply which basically affect the cost of living, price ceilings on those products, rent controls, credit controls and export controls, conservation of grain through livestock and poultry market manipulation, and other conservation practices intended to step up foreign food production. It wasn’t really clear what they entailed, but there were many who weren’t happy.
At the same time, efforts were underway throughout the county to gather donations for voluntary food gifts to be sent to western Europe. The goal was to raise at least $5,000, the cost of purchasing a carload of wheat. The Santa Fe railroad had agreed to furnish 120 cars without cost for what it was calling the Friendship Train. As of Nov. 17, $4,200 had been collected in Ellinwood, and many of the smaller cities of Barton County had stepped up too. A send off party was tentatively planned for two days later at the Santa Fe station, with the mayor, the postmaster and the high school band all expected. If the political cartoons on the editorial pages were any clue, the need was great.

Thanksgiving game confirmed
Then as now, Thanksgiving was right around the corner. Where today most of us who partake in the dual Thanksgiving traditions, a family meal and watching football, will be indoors, gathered around the television set, in 1947 that wasn’t an option.
But Great Bend High School Principal Tom Massey stepped up to ensure the local crowd could see their undefeated Black Panthers play one more game. The contract with Iola High School was announced on Monday, Nov. 17, 1947.
“The Black Panthers will meet Iola for a Thanksgiving afternoon game at the city park...The Panthers have played only three home games this season and with their undefeated and untied record, the league champions will give the Great Bend fans another chance to watch them in action at the post season game.”

30 letters
“Massey had written about 30 Kansas high schools in an effort to find a suitable opponent for the game, and finally settled with Iola, a team which in spite of losing its first game of the season is rated by Kansas writers in eighth place among the state teams. By the same writers, Great Bend is ranked seventh.” It was reported Massey planned to rent extra bleachers to accommodate 1,000 fans.
A follow up report a few days later had Iola and the Panthers tied for No. 7 in the state. It was noted that Great Bend had been undefeated since its last game in 1945.
As is usually the case anywhere agriculture reigns, nothing is more welcome than a nice rain. That’s just what Great Bend got the day before the big game. The Thanksgiving morning paper’s headline: “Field May Be Soft For Final Game; Iola Turkey Bowl Foe For the Panthers; Visitors Have a Big Weight Advantage”
They were talking about “Big Paul Bain,” the 210 pound Iola halfback. Their other half backs, Alfred Foelkner and Herb Trout weighed respectively 175 and 172 lbs too. Plus, their tackles, Reynolds at 210 and Copening at 192, were trouble for the Panthers too.

Now you’re cooking with gas
The other issue was a muddy field in poor condition.
“Massey and (Great Bend High School Football Coach Harry) Kline experimented yesterday by pouring gasoline on the field and setting it afire in an effort to speed up the drying process. But they had little success, although they probably will resort to that as a last effort tomorrow morning unless the field dries out more today under the present weather conditions.”
(We assume the story was written the night before, the writer forgetting to update his text to reflect Thanksgiving day publication. It happens.)
For senior Dean Wells, the pressure was on. “Dean Wells, the heavy ground gainer for Great Bend, will be given a real test tomorrow afternoon when all of his shifty running and fancy footwork will be needed.”
The report the next day was good. The headline the following day: “Panthers Claim State Title in Iola Win, 32-6; 4,000 see Dean Wells Spark Great Bend To Easy Victory In Turkey Bowl”
“Generally recognized by sportswriters throughout the state as among the top 10 teams throughout the season, the powerful Black Panthers were the only high ranking team to be undefeated and untied during the 1947 season. They also were undefeated and untied during their regular schedule last year, but suffered a beating at a Turkey game last year with Lawrence, conceded the No. 1 ranking team in the state at the time.”
The crowd, it was reported, was “jittery” as the team got off to a slow start, but excitement began to build as the team pushed for five touchdowns over the last three quarters of the game. An extensive detailing of each quarter followed.

Visual record
In 1947, while there were photos in the newspaper, they were submitted via the Associated Press or private sources. The 1947 Rhorea is where we turned for a photo of this historic team. The season in that yearbook was described this way:
“What were young and inexperienced players three years ago, when Coach Kline first began shaping his Championship teams, have been developed into one of the finest ball clubs GBHS has ever had.
The Great Bend Black Panthers reign as champions of the Southwest Kansas League for the second consecutive year. The much heralded Panthers rang up 10 victories, maintain the only undefeated record of AA teams of the state.
The Associated Press poll for ratings of High School football teams placed the Great Bend Panthers as the fourth place team.”
Take a moment to scan the names and faces of these young men. Many will be familiar, having gone on to help make Great Bend the wonderful community it is today.