• Penny Weichel

1918 -- The Season That Pretty Much Wasn't

Updated: May 21, 2020

(First published in The Derrick and The News-Herald on March 20, 2020.)

Contrary to popular belief, it was the flu – a pandemic of Spanish influenza – and not World War I that shortened the 1918 season for everybody – both high schools like Franklin and Oil City and colleges.

Coming off a 5-3 campaign in 1917, which included two wins over Oil City, Franklin had a slate of eight games lined up for 1918 under new coach T.P. Miller. The Oilers also had a new coach in Bill Fountain after going 2-3 the previous season.

Apparently there was much more anticipation surrounding Franklin, which beat something called the Hess Club – a “much lighter and more inexperienced team” than FHS in a Sept. 26 tuneup for the season that wasn’t to be, the News-Herald reported.

A headline in the Wednesday, Oct. 2, edition of the Herald blared, “High (meaning FHS) Team Ready For Initial Game With Titusville.” But the next day, a Page 1 headline read, “Philadelphia Hit Hard by Influenza.”

Meanwhile, on Oct. 3, Oil City battled Warren to a 0-0 tie in its opener. On the eve of the game, The Derrick reported, “The fact that all moving picture houses are now closed is expected to increase the attendance as this game is the only amusement offered to the people of Oil City today.”

The Warren game was played “under special permission of health authorities,” the Derrick said, “and football practice “would continue that week despite a discontinuance of school.”

Franklin’s opener was still on as of Thursday. In fact, there was a short story in the Herald about how changes had been made to the layout of the football field at Miller-Sibley, which was also used for baseball. The field had been laid out so just about half of it was played on the baseball diamond, “which was pretty muddy,” the newspaper noted, and also caused mud to be thrown on the fans “who were in the habit of crowding the field.” So, the field was shifted so only a small portion of it would be extended on the diamond.

But the next day – a day before the opener – another Page 1 headline in the Herald read, “State Board Puts Ban On All Meetings.” A sub-head reported “Public gatherings prohibited in effort to check spread of influenza epidemic.” And a sub-head under that said, “Theatres must remain dark in quarantine; schools and churches unsettled.”

The day Franklin took on Titusville (Oct. 5) another headline in the Herald declared, “Oil City Has 26 Cases Of Influenza.”

Meanwhile, a fellow named Gillies scored on a 1-yard run and kicked the extra point to erase a 6-0 Titusville lead in the third quarter. And that 7-6 victory would be Franklin’s 1918 season.

On the same day the game was reported in the paper, there was another headline that read, “Franklin Free From Ravages Of Influenza.” But that wouldn’t last. It was reported in the Oct. 10 paper that the team wouldn’t play its upcoming scheduled game against Grove City.

The Oil City Blizzard reported in its Oct. 6 edition that 78 cases of the Spanish flu had been confirmed in the area. That newspaper also reported on Oct. 11 that two people in Oil City had died of pneumonia after having been stricken with the flu. By Oct. 17, 638 cases of the flu had been reported in Oil City in the last 11 days.

The Franklin school board discussed Oct. 14 the possible closing of the schools, but by a 5-2 vote decided to keep them open for the time being. But by Oct. 23, the Franklin YMCA was turned into a hospital and another headline shouted, “Physician Sees Grave Danger In Influenza Here.”

Finally, the Nov. 9 edition of the Herald carried a story headlined, “Worst Is Over, Health Officer Brown Declares.”

Now, somewhere between its Oct. 3 opener with Warren and a Nov. 28 finale with Meadville, Oil City crushed Titusville, 50-0. A 6-0 loss to Meadville gave the Oilers a 1-1-1 record for the season. Oil City schools had reopened Nov. 18.

Franklin had canceled the rest of its season on Nov. 23, the same day it was scheduled to play Greenville.

The annual Oil City-Franklin Thanksgiving Day game was another casualty of the flu.

World War I was almost over, too, and the News-Herald ran a story about six former Franklin athletes, not all of them gridders, who died in the war. Two others died of the flu.

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