Larry Blustein

Dade County: The Making of A Football Hotbed – 1930’s & 40’s

Larry Blustein
March 13, 2019 - 12:37 pm

FIRST OF A TWO PART SERIES

Guess what? Miami-Dade County high school football has been producing elite talent for over 80 years.

You heard that right. No matter when you were born really makes no difference as a football fan growing up in Miami-Dade County. Every generation has a story or stories to tell.

This was a true hotbed – from the beginning – and as Miami High and Coral Gables will tell you, the air at the top of the mountain – especially for well over three decades – was indeed sweet and opened doors for the future.

What happened between the 1930’s and 1970 was just the impressive appetizer to a meal that would ride into the national spotlight for decades and decades to come. And, frankly, nothing has changed.

While we fully understand what has happened over the past 50 years, there has been a disconnect between the players, coaches and fans of today and the impressive past in Dade County.

Purple Heart winners, politicians and those who heard that Miami was a swell place to live before, during and after the wars - settled in and the story begins.

Miami had become a true melting pot of servicemen and their families, settling in for 12 months of summer and the ocean – five miles away. It had become a place where everyone wanted to be – and the thought of heading back to their original homes and shoveling snow – was no longer appealing.

As they flocked in from Ohio, New York and New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania, they brought with them years of watching professional football – and knew how the game was played - and could coach, too.

Miami had become a mecca for football players. Something that has carried on for over nine decades. And, while we said it many, many times, this sport that we have today – with powers up and down I-95 –would never have been possible for what Miami High, for three decades and numerous national crowns, and Coral Gables, which had been the first national champion in the modern era.

Yes sir, if you are a football fan here in the 305, you are spoiled. Through the years, some of the best athletes in the country, have rolled off football fields in the City of Miami, Liberty City, Overtown, Goulds, South Miami Heights, Coconut Grove, Homestead, Florida City, Richmond Heights, North Miami, Miami Beach, North Miami Beach, Opa Locka, and now, the king of all areas – Miami Gardens.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: 1920’s and 30’s

If someone would have told you that back in the late 1920’s, when high school football started to gain some momentum in Miami, the teams that Miami High and rival Edison would send out each week were some true stars of the gridiron.

In an area that had become a place to come and settle – with the weather being the huge selling point for veterans who were looking to raise a family in quality surroundings.

As time moved on, those families who would come from nearly every corner of the country, looking for a fresh start in the warmth of south Florida, would bring the values – and athletic prowess to the Magic City.

For Fred Frinke and Warner Mizell who began their storied high school careers in the late 20’s, then carried over into the 30’s, it was a time to make this area of the country one of the best – and while so many regions of the nation were playing football – the brand that Dade County had at Miami High and Edison – were simply too much to handle.

Mizell would go on to play at Georgia Tech, where he did everything for a team that beat California in the Rose Bowl – a game that was best known for being the “Wrong-Way Riegel” game.

For every great football player that took the field through much of the 1930’s, nobody made the impact that Lil’ Davey Eldredge did. This was an athlete so special that Miami High head coach Jess Yarborough said of Eldredge: “he is the best ball carrier I ever saw beyond the line of scrimmage.”

It was the 1939 game for the “mythical” national championship against Garfield High, N.J. in a game that the Stingarees fell behind 13-0, tied it on two touchdown runs by Eldredge, only to lose the game 16-13 on a rare field goal, which was only the second of the year for Garfield’s Benny Babula.

While Eldredge was dazzling the competition, the 1930’s also had some very good football talent that would not only play a key role in high school, but at the next level as well.

Miami High was well stocked in the decade. It turned out to be 10 years that truly put Dade County on the map nationally. Athletes such as Dick Plassman, Norman Pate, Mike “Lefty” Schemer, Jimmy Ellenburg and Jay Kendrick. Edison paved the way through the decade with some tremendous talent as well.

Plassman was a tremendous end, who would attend Vanderbilt and then with the Chicago Bears. Schemer was one of the top athletes who played all over the field – and was regarded as one of the elite punters as well.

The Red Raiders boasted Earl Hise, Red Bogart, Buist Warren, Bob Franks and Charlie Snowden.

The decade started off what many believe would be a period of time that colleges and universities were looking south, and making their way to see all the talent that was gathering in Miami.

1940’s - TALENT BEGAN TO SURFACE

The 1940’s ushered in the more serious athlete. Even though the area had families that were well off financially, there were others who had have help from their kids and that meant giving up the sport.

Those who stuck with it certainly etched their names in history. Many went on – during this decade – to grab the national spotlight. Some we would hear plenty about in the future.

If the 30’s belonged to Davey Eldredge, than Bruce Smith, who played for Miami High in 1941-42, was among the elite.

Even with teammate Arnold Tucker (1942), the great Pete Williams (1944) and Jim Dooley (1947); and Edison’s Lee Wilson (1941), Smith was at the top of the talent mountain.

This Miami High team from 1939-44 was an amazing 46-2-1. Jess Yarborough was asked about Smith, and like so many players at this time, he could only gush over how great he was.

Smith was described as the “backbone of the team” – ‘someone who had the brains to go along with superior athletic ability.”

Smith, later on his life became a Navy Captain, which explains why he was great under pressure, and that’s why he did it all for the Stingarees.

One of the best Smith stories was the Edison game of 1941, and time running down, Smith took over and personally moved the ball downfield by himself. Miami High went in twice in the fourth quarter and won the game in “convincing” fashion 26-13.

Tucker later became an All-American quarterback on the famed Davis-Blanchard Army teams.

Miami High also had prospects who we would hear from later in life as well including Stan Marks, Frank Dempsey, Bobby Moorhead and Bob Carlton.

The 1940’s also showcased Edison players Dick Melear, Julian Daniel and Macky MacDonald.

Jackson High also made its debut on the football field in the 1940’s – with talented Billy Hinson and Bob Cunio.

PART 2: Jackie Simpson, Lee Corso, Larry Rentz, Ted Hendricks and more stars of the 1950’s and 60’s.

Catch the South Florida High School Sports Radio Show each Monday night (8-9) on WQAM (560AM - https://wqam.radio.com/media/podcast/south-florida-high-school-sports-radio). For the past 11 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot about football recruiting!