In places like Havre, nothing brings a town together like the game of football. And for that matter, nothing brings a town together like state championship in high school football.
The Havre High School Blue Pony football team will start its season on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre. And during halftime of the Pony/Whitefish season-opening rivalry game, the 1961 Class A State Champion Ponies will be honored.
About 16 individuals from the former team are expected to be present on Saturday. The then roster of 30 athletes included seniors Doug Hoehn, Ken Madden, Dan Nelson, Don Loranger, Ken Brown, Jack Rucinsky and Jim Vandeberg, juniors Dave Taft, Bob Stromberg, Jerry Bergren, Lowell Gorseth, Tom Angstman, Glen Havskjold, Ric Richter, Jim Kravik, John Heberly, Kent Parcell, Bill Seaberg, Harry Lippy, Larry Richter, Rich Davey, John Manaras, Richard Shulund, Terry Brix and Richey Creamer, and sophomores Darrell Compton, Paul Hartwig, Jack McLeod, Jim Porter and Gary Burchard.
The head coach at the time was Ralph Frank, with Ken Jacobson and Allan Burrett as managers. Gail Orr, Joan Hannicker, Ginny Wylie, Shelley Saunders and Judy Randolph were the Blue Pony cheerleaders.
The 1961 season was huge for Havre High as well as the community. And the state championship was the cap on a very unique season.
Not too many people were giving the Ponies a shot at glory that season. But with a team filled with seven seniors, 18 juniors and five sophomores, the Ponies had a lot to prove.
“It was an absolute fairytale season,” Darrell “Jupe” Compton, former Blue Pony fullback and linebacker said. “Nobody expected us to do much. I just couldn’t believe it, we just kept winning and winning.”
A dominating 31-7 win over Billings Central got the season started off right for HHS. And to follow, the Ponies rolled right through the completion of the year, beating Medicine Hat 33-20, Livingston 46-0, Great Falls Central 12-0, Miles City 27-25, Sidney 25-7, Glasgow 25-7 and Lewistown 7-0. The Ponies didn’t suffer their first loss until they ran into a very tough Glendive team. Glendive came to Havre and defeated the the Ponies 12-7.
It was the Ponies first loss of the season, and since Glendive had one loss as well, they had to play again.
This time around the Ponies would come out on top. On the road in Glendive, HHS was locked in another close contest. But with the unexpected season still benefiting the Blue Ponies, Havre narrowly defeated Glendive 7-6, sending them into the state championsip game with Bozeman.
“It was a brutal game,” Compton said. “But we won and moved on to beat Bozeman.”
Hosting Bozeman, the Ponies did exactly what people didn’t expect from them in the beginning of the season. The Blue Ponies overcame Bozeman returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and overcame the previously undefeated Hawks' squad 26-18 at Blue Pony Stadium for the Class A State title, the whole reason for their remembrance on Saturday.
“Our junior class especially, and our seniors were real leaders,” Compton said. “It was just a marvelous team and a real pleasure to play with them. It was just a festive occasion. It was just like a dream, it really was.
“This is great,” Compton added. “It’s really going to be fun and I am looking forward to seeing everyone, not very many guys live in town anymore. But it’s nice to be remembered.”
Compton is still in Havre, and has basically been here his whole life. He is the owner of the Palace Bar in Havre and is as big a Blue Pony football fan as ever. And being here then, and being here now, Compton has seen the community support the team from start to finish.
“I just about never miss a football game, I absolutely love it,” Compton said. “And I don’t think it has changed much, the stadium was always full. I was a sophomore when we won the state championship, and we won our division the next season, but got beat by a good Great Falls team in the state championship. And in my senior season we didn’t win one game and the stadium was still always full. I think having the community backing the teams is extremely important. There is the booster club and now the Blue Pony Foundation, and I think Havre is a very giving and generous community.”
Some of the former greats from 1961 will be in attendance on Saturday, hopefully getting the season started off right. And if you ask Compton, the Ponies are well on their way to another successful season, a successful season he will be sure to follow.
“I think this season is going to be good,” Compton said. “I think they are going to be pretty explosive offensively and an exciting team to watch.”
Former players Compton and Richard Schuland, and Havre High Principal Dennis Murphy are responsible for the halftime recognition, and all of the 1961 teammates in town for the recognition will have a meet and greet Saturday evening at the Elks in Havre. If fans would like to sit and visit with the former players, they will be available at 7:30 p.m.