That long winning streak, the first perfect record in school history, those lopsided victories that came week after week after week – everything seemed to go right for the Springfield Catholic Central High School football teams during that two-year span in the late 1950s.
There was that one glitch in Lima and for years after, a closely kept secret.
Catholic Central won 20 straight games from September 21, 1957 to October 9, 1959. The centerpiece of that magnificent run was the perfect 9-0 season in 1958.
Along the way the Tornadoes – the nickname was dropped in 1979 and the unofficial Irish moniker became official — had just a few close games. They edged Hamilton Catholic 6-0 in 1957 and Lima Central Catholic 20-12 to cap off the unbeaten 1958 season and then a year later topped Lima again 6-0 for win number 20.
On the flip side were blowouts of Hamilton Catholic 58-0, Zanesville Rosecrans 54-12, Newport Catholic 41-0, Southeastern 39-0 and 38-0 in back-to-back years, Mechanicsburg 34-0, and Middletown Fenwick 39-6.
And the glitch?
That came before the first of the three games in which SCC topped Lima Central Catholic in the streak. It was October 4, 1957 and it was played at Lima Senior’s stadium in northwest Ohio.
As is detailed in the new book – “The Tornado Twenty” by former SCC receiver and later a longtime high school and college coach and educator, George Bianchi – Coach Bill Rankin said, “Last one out be sure the door is locked!”
After the team took the field for the opening kickoff, student manager Brian Garry looked around what he thought were the Tornadoes’ empty quarters and headed out, locking the door behind him.
As the game began, Rankin yelled for his right-hand man, Jack Spichty, the hard-nosed U.S. Army vet who served as his line coach.
“Where the hell is Spich?”
Still no answer.
Midway through the first quarter an angry, red-in-the-face Spichty appeared on the sidelines screaming, “Who in the hell locked me in?”
Seems like he was taking his pregame constitutional in one of the bathroom stalls when Garry did his locker room visual. Locked in after that, it took the coach a while to escape.
But the more he bellowed on the sideline, the more Garry busied himself elsewhere in silence.
Bianchi wrote, “no one ever knew until years later.”
Now everyone does thanks to “The Tornado Twenty: The Long Streak, A History of the Tornado Green and the Irish Gold’s Longest Football Winning Streak.”
The book, out just two weeks, is a labor of love by Bianchi, who said he wanted to “honor the memory and achievement of a good bunch of guys,” their 20-game winning streak and the core of it all, the perfect season.
He said as the victories began to pile up, he and his teammates and especially Rankin never brought it up: “I can’t ever remember talking about it.
“But I do remember that last game of the perfect season was against Lima Central Catholic and we stopped them at the end on like the 8- or 10-yard line. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow, it’s over. We really did it.’ It was a sense of accomplishment … and relief. So maybe that meant we internalized a lot of our feelings.
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“I think the newspapers in town, the fans and our parents, it meant more to them at the time than it did to us. It didn’t hit a lot of us until we were older and we looked back and said, ‘Hey, we really did do something.’ But we said it matter of fact. I don’t think we were arrogant or cocky about it. We were just proud of what we’d done.”
And that’s why some of those former players will join Bianchi at 7 p.m. Thursday for a book signing and get together at the Catholic Central gym.
The streak begins
Bianchi grew in the city’s West End. His dad was a longtime bartender at Clarky’s Corner and then later at the local country club. His mom was a secretary at an elementary school.
He said sports were big in Springfield, especially in the CYO programs associated with the five Catholic parishes in town: St. Raphael’s, St, Bernard’s, St Joseph’s, St Mary’s and St. Teresa’s. They became the feeder programs for Catholic Central.
The streak began with the 1957 team, which lost its opener 19-14 to Roger Bacon and then won its last eight games to finish 8-1, tying it with the 1953 team for the best record in school history.
The Tornadoes were molded by Rankin, an ex-Marine who survived the Battle of Iwo Jima and then endured the rigors of Bear Bryant when he coached Kentucky before transferring to Xavier, where he was a great running back.
Bianchi said while discipline was a key to the team’s success, he especially attributes it to Rankin having them ready for every game: “We never looked ahead. I know it’s an old cliché, but we did play one game at a time.”
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The teams that put together the streak had several stars – including center Mike Costello, guard Dan Routzahn, running back Dick Clark, center Jerry Kaeser, tackle Mike Whitacre and ends Bob Anzinger and Bianchi — and the lessons all of them learned served them well later in life.
After high school Bianchi attended Florida State and then came back to Springfield and get his education degree at Wittenberg and his master’s at Ball State.
“I married the girl in my algebra class,” he said with a warm laugh as he remembered his wife, then Donna Capp.
Three years ago Bianchi retired after 50 years in education and coaching, both at the high school and college level. Much of it was in Florida – his first job was at Naples High, his last at Spanish River High in Boca Raton – and most of it was as a basketball coach.
His college stops included Armstrong State, a Division II school in Savannah, Georgia, which he twice guided to No. 1 ranking in the nation, Fort Valley State, Lake Sumter College and Broward College. He and Donna live in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
He said one of the lessons that resonated from his high school days throughout his own career was the benefit of hard work:
“You might not know as much as the guy on the other bench or have as good of talent, but if you outwork him you have a chance to be successful.”
They said it
“You can learn more about a man by playing a sport with him for one hour than you can by talking to him all day.”
The quote is by Socrates and it’s one of dozens – from the likes of Will Rogers, Dolly Parton, Joe Namath, Mother Theresa and the Rev. Martin Luther King – that Bianchi has sprinkled through his book.
Along with recaps of every game and colorful facts about every rival school or town the Tornadoes played, Bianchi includes an “On the Jukebox” listing with every game.
He mentions some 30 popular artists and their songs of the day, everything from Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day,” and Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” to The Diamonds’ “Little Darlin’.”
Bianchi said he has one regret. He wishes he had written the book sooner because several of the players, coaches and others associated with the team have died.
With the help of proofreader Alexandria Byrne, he completed the book in a year and self-published it through Akron-based 48HrBooks. To obtain a copy go to the website: www.thetornadotwenty.com.
Bianchi – who’s never taken on a writing venture before – said he directed the book toward the players and did so because “if somebody didn’t write it down, it’d be lost forever. So at least now they’ll have a copy in the school library.”
Since it’s only been out a couple of weeks, only a few players have read it.
One that has was Tom Palmer, Bianchi said:
“He said he sat down one afternoon and was going to read for a couple of hours, but he didn’t put it down until he read the whole thing. He said he’d forgotten a lot of the details that I talked about.
“He said, ‘I didn’t just like the book, I loved it.’ ”
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