The amazing 1971 squad inducted into Hall of Fame on Saturday
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a re-print of a story that ran in The Beacon in 2011. The team we focus on in the story will be inducted into the Port Clinton High School Athletic Hall of Fame this Saturday Night.
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 busing and school integration.
Port Clinton High School had its own issues that were nearly as emotionally-charged 48 years ago as the issues depicted in the movie. In May 1971, after 19 years, Joe Lukac’s contract as head football coach was not renewed by the board of education. There was a community uproar.
Over 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, came 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 at a meeting with five of his senior players from 1971, Mike Matta, Jim Sass, Gary Quisno and Dan Timmons, along with a conference call to 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,” he said.
That team opened the season against McClain’s old team and his old high school coach, Lowell Shaffer and Bellevue. 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 paused and finally said, “I was really woofing my cookies.”
The Redskins prevailed 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, including a 6-6 tie with Clay, who had several Ohio State scholarship players.
Their only loss came on a 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,” said 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.”
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.
Team quarterback John Rusincovitch said “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. 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. They will all be together again this weekend as they enter the Port Clinton High School Athletic Hall of Fame.