EVANSVILLE — A historian from an early age, Dan Engler was checking into area football history and came across the Tiny Ten when he was in high school.
Not the Big Ten. The Tiny Ten.
The seed for Engler’s newest book, “125 Years of Southwestern Indiana High School Football,” was planted and he was off and running in a labor of love.
Engler saw an article that piqued his interest in the Reitz Mirror in the 1920s about the Tiny Ten. There were really only 10 area teams playing football back then, including Mount Carmel, Illinois and Henderson, Kentucky. It was basically an early version of area power rankings.
Engler, however, is sticking with the Hoosier State for his history book. Some people like to deride sportswriters as frustrated would-be jocks. Engler handled it with characteristic humor. He said he played “left out” for the Reitz football team in the 1990s.
Reitz’s football tradition was naturally ingrained into Engler’s consciousness. He knew, of course, about the 1961 unbeaten, unscored-upon team, the legend of Herman Byers and how the school was often at or near the top of the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference standings. However, when the 16-year-old, who also served as a sportswriter for his school’s newspaper, found some old editions of the Reitz Mirror about Reitz winning the Tiny Ten championship and his interest was piqued.
“I knew Reitz was in the SIAC, but I had never heard of the Tiny Ten,” Engler said. “It made me wonder, when did Reitz join the SIAC? What happened to the Tiny Ten? This sparked the idea for what would become this book.”
Engler started the Unofficial Reitz Football Home Page in 1996 and had a section for area standings and results. As he researched the area’s football history, he gathered more and more information and this eventually morphed into AlmanacSports.com.
While Engler’s research goes back almost 25 years, the book really started taking shape at the end of last football season.
“I have this giant book called the ‘ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.’ Through my research, I realized this would be the 125th year of football in this area,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to create something like this and I decided now was the time.”
The book, which costs $29.95, is available on Amazon.com and AlmanacSports.com. “I’m hoping to get it into the local bookstores,” Engler said. “But if they want to buy it the old-fashioned way, anyone interested can contact me at email@example.com for more information.”
It consists of 430 pages, containing conference standings from 1894 to 2018. It has profiles on every current and former high school football team in Gibson, Daviess, Dubois, Knox, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh and Warrick counties, with results for every game, championships won, coaching records and more. It has a conference section, with membership history and year-by-year champions plus a section about the players and coaches who received accolades.
While the book is chock-full of statistics and standings, Engler shies away from naming the best overall team and best overall player. But That’s part of the fun, right?
Engler did allow that Reitz’s 1961 team and Memorial’s 1937 mythical state champions were no-brainers for consideration for the best local team ever. Bob Griese, a Rex Mundi grad who is a member of the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, is pretty much a hands-down choice for best local player.
“We’ve got information on Bob Griese, the Rex Mundi player who went on to become an NFL Hall of Famer, but also Jay Cutler and Don Hansen,” Engler said. “All the NFL players from the area. We’ve also got every all-stater, players and coaches of the year and so much more.”
Cutler, a Heritage Hills grad, played quarterback for Vanderbilt and in three NFL teams from 2006-17, earning a Pro Bowl berth in ’08. Hansen, a linebacker-fullback on Reitz’s 1961 team, played on Illinois’ Jan. 1, 1964 Rose Bowl championship team and played for four NFL teams from 1966-77.
In addition to the aforementioned Reitz and Memorial teams, Engler digs a little deeper, chronicling the 1959 Rockport Zebras, which finished as the 8-man mythical national champions, the Washington Hatchets’ 1908 state champions and many, many more.
Most local fans know about the changes coming to the local conference landscape – Jasper and Vincennes Lincoln will increase the SIAC’s membership to 10 teams in 2020. The disintegration of the Big Eight means Boonville, Mount Vernon, Princeton and Washington will join the Pocket Athletic Conference, which will swell to 12 teams.
But realignment is nothing new. The Big Four Athletic and Oratorical Association started in 1904 with Linton, Princeton, Vincennes and Washington. Evansville was added a year later, but the name didn’t change. The league lasted for about ten years before fading away.
In 1923, to increase interest in local prep football, the Evansville Press started the Tiny Ten Conference. They picked the ten biggest teams in the area and awarded a trophy to the champion at the end of the season. This lasted until 1930 and the SIAC was born in 1935. The Pocket Athletic Conference was born a few years later as a six-man league in 1938.
Engler loves writing, football and history, so this was a natural fit.
“This has definitely been a labor of love,” Engler added. “I wanted to preserve this area’s rich football history, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done. Now I hope that local high school football fans will enjoy this book too and can learn more about the area’s history.”
Although this is Indiana, it appears that football is king in this part of the state, at least on the West Side. Engler said a lot of it stems from the area’s football history (Reitz winning all those mythical state championships).
“Obviously we’re basketball crazy,” Engler said.
But there’s more hype surrounding football.
Contact Gordon Engelhardt at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EngGordon
High school football — Week 1 games
Castle at Bloomington South, 6:30 p.m. WJPS-107.1FM
Central at Terre Haute South, 6:30 p.m.
Harrison at New Albany, 6:30 p.m.
Memorial at Jasper, 6:30 p.m. WREF-97.7FM; WITZ-104.7FM
North at Princeton, 7 p.m.
Reitz at Henderson County (Ky.), 7 p.m. WSON-860AM; WYFX-106.7FM
Vincennes Lincoln at Bosse, 6:30 p.m. WZDM-92.1FM
Heritage Hills at Mount Vernon, 7 p.m. WAXL-103.3FM; WRCY-1590AM
Washington at Boonville, 7 p.m. WAMW-107.9FM
Forest Park at Gibson Southern, 6:30 p.m. WVJC-89.1FM; WQKZ-98.5FM
Perry Central at Tell City, 7 p.m. WTCJ-105.7FM
Pike Central at Brown County, 6 p.m. WBTO-102.3FM
South Spencer at North Posey, 7 p.m.
Southridge at Linton, 6:30 p.m. WBDC-100.9FM
North Daviess at Tecumseh, 7 p.m.
Indian Creek at Mater Dei, 1 p.m. WREF-97.7FM