Donald Tritt was there in 1965 when the extra point kick barely missed the uprights in the high school football game between Big Spring and Shippensburg.
Then as now, the stakes were higher than just another game in the win column for either the Bulldogs or Greyhounds. School pride was on the line, along with bragging rights to the Little Brown Jug, a coveted symbol of a sports rivalry that has endured since 1956.
Leading by 7-0, Shippensburg saw victory slip away because of two poor punts in the final minute of the game. The second failed punt set up a series of plays that led the Bulldogs quarterback to deliver a pass to Tritt who ran the ball in for a touchdown.
Down 7-6, Big Spring was counting on that final kick to tie the game and keep the jug in Newville for the third straight year. The kick was bad, the flight path wobbly, but somehow luck was with the Bulldogs.
“It wasn’t spinning at all,” Tritt said. “It was a knuckle ball that just went over the uprights.”
Only a year later, Big Spring had to give up its trophy after a gridiron defeat. A team captain his senior year, Tritt was among the Bulldog players tasked with taking the Little Brown Jug to Shippensburg High School and presenting it to the Greyhounds at a pep rally.
“It was always just a hard fought game,” said Tritt, a 1967 Big Spring graduate. “It was a heated rivalry.” What made the game interesting for him was he had friends on the Greyhound team and that many Big Spring players lived so close to Shippensburg they routinely associated with people in town.
So while the Little Brown Jug game was always intense, the lead-up to game day was never particularly nasty. “This is a polite rivalry,” said Upton Funk of Southampton Township, Franklin County. He was one of those who played in the original match-up between the two schools on Nov. 16, 1956.
“It was a warm evening for late November,” recalled Funk, who played end for Shippensburg. “It was the first season Big Spring ever had a varsity football squad. We beat them 41-0, but you have to understand that back in those days, Shippensburg wasn’t a powerhouse team either.
“It was just a game for us,” Funk added. “We never thought there would be all this hype over it. Little Brown Jug used to be the game of the year. It did not matter whether it was played in Shippensburg or Newville, the bleachers would be full, and fans stood around the edge of the field.”
The idea for the Little Brown Jug came out of a meeting in the Shippensburg High School faculty room among Superintendent R. Todd Lloyd, Athletic Director Roy Mouer and sports trainer Howard Strawmyre.
As the story goes, the men wanted to identify a trophy that could be passed between Shippensburg and Big Spring and record the score and year of each football game. After an exchange of ideas that included a shovel, a ceramic jug was decided upon with the winning school keeping the trophy until the next game was played between the Bulldogs and Greyhounds.
The Evening Sentinel had a reporter at their first game in 1956. Big Spring was just winding up its first season of football while the Shippensburg team under Coach George Kohut was finishing one of its most successful years on the gridiron.
Shippensburg’s Jack Nye scored in the opening quarter with a 22-yard run to the end zone following a fumble recovery. Teammate Tom Reed turned in the longest touchdown run, going 40 yards to score.
As for the Bulldogs, quarterback Lowell Hassinger was the big ground gainer with 77 yards rushing and 33 yards passing. Big Spring’s best threat came in the third period when it reached the Shippensburg 29-yard line before faltering.
For the 50th anniversary, members of the 1956 squad from both schools have been invited back to the Shippensburg stadium where they were introduced during pre-game festivities.
Shippensburg’s Athletic Director Shawn Chiappelli worked with former Greyhound teammate Ray Bietsch for two months to coordinate the special meeting between the two schools.
The Sentinel in 2006 reported how Bietsch contacted as many of the players as possible by letter or by phone.
“Of the 40-plus players on the team back then, 11 are deceased and several have moved out of the area,” Bietsch said in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary game.
Email Joseph Cress at email@example.com