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This Week Nominates: Football’s Man of the Year, 1951

From This Week, December 9, 1951, page 10


by William F. McDermott

About this time of year sportswriters across the country are busy picking All-American teams, awarding trophies to outstanding players and electing the coach of the year. We have a nomination to offer for Football’s Man of the Year.

He is a coach whose school is one of the smallest in the country, but whose name should be written very big in the records of the 1951 season -- a season marked by news stories of attempted bribes, charges of dirty play and other episodes reflecting on the game. While most people were wringing their hands over football, this man did something to help it.

Our man’s name is Harold Hunt, and his college is Southwestern, of Winfield, Kan. -- enrollment, 350. A typical small-college football coach, he also handles basketball, baseball and other sports. Coach Hunt’s team opened its season playing Central Missouri State College, of Warrensburg, Mo., also a small school but bigger than Southwestern. It was a game Southwestern wanted badly to win, but pre-game figuring favored Central Missouri by several touchdowns. Coach Hunt’s whole squad numbered only 27 -- pretty thin, even for a small college.

But, as the game got under way, before a crowd of 2,000, it became apparent that Southwestern was no pushover. At the end of the half the score was 0 to 0.

They came out for the third quarter, and Southwestern continued to hold its own. But suddenly, halfway through the final quarter, a Southwestern back, Arthur Johnson, brought the crowd to its feet with a breakaway dash down the sidelines. Evading the only Missouri players who had a chance to get him, he went over the goal line standing up. The referee threw both hands up in the signal for a touchdown. The stands went wild. Southwestern was ahead.

Out of Bounds
The officials were placing the ball on the two-yard line for the try for extra point when Coach Hunt came out on the field. "Southwestern rejects the touchdown!" he called.

The referee stared at him in astonishment. "Johnson stepped out of bounds." Coach Hunt explained simply. None of the officials on the field had been in a position to see Johnson accidentally step out -- though the fact was later confirmed by the only photograph taken of the game. It was the one on this page, showing that very play.

The crowd didn’t know what was going on, but groaned as it saw the amazed referee carry the ball back and put it down at the point where Coach Hunt said man had stepped outside. Play was resumed.

The last five minutes of the game were climactic. Southwestern staged another drive; another halfback made a long run, and it finally pushed over another touchdown to lead 6 to 0. Central Missouri got a drive of its own going, swept irresistibly down the field and scored with less than a minute to play. Both teams failed to kick the goal. Final score: 6 to 6.

The gun had hardly gone off when Coach Tate Page of Central Missouri was across the field to grasp his rival, Coach Hunt, by the hand. "That was the finest act of sportsmanship I ever saw!" he said.

That night Coach Page repeated his comment over a local radio station. Kansas commentators added their praise. Winfield businessmen honored Hunt at a "Quarterback Feed," the theme of which was clean sports.

At a special Southwestern student assembly, the president of the student body, Mike Hawkins, called Hunt "the man of the year" in the cause of good sportsmanship. College President Alvin W. Murray said, "If Southwestern doesn’t win a single contest this season, it will still be the college’s greatest football year." Referee W.P. Astle, pointing out that there had been only three officials at the game instead of the regulation four, said, "If the fourth official had been present to cover what was impossible for me to cover ... I would never have discovered the ‘biggest’ man I ever met."

"Sportsmanship Plaque"
The climax came when the student council voted to award Coach Hunt a "sportsmanship plaque" and Southwestern’s Board of trustees passed a unanimous resolution informing Coach Hunt, "You have won a victory for the college that will be remembered long after the scores of a hundred football games have been forgotten."

At a time when dozens of experts are saying what should be done to "save football," we can’t help thinking that all the game needs is more people -- coaches, players, alumni, spectators -- with the same spirit of sportsmanship as Coach Hunt. The End

Subject: The Strange Case of Coach Harold Hunt
Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2003 21:59:43 -0800
From: "Berle Berson"

I remember the event. It was also recorded in short article in the Reader's Digest. But what I best remember is that the Courier photographer, Carl Whitson, took a picture that showed Johnson's foot stepping on the out of bounds line. The picture was published in the Courier the next day.

Berle Berson


Cowley County Historical Society Museum