Shelton and '66 team answer Hall call together
By Joe Warren
Nevada Daily Mail
When you think about the golden age of Nevada High School football you think about the Tiger teams from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Twice in a seven year span the Tigers turned in perfect seasons, and two other times the year was marked with only a single defeat.
The beginning of that golden age coincided with the hiring of a single football coach.
Prior to the 1964 season, Nevada High School football was in limbo.
Head coach Dan Clopton was fired after losing at Lamar in the fourth game of the 1963 season, prompting Nevada to bring in counselor John McKinley to call the shots as the interim coach.
McKinley inherited a 1-3 record and despite finishing with a respectable 5-5 mark didn't wish to stay on as the head guy.
A petition signed by members of the team and the community couldn't persuade McKinley to stay on and that left Nevada without a coach.
A young guy from Rolla with only a couple years of coaching experience was tabbed to take over the reigns of the Tiger program. Chuck Shelton, who brought along friend and fellow Pittsburg State football product Moe Cotter, took on the task of resurrecting the Nevada gridders.
Shelton's arrival was met with some consternation in the community, as many wanted McKinley to be the guy, but Shelton braved the public criticism and eventually won everybody over.
"I wasn't the parents' choice, I can tell you that," Shelton told the Nevada Rotary Club Thursday.
Among the converts were a group of players who were sophomores in high school when Shelton took over the helm.
That class gained a lot of experience the next two seasons as Nevada compiled records of 4-6 and 5-5. While the overall records were nothing to write home about, it was the last few games of the '65 campaign that provided the groundwork for the memorable season a year later.
In particular, a single game provided a turning point for the crimson-clad. It was the fifth game of the season, and Nevada was facing Webb City in a game that the Cardinals led 19-6 at halftime.
Shelton recalled what happened next.
"We had a pretty angry halftime with the kids," Shelton said. "We ended up winning the game."
The Tigers won the contest 20-19, and it would be the momentum from that game that would carry Nevada through the rest of the season.
"It gave the kids great confidence," Shelton said. "The kids kind of took over then. There's not much coaching to do when the kids buy in."
Nevada rolled through the remainder of the '65 schedule and would go unbeaten and untied in 1966. It was the first time a team from Nevada High School would achieve such a feat in football.
Shelton said it was the confidence the players gained in the comeback against Webb City that made all the difference in the world. He said the players went from hoping to win and thinking they might win to knowing it was going to happen.
"The kids really believed it," he said. "We were a touchdown ahead of everybody (mentally) when the game started."
That the winning started was not by accident. The right coach converged with the right team at the right time and everything just fell into place.
One thing Nevada had going for it was a smart signal caller.
Sam Foursha was the quarterback for the Tigers. The coaches and players alike had confidence in his ability to lead the offense.
"Sam was as good a faking quarterback and as good a field general as we could have had," Shelton said.
One of the linemen on that team, Kirk Stewart had another perspective.
"He was a real leader," Stewart said. "He treated everybody as an equal. He didn't care if they were a lineman, halfback or fullback. He was more like a friend than a teammate."
While Foursha was the unquestioned leader on the field, Shelton was that person off it.
"(Shelton) was a very dynamic person," Foursha said. "He was a very bright, intelligent guy. He knew a lot about football."
Stewart said Shelton's leadership went beyond the field.
"One of the things that sticks out in my mind is Chuck Shelton was a surrogate dad, in a way," Stewart said. "He could take a person and have them perform more than they thought they could. … I think he taught the team to strive for excellence in anything you did."
The team would dominate on the field.
The offense averaged 28.2 points per game, while the defense allowed only 7.1 per contest. The Tigers were so dominant that they posted five shutouts of opponents.
Ten Nevada players were named to the All Big 10 Conference first team.
Two games in particular were of historical significance in the Nevada area.
The first was the contest against Carthage that season, a game played at Logan Field that had more than 5,000 fans in attendance. It's one of the top three largest crowds in Nevada history.
"The most significant game was the Carthage game," Shelton recalls. "People were trying to get in still during the third quarter."
The other amazing thing was the happenings in the town of Nevada the night after they defeated Monett to end the season.
The Nevada buses were met outside of town and escorted in by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Nevada police. A huge celebration followed on the Square and it certainly left an impression on Shelton.
"To have been greeted the way we were doesn't happen very often, anywhere," he said.
The celebration lasted into the early morning hours that Saturday, after Nevada topped Monett. It would be the last time those particular Tigers would join with the Nevada fans as a complete team, coach and all.
Shelton would go on to a successful coaching career, eventually leading NCAA Division I programs Utah State, Pacific and Drake.
He would eventually be named conference coach of the year four times during his college career, and was a 2006 inductee to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
But it was at Nevada that Shelton really started forging the Hall of Fame career.
"I've been accused of moving around a lot and staying ahead of the posse," Shelton said. "I'll never be any place where my roots seem any deeper than Nevada, Missouri."
Those roots will sink even deeper into the Nevada landscape tonight when Shelton and the 1966 team are both inducted into the NHS Athletics Hall of Fame.
The ceremony will start shortly after 6:30 p.m., prior to the Nevada football season opener against Bolivar at Logan Field.