By Jim Dunne
The Norwich Y Giants, Norwich’s semi-pro football team that played similar teams from other cities during the years following World War II, was put together in just a couple of weeks in October 1947. President and captain John Kelly and coach Jack Lee decided that the quickest way to get the team up to speed in a short time was to use the offensive system that all the team members remembered from their high school days under coach Kurt Beyer.
Their first game, a 6–0 loss to the Syracuse Valley Athletic Club on October 26, 1947, revealed that even a familiar offensive system would not make up for a lack of practice. Because most of the players had daytime jobs, practices were held at night in the Y gym. The only outdoor practice, and the only one at which players were able to wear the pads on loan from the high school team, was held on the previous Sunday afternoon at Alumni Field. More than 200 fans showed up to watch this practice!
Norwich’s interest in football in those days involved the whole community. On the Friday before that single outdoor practice, a pep rally was held on the courthouse steps and at Alumni Field in preparation for Norwich High School’s traditional battle with Binghamton Central. Several of the Y Giants players were asked to speak, and John Kelly and Burt Palmatier, former captains of NHS teams that had triumphed over Central, were on the program. Also scheduled to speak were Luke White, who played during the pre-Beyer regime of Lew Andreas, and Bob VanTine, the new sportswriter for the Norwich Sun. (In 1947, two former NHS coaches held positions at Syracuse University: Andreas was athletic director and Reaves “Ribs” Baysinger was head football coach.)
Also on the program for the Alumni Field bonfire were two recent former NHS players – neither of whom would ever walk again without crutches. Gerry Farnham, captain of the 1939 team, and Dick Archer, who played in 1946, had both been struck down with polio. In fact, the 1946 NHS football season had been cancelled after three games due to the polio epidemic, and players O’Dell Ray, Bill Houman, and Archer had contracted the highly contagious and then-unpreventable disease.