Spartans played six-man football from 1947 through 1951

Photo courtesy of the Berthoud High School 1947-48 yearbook.

By Mark French

The Surveyor

From 1947 through 1951 the Berthoud High School (BHS) Spartans played six-man football. When BHS resumed an 11-man football program in September 1952, the local newspaper announced, “This year they will play 11-man football in place of the six-man game that was played for the last time last year. All the schools have abandoned the smaller team in favor of the regulation team size.”

Six-man football was developed in Nebraska in 1934 so small high schools could field football teams during the Great Depression. The fast-moving game was played on an 80-yard-long field. Three players were required to line up on the line of scrimmage, but all six players were eligible to receive passes. Like 11-man football, six points was awarded for a touchdown. Unlike 11-man football, the point-after-kick was worth two points and a field goal was worth four points. This was because with so few blockers on the line it was easy for defenders to block a kick.  

In the fall of 1947 Berthoud joined the six-man football movement with several other small northern Colorado high schools. That season BHS played four football games against Wellington and Waverly and lost both home and away games to those schools. All told the Spartans scored 51 points, while Wellington and Waverly tallied 144. Since none of the three schools belonged to an athletic conference there was no competition for a championship.

In subsequent years Mead, Erie, Lyons and Keenesburg joined the list of Berthoud’s six-man football opponents.

The 1947 BHS football team was composed of freshmen Jimmy Helton and Bob Buehler, sophomores Doyle Englehardt, Vernon Gross, and Bill Deshler, junior Lowell Duvall, and seniors Bob Garner and Junior Adler. The coach was science teacher Lester Arnold.

Even though the Spartan football team only fielded eight players in the fall of the 1947-48 school year, BHS had its highest-ever enrollment with the Culver and Whipple country school districts contracting to send their students to school in the town of  Berthoud. For that reason the Berthoud Bulletin reported, “Berthoud school system is temporarily equipped with a good bus loaned to them by a Wyoming firm to haul rural children to the local school. However, in October the school board is expecting delivery of a station wagon to bring the Culver school children to town and a forty-two passenger Studebaker bus equipped with a Superior school bus body, will haul the Whipple students to Berthoud.”

In September 1947 the local tabloid added, “The Berthoud Schools have opened with a record enrollment of 346 pupils. This number is nearly 100 greater than the number enrolled during the first week of school last year.” That pupil total included students in grades one through 12.

Junior-senior high school superintendent, William Hinkley, presided over students in grades seven-12 and oversaw a staff that included eight teachers. Grade school superintendent, Mrs. Pearl Albrecht, managed students in grades one through six and ran a six-teacher staff. The entire district budget totaled $55,206.

It remains a mystery why BHS dropped from 11-man to six-man football at a time when student enrollment increased by 100 students. In the fall of 1952 the small town high schools of northern Colorado — including BHS — moved back to the 11-player game.

Six-man football is still played by over 20 schools across the state of Colorado, but nearly all of those schools are located on the eastern plains where student populations have dwindled in recent decades.

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