At 121 years, the Male-Manual game is one of the oldest high school football rivalries in the nation, and Elmer Hennessey, 85, still has pleasant memories of the 1946 contest when he sparked the Crimsons to a 45-7 crushing of Male.
Before that game, Hennessey’s stepmother inherited $300 off a sale of a house and “she told me she would give me $100 for every touchdown I scored against Male. Hennessey scored twice. “I don’t want to get Manual in trouble with the state high school athletic association,” he said, jokingly, “ but she handed me two $100 bills as I walked off the field.
“The next day we (Hennessey and his future wife Dorothy Walker) went downtown and bought an engagement ring,” he recalled. The couple got married later on and stayed together until Dorothy passed away a little over eight years ago.
Hennessey scored 19 touchdowns in his junior year of 1946 to win the Ed Hasenour Trophy, symbolic of the city’s leading scorer. On Thursday, he wore his old, red Manual letter jacket as he told his story to 150 former Male and Manual players, coaches, and their wives, and fans, who crammed into The Filson Historical Society’s library at Oxmoor Farm behind Oxmoor Center to see archival footage of the rivalry.
Bill Fryrear, who played for Male from 1949-51, was there in his purple letter sweater with a yellow “H” on the front and a yellow hat. Male’s “H” stands for ‘High School.” The sweater looked in perfect shape, causing Fryrear to say, “I haven’t worn this sweater but twice in over 50 years and it still fits me.”
“Back in those days, a boy would let his girl friend wear his sweater,” Fryrear said. This romance didn’t last long so Fryrear went to the girl’s house to reclaim his sweater, but she wouldn’t give it back.”
“She said, ‘You gave me this sweater.’” Fryrear said. “No, I didn’t. I let you wear it. We argued until her mother finally came out and told her to give me my sweater back.”
Mike McDaniel, president of the Manual Alumni Association, told how the rivalry began.
“Manual started a football team in 1892, a year before Male did, but only played one game,” McDaniel said. “The next year, some Male students went to their principal Scott Bullitt and told him they wanted to start a team. Reluctantly, Bullitt gave into their request, but he warned them, ‘I’ll let you play Manual, but if you lose, I’ll expel every one of you.’”
Male won that game 14-10, but it was not played on Thanksgiving Day as many of the games after that were. It was not a financial success, either.
“The gate of $26.40 was split by the two schools and it cost Male an additional $3 to have a team picture made,” McDaniel said.
Male beat Manual 28-21 in their 2014 meeting, after Manual had won the previous three years. Male still holds a big series leads with 81 wins to 45 for Manual. There have been six ties.
The rivalry has had its ups and downs since the two schools became co-educational, Manual in 1950 and Male in 1952 (after a two-year court battle to remain an all-boys school). However, interest in the Old Rivalry has really picked up in recent years.
“The biggest events around here used to be the Kentucky Derby, then the Male-Manual game,” Fryrear said. “In 2014, we had the largest crowd we’ve ever had (10,000) at Male’s stadium.”
Many of the games before 1957 were played at Manual Stadium, which had a horseshoe shape then and a seating capacity of 19,000. The stadium was condemned in 1952, and the end zone and box seats were eliminated, leaving a seating capacity of 10,000.
McDaniel believes the game should be switched to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for 2015. That’s where Catholic rivals St. Xavier and Trinity stage their annual game, drawing upwards of 30,000 at times. The largest crowd to see a Male-Manual game was 22,000 in 1966, McDaniel said.
Fryrear showed people a picture of the four officials who worked the last Thanksgiving Day game in 1980. Fryrear served as the referee that say.
“They wouldn’t let me work the game before, but they did the last game on Thanksgiving,” Fryrear said. “Guess who won? Manual 6-0.” That brought on a big laugh.
Fryrear also noted that former Male coach Wally Butts once said “there was more pressure on him to win the Male-Manual game than there was on him when he was coach at the University of Georgia.”
The first Old Rivalry game this writer saw was the scoreless duel in 1949, after my family had moved to Louisville from Lexington. That game featured running backs Bunky Gruner of Manual and Jimmy Sedbrook of Male.
“I scored a touchdown on a 65-yard punt return, but it got called back because of a penalty,” Gruner said. Sedbrook ran to Manual’s 15-yard line before fumbling the ball into the endzone, where Gruner outwrestled Male’s George Sauer for a touchback. “We played amateur ball (baseball) with each other. All of them were good guys.”
Gruner, who later played for the University of Kentucky, had four of his five children with him — Bob, Paul and Allen, and daughter Kathy Flynn with him. Bob Gruner was an outstanding running back on St. X.’s state championship Class AAA team in 1969.
Buddy Pfaadt, an all-state end who graduated from Male in 1963, was there representing both schools. The former Eastern Kentucky University also was head coach at Manual from 1975 to 1981. His Crimson teams went 6-0-1 against Male.
“People asked me how could I coach Manual after playing at Male,” Pfaadt said. “I told them it’s because I like to eat. I belong to both schools’ Hall of Fame. Male is my personal life. Manual is my professional life. My players at Manual often asked me why I sang the Male fight song during warm-ups for the big game. I told them Male is my school and Manual is your school.”
Male clobbered Manual 81-0 in 1919, but the Crimsons got revenge when their great 1959 team — led by super-fast Sherman Lewis and tackle Steve Wright — walloped Male 62-0. Lewis later starred at Michigan State and coached in the NFL; Wright played for Alabama and the Green Bay Packers.
Charlie Kuhn, Male’s coach in ’59, was so upset over that whipping he was heard urging his players to get on the bus as quickly as possible after the game. “Get on the bus before thy score again,” Kuhn Stweve Wrightyelled.
As for Hennessey, he still keeps up with Manual’s progress, but he’s become a huge Trinity fan. His sons, Alan and Donnie, played on the Shamrocks’ first state championship team in 1968. Alan went on to play at Georgia Tech.