A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 25, 2007
Six-Man Football

Six-man football allows smaller schools that can’t field 11-man teams to still play the game. Six-man football was invented by Stephen Epler in Nebraska, but the game really took root in Texas, starting in the spring of 1938.

Various changes from the 11-man game include a smaller field (80 yards) and different scoring (two points for a kick after a touchdown and four points for a field goal). A documentary, Six Man, Texas, was filmed in 2007.


Wikipedia: Six-man football
Six-man football is a variant of high school American football that is played with six players per team, instead of 11.

History
Six-man football was developed in 1934 by Chester (Nebraska) High School coach Stephen Epler as an alternative means for small high schools to field a football team during the Great Depression. In 1938, Prairie Lea High took on Martindale High School in the first six-man football game played in Texas and by spring of that year 55 schools were playing the game. This number had doubled by 1939 and at one point in the 1960’s there were more than 160 six-man teams in Texas.

Game Play
Six-man is a fast-moving game played on an 80-yard (73 m) long by 40-yard wide (37 m) field (instead of the normal 100-yd (91 m) by 160-ft (48.8 m) field used in 11-man football. Furthermore, the game specifies a 15-yard distance (14 m) from the line of scrimmage to gain a first down, instead of the normal 10 yards (9 m).

All six players are eligible to be receivers. On offense, three linemen are required on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play. The person to whom the ball is snapped cannot run the ball past the line of scrimmage; however, if the ball is tossed to another player, that player can run or throw the ball and the person to whom the ball was snapped is still an eligible receiver. All forward passes to the player who snapped the ball (center) must travel at least 1 yard (1 m) in flight.

Scoring
Scoring is the same as in 11-man football, with the exceptions being on the point after touchdown attempt and the field goal. A point-after kick is worth two points, while a conversion made by running or passing the ball is worth one point; this is the opposite of 11-man football. In addition, a field goal is worth 4 points instead of 3. These rule changes were made because of the difficulty of successfully getting a kick off with so few blockers on the line compared to the number of defenders. In both University Interscholastic League and Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools competition, a 45-point “mercy rule” exists to prevent lopsided scoring deficits (no such rule exists in the 11-man game). The game is ended under this rule if a team is losing by 45 or more points at halftime or at any point after. The mercy rule is alluded to in the title of the David Morse film about six-man football, The Slaughter Rule.

Six-man football today
The state of Texas has over 110 teams, a number that is increasing due to declining population in many small West Texas towns, as well as newer private schools opting for six-man football as less cost is required for equipment. The sport is also played by high schools in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wyoming and in parts of Canada.

Six Man Football: History
Six-man football was invented in 1934, by a high school coach from Chester, Nebraska named Stephen Epler, who wanted to find a way for his players to have the opportunity to play the game of football. Four years later, the game made it’s way to the Lone Star state, as the UIL contemplated adding six-man football to the option allowed for Texas public schools.
In that first year, 1938, only 55 schools participated in six-man football. A year later, the number grew to 112 schools. At one time as many as 160 teams participated.

In the early 1940’s, towns that sixty years later still play six-man football, such as Harrold, Trent, Novice, Groom and Oglesby, were playing. But also appearing on those early charts were the then tiny towns of Katy, Friendswood, Dripping Springs, Copperas Cove and Pearland. Of course many long forgotten towns that no longer exist or have schools were represented. Towns like Darrouzett, Oklaunion, Flat, Pecan Gap and Stuart Place fielded teams in those early seasons.

Today, as we enter the twenty-first century, a time of consolidation and migration to the city, the game of six-man football is still alive and well in Texas. In 2001, there were be 102 public schools and as many as 50-60 private schools participating. By comparison, 19 teams play in New Mexico, 16 in Colorado and 15 in Montana, the only other states sanctioning state championships. (writer’s.note: of course there are several teams in various states, like Nebraska and Kansas, which play six-man football that is not sanctioned by the state association.)

The game that started it all
PRAIRIE LEA vs. MARTINDALE (Spring 1938)
Very little is known about the exhibition these two squads put on, other than it was the first six-man football game played by Texas high school teams. University Interscholastic League Director, Rodney Kidd, asked coaches at the two schools located just south of Austin to study the rules. They later played the exhibition for UIL officials, who must have been impressed, as they officially sanctioned six-man play for the fall of 1938.

Both schools competed in six-man that first fall and tied for the district three title with Dripping Springs.

2 September 1934, Lincoln (NE) Star, pg. A6, cols. 4-6:
SIX MAN FOOTBALL URGED FOR SMALL SCHOOL.
Steve Epler Offers set of Rules For New Sport.
Stephen Epler, assistant coach and faculty member at Beatrice high school this coming year, offers six man football as a sport for small schools not sponsoring regular grid teams. Epler is a former Cotner athlete, coached at Teachers’ college high school here one year and also at Chester where the plan will be tested this fall.

BY STEPHEN E. EPLER.

Many of the small schools of Nebraska no longer have football as part of their athletic program. This does not mean that football has lost its popularity with the school boys. Even in small communities, boys collect on vacant lots and in streets and kick, pass, and scrimmage with a football. This is sufficient evidence that the boys still like the game. The writer has heard many boys wish and request that football be put back in the high school’s athletic program.
(...)
Article I: Each team shall be composed of six players.

Article II: The playing field shall be 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. It shall be marked with cross lines 5 yards apart. The ball shall be put in play by kicking off from the line 20 yards from the goal that the kicking team is defending.

Comments on Article II. Since six men make up a team, the width is lessened so the defensive team will not have an unreasonable area to protect.

Article III: All men but the center are eligible to receive a pass, on the offensive team.

Article IV: The offensive team must have three of more men on the line of scrimmage.

Penalty for violation: loss of down and loss of five yards from the place where the ball was put in play.

Article V: A forward pass may be made anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.

Article VI: The offensive ball-carrier receiving the ball from center must pass the ball to a teammate before he crosses the line of scrimmage. This ball may be passed forward or backward. The pass must travel thru the air at least two yards after leaving the passer’s hand and before entering the receiver’s hand.

If the ball-carrier who received the ball from center is tackled and the ball blown dead by the officials before he reaches the line of scrimmage, the play shall be legal. If he crosses the line of scrimmage before passing the ball, the officials shall declare the play illegal.

Penalty: Ball returned to place where put in play and loss of down. If the first pass is not two yards of more, the penalty shall be the same as above.

Article VII: All players shall wear basketball or tennis shoes.

NOTE: This rule may be nullified by the consent of both coaches in the presence of the officials to allow the use of cleated shoes.

COMMENT: The purpose of this rule is to cut down the cost of equipping the team.

Article VIII: The playing time shall consist of four eight-minutes quarters.

26 September 1934, El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, pg. 12, col. 5:
Six-Man Football
To Be Tried Out
In Small School
By Associated Press
HEBRON, NEB., Sept. 25.—Six-man football, a new game intended for small high schools, makes its bow here tonight.

Regulation football rules were modified by Stephen Epler, Beatrice, Neb., high school teacher and assistant football coach.

The new sport will be given a test under the lights in a game between picked players from four Nebraska high schools.

6 January 1936, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section 3, pg. 2:
Six-man football seems to be with us now and some small schools might be interested in this type of play.

13 September 1936, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Six-Man Football!,” section 4, pg. 5:
ABILENE, Texas, Sept. 12.—Three schools of Fisher and Scurry Counties, too short on material to muster squads for the regular game, have announced they will play six-man football. The schools are Hobbs, Dowell and Hermleigh.

24 April 1938, Big Spring (TX) Daily Herald, pg. 4, col. 1:
In the inaugural game of the PSAA’s venture into “six-man” football Friday, Coahoma;s Bulldogs and the Westbrook sextet chalked up victories, defeating the Garner and COurtney teams, respectively.

5 May 1938, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section 2, pg. 3:
Interscholastic League Plans
Six-Man Football Experiment;
Twenty Circuits Probable
AUSTIN, Texas, May 4 (AP).—Six-man football will be tried on Texas high school gridirons next year.

22 June 1938, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section 2, pg. 3:
Coaches at San Marcos
Teach Six-Man Game
SAN MARCOS, Texas, June 21.—Six-man football is being taught in Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College this summer for the first time.

30 June 1938, Dallas (TX) Morning News, section 2, pg. 4:
200 East Texas Grid
Coaches Discuss New
Six-Man Type Game
COMMERCE, Texas, June 29.—Six-man football will be introduced to East Texas this fall.

11 January 1942, Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Courier, “Originator of Six man Game Points to Wide Growth,” pg. 24, col. 1:
Chicago—(INS)—For the benefit of the city slickers, Stephen Epler, the originator of six-man football, went on at length about his brainchild Saturday night.

“In the first place,” said Epler, dean of men at Oregon Teachers college who is in CHicago attending the annual meeting of th National interscholastic football rules committee, “let it be understood, distinctly, that six-man football is not sissy, definitely.”

With that taken care of, Epler continued:

“Six-man football has everything the 11-man game has—and more.”

Austin (TX) American-Statesman
Friday night lights are fading for six-man football in Texas
Austinite Alan Barber makes his first movie about an iconic smalltown sport.
By Eric Dexheimer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Alan Barber discovered six-man football in 1962 during a high school road trip.
(...)
A screening for Barber’s film, “Six Man, Texas,” was held the day after Thanksgiving in Marathon, a town in the shadow of the Glass Mountains north of Big Bend National Park. Like most movie events, it was a glittering affair.

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Tuesday, December 25, 2007 • Permalink