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John Queen Helps Lead 1970
Team To Winning Record
by Robert Bonar

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Most people know John Queen as an educator, and it’s a safe bet that few of his students--current or former--remember him as a football player.

Not only did he play football in high school, he starred as a halfback for the Red Devils. His senior year of 1970 is one that any coach would be pleased with. He rushed for at least 1,100 yards--rushing stats are only available for seven games--and scored exactly 100 points while leading Calhoun to a 7-3 record.

John Queen

He tallied four touchdowns in a game against Ripley, and piled up 238 yards on only 11 carries versus Doddridge, a 21.6 yards per carry average that still stands as Calhoun’s single game record.

At the end of the season, he was named halfback on the All-Little Kanawha Conference squad for his outstanding year. During his career, he scored 124 points. He was a three-year starter at defensive back and had two years as starting halfback.

Queen’s first experience with organized football came when he was 11 and played in the backfield on both offense and defense with the Chesapeake Vikings in Kanawha County.

In June of 1966, his family moved to Little White Oak Road in Calhoun, which he remembered as “the beginning of a great time in a small county.”

Without a junior high football team in his area, Queen had to wait until the following year to step onto the high school gridiron as a freshman. His wait lasted a bit longer, though, as he contracted pneumonia in the summer and was not cleared to play until the first week of the season had passed.

Still suffering the effects of his illness and completely out of shape due to his convalescence, Queen fell behind in every drill. By his estimation, the fall of 1967 “was not a glorious beginning. In the eyes of many, it probably looked like I didn’t belong on the field.”

Despite these obstacles, Queen’s perseverance allowed him to get back into shape and form a bond with other players on the freshman squad.

His hard work on football fundamentals was aided by Wayne Underwood, who, at this time of his career, was assisting head coach Don Weaver.

One afternoon during practice, Queen was fielding punts from fellow freshman Mike Propst.

“His punts were very difficult to field,” Queen recalled. “He was able to place a back spin on them and they would trail away from the receiver and back toward the punter.”

Underwood, who “always prowled around the practice field and observed everything,” immediately noticed that Queen was having trouble with the punts and stopped to work with him on proper techniques.

Only a few weeks later, Underwood died, but the instruction stuck with Queen: “It is with pride I state that I never fumbled a punt reception at Calhoun County High School. I attribute that to Coach Wayne Underwood.”

Queen’s sophomore year saw the arrival of new coach Robert Young, a native of Beckley and most recently the coach at Wirt County. He arrived during a tough stretch for Calhoun football. Once the dominant team in the Little Kanawha Valley, the Red Devils had fallen into mediocrity during the 1960s.

The Red Devils had stumbled to a 2-8 record in 1966, the same year that Young had led Wirt to the Class A state championship. Young was eager to mold the downtrodden Calhoun squad into a winning team.

“Coach Young had motivated us to do our best,” said Queen. “(He) would always slap his right hand into his left hand and say, ‘hard running, hard blocking, and hard tackling will win this football game!’ He really motivated us to play hard for each other.”

Queen remembers that, in addition to being a great motivator, Young also had a sense of humor: “If you stumbled on the football field (during practice), he would call time, bend over and pick up a blade of grass and toss it out of the way. He made it known that was what brought us down and next time that small blade of grass would not cause us to fall down.”

The Red Devils did not see immediate improvement upon Young’s arrival. The 1968 team compiled a 3-6-1 record and in 1969 it was 3-7, clearly not the results the fan base wanted.

Though the team was not winning, Queen saw increased playing time. He started as a defensive back his sophomore year and entered the starting offense as a halfback his junior year. Simply playing was not enough--he and his classmates wanted to win in their final year.

“We had worked very hard the last three years,” Queen said, “and felt we had something to prove to the community.”

It would be an uphill climb, as Calhoun’s players were smaller than most of its opponents. Queen weighed only 140 pounds--maybe 145 soaking wet, as the coaches liked to joke--and the offensive line that was to block for him would always be at a weight disadvantage. It was apparent that grit and determination would be required if Calhoun was to produce a winner in 1970.

Although small, the 1970 team had a group of exceptional athletes, and most possessed excellent speed. As the starting halfback, Queen was the star of the team, but he is quick to point out that he wouldn’t have been able to escape his own backfield had it not been for the coaches and his fellow players.

“Coach Young always called two plays he knew could grind up some good yardage. Forty-two hand back trap and forty-six power always gained a lot of yards. The blocking on those two plays was tremendous. Many times I was never touched until I was down the field at least 10 yards.

“Our line was made up of Steve Schoolcraft, Bob Riddle, Bernard Cooper, Ralph Cunningham, Donnie Price, Eli Ray Tingler, and Charles Owens. The offensive line of 1970 had to be one of the strongest and quickest that Calhoun County has ever fielded. Those boys were the reason I gained yardage my senior year. They were strong, quick and fearless. Many thanks goes out to those hard nosed football players that blocked their hearts out for a small 140 pound halfback.

The starting offense in 1970 included, left to right, first row, Bob Riddel, Steve Schoolcraft, Eli Tingler, Donnie Price, Ralph Cunningham, Bernard Cooper, Charles Owens; second row, Holly Bell, Mike Collins, Gary Smith and John Queen.

 “I played with some great guys through the years. Steve Schoolcraft (co-captain with Queen in 1970) was about six foot one and about 180 pounds. He was quick and very strong. Mike Propst was our punter and the best to ever set foot on Wayne Underwood Field.

“Eli Ray Tingler was the quickest and most devastating blocker I have ever seen. He was the type of player that could make young boys’ teeth rattle when he hit them. Gary Smith has to be rated as one of the smartest quarterbacks Calhoun County has ever had. Donnie Price was an All-State player his senior year (1971-72), but even as a youngster, you could tell he was a leader and a tough-nosed football player.”

This talented group of players exceeded all expectations--except maybe their own--and finished with a 7-3 record, the school’s best since the 1950s. Losses were to Harrisville, Wirt County and St. Marys, and the list of vanquished foes included Williamstown, Ripley and bitter rival Spencer.

In addition to all the wins, the team produced a lot of great memories for Calhoun students and fans alike. Many of the players who graduated that year, left Calhoun to attend school or to enter the workforce.

Queen and a handful of others were able to return to the county and provide support for the next generation of Red Devils.

Though it has been nearly 40 years since he set foot on Wayne Underwood Field as a player, Queen still has fond memories of playing football at CCHS. Memories he and the entire 1970 team should be proud of.

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