The Boys of Fall
The 1973 Big 12 Champs return to Hamblin Field

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[September 16, 2023] 

Friday night, September 15th, Railsplitter fans welcomed back members of the 1973 Lincoln Railsplitter Big 12 conference championship team at Handlin field. This team won the Big 12 Championship for the first time since the 1940’s and is celebrating now that win 50 years later.

With only four returning starters on defense and no returning starters on offense, the team was not considered to be a threat in the conference by the local newspaper. That article was placed on the bulletin board to remind the team what we were a threat. In the first two games of the season, the defense pitched a shutout against conference foe Springfield Lanphier and non-conference foe Jacksonville. The team next upset the Bloomington Purple Raiders and then defeated Mattoon during a Homecoming deluge. After suffering their only conference loss in a close game at Urbana (20-16), and losing a non-conference game to Rantoul, the team finished out the last three conference games with a road win at Springfield, and home wins against Danville and Stephen Decatur on a frozen Handlin Field. The team finished the 1973 season with an overall record of 7-2 and won the Big 12 championship with a record of 5-1. In 1974, the state instituted the state high school football playoffs.

The coaching staff for the Railers that year were Head Coach Gene MacDonald, and assistant coaches Denny Diericx, Larry Shoop, Ron Ross, Floyd Bee, Mike Spears, Mike Day and Don Vandersnick. The conference championship win was the first for head coach Gene MacDonald since becoming head coach in 1959.

Team Quad-Captains were both offense and defense starters Willis Roeder, Rich Dierker, Steve Larson, and Harley Mullins. Other returning letterman and seniors on the team included John Schreiber, Rick Schneider, Ralph Shew, Donald Reveter, Dwight Reed, Tom Salansky, George Hartnell, John Barr, Dale Ritchhart, Greg Petermeyer, Richard Alexander, Pat Fitzsimmons, Eric Georgi, Randy Seibert, Bill Yocius, and Dave Kinzie. Team members from the junior class included John Barr, Jeff Joiner, Kevin Courtwright, Mike Martinie, John Raffa, Rick Anderson, Jeff Curry, Bob Schmidt, Steve Mitchell Mark Alsopp, Tom Splain and Dave Schonauer. Team members from the sophomore class included Mark Zurkamer, Greg Prisk, Mark Guzouskis, Dave Klemm, Bob Coady, Bill Merreign, Dan Ott, Tom Schonauer, and Eric Spanton.

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To the local newspaper’s credit, an op-ed at the end of the season said “The Railers were a ‘no-name team’ and were not expected to be a threat for the title. Perhaps this is the reason the Railers became champions. There were no super stars on the club, but instead a group of young men who showed what can be accomplished by playing together as a team.”

[Richard Alexander]

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