For weeks, everyone could see the disease spreading from the east westward. This time, they didn’t close the schools, and sports continued as scheduled. Then, it got worse, and schools were closed out of necessity. St. Anthony stopped allowing visitors. Eventually, there was no choice — games had to be canceled, as teams didn’t have enough healthy players to fill their rosters. Championship races were given up in the interest of players. This isn’t something that could have happened in 2020. Instead, this was what took place 63 years ago this October.
October of 1957, much like March of 2020, started out a little ominously. Just four days into the new month, Russia had shocked the world by sending the first-ever man-made satellite into earth’s orbit, the Sputnik.
By the end of the month, Carroll and Kuemper’s football teams would be struggling to piece together enough players to field a team. One of the schools wouldn’t be successful.
At the time, Kuemper was the bigger of the two schools in town and had a free reign of opponents. The Knights didn’t belong to a conference back then and played teams from as far away from Loras (Dubuque, now known as Wahlert Catholic) and Omaha.
Through the first six games of the Carroll High season, the Tigers had struggled. The Tigers were 0-6, and their closest game had come in their sixth game, a 26-12 loss to Missouri Valley. Their seventh game featured a game against Ida Grove.
Kuemper was relatively new to the sports world. The ’57 season was just their third season in varsity football competition. The Knights fell in their first game of the year 31-26 to Dowling Catholic but then bested both Gehlen Catholic and St. Edmond in back-to-back weeks. However their next two games were losses to Bishop Heelan and Boone. Their sixth game was a narrow 13-12 win over Omaha Cathedral (at the time of the game, Omaha had been undefeated).
Football season upended
During the football season, a threat had been growing across the United States and Iowa. An Oct. 17 Associated Press report stated that Iowa was aware a flu was moving through the state, but officials didn’t know what kind it was, although some officials were convinced it was the Asian Flu, since that was the only new known flu case in the United States.
The next day, Oct. 18 (the same day that Carroll lost to Missouri Valley), the flu wreaked havoc on the football world. An AP report from that day showed a total of 30 high school football games were canceled or postponed.
The flu hadn’t quite reached the local level yet, as Scranton was the only school affected; their road game against Nevada had been called off.
But schools already had started to see the effects of the flu. According to an Oct. 17 AP report, 50 schools had closed their doors across the state.
Within a week, the football season would essentially be put on hold.
As it turns out, the flu that was making its way across the state was what would become known as the Asian Flu, which, according to the Center for Disease Control website, was “a new influenza A (H2N2) virus that emerged in East Asia triggering a pandemic.”
On Oct. 25, the flu had taken control of the football schedule. That day, the Carroll Daily Times Herald reported that Beuna Vista University had canceled their homecoming game against Central College.
Several schools had to cancel classes. At press time of that day’s paper, 10 of the 20 local games had been called off or postponed. When the paper was printed, Carroll and Ida Grove were still scheduled to play.
Some of the canceled games were postponed, as they hoped to make the games up in the middle of November.
There were some rumblings that Carroll and Ida Grove might not play.
The day before the game, on Oct. 24, Carroll High, feeling the flu sweep through the school, had postponed their school play, “One foot in Heaven,” from Oct. 29 to Nov. 14, because “illness among the cast has interrupted rehearsals and made it impossible for the play to be ready on the scheduled date.”
Friday afternoon, the Tigers canceled their game with Ida Grove.
“We decided to postpone the game for the benefit of the players,” the Times Herald reported then-superintendent W. Paul Forney as saying.
The reason for the suspension was because 15 Carroll High players were absent from school on Friday. Ida Grove also reported about 15 football players stayed home.
Among the reasons the game was canceled was because Carroll would have only had about 13 players trying to play the game.
“In view of the seriousness of the situation and welfare and physical well-being of the few players available, we felt it was best to call the game off until such time as both squads are fully recuperated from the effects of the illness,” Forney said.
That game had been Carroll’s scheduled homecoming game. The accompanying parade for homecoming celebrations also were canceled.
One of the hardest local conferences hit was the Coon Valley Conference, where six of the seven teams missed their scheduled contests that Friday night.
Among the games canceled included an important Manning vs. Scranton game. Scranton was leading the conference going into the week, but a win by Manning would have created a three-way tie for first among Manning, Scranton and Glidden. Glidden’s game against last-place Bayard wiped out a chance for the Wildcats to take sole possession of first place.
Overall, two of the 19 area games scheduled that week were played on Friday night. Perry beat Guthrie Center, and Dow City blanked Ar-We-Va.
Kuemper played some of their games on Saturday afternoons back then.
The 26th spelled more bad news for area teams as the Twin Lakes Conference, consisting of Pocahontas, Laurens, Lake City, Rolfe, Albert City, Rockwell City and Manson, agreed to cancel the rest of its season.
Kuemper lost to 11th-ranked Loras 14-0. They were scheduled to have a quick turnaround, hosting Emmetsburg (Catholic) the following Thursday night.
Kuemper wasn’t immune to the sickness, though. Their freshman-sophomore team beat Saint Edmond early in the next week, but they played without four first-string backfield players and two offensive linemen.
The flu was hitting paper carriers as well. The Oct. 30 Daily TimesHerald reported that 40 percent of its carriers and most of the regular substitutes were sick as well, so some carriers were on different routes.
A scary Halloween
Halloween of 1957 was when it became official.
Carroll’s High schedule, with three games remaining, was canceled.
“We had 14 players out for practice on Wednesday and five of those players were in no shape to play on Friday,” Forney said.
He further explained that the cancelation of the season was for the physical well-being of the students.
Jefferson was hit hardest among Carroll’s Midwest Conference foes. It was reported that 43 of their 45 players were either suffering from or recovering from the flu.
Kuemper benefitted from their early games, as they relied on their only running back who was able to play in the game, Jerry Collison.
Collison may be the only player the Knights needed in the 27-12 victory, as he scored 26 of the 27 points, gaining three rushing touchdowns and a 7-yard interception return. For the season, the Knights ended 4-4 and were scheduled to turn in their uniforms the following week.
The Kuemper players would have an extended rest period. That Halloween day, Kuemper was forced to close the school because 162 students had called in absent, according to a front-page article of the Carroll Daily Times Herald.
School actually had been let out on Thursday morning, but the school stayed closed (partly because of All Saints Day) for Friday.
Also forcing the closure of the school was the number of teachers who had phoned in sick, according to that day’s paper.
Carroll High numbers were improving. The Times Herald reported that 41 students were absent from the high school and 101 elementary children had missed school Thursday and Friday. Manning reported that 240 children had missed school in the last two weeks.
The situation had gotten so bad that the medical association and local doctors were calling school officials to cancel school and the football games.
Not everyone was happy to cancel games, with conference standings being tight at the top.
“If we can’t play Carroll on Friday, let’s find someone to play us — even if it’s the alumni,” Sac City players were heard saying, according to a report by the paper.
Sac City was 2-1 in conference play but close to Harlan in the conference standings.
However, things weren’t improving. On Nov. 2, the AP reported that 21 Iowans had died as a result of the Asian Flu. Cherokee reported 270 students ill.
On Nov. 5, St. Anthony hospital in Carroll requested that visitors be limited to just immediate family members. It was reported that every bed there was full.
Sac City’s football team received bad news on Nov. 6 when their final game against Ida Grove was called off, handing the conference title to Harlan.
Back then, there were no playoffs, so conference titles meant everything to teams.
Basketball season started early for Kuemper, as they prepared for jamboree games by Nov. 8. They were still hampered by the flu as their coach, Lou Galetich, would be sidelined due to illness. Football coach Steve Garbier served as the back-up coach.
A Nov. 14 AP report stated that a fourth of the U.S. population had been stricken by illness in the fall of 1957. That included 8.5 million people sick the week ending Oct. 12.
The next day, Nov. 15, St. Anthony opened the hospital to visitors again, as the easing of the flu epidemic had freed up the hospital staff.
The Nov. 16 edition of the Kuemper Charger stated that nearly 200 students missed school the last week of October. It also stated that students returning from the illness “generally agreed that even school was more pleasant than the aches and pains accompanying the sickness.”
By Nov. 18, things had returned to normal. A scheduled basketball game that night had Carroll playing Glidden. Glidden was concerned because junior Buddy Holman had only just recovered from a long bout with the flu.
The basketball season went on without any games canceled due to the flu.
The Asian Flu, as it was known, was stopped short much to the effort of Maurice Hilleman, who helped develop a vaccine that was ready by 1958. The Asian Flu killed an estimated 116,000 Americans and 1.1 million people worldwide, according the CDC.