Remembering Jasper quarterback Kabrick

Courtesy Photo
Jim Kabrick, Jasper’s first quarterback of the modern era, passed away Dec. 30 at age 84.

Former Sports Editor

The big sports news in the summer of 1953 was the announcement that Jasper High School was going to field a football team for the first time in more than 40 years. Then-athletic director Leo “Cabby” O’Neill made the announcement which included the naming of Huntingburg football (and basketball) coach Bob Fell head coach of the “modern era” football Wildcats.

I was among the 45-to-50 Jasper teenagers who immediately proclaimed a desire to be part of this pioneer team — even though we knew absolutely nothing about football. This was in the early days of television and only a few of us had a TV set. Even if we did, it didn’t help our football education because only a few football games were being televised on this new medium and most of them were Canadian Football League games. When we discussed this new sport, we had disagreements on how many players were on the offensive and defensive units. “I think there are 12 players on each team on the field,” one of us proclaimed after watching some Canadian football games on a 14-inch screen. He was right — Canadian football featured 12 players on offense and 12 on defense playing on a field 110 yards long as it still does today. Someone else proclaimed he knew there were only eight players on each unit because he had seen a recent Huntingburg game. He too was right because the Hunters played in the Pocket Athletic Conference (PAC), which was an 8-man conference consisting of five linemen and three backs on the offensive unit. Somebody else argued there were 11 on each unit because he had seen an Indiana University game and, of course, he was also correct. We actually had to wait for our first practice to learn how many would be on this introductory Wildcat team.

It almost sounds comical today when I recall we asked each other what position we were planning on trying out for. “I think I’d like to tackle so I’m going out for tackle,” one of us proclaimed. Another said, “I like to guard people in basketball so I’m going to go out for guard!” (I’m not making this up). I can’t remember if any of us said we were going to go out for end or halfback because we had no idea what an end or halfback did in a football game. The same thing was true with quarterback even though we had seen photos and read about Johnny Lujack, Otto Graham and other college and pro quarterbacks in Sport magazine. We weren’t even sure what a quarterback did. We weren’t sure, but we learned quickly that one of the three seniors on this first Wildcat grid team did know and was ready to take over the quarterback role. That senior was James “Jim” Kabrick, who passed away Dec. 30 at the age of 84.

Ed Kapp, a junior end, recalled, “Jim gave us the leadership we needed and the spirit to stay in the games as we learned the basics of 11-man football.”

John Thyen, who was a sophomore tackle, thinks he knows why Kabrick was able to step right into the quarterback spot while most of us were still learning how many were on the field on offense and what the ends and halfbacks did.

John said, “I seem to remember that Jim lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Jasper and had played some football there.” John was right. The Kabricks moved from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in February of 1951, Jim’s freshman year in high school. He had played youth football there and high school football at Chambersburg Senior High.

Another junior end, Ken Kunkel, laughed as he spoke about his relationship with Kabrick.

“I remember one game when on our first possession on offense, Jim told me to just go straight down the middle of the field and he’d get the ball to me. I took off after the snap, ran right down the field and Jim got the ball to me as promised, right into my hands, but I dropped it. I was really embarrassed and when I got back to the huddle, I told Jim I was sorry. He looked right at me said not to worry about it, that it was OK. He was a good leader, heck of a player and the best person to lead our first team.”

Jasper’s 1953 schedule featured only four varsity games, road games at Jasonville and Bicknell, with home dates with Tell City and Mitchell in between. The home games were played on a field measured off inside a quarter mile cinder track located between St. Joseph Grade School and Recreation Field (now Ruxer Field).

The road game at Jasonville in Greene County, a 90-minute drive (70 miles) from Jasper, is the most memorable game of the debut season and for good reason. It not only marked the return of football to Jasper High School after a 43-year absence, it was also the only game in which the neophyte Wildcats scored.

On Sept. 18, 1953, Coach Fell’s squad rode to its first game in school buses, fully dressed in uniform — complete with shoulder pads, shoes and helmets. It wasn’t a very comfortable trip, but nobody complained. We were all anxious for the game to begin because we knew it was a benchmark game in the sports history of JHS.

The starting lineup on offense consisted of Ed Kapp and Ken Kunkel at the ends, John Thyen and Vince Reynolds in the guard spots, Don “Butch” Rees at center, halfbacks Jim Vogler and Jack Gerber (the other two seniors) in the halfback spots, and Jim Kabrick at quarterback. No need to list the defensive starters, the players on offense also played defense, there was no two-platooning.

After failing to score and falling behind 6-0 in the first quarter, the Wildcats scored the first touchdown in the modern era of JHS football on a 16-yard pass from Kabrick to Kapp. Jasonville added two more touchdowns in the second quarter and took a 19-6 lead to the dressing room at halftime. Fell’s first halftime speech to the Wildcats fired them up as they returned to the field and held their hosts scoreless in the third quarter while scoring twice to gain a 19-19 tie heading into the final quarter. The Wildcats’ second touchdown was on Gary Giesler’s 8-yard return of a Jasonville fumble following a punt by Kabrick. The game-tying TD, set up by a blocked punt by Tom Fromme, was on a second scoring pass from Kabrick to Kapp. Jasper’s lone PAT was on a pass from Pete Hasse to Kapp as the Wildcats had not yet trained a placekicker.

After coming from behind and gaining the 19-19 tie, the Wildcats ran out of gas in the final quarter. They were outscored 13-0 and the historic first game ended Jasonville 32, Jasper 19. With most of the Wildcats having to play on offense and defense, they simply tired in the last quarter while Jasonville two-platooned and substituted frequently.

One week later, on Sept. 25, the Wildcats played host to Tell City in their first historic home game. They were overpowered by the Marksmen, who were making a switch from 8-man to 11-man football, 39-0. Not much to cheer about. The most memorable moment in that game came when public address announcer Louis “Nip” Wuchner proclaimed that the Wildcats, after a short run, had advanced to “…the 55 yard line!” None of the fans noticed the mistake as they cheered the Cats on toward the end zone.

The Wildcats were also blanked by Mitchell (18-0) and Bicknell (28-0) and finished that first season 0-4, but that team will always have the distinction of being the Wildcats’ first in the modern era. Jim Kabrick will always be remembered as the first modern quarterback, and Ed Kapp will always be in the Wildcat football history books for scoring the first touchdown.

In 1954, Coach Fell’s second team compiled a winning season. Two seasons later, new coach Tom Stokes’ first team finished 7-1. Two seasons after that, a fuzzy-cheeked Western Kentucky graduate named Jerry Brewer took over the program, and the rest is history.

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