Truman Review Winter 2001 - Index

Winter 2001-2002
Vol. 6. No. 2

Battle for the Hickory Stick

Homecoming 2001

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Truman Review Winter 2001 - Battle for the Hickory Stick



By Kevin Drzakowski
Truman regained possession of the prize trophy after winning the battle that has been raging on the football field between two old college football rivals for more than 70 years.

Since 1931, the Truman State University football team has been playing the Northwest Missouri State Bearcats for possession of a 30-inch piece of hickory. This wooden trophy has been the source of countless thrilling victories and eluding defeats (more victories than defeats, of course) for the Bulldogs. What's so special about this stick found on a Northwest Missouri farm more than 70 years ago? It represents one of the most intense rivalries in college football. The Old Hickory Stick game, played annually between Truman State University and Northwest Missouri State (Maryville, Mo.), has the distinction of being the oldest continuing trophy game in Division II college football.

In 1930, U. W. Lampkin, president of Northwest Missouri State University, sent President Eugene Fair of Truman State University the stick of wood that would soon receive the fitting name "The Old Hickory Stick." President Lampkin found the stick on the very farm where Fair was born, located within the Northwest Missouri State district. The stick had been turned in the woodworking shop at Northwest, and the lettering on the stick listed the scores of every football game between the two colleges from 1908 to 1930. The symbolism of the Old Hickory Stick is that both schools can claim ownership of the trophy, since it was found in an area connected to both Northwest and Truman. In 1931, the annual football game between the two schools was inaugurated as a means of determining who would own the trophy for the following year.

The 30-inch Old Hickory Stick represents a unique trophy for the annual football game between Truman and Northeast Missouri State, one of the most intense rivalries in college football.

The Old Hickory Stick is just one tradition in the rich history of Bulldog football. Organized football began at the turn of the century for the school then called the Missouri State Normal School of the First District. In its first year of intercollegiate play, the members of the 1900 team posted a 3-2-1 record, an auspicious beginning for a new team. The team's first game, played on Nov. 2, was a 76-0 rout of Oaklawn Academy located in Novelty, Mo. Interestingly, the Normal School's two losses that year were to the American School of Osteopathy (now Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine) and Kirksville High School. The team tied the University of Missouri's B Team. Since that first year, Truman has fielded a football squad each year except for 1912, 1913, the World War I year of 1918, and the World War II years of 1942, 1943, and 1944.

At the time of the first Old Hickory Stick game in 1931, Truman had already established itself as a perennial football power. The team won the conference championship of the newly formed M.I.A.A. in 1916, and the Bulldogs took top conference honors three years in a row from 1920 to 1922, and again in 1924. In 1925 Don Faurot was named coach. Faurot would go on to become one of the most outstanding coaches in Truman's history. His Bulldogs won the conference championship outright six times under his lead. The team was co-champion in 1928, giving Coach Faurot seven conference championships out of the nine years he coached. There was no better coach to be at the helm of the Bulldog team when the Old Hickory Stick battles began.

Maryville took the first of the Old Hickory Stick games, winning the contest 7-0. The Bulldogs, however, soon avenged that defeat. The years of 1932, 1933, and 1934 saw the Bulldogs go undefeated each season. One of those victories included a 1933 triumph over the University of Missouri. Also included were the Old Hickory Stick victories; the Bulldogs won every year between 1932 and 1936. In 1937, the teams played to a 0-0 tie.

Delbert Maddox, a Kirksville resident who was a member of the outstanding '32-'35 Bulldog squads, recalled the Old Hickory Stick wins as being particularly exciting. "I think we had a little more incentive playing Maryville," he said. "It's something that we were proud of, and the school was proud of, that we were able to keep the stick in Kirksville."

Truman has a decided edge in the Old Hickory Stick games, beating Northwest 42 times and losing 21 times. The schools tied on four occasions. Throughout the years, the games with Northwest have always held a special drama, producing more than the usual number of thrilling conclusions. The rivalry between the schools ensures that the players always give their utmost in order to return or keep the stick for the following year.

Not only did the players feel a special desire to beat Northwest, but the coaches did as well. Thelma Spainhower, another Kirksville resident whose late husband, John, played with the Bulldogs, recalled the feelings of former Bulldog coach Kenneth Gardner. "He did not like Maryville," she said. "If Coach Gardner didn't win another ball game, he always wanted to beat Maryville." Such is often the case with a heated rivalry.

That rivalry has preserved itself through the decades, losing no fire as the Bulldogs and the Bearcats continually square off each year. Truman's games with Northwest have had an even deeper significance the past few years. In 1996, the Bearcats won the Old Hickory Stick for the first time in 11 years. Since then, Northwest has grown into a truly formidable Division II football power. The Bearcats held the stick hostage for five years, racking up a winning streak of 44 conference games in a row and capturing two national titles during the period.

However, the Old Hickory Stick game this year belonged once again to the Bulldogs. Northwest had its conference winning-streak snapped by Truman on Oct. 27. Head football coach John Ware believes that there has been a little extra motivation for the Bulldogs in the recent Old Hickory Stick games. "With all Northwest's success, the games mean a little more," he said. Ware was especially proud of his team's effort to win even when they were down late in the final quarter. "There's a 'never say die' attitude," Coach Ware said. "The kids know they're never out of the game."

Things did indeed look grim for Truman near the end of this year's contest, as Northwest found itself in a likely position to hold onto the trophy for the sixth year in a row. The Bulldogs had put forth an outstanding defensive effort in the third quarter, but still found themselves down 20-7 as the fourth quarter began. Northwest threatened to score again as a 58-yard pass got them within five yards of the end zone. However, the Bulldog defense stepped up once more. Senior defensive-end Sterling Brown tackled a Bearcat receiver for no gain on the third-and-goal play, and senior defensive-end Jim Marischen blocked the ensuing field goal attempt with 13:42 left in the game.

After a 42-yard Truman drive on the next possession, junior Austin Lepper brought the Bulldogs closer at 20-10 with a career-long 50-yard field goal. On the next drive, the Bearcats were unable to get past their own 22-yard line and were forced to punt.

Truman got the ball back on their own 47-yard line, and quarterback Eric Howe completed two passes to bring the Bulldogs to within eight yards of the goal. After a three-yard drive by sophomore fullback Marc Heinecke and a pass-interference call, junior fullback Carl Swenson punched the ball into the end zone. The extra point brought Truman to within three points of the host.

Northwest again threatened to pull away, driving 30 yards on nine plays. The Bearcats then kicked a 31-yard field goal. Truman found itself down 23-17 with 1:30 left in the game.

Junior Alfonso Pugh returned the kickoff 17 yards to Truman's own 25-yard line to start the final drive, a deciding run that Coach Ware identified as a total team effort. After Howe connected with Pugh for a 17-yard pass on the first play, the Bulldogs found themselves facing fourth-and-10 after three incompletions. But Howe was able to find junior Geoff Jensen on the comeback route on the sidelines, and then proceeded to complete two more passes to get to the Northwest four-yard line. Howe then found his own way into the end zone, tying the score at 23 apiece. The extra-point kicked by Lepper sealed the victory for the Bulldogs, bringing the Old Hickory Stick back to Truman for the first time since 1996.

Football players grasping the Old Hickory Stick Football Game Football team
After reclaiming the Old Hickory Stick this year, the Truman football team celebrated by dipping the trophy in purple paint to symbolize their win. The Old Hickory Stick game between Truman and Northwest Missouri State is the oldest continuing trophy game in Division II college football. The football victory over Northwest carries a special sense of satisfaction for the Bulldogs because it brought the Old Hickory Stick back to Truman for the first time since 1996.

Senior Sterling Brown felt that the victory was a motivational win for Truman. "Now we know we're a special football team," he said. "It's a team goal to win the Old Hickory Stick. It lets everyone know we're a force to be reckoned with...winning the Hickory Stick gave us that much more incentive."

Once again, the Old Hickory Stick is resting in its rightful place at Truman State University. The stick will remain on display in Truman's football office for at least a year, until Northwest comes to challenge Truman for the trophy once again. The Bulldogs find themselves with a new task next year, however, as the focus shifts from reclaiming the Old Hickory Stick to retaining it. But Coach Ware doesn't feel the desire to win the game will be any less strong. "The motivation will always be there," he commented.

One 30-inch piece of wood, found on a Missouri farm, has been the prize for 67 battles between two old college football rivals during a 71-year span. Every Old Hickory Stick game has a story all its own, and this year's will no doubt go down as one of the most memorable. The stick is a perfect metaphor for the Bulldog's season. The Old Hickory Stick that has been recaptured through countless hours of practice and unchecked effort reminds us of the outstanding Truman winning football tradition that has been found once again this season.

Kevin Drzakowski is a senior English major from St. Charles, Mo.
Photos by Melissa Ware and Tim Barcus.