Yesterday was yet another quiet day, uni news-wise, but today I’m joined by reader Munch Suchland, who has what are actually a pair of projects to share with us today. A few weeks back, Munch reached out to me with this: “I recently dug into the complete 50-year helmet history of my small high school in midwestern Ohio. It’s not much but may spur similar endeavors by other people who Get It. And strangely enough, the whole project started with an old Uni Watch post about reconditioning old football helmets. I actually wrote up a piece that we were going to run in our town’s Historic Associations newsletter but are still actually working on taking the next step of the project a little further.”
Munch begins with his initial DIY project, which he ended up sharing on social media, and which morphed into the much larger project (the helmet history of his school), and he’s going to take us through both of these today.
by Munch Suchland
It all started rather simply. In January of 2020, I read a Uni Watch article that was guest-written by reader Brian Gutner.
At the time, it simply made me recall that I had an old helmet shell somewhere in a box in the house. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to make a Buckeye helmet out of it many, many years ago. It didn’t have a facemask, or hardware, or pads. Just a shell, with deep gouges, and now a crappy thin coat of silver paint on it. So when I read the article, it piqued my interest and hit the recall button in my brain, but that was about it.
A few months later, my town was just finishing building a new K-thru-8 school, now attached to the high school. And with that, the process of cleaning out the old school before it was to be torn down began.
They had a garage sale. Most of it was books, old office and school supplies, and things that really didn’t interest me. (They had an auction later that had all of the good stuff.) But next to some of the old athletic equipment sat a box that had a few facemasks. I picked one up and noticed it looked like the one my oldest brother had in high school. And I remembered that old shell I had somewhere in the house. And I remembered the Uni Watch article on how to get that old shell to look new again. So I grabbed it. Then I second-guessed myself. I had two other brothers that played football. How could I make a replica helmet for one but not the others? I went back to the box and there were two more facemasks. So I grabbed them, not knowing what I was really getting myself into.
I looked through eBay and, thanks to Brian’s advice, I knew that scratched and gouged helmets were cheaper and not a problem. I got two more and got to work. It was a lot more work than I anticipated, to put it lightly. But I love this kind of work. I was able to take my time (I had no deadline) and work on it as much or as little as I could or wanted. I’d spend evenings in the garage watching the Reds and just do what I could before going to the next step. I decided these helmets would make great surprise Christmas gifts for the three.
On December 3rd, just three weeks before Christmas, the hometown team won its first State Championship in football. To say New Bremen football pride was at its all-time high would be an understatement. And my three brothers, in one way or another, laid that groundwork many years before and had a little more sense of pride in the feat. To say they were surprised and thrilled with the gift would be an understatement.
So I thought all of that was behind me. Except that I shared the whole ordeal on social media. I had a lot of people asking how to get one. I wasn’t really interested in making this a thing. I enjoyed it and wanted to keep it that way. I have a job and certainly don’t need another. I made another for a friend of mine who put in countless hours helping me and my family completely gut and remodel a getaway cabin and this was a small gesture of thanks. I also made three replicas of the high school’s current helmets. One was for my cousin, who wanted to gift it to his son for his birthday. I was Santa’s elf for my friend’s kid on another. And the third I gave to my godson. I thought that planting the seed for more Cardinal Pride was worth the work. I made 2 concepts just for me, just to see. I’m sure fellow readers understand that reasoning. Again, I shared these on social media.
That all spurred my next project. At a high school basketball game, another fan asked if I was the guy doing the football helmets. (Small town.) He showed me a picture he had taken of a display case of old football helmets at state and national powerhouse Canton McKinley High School.
We talked about how neat it would be to do something similar. New Bremen won another State Championship in the fall and just celebrated their 50th year of football. (There were some teams in the early 1900s, but the program was brought back in 1972.)
Being the Uni Watch guy as well as being on the board of our Historic Association, I took on the task. I had already started some discussion on Facebook on our town’s Memories page so I started by resurrecting that discussion.
I started with a simple Excel sheet database. I entered in descriptions based on things I already knew from being there and made my best guesses on certain things outside of that. Nothing concrete, but getting the process started. Then I went about trying to confirm what I thought I knew and discover and correct what I didn’t know.
And what an experience. I dug through a lot of old online newspaper articles, visited the library to look through old yearbooks, and found some old vintage football films that other local schools put online.
Good to go, right? Not so much. The local library doesn’t have a whole lot of past yearbooks. (That’s another project I intend to take on soon.) And I noticed, frustratingly enough, that there are clearer photos and video footage of Babe Ruth taken 100 years ago than there was of our local football teams 25 to 50 years ago.
I was getting to the point of thinking this may be impossible for me to get even close to being accurate. I took some good guesses, erring on the side of caution, and put some images together to share with the community. And wow, did that get the ball rolling!
I heard from seven former football players over the next few weeks. Some were able to definitively answer some lingering questions. Some had an old photo of their old helmet. Some still had their actual decals from their helmet in a scrap book! (He said, “My mom saved everything,” and was I glad she did!)
I “discovered” two new helmets in these discussions. None of the photos I had were clear enough to know these helmets existed. I thought the 1986 helmets had the same cardinal head that was on the 1985 helmets but found out it was a wing.
And what I thought was a weird reflection off a plain gold helmet or possibly award decals ended up being a NB logo on the 1976 helmets. My aunt had the yearbooks from the early days and went through those years and sent me photos so I could nail down years for certain helmets and confirm that I wasn’t missing something. The yearbooks had much clearer photos!
This project isn’t done yet. I will update if or when it is. I can’t say if we will try to put a display case together or simply get a graphic designer to make some cool prints or a large wall mural. But I think what I’m most looking forward to is meeting with one of the players from the first football team. He reached out and went over some of my lingering questions and sent me some photos. He has more stories to share and wants to bring photos and memorabilia. Team picture day was the day they were given their new home uniforms and he said “Look at the pride in the faces.” I’m excited to see where that goes. And who knows, maybe that will be the start of the next project.