Each Wednesday, Prep Rally uncovers the story behind the most remarkable standards in high school sports for our Unbroken Records series. This week: A legend grows.
Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds topped New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris' longstanding record of 61 home runs in the 1961 baseball season; their slugging seasons stand in the record book whether they were using performance enhancing drugs or not. Yet it's possible that Maris still own another remarkable record that isn't being recognized, simply because no one acting as a national certifying official has looked into it.
Legend contends that Maris returned four kickoffs in a 1951 prep football game, leading Fargo (N.D.) Shanley High to a 32-27 victory against Devils Lake (N.D.) High. His coach, Sid Cichy, who himself once owned the national record for consecutive victories (59) and led Shanley to 16 state championships, confirmed the feat to Sports Illustrated in 1983.
Yet, the National Federation of State High School Associations doesn't recognize Maris' achievement. According to the NFHS, the record for kickoffs returned for touchdowns in a single game is three -- accomplished five times. Tecumseh (Mich.) High's Cole Corey was the last to do so, returning kicks of 94, 84 and 94 yards to the house in 2002.
That same 20-year-old Sports Illustrated note in response to a letter to the editor contends Maris' record was never submitted to the NFHS and therefore isn't set in stone. Yet, the reader who raised the issue, C. Michael Reimringer, suggested the accomplishment is listed in his half-century-old Shanley yearbook.
Perhaps the North Dakota school could dig up some proof and submit enough evidence for the NFHS to officially recognize his four kickoff returns, so Maris has at least one record in the books. After all, a 1989 Associated Press piece also suggested its legitimacy.
One of the nation's top high school football players in 1951, Maris set a U.S. prep record that still stands by returning four kickoffs for touchdowns in a 32-27 victory by Shanley High, in his hometown of Fargo, N.D., against rival Devils Lake.
"What I remember most about the game is the visiting coach, Red Huntley, shaking hands and saying, 'Our kids hated to score because we knew Maris would run it back for a touchdown,'" said Sid Cichy, Maris' high school coach. "But the game didn't get a lot of attention. We didn't have the money to film games back then, and a lot of schools didn't keep statistics.
"We were 7-1 and tied for the state championship in '50 -- Roger's brother, Rudy was the other halfback -- but we were 3-5 in '51, one of only two losing seasons we had in 30 years because Roger was hurt and missed some games."
An October 15, 1968 article cites the record upon Maris' retirement from baseball.
Cichy reportedly referred to the record during a prayer service again after Maris' death in 1985. And once more he supplied the same detailed account in Harvey Rosenfield's 2002 biography, "Still a Legend: The Story of Roger Maris."
But conflicting accounts begin in 2002. Student Sports guru Doug Huff offered this take.
Maris has been listed over the last 30 years in various reports with returning four kickoffs for touchdowns for Shanley High of Fargo, N.D., in a 33-20 win over Devils Lake High on Sept. 28, 1951.
The reported feat intrigued Bob Fulton, a sports writer from Indiana, Pa., who decided to research the 'record' for a possible story.
While in Fargo to cover a college football game for his newspaper, he visited the local Fargo Forum paper to check out the Maris mark on newspaper microfilm.
What he discovered was that Maris did score four touchdowns on returns in that game...but only two were on kickoff returns of 88 and 90 yards.
Maris also scored on a 45-yard punt return and a 25-yard pass interception return and added a fifth score on a 32-yard run from scrimmage.
A 2003 New York Post article similarly reported, "A tremendous athlete, Maris once scored four touchdowns in a game for Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D. What's the big deal about four touchdowns, you ask? All four came on returns -- kickoffs, punt and an interception." And a former North Dakota prep reporter also backed that claim.
Sadly, the NFHS does not include a record for most returns of any nature in its book.
Alas, another asterisk.
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