Tait: Return to glory

One by one, they filed onto the Haskell Stadium field in much the same fashion they did 41 years ago.

Like soldiers marching to battle, several members of the Lawrence High Class of 1967 football team lined up in front of the home sideline and faced the LHS crowd last Friday – one more chance to be honored for their achievements as Lions, one more occasion to be thrust into the Lawrence High football spotlight.

As they stood tall and listened to the public address announcer recite a list of their accomplishments, pride beamed from their faces, discipline showed in their expressions. Heck, even their shirts were tucked in. Somewhere, their coach, the late Al Woolard, was smiling.

“We all had so much pride in being from Lawrence and being a part of Lawrence High football,” said former lineman Monte Antisdel, who now lives in Des Moines. “Walking out on that field one more time was just an amazing feeling.”

Another lineman, Jerry Karr, who still lives in Lawrence, missed the chance to take the field. Expecting the recognition to happen at halftime, Karr was in line at the concessions stand when the ceremony took place at the end of the first quarter.

“I joked with the guys that they should’ve worn helmets out there because I don’t think we could’ve taken the hits anymore,” Karr said. “I was pretty disappointed that I missed it.”

Karr’s former teammates did their best to cheer him up in a way that demonstrated that 40 years apart hadn’t erased the camaraderie of an old-school football team.

“We teased him the rest of the night for that,” Antisdel said. “He was one of the guys who wanted to be out on that field again the most, and instead he was in line getting popcorn for his wife.”

The timing of the weekend was no mistake.

The 1966 squad was one of the most dominant teams in school history. In just nine games, the ’66 Lions scored 364 points and surrendered just 24. That was good for an average margin of victory of 40-3.

But in late October of 1966, one game put the Lions through the ultimate test. That game was at Shawnee Mission North, and it was far and away the most physically draining battle of the season. Trailing late in the game – and for one of the only times all season – the Lions unleashed a furious comeback and walked away with a hard-fought, 14-9 victory.

The victory sealed the LHS football program’s ninth state championship.

Antisdel, who organized his class’s 40-year reunion, said it seemed appropriate to fit the weekend around this year’s LHS-SM North contest.

“We set this whole thing up around a football game, and we wanted to make sure it was the game against Shawnee Mission North,” Antisdel said. “We have so many great memories from that game, and to see this year’s team win was wonderful.”

At a school such as Lawrence High, where every class seems to have a story or 20 about why its football team was the best, the Class of 1967 has as much right to the claim as anyone. Owners of 23 school records and an undefeated season, the 1966 Lions were big then and remain important to this day.

“Everybody in town knew your name back then,” Karr said. “And, of course, your letterman jacket went everywhere with you. The town’s a little bigger now, but being back in that environment with all my old teammates was incredible.”