The new high school football stadium where I live in Texas -- with its nice smooth turf, bright lights, crisp speakers and video playback on the scoreboard -- is a far cry from the places in south-central Missouri where the Thayer Bobcats played when I was growing up.
Pep Field, near the cemetery, was laid out in 1947 and got lights in 1948. Earlier games were played at Gibbons Field (sometimes called the Fairgrounds) near where Wal-Mart in Thayer now sits. Gibbons Field could be rock hard in dry weather and the mower left sharp tips on the heavy weeds.
Louis Bozman, who came to Thayer High School in 1929 to teach and coach, is generally given credit for starting the football program at Thayer in 1932. However, mention of other teams can be found before that.
The Bobcat's record in their fourth year of play (1935) was as follows: Thayer 14, Imboden 0; West Plains 6, Thayer 0; Thayer 0, Willow Springs 0; Thayer 13, West Plains 0; Willow Springs 6, Thayer 0; Thayer 28, Mountain Grove 7; Thayer 12, Mountain Grove 0.
The South Central Association (SCA) Conference in 1936 consisted of Mountain Grove, West Plains, Willow Springs and Thayer. Each team met twice, home and away, plus they normally played two non-conference games. Thayer took on Imboden and Pocahontas that year in non-conference tilts.
The Thayer teams improved steadily, but the town's people were slow to warm up to the games. An anonymous writer in a 1938 edition of the Thayer News criticized the people for not supporting the team. He said that Cabool, with less than half the population of Thayer, netted over $200 at the gate. The first game of the season at Thayer had brought in $16, and that was owed to the officials and the visiting team. Tickets were 25 cents. A season ticket to four games was 75 cents.
Cabool was added to the SCA in 1940. By that time, Thayer had won eight, lost seven and tied three in 18 games with West Plains.
Coach Bozman was hired away by West Plains in 1941. Mr. Joe Munger took over the Thayer football team in the fall of 1942. That year, Thayer won their first South Central Association league championship in football which earned them a spot in the Ozark Bowl at Springfield State Teachers College (SMU) against Neosho, the winner of the Big Eight conference. Mr. Pepmiller, Superintendent at Thayer, put a piece in the paper urging people to go to Springfield to watch the team play under floodlights. The Springfield paper touted Ted Sullivan and Norman Kirby as being equally good runners for Thayer. Unfortunately, Neosho trounced them that Nov. 30 Saturday night, by a score of 60-14.
In those days, the players drove cars (usually older jalopies like Model-T Fords) with their equipment strapped to the top and occasionally took open trucks to games. The Thayer guys said they knew they were in trouble when the Neosho team came on the field at Springfield. Not only were they big but they had a speed demon no one could catch.
The 1942 Thayer team won at Imboden 27-0, over West Plains 20-6, lost to Mountain Grove 6-12, beat Cabool 26-0, beat Willow Springs 14-0, whipped Imboden 43-0, shutout West Plains 12-0, beat Mountain Grove 8-0, whipped up on Cabool 30-0, beat Willow Springs by a score of 25-7, then lost to Neosho 60-14 in the Ozark Bowl.
The heavy duck uniforms and close-fitting leather helmets, which Coach Bozman purchased used in 1932, left a lot to be desired. Another noticeable change was the football itself. It was fatter and the ends more stubby in those days. The forward pass was not the weapon it is today, however the drop-kick was a strategic part of the game. An offensive player, "drop-kicked" the ball by dropping the tip on the ground and kicking it as it rebound, most often to gain field position.
Us little dudes playing on the sidelines knew when Thayer scored at Gibbons Field by the blaring car horns. Women at the Gibbons field games, often sat in parked cars along the perimeter of the field while the men followed the game up and down the field from the sidelines.