Remember the Redskins!
BY JOHN SCHAFFNER
Several years ago, a movie came out about a high school football team from Alexandria, Va., called “Remember the Titans.” The setting was 1971 in a racially-charged atmosphere of forced bussing and school integration.
Also during that same year, Port Clinton High School had its own issues in 1971 that were just as emotionally charged as the issues depicted in the movie. In May of 1971, after 19 years, Joe Lukac’s contract as head football coach was not renewed by the Port Clinton Board of Education. Many of his supporters and even some of his detractors became incensed by the action.
More than 1,500 signatures were gathered in an attempt to reinstate the veteran head coach. Lukac filed a lawsuit to get this job back. Letters to the Editor were printed daily about the issue.
In the midst of all this turmoil, along comes a 25-year-old Marc McClain, a 3-year varsity assistant who was a star player at Bellevue. Early in his career as an assistant he was barred from Port Clinton practices the week before they played Bellevue.
Lukac didn’t trust him yet.
“When this all happened, the assistant coaches got together and none of us wanted to be the guy to succeed Joe,” said Marc McClain on a Monday afternoon, joined by five of his senior players from 1971 — Mike Matta, Jim Sass, Gary Quisno and Dan Timmons — along with a conference call participant, quarterback John Rusincovitch. “Finally, I decided to give it a shot, went through the interview process, and was named acting head coach on Aug. 1, 1971, with two weeks to prepare for summer practice”.
That whole time frame was a blur for McClain. He and his coaches had 56 kids who wanted to play football, 24 of them seniors.
“I didn’t have time to build up to doing this,” said McClain. Naturally, much of the community vitriol was then directed at him. “I got lots of phone calls in the middle of the night.”
McClain does admit that a more experienced coach might have done a better job with that team.
That team opened the season against — who else? — McClain’s old Bellevue team and his old high school coach, Lowell Shaffer.
Just like in the movie, it was the last period in school and McClain went outside while the band was practicing.
“Earl Warnke saw me and asked me if I was all right,” he said, then admitted, “I was really woofing my cookies.”
The Redskins managed to prevail 15-7. The closeness of the game would set a pattern for the rest of the season. They played in one tight contest after another. They played to a 6-6 tie with Clay, who had several Ohio State scholarship players. Their only loss came on a last minute desperation double reverse pass play at Bowling Green. They won their final four games to finish the season as Great Lakes League champions with an 8-1-1 record.
Gary Quisno, a Hall of Fame player and coach in his own right, credits McClain with shielding the team from all of the controversy. “He did a good job of keeping us away from all that,” says Quisno. “We were just a bunch of players who loved the game of football and wanted to win.”
Dan Timmons emphasized “We didn’t care who got the credit, we just wanted to play and we wanted to win. All year long, that’s just what we did. We always found a way to win.”
They were the 1970s version of the “Kardiac Kids.” In their game against Perkins, they were down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. They came back to score 29 unanswered points in the second quarter. Former Perkins Coach Joe Acierto still shakes his head in disbelief about that game.
Jim Sass remembers that they all painted their shoes white and painted a red “Puma” on the side. The team hung out together on the field and off the field.
“Yeah, we were very close on and off the field,” said Rusincovitch, who also noted that “the team really didn’t think about the controversy.”
McClain coached only one more year, then went back to Bellevue to run the family restaurant business. One of his frequent customers was Joe Lukac, and the two had many cordial conversations about those raucous times.
It was 1971…48 years ago. To those players who went through that experience, and their coach, it seems like yesterday.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Port Clinton High School Athletic Hall of Fame Committee has announced the Class of 2019 inductees. On the list for September enshrinement is the 1971 Port Clinton High School football teams. To read the Hall of Fame story, go to Page