Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When Boilermakers Were Kings

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

When Boilermakers Were Kings

Article excerpt

Walter Young grew up in a time of uncertainty in United States history, but 75 years ago he and his Garfield teammates were at the center of the high school football national landscape.

With the country still struggling economically in 1939 because of the Great Depression and World War II in its early stages, Young -- and the Boilermakers -- had football.

"We were just kids," said Young, 92, but still as sharp as a tack. "We weren't frightened of anything because we were so young. We didn't understand all the dangers and politics going on at the time."

Garfield went 10-0 and captured a national championship that year, defeating Miami (Fla.) High School, 16-13, in a game coined the "Infantile Paralysis Bowl" in honor of then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from the affliction better known as polio.

The Boilermakers -- who were invited to play what would be considered today as a "plus-one" game -- were hand-picked to take on the undefeated Florida power riding an 18-game winning streak in the prestigious Orange Bowl before a crowd of what Young estimated to be approximately 25,000.

The kids took on the roles of heroes in Garfield during a time when people were desperate for some.

And tonight, Garfield will commemorate the 75th anniversary of that national championship season at halftime of its home game against Lyndhurst.

"After we won, you might not believe this, but no one really celebrated," Young said, reminiscing about the experience as if it were yesterday. "It was like we had just won another game.

"We were shocked it was over and shocked we had won, but the real celebration took place when we returned to Garfield and had hundreds of people waiting for us at the railroad station and many more back at the high school. It was a very different time back then. Nothing like you'd see today."

The game was played on Christmas Day 1939, with more than 2,000 fans back home listening to a phoned in play-by-play in Garfield's School No. …

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