More than a century of Stillwater football history can now be accessed in a matter of seconds following the launch of a comprehensive website that details the tradition-rich program dating back to 1895.
Beau LaBore — who not surprisingly, teaches history at Stillwater Area High School — tackled this monumental project starting last winter following his first season as Ponies head coach.
“We have one of Minnesota’s great schools and football tradition so there is a lot to share with a large audience,” LaBore said. “The mission of the website is to tell the story of Ponies football while it serves as a tool to connect, reconnect and inform all stakeholders in the program.”
LaBore started this massive project with the Stillwater football record book and spent countless hours filling in some of the gaps that existed there while making additional discoveries along the way.
“This process was not just about getting the information online,” the coach said. “The record book is phenomenal, but we knew we needed to complete the history. The records reflect many resources, particularly the Stillwater Gazette, the Stillwater Arrow and the Kabekonian, accessed through historical societies. Brent Peterson at the Washington County Historical Society has been helpful as well.”
LaBore also conducted his own research, but drew from previous stories, information, statistics and records provided by legendary coach George Thole, Jim Ratte, Eric Thole and Frank Matchina. He also enlisted the help of area historian Rich Arpe, who uncovered information about what is believed to be Stillwater’s first-ever football game played in 1895 — a 4-0 victory on Oct. 31 over a team called the Old-Timers.
Prior to uncovering this information, Stillwater’s record book only dated back to the 1915 season, with no information available for those earlier teams.
“The compilation has been the work of many people — too many to name all of them,” said LaBore, who when pressed admitted he has spent around 300 hours working on this project. “It’s challenging, but I’m hoping that people who have been a part of the program will be able to find it and enjoy knowing that they can go back and look at their program and their contributions and appreciate it.”
In addition to more detailed rosters, photos and statistics for teams in recent years, the Tradition section of the website is packed with schedules and scores dating back to that inaugural season. In addition to the Old-Timers, early opponents included teams called the “Alumni”, “Prison City Team”, and the “U of MN freshmen”.
The team played just a few games each season from 1902 to 1908 when amateur teams took over, but since 1909 Stillwater has played a regular high school schedule. One exception came in 1918 when the school, and much of the community for that matter, was shut down for much of October and November because of Spanish Influenza. Stillwater played just one game that year, which LaBore said made more sense after learning the school was closed for three weeks prior to Thanksgiving — teams only practiced when school was in session back then — and that head coach Ross Young was bed-ridden for several months during that period.
“It’s not a perfect history and there’s some fuzzy parts between 1902 and 1908 when there wasn’t a lot of information out there and it was widely considered more of an amateur sport so there’s a little bit of a lull there,” LaBore said.
The website isn’t completely finished and there are some bells and whistles he expects to add later, such as video, and additional information once it’s collected. After more than seven months, this will allow the coach to take a deep breath before getting back on the field with youth camps next week and preparations for the upcoming season that begins with the start of two-a-days on Aug. 13.
“I think it’s a great start,” LaBore said. “It has a lot of potential.”
Pony football fans are encouraged to visit the site and become a member of the website by entering some basic information in the “contact us” tab.
“If people want updates if we add something or a news feed or be connected to our program they should become a member of our site,” LaBore said. “They’ll become part of the data base and they won’t get bombarded with stuff, but we can send an email to those who want to follow us.”
Another interesting section of the website offers recaps from many of the program’s most memorable games, including each of the Stillwater’s four state championship victories. Another section displays the evolution of football helmets dating back to 1921.
The coach is also encouraging anyone with old photos, newspapers clips or other relevant information to contact him through the website.
“The 2011 season is kind of what we want to make it, but we feel like we have related much of the concrete history,” LaBore said. “We’re still hoping to find all-conference and captains from before George’s (Thole) years. We feel the team records and individual records have been solved by efforts in the past.”