No one could touch them on the field. No one really knows how star player Harold Dangerfield got the nickname “Dinger.”
No one knows for sure how old Phil “Flip” Houserman really was, but his saga and the mystery surrounding the 1923 Elyria High football team lives on 90 years later.
The team was unbeaten on the field, but thanks to its bitter rival from Lorain, there will forever be an asterisk next to Elyria’s incredible season.
There were always questions about the eligibility of Houserman but his mother satisfied EHS principal R.P. Vaughn when she signed an affidavit stating her son was not too old to participate prior to the start of the school year.
However, shortly after a 51-6 win over Wellington — Elyria’s eighth of the year in eight tries — Elyria’s biggest rival produced documentation that derailed the perfect season.
Lorain officials had dug up a birth certificate from McKeesport, Pa., where Houserman’s family once lived. The certificate proved Houserman to be 22 years old.
League principals and superintendents of the Little Big Seven League gathered for a meeting on a Sunday afternoon and Houserman was declared ineligible for the remainder of the season and Elyria’s previous games declared null.
Enraged Elyria fans were bitter over the decision and encouraged the school not to play the scheduled game against Lorain. However, Dangerfield and Co. wanted to play.
The “Lavenders,” as Lorain was known in the day, had lost only one game all year. Lorain wanted to knock the “Crimson and White” — Elyria’s nickname back then — officially from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Up to the Lorain game, Elyria swept past its first nine opponents, but its toughest games were against the Alumni and East Cleveland Shaw. At midseason, an annual game was scheduled that brought back players who had graduated to take on the team — a common practice in that era.
Elyria won 7-6 as Dangerfield drop-kicked the extra point after Bob Crawford crossed the goal for the sudents’ only touchdown.
Dangerfield was the key figure and certainly the star of the team that outscored opponents 250-26. He was also the reason Shaw decided to quit and leave the field prior to the official conclusion of its game with Elyria.
Shaw, undefeated and hailed as the best team in northeast Ohio, traveled to Alumni Field the week before the Wellington game. Ely Stadium wasn’t dedicated until 1927.
Dangerfield put the Crimson and White in the lead with a field goal in the third quarter, but Shaw quarterback Barton Momberger answered with a touchdown pass on the next series.
However, officials negated the score because the receiver had apparently stepped out of bounds, making him ineligible. Fans from Shaw poured on the field in protest and Shaw’s coach — Jack Snavely — pulled his team off the field, forfeiting the contest.
Wellington was next on the schedule and Elyria had no trouble winning but on the Sunday after, Lorain blew the whistle on Houserman. The sad part for the team was that Houserman had injured his ankle in the Oberlin game and played only sparingly, scoring three touchdowns as Elyria’s fullback.
After beating Norwalk without Houserman, Elyria got its revenge on Lorain.
“Dinger,” as he was referred to by sportswriters of the day, could do it all. He ran, he passed and he kicked.
He was a diminutive figure by today’s standards — maybe 5-foot-9, 160 pounds — but he was fast, stocky and hard-nosed. He never left the field.
He scored 20 touchdowns, drop-kicked 10 extra-points and the game-winning field goal against Shaw. His 133 points stood as Elyria’s single-season record for 41 years.
“I really don’t know,” said his nephew, Doug Dangerfield, when asked about the nickname. “I guess because he was just a hard-nosed player.”
Doug remembers all the stories of those days, such as when fans would travel to and from games on either the trolley or the train. The Lorain-Elyria rivalry was one of the oldest in Ohio and was considered as big as Ohio State-Michigan.
“They lived in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania,” Doug said of his uncle Harold, who starred and lettered at Penn State after graduating from Elyria. “When they would come up for Christmas and Thanksgiving, we would all be over at my aunt’s home — the Garfords. They would start telling these stories.”
Doug said his uncle Harold grew up as the youngest of four children. His older brother was Doug’s father, Ben, who played tennis and golf. His sisters were Margaret and Florence.
Florence was married to Homer Garford of the famous Garford Automobile and Bicycle family. It was at the Garford home where the family would gather for the holidays.
Elyria’s coach, Dwight Peabody, described Dangerfield as “the best I ever coached.”
That comes from pretty good judge of talent, considering Peabody later coached at and was athletic director at Canton McKinley.
Dangerfield lived up to the billing. He was a three-year starter and letterman at Penn State, where he played offensive and defensive back.
Ironically, one-time county judge John D. Picura, who played for Lorain High and faced Dangerfield, was selected to accept his enshrinement into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame. Pincura and Dangerfield were teammates and best friends at Penn State.
“Harold and I go back to the Stone Age together,” said Pincura at the induction ceremony in May of 1975. “He and I were roommates for two or three years at Penn State. He was an outstanding, fast halfback and as tough as they make them. Penn State played outstanding teams and Harold played with the top-notch players in the country. At the time, Eastern football was No. 1.”
Lorain’s Stadium is called George Daniel Field today after its longtime coach and athletic director, but it was called “Recreation Field” in 1923. Just like Ohio State and Michigan, Elyria and Lorain always concluded the season in late November, sometimes on Thanksgiving.
“My aunt would say they were all bundled up in their fur coats,” Doug said. “Like a bunch of bears, they would hang out the windows (of the trolley). It had to be a real trip just getting to the game.”
It was estimated nearly 2,000 Elyria fans rode the “Green Line” trolley on Friday afternoon, November 22, to attend.
“They would pick it up where it’s now (route) 57 by the mall,” Doug said of the trolley. “They had to transfer on to what I think was called the Lake Shore Railroad — the Lorain trolley system. They’d have to walk a few blocks.”
It was a bitter, scoreless game played on a wet, muddy field until Dangerfield scored the only touchdown in the fourth quarter and kicked the extra point for a 7-0 victory.
Dangerfield lined up at quarterback. The fullback was Jimmy Renouard, the backs Houserman, Paul “Itchy” Braddon and Ken West. The ends were Ken Buswell and Bob Crawford, who also lined up as a wingback.
The tackles were Wade Reynolds and Lynn Heinzerling, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his correspondence during World War II for The Associated Press. The guards were Bill Boyd and Louie Kolopus, who also is enshrined in the ESHOF. Len Krugman was the center. Bill Henry, Carl “Dutch” Scholl and Dick Stevens were the key backups.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1923 Elyria High
- Akron West 26-7*
- Fremont 31-7*
- Bellevue 52-0*
- Sandusky 25-0*
- Oberlin 34-0*
- Alumni 7-6*
- Shaw (See # Below) 1-0*
- Wellington 51-6*
- Norwalk 14-0
- Lorain 7-0
- Totals 250-26