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Reitz Bowl unique stadium to watch high school football

 

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Shown above is a chronological progression of the Reitz Bowl: construction of the Reitz Bowl
in 1921; the Reitz High School-Evansville Central High School football game on November 24, 1922;
the Reitz Bowl in 1945; and a present-day shot of the Reitz Bowl.
 


 

 

By John Gillis 

Nestled in the extreme southwestern tip of Indiana is one of the nation’s most historic and unique natural high school football stadiums.

That stadium in Evansville ‑ which is built into the side of a hill – is very appropriately known as the “Reitz Bowl.” It is part of Francis Joseph Reitz High School, more commonly known as Reitz High School.

A historic public high school on Evansville’s west side, Reitz High School was founded in 1918. It is a member of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and is the city’s second-oldest high school.

The Reitz Bowl was originally planned as a retaining wall for the high school. At that time, individuals determined that with some minor changes, a football stadium could also be constructed, with seating built on a hill.

And so it was that in 1921 ‑ the first year that Reitz High School was fully accredited by the North Central Association ‑ the 10,000-seat Reitz Stadium (now more than 12,000 capacity) was built. During its first two years of operation, the school played a reserve schedule and in 1921, it commenced varsity competition.

Ten years later, the Reitz High School Panthers played their first night game. In 1959, Reitz played cross-town rival Evansville Bosse High School in what would become the final Thanksgiving high school football game to be played in the state of Indiana.

The decade of the 1970s brought more improvements to the stadium. In 1973, the school installed an all-transistor scoreboard. A year later, Reitz High School installed Prescription Athletic Turf (PAT), which enables draining and irrigation from pipes located beneath the playing surface. When the field is flooded by rain, a vacuum system removes that excess water; when the field is too dry, the system sends irrigating water to the field’s surface.

Along with the PAT came renovation of seating, walkways and stairs, as well as the addition of an all-weather track and all-metal permanent bleachers.

In 1995, play clocks were added and in 2003, a high-technology sound system was installed.

In 2009, artificial turf was added to the Reitz Bowl. In the early part of the year, construction crews began to tear up the old natural playing surface, and in late May, the final touches were added to the SprinTurf playing surface.

 

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Herman Byers, who coached Reitz High School
to a 189-51-15 win-loss record and to six Indiana
High School Athletic Association state titles from
1942 to 1968, is regarded by most as the greatest
Reitz football coach.
 

 

In addition to being home to Reitz High School, the Reitz Bowl is also is the home field for Evansville Mater Dei High School. And this year, the semipro Evansville Enforcers of the Great Midwest Football League are playing five home contests in the stadium.

Interestingly, the Enforcers have a Reitz High School connection as they are coached by Richard Nau, who was a member of the 1961 Reitz football team that went undefeated and unscored upon and is a former Reitz athletic director. Both the 1960 and 1961 teams were undefeated, and the 1961 squad outscored its opponents, 368-0.

And going beyond simply athletic events, the Reitz Bowl also embraces the performing arts as it annually hosts the Drums on the Ohio marching band competition. In addition, it is the home of the Reitz High School graduation ceremonies.

Over the years, Reitz High School has won an impressive 11 Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) state football championships.

Perhaps starting that great Reitz football tradition of excellence was coach Herman Byers, who led the program to a 189-51-15 win-loss record and to six IHSAA state titles from 1942 to 1968. In addition, Byers coached the Panthers to 13 Southern Indiana Athletic Conference and 15 city titles. In recognition of his outstanding career, Byers was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

Reitz has also enjoyed championship success in recent years. In 2007, the Panthers defeated Lowell High School in Indianapolis’ RCA Dome to claim the IHSAA Class 4A state title. Two years later, they defeated Lowell once again ‑ this time in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis ‑ to win the 2009 Class 4A state championship.

According to fifth-year Reitz High School head football coach Tony Lewis, the Reitz Bowl offers a certain atmosphere that is conducive to the Panthers’ home-field success.

“When you walk into the Bowl for the first time, it takes your breath away,” Lewis said. “I believe it is the best high school venue in the state.

“The Reitz Bowl has a certain mystique to it that makes it very tough on opponents. The volume down on the field is amplified because of the acoustics in the Bowl. Because of the Reitz fan base and the Bowl atmosphere, I do believe that there is a ‘home-field advantage’ when playing in the Bowl. In my opinion, we have the best student and community fan support in the state.

“Kids grow up on the West Side dreaming about playing in the Bowl. Walking onto the field for pregame introductions is quite a thrill that is hard to duplicate.”

With a win-loss record of 44-7 during the past five years and consistent success since the beginning of the program, Reitz has played in many memorable games and has had many great teams and players over the years. However, if you were to ask coach Lewis, it might be hard to choose just one in those categories.

“If you asked true Westsiders what was the ‘most legendary’ game ever played in the Reitz Bowl, you would get various answers to that question,” Lewis said. “It’s hard to pin it down to just one.

“As far as great teams are concerned, many people believe that the two-year undefeated run of 1960 and 1961 was one of the greatest in Reitz football history. To go both undefeated and unscored upon in 1961 was an unbelievable feat.

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The Reitz Bowl in Winter 1958 

“The 2007 and 2009 teams should probably be mentioned as well because of winning the state championships after the playoff system was implemented. However, many would argue that the mythical state championship teams were just as great.

“It would also be hard to pick just certain great players who have played at Reitz. That is why all of the all-state players in the history of Reitz ‑ clear back to 1927 ‑ have their pictures in the main locker room of the field house.”

Also playing a major role in Reitz’ success is Jon Carl, who teaches history at Reitz High School. A former football Panther himself with numerous other family members who are alumni, Carl has assumed the role of “Reitz Historian” as he has conducted exhaustive research on the program and has produced a video regarding it.

“I have deep roots at Reitz – both of my parents, all my aunts and uncles as well as my grandfather graduated from there,” Carl said. “There are a lot of families that have had multiple generations go through Reitz. As a result, there is generally a lot of community support on the Westside of Evansville for Reitz and for Reitz football. There are a lot of kids on the Westside who grow up just wanting to play football there.

“I graduated in 1991, was on the 1988, 1989 and 1990 football teams, and played center and defensive end. Nothing special ‑ a three-year letter-winner – no ‘all-anything’ honors. I guess I am an official/unofficial ‘Reitz Historian.’ I have done a fair amount of research on the history of the bowl and the school.

“There is nothing like coming out of the field house and seeing 7,000 to 10,000 fans in the Bowl. I always tell our kids how lucky they are to play for Reitz. Many of our kids who go on to play D-II or D-III college football later realize how good they had it in high school.”

Click here to access the video "Feel the History" produced by John Carl's Reitz High School class.

 

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All of the all-state football players in Reitz High School history going back to 1927 are displayed in photographs in the main locker room of the field house. 

 

John Gillis is the associate director of publications and communications of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at jgillis@nfhs.org  

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