Springfield is no longer a high school.
The football field the Rams used on Upton Avenue now has little more than a worn-out scoreboard and a rickety old set of stands.
But the memories of the glory days for Springfield High football are still strong, and a trophy from the iconic 1972 state championship team still exists. Those things, along with a few old lettermen jackets — and the guys who are still trying to fit in them — will be in full effect during a celebration of the 50th anniversary of that team this weekend.
“I still remember those times, even though it’s been 50 years,” said Steve Cracolici, a star running back on the 1972 team. “For the guys on that team, it was one of the better times of our lives.”
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Spearheaded by Kurtis Ploehn, a tight end on the squad, the Springfield community will get together for several events to celebrate the golden anniversary of their state championship. It is still one of only three football state championships for a team from the Battle Creek “All-City” group in the past 50 years, joining the 1985 St. Philip squad and the 1991 Pennfield Panthers.
“A few years ago, I noticed how Battle Creek Central brought back the 1965 and 1966 teams for a game downtown to celebrate those undefeated teams,” Ploehn said. “And I just thought to myself, we can’t do anything like that. We don’t have a game to go to, we don’t have a Friday night game to come together for to celebrate what we did. There’s not a school here anymore.
“But for the players, coaches, cheerleaders, fans of the teams back then and the 1972 team, those years made a big impact on our lives. And to celebrate that will be great.”
The centerpiece of the weekend get-together will be a reunion for the football team at Brady’s Pub on Saturday. Prior to that, there will be “Breakfast with the Coach” on Friday morning, with the head coach of that Rams squad, Al Fischer, returning to town from Texas for the event.
“If you haven’t been down to Mr. Don’s, it looks exactly like it did in Springfield of 1972, so that’s a good place for us to get together,” Ploehn said.
Springfield had back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1971-72 and the seniors on the state championship team went four years without losing a game at any level. Key players from that era roll off the tongue of everyone you talk to about the program, including Kim Abbott, Ken Christensen, Cracolici and one of the best athletes ever to go to Springfield in Kevin Lindauer.
During a time before Michigan High School Athletic Association postseason football tournaments, state champions were decided by the Associated Press poll and the United Press International poll.
In 1972, Springfield finished the season No. 1 in the UPI poll in Class C, with Hudson voted No. 1 in the AP poll.
“The best part of all of that is the bunch of kids that were there for all of that. We were a small school and we all grew up together,” Cracolici said. “You start thinking back about the big games, the wins. Of course, we didn’t have playoffs back then and we were voted No. 1 in the polls. Hudson was winning a bunch back then, too, and they were named state champions, also. Would have been great to been able to play them. Not sure if we would have won, but it would have been great to find out.”
At the end of the 1988 football season, Springfield played its final varsity football game – a 22-20 loss to Climax-Scotts. Following that year, the football program came to an end and a few years later, the school closed for good due to dwindling enrollment and other factors.
For awhile, the building was used as the Battle Creek Math & Science Center and later the Springfield Burma Center. It now houses the Calhoun Community High School.
Before the transition to those schools, Ploehn was able to grab some of the hardware from the former Springfield High School trophy case, as well as some game films from his teams. He dug them out to showcase this weekend for his football buddies, including his old Springfield letterman jacket.
“Hey, it still fits,” he said as he put it on for a photo for the Enquirer.
Those momentos are all that are left for the students and athletes who roamed the halls at Springfield, which makes a gathering this weekend all the more important.
“That’s exactly why we are doing something like this,” Ploehn said. “You want to get together and see guys you haven’t seen and tell some stories. Someone will say something about something that happened during a game, or something that was said on a bus, and then it just goes from there and it all brings back memories you may have forgotten.
“Much of Battle Creek, and people who didn’t go to this school, might have forgotten Springfield even existed. But for the alumni, Springfield hasn’t changed much in our minds. The Springfield community is strong and we haven’t forgotten what it means to go to this school and to be a Ram. And it will be great to get together and share all of that with whoever can make it this weekend.”
Bill Broderick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billbroderick.