Monday, April 27, 2009

When MI played the University of Alabama in football!

In the fall of 1943 – the height of World War II – neither Marion Institute or the University of Alabama fielded varsity football teams. Both institutions had club teams, the Cadets of MMI actually being the best of the school’s intramural champions, “D” Company, plus the top players from the other companies. The Alabama Informals, under Coach Mitchell Olenski, were not sanctioned by the University, but they were allowed to use school equipment and to have access to the school’s medical supplies. The 1943 season is listed as “unrated” for Alabama.

The 1943 Marion Institute football team, The Cadets. (Credit: Jimmy Scruggs, MMI HS 1944)

It appears that the Alabama Informals played three games during the 1943 football season. They were crushed by Howard College of Birmingham (Samford University) 42-6 in a charity game played in Tuscaloosa which drew 7,000 people to Denny Stadium. The other two games were played against the Cadets of Marion [Military] Institute, coached by “Bull” Spicer!

In the first game, played at the Perry County High School stadium, the Informals traveled to Marion where they defeated the Cadets 31-12 on Friday evening, November 12th . The Cadets played the Informals tough the first half.

The next week, the Cadets went to Tuscaloosa on the school’s rickety bus to play the Informals in a 3PM game in Denny Stadium on November 20th. This time, MMI fielded a better team and made a game of it; MMI scored two quick touchdowns, missing an extra point, and led the Informals early, 13-0. The Informals bounced back, and the score was 13-12 at the half. The Informals took control during the second half, defeating the Cadets 19-13.

Running back Jimmy Scruggs, H 1944, HSD, a current member of the MMI Board, was one of the star players for the Cadets, being mentioned twice in the article about the Denny Stadium game in The Tuscaloosa News for November 21, 1943. Jimmy remembers being knocked out “two or three times” during the game (“We didn’t know what a concussion was!”). The last time, flat on his back, he was looking up at his father who had run out on the field! Jimmy Scruggs also remembered that it wasn’t cold for late November, and that a couple of thousand people had attended the game.

A MMI high school student, Jimmy was in “D” Company, the champions of MMI’s intramural football. He graduated in December 1943, and, in January, 1944, was on his way to the Navy’s V-12 Program, an early commissioning program for Navy ensigns. Jimmy Scruggs later graduated from Auburn University and enjoyed a highly successful career as a pharmacist.

Another high school player for MMI was Robert L. “Bob” Harrington ‘45, the famed “Chaplain of Bourbon Street.” The Sweetwater, Alabama, native would attend the University of Alabama on a football scholarship.

The Rev. Robert L. “Bob” Harrington, MMI HS 1945, the “Chaplain of Bourbon Street.” (Credit: Bob Harrington, “Chaplain of Bourbon Street”)

Finally, the proceeds from the two games were used to pay the traveling expenses for both the Alabama Informals and the Cadets of Marion Institute.

Special thanks to Jimmy Scruggs ’44 for everything!