Opinion

Clinton John left his mark on Cambridge

Monday, April 7, 2008
1920 Cambridge High football team, State Football Champs: front row, Tom Coder, R.H., Ed Thompson, R.T., Claude Mousel, R.C., Andrew Campbell, C., Lloyd Mousel, L.C., Norris Williams, L.T., Ed Ellingson, L.H., Second row: Paul Rodwell, Q.B., Charles Carroll, R.E., Donald Rankin, F.B., Wayne Ballah, L.H., Back row: Harold Simon, Paul Mousel, Dean Carroll, Carroll Fidler, Floyd Cotton, all subs.

Clinton John of Cambridge was a man of tremendous talent and wide and varied interests. He was a long-time business man, operating the family business, The John Drug Co. from 1907 until his retirement in 1970 (a year before his death in 1971). He was an active member of the Congregational Church -- a trustee, deacon, choir member, Sunday School teacher, and leader of the Men's Club. A charter member of the Rotary Club, he was active in the Commercial Club and Chamber of Commerce. His major interest was in the community's youth and he was a member of the School Board for 27 years. He was also a talented trumpet player, playing with the area Maverick Band. He served as the leader of the Cambridge Town Band for many years.

As if all these things were not enough, Mr. John was probably best known for his work with Cambridge youth as Coach of the CHS football and track teams.

In this day and age, it is almost incomprehensible to think that a volunteer business man could be the coach of a top-notch football team, but that is exactly what happened in Cambridge for more than 30 years, beginning in 1911, when a local druggist, Clint John took over the coaching duties for the Cambridge Trojans. Not only did he keep the football program alive, but he produced some of the outstanding teams in the state, year after year, competing with state High Schools regardless of location or size.

Mr. John was born in Cambridge in 1885, the son of James and Carrie John. He graduated from Cambridge in 1902, where he was known as a fleet runner, and played on the town's baseball team. However, there were few opportunities to play organized sports in high school. Football was not introduced to Cambridge until 1901, and the first games were played not played until 1902, so other than being a pioneer football player for CHS, his exposure to the game was extremely limited.

Following high school, Clint John attended Nebraska Wesleyan College in Lincoln for two years before transferring to Northwestern School of Pharmacy in Chicago, where he graduated in 1907. Following graduation Clint returned to Cambridge and joined his father in the family business, the John Drug Co. In 1926 Clint bought out his father and continued to operate the John Drug Store for another 44 years.

Clint John may have quit playing sports when he graduated from high school, but his love of the game never waned. Once back in Cambridge he resumed his interest in school sports, and when the football team was in danger of folding because of the lack of a coach, he took on the duties of high school football coach in 1911, the year after the forward pass was introduced to organized football.

Mr. John was the coach of the high school team continuously from 1911 until sometime in the 30s, when a duly qualified teacher at the high school took over the coaching duties. (This covered a busy and difficult period for Mr. John. His first wife, Eva, died delivering a daughter, Eva Jr. in 1912. Mr. John married Caroline (Thuman) in 1916, and two daughters were born to this union, Pauline (Walburn), Cambridge, and Marjorie (Wright) of McCook).

When World War II broke out in 1941, Cambridge coaches were called into the service and Clint was asked to return to Cambridge High and resume the position of football and track coach. His tenure this time lasted until 1946, when service men returned and coaches again were available to fill positions in high schools. (From 1911 until 1935 Mr. John served in a strictly volunteer capacity and was paid no salary. For his service from 1941 to 1946 Mr. John was paid -- $25 per month.)

Though Clint John coached many outstanding teams, the 1920 team would have to be singled out, since that is the team which was awarded the Nebraska High School Football Championship -- regardless of the size of school.

Greg McBride, long time sports editor of the Omaha World Herald, talked about the 1920 Cambridge football team in a column in 1964: Cambridge had pretty much gone through the entire season, without a great deal of stress. The final score was the only mystery about a game. They beat Gothenburg by 53 points, Oxford by 93, Curtis by 51, York by 40, and McCook, the only team to score a point against them to that point in the season -- they beat 43-3.

Toward the end of the season Mr. John read someplace that Bayard, out in the Panhandle, had a team that was undefeated, and the community was very high on their gridsters -- as the best team in the state. Mr. John had been quoted as saying that in 1920 a team had to be something special to win on the road, nevertheless, he was agreeable to play Bayard at Bayard when a group of Cambridge businessmen challenged the Bayard Eleven to game and Bayard accepted.

It was not easy to play Bayard. The Trojans had to arise before dawn, motor to Gothenburg, and then catch a Union Pacific train to Bayard for an afternoon game. (no lights on high school fields in those days). The game was a good one. Cambridge scored an early touchdown and made that score stand up for a 7-0 victory. That night the CHS team bedded down at the homes of the Bayard boys, and returned home the next day.

The game for the state championship was played in Cambridge, against Omaha Commerce High (now Omaha Tech). Cambridge had 23 boys on the squad in 1920, but used substitutes sparingly. In the title game one substitute was used -- a 115 pounder.

Throughout the season Clint John used a variety of offensive formations, including a forerunner of the T-formation and the Minnesota formation. Most of the plays would not be allowed under today's rules. For instance: in 1920 the center was not required to pass the ball between his legs. He could turn and pass the ball to anyone on the team (and he did). "End around," and "Tackle around" were standard plays in John's playbook. Deceptive speed worked well against the bigger Omaha Commerce players.

Ike Mahoney was the star of the Commerce team and was later an All-American candidate at Creighton University (yes, Creighton did have football teams in those days -- some very good ones). After the game Ike was interviewed, saying, "With all that whirling and running in all directions, the Trojans had plenty of deception. What a game! You tackle everybody and still don't get hold of the man carrying the ball." Cambridge won the game, 10-0. The trophy, signifying the State Championship resides in the CHS trophy case today.

Mr. John got a good deal of recognition for his work as an outstanding high school coach during his lifetime and the community has honored him by naming the Cambridge High School football stadium, "Clinton John Memorial Field". This is surely a fitting tribute to a talented and selfless volunteer to Cambridge High School. But perhaps an even greater honor is the fact that Clint John is known as the "Father of the Cambridge Tradition," a legacy of unparalleled athletic excellence in Nebraska, a tradition that continues to this day. Source: Cambridge Clarion, Omaha World Herald

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