By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The recruiting process for the first Joplin Junior College football team wasn’t too complicated.
H.E. Blaine, director of JJC, made a call for players at the first assembly of the 1937 school year. Practices began that day after school under the supervision of coaches E.O. Humphrey, Bill Collins and Claude “Jiggs” Mikkelson.
Twenty players — all from schools close to Joplin — comprised the first roster. A few more players joined the team after the season started.
Blaine was able to secure enough equipment, and on game days the players wore green uniforms with gold numerals.
The first starting lineup had Frank Mitts at left end, Delmar Strait at left tackle, Bill Snow at left guard, Bayred Vermillion at center, Russell Bothwell at right guard, Boyd Prince at right tackle, Tom Prince at right end, Jack Cooper at quarterback, J.R. Graue at right halfback, Harold Shafer at left halfback and Jim Attebury at fullback.
Joplin’s schedule began on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 1937, at Junge Field with a 14-0 loss to the Miami Junior College reserves. Norsemen quarterback Herman Degner scored both touchdowns on runs in the second and third quarters.
The Norsemen had 175 yards from scrimmage to 20 for Joplin.
According to The Joplin Globe account of the game, “The Green and Gold battled hard but the smashing Degner would not be stopped. Coupled with his play was an aerial attack that netted 71 yards. The Oklahomans also had accurate blocking that cleared the paths for the ball-luggers.”
Joplin’s J.R. Graue completed 4-of-16 passes for 52 yards in the fourth quarter.
“While Joplin’s running attack was halted, Graue’s flat passes were a constant menace to the visitors,” The Globe’s story read. “The Green and Gold backfielder shot them long and short and with accuracy, but alert Miami defenders batted most of them down.”
Just four days later, a rivalry was born as Joplin played the Pittsburg Teachers College reserves in Joplin. In a defensive battle the Gorillas prevailed 7-0.
The Gorillas had 97 yards to 22 for Joplin. The only touchdown came after the Gorillas recovered a fumble on the JJC 3-yard line. Joplin stopped the Gorillas three times before they completed a fourth-down pass for a touchdown.
The first-year program battled a size disadvantage all season. Joplin’s line averaged 168 pounds, and the backfield averaged 160 pounds. As a result, injuries also were a season-long problem.
“The Green and Gold entered the game (against Springfield Teachers College reserves) loaded with yards of tape,” according to The Globe. “Hardly a man played that didn’t have a few bruises scattered about his body.”
Joplin lost 33-6 to Springfield Teachers College as Linn Stair, former Joplin High School quarterback, sparked the Bears’ 358-yard attack.
Joplin’s only touchdown of the season came in that game.
“The Green and Gold touchdown in the last period came as the direct result of seven straight passes good for 71 yards with halfbacks Harold Shafer and Bert Spencer alternating as the tossers. Frank Mitts caught four of the seven, including the scoring play.”
However, that proved to be Mitts’ final game for JJC as he was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season because he played the previous year on the University of Missouri freshman team.
Joplin also lost to the Monett Junior College Gorillas 21-0 and Coffeyville 45-0 that first season. The final game against Fort Scott was canceled because of poor field conditions.