Jerry Ford on the practice field, high school

Football at South High


In the spring of Junior’s eighth grade year, over half of his class turned up to try out for the “second team” football squad that would be assembled the next fall. So popular was the sport that any boy who had a trace of athletic ability would try out for the chance of being on the team, and as a result, popular at school. South High football coach Cliff Gettings, himself a young man a few years out of college, was an imposing presence among these eighth graders. He saw Ford, with his bright blonde hair, and sized him up as a lineman. “Hey, Whitey, you’re a center!” he yelled. It was a designation that would stick through the duration of Jerry’s football career. He impressed at the tryout and easily made the freshman team, coached by “Pop” Churm, who would serve as an advisor to Jerry through high school.


After making the second team for his freshman year, Junior, who was called “Junie” by his teammates, was always looking for opportunities to practice. Center was a much more complex position in those days, when football was still a primitive version of what it is today. “You had to perfect different types of snaps,” Ford recalled. From his coaches, he had to learn “how to snap the ball back, leading a tailback a step in the direction he was going to run, putting it high and soft for a fullback coming into the line, getting it on the right hip for the punter. And then after you centered the ball, you had to be quick to block the opposing lineman who had the jump on you.”


Junie excelled at the game in every way, thoroughly enjoying the team effort and individual aggressiveness that football requires. In fact, he began to develop a reputation as a hothead, delivering hits that drew penalties and the occasional ejection. His old temper was flaring up on the field, but by his senior year, he had learned to control his anger during games.


Ford, as well as being a quality player, acted as an informal leader to the freshman team, and he landed a varsity spot as the backup center for his sophomore year. However, the first string center, Orris Burghdorf, was injured before the season began, giving Jerry the opportunity to start a few games. By the time Burghdorf had recovered, Ford had proven himself to be a starter, and it was where he remained through his senior year.


Once on the varsity team, the crowds were larger and games were written up in the city papers. Jerry, though, simply concentrated on winning the contests at hand, blocking out the distractions that came with being a high school football star and all-city player. Three weeks into his junior year, though, his football career hung in the balance when he hurt his knee. With little improvement as the season wore on, he was missing games, but through an acquaintance with Danny Rose, a teacher at South High and a former Michigan basketball star, it was arranged to have surgery in Ann Arbor to repair the floating mensicus in his knee. The operation was successful, and Ford was ready to succeed in his final high school season.


The 1930 season, Ford’s senior year, was a pinnacle of his football career. The squad was a winning team and came to be known as the 30/30 Club. The season was highlighted by the all-city game, the final contest of the season played against the formidable Union High team. After an arduous struggle marred by blizzard conditions, the game ended in a scoreless tie. Jerry's high school career was over, but he would move on to larger crowds and greater recognition as the eventual starting center at the University of Michigan.