What prompted the “mass evacuation” of Kent on Thanksgiving Day of 1954?
A Football game! But not just any football game, the eighth annual Turkey Day game played between the Seattle city champions and a team invite from the state.
The series had started in 1947 and up to this game the record stood 3 wins, 3 losses and tie for the big city schools. The opponents had included Bremerton, Walla Walla, Wenachee, Spokane, Everrett, and Olympia. The game was instituted by Seattle athletic director Leon Brigham as a way to break down the antagonism that had built up between the city schools and the rest of the state.
In ’54, it was the Garfield Bulldogs versus your home town Kent-Meridian Royals, at that point the smallest school to play in the game.
It was complicated to get the game in the schedule! At that time, high school football teams were only allowed to play ten games a year. The Royals were already scheduled to play Central Kitsap for their 10th and final game of the year and were unable to get a waiver to play 11 games. Instead, interested parties in Kent and Kitsap cooperated to find another worthy opponent for the spurned program. Bellevue, the champions of their division, were enlisted and Kent was able to accept the invite for the Turkey Day Game.
The build up to the game was tremendous, with a big pep rally in Seattle, that was attended by the K-M co-captains and cousins Bob and Gerry Anderson, the Homecoming queen, Ann Scott and the head football coach Jack Burrell.
The game was played in the Memorial Stadium, in Seattle before a full stadium of just over 13,000 fans.
The Seattle PI estimated that the Royals had over 2500 loyal followers, which is pretty good considering the town had a population right around 3,500 people!It took 12 buses, all decorated with the Royals’ blue and white banners, to transport the crowd up to the game. Civil Defense strategists may have picked up a few pointers on mass evacuation by scouting the line of departure. The Kent service clubs provided free pennants to the travelers and the game had been heavily publicized with gridders appearing on TV, radio, and in several newspapers.
The Seattle team was heavily favored behind a high scoring passing attack led by quarterback Tom Hulett. The city news papers figured Kent would be good for a touchdown, maybe.
In the early moments of the game, the Bulldogs fielded a punt and took it in for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a penalty.
The scoring did open in the first quarter after the Bulldogs blocked a punt and recovered on the 1 yard line. Garfield running back Larry Lombard proceeded to run it in from the 1 foot line.
The Royals responded with a 67 yard drive in nine plays, including a 25 yard pass and a lateral run for 30. The drive ended with a Bob Anderson rushing TD and a successful conversion to tie the game at seven all.
Before halftime the Bulldogs tried a flat pass which was intercepted by Jim Hougardy and run back to the end zone so that the country boys went into the locker room with a 14 to 7 lead.
The third quarter was quiet on the scoring front, but the beginning of the 4th quarter saw the Bulldogs come alive with an 63 yard drive on 8 plays that ended in a touchdown and a tie game.
In the final minutes the game were very exciting! The Royals recovered a fumble deep in Bulldog territory but were stopped on a 4th down play, and there was also an interception with seventeen seconds remaining but the Royals were unable to convert it.
Usually, a tie is not considered a valuable outcome, but in the case of this game there was a silver lining. The Northwest Orient Airlines was inspired to offer a free plane tour to both teams in one of their Boeing 377 Stratocrusiers. The one hour flight included a trip around Mt. Rainier and for 20 Royals it was the first time they had taken an airplane ride. Had it been other than courtesy, it would have cost about $700, or just over $6,000 today.
For the Royals, the Turkey Day game ended an undefeated season, with a record of 8-0-2, and a win over their biggest rival, Auburn, for the Taylor Trophy.
Jack Burrell concluded his comments about the game by saying, “It was a great game and it reflects credit on the people who had a part in it.” Emmett Watson, the legendary sports columnist for the Seattle PI reflected on the end of high school football for the senior players on the teams, writing, “It is the end of something good in their lives and it will never be the same again.”
The Kent News Journal tracked the team down in 1970 and found that the men had gone on to make great contributions to the community as principals of the Kent School district, as Boeing engineers, as business owners in Kent, as bank managers, and any number of other ways.
We have clips from the KM practice and the Turkey Day game itself!
Seattle Times remembers the games