Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Argus Observes: Jerry Camminn, a master at teaching high school football

From The Ontario Argus-Observer of August 16, 1954

Jerry Camminn has done it again --- taken a lighter and probably a less talented group of football players and defeated an apparently stronger opponent.

The popular Vale coach was head mentor for the Snake River Valley all-stars who defeated the Boise Valley all-stars 13-7 in a pre-season benefit game under lights here Saturday night.

Praise for Cammann does not reduce the credit due to (the SRV’s assistant coaches) --- Ontario’s Ken Glore or Vale’s “Dutch” Kawasoe (former assistant and now head coach at Vale). They are both thoroughly competent.

The game was widely billed as the valedictory of Cammann’s unique coaching career. He resigned last spring as head coach at Vale after the most successful coaching record I have ever seen in a small high school. I do not know his win-loss record. He has just been the best football coach in this region in many years.

The Boise Valley youngsters who invaded Ontario Saturday night for the first SRV-BV contest were noticeably larger than the Snake River Valley players. And I feel sure that, man for man, they are superior athletes as individuals. But they didn’t measure up to the SRV men as a team.

Although the SRV gridmen won the game by only one touchdown, 13-7, they were relatively stronger than the score indicated. They outplayed the invaders 14 to 4 on first downs and nearly two to one --- 208 to 123 --- on yards gained from scrimmage.

The breaks of the game fell Boise Valley’s way. The visitors’ lone touchdown was set up by an SRV fumble on its own nine yard line. It is doubtful if the Boise Valley lads could have scored by straight play for they were never able to sustain a drive.

Other breaks of the game which are a real factor in football obviously favored Boise Valley; but the SRV eleven had enough strength to overcome the disadvantage.

The SRV team’s superior performance definitely reflected Cammann’s coaching ideas.

He deliberately worked his men in the heat of the day to toughen them up for the contest, trying to get them as hard as possible within the brief, two-week training period.

Boise Valley by contrast practiced in the evening when cooler temperatures made the workouts more pleasant. But it didn’t harden the players like the heat did to the smaller SRV men.

Another advantage for the SRV team lay in the use of the single wing formation behind an unbalanced line, a favorite strategy with the Vale coach through the years.

The advantage is not that the single wing is superior to the T. That’s questionable. It lies, instead, in the element of surprise. Most high school players have had little if any experience against the single wing. Even though they may have been taught the theory of defense against it, they are at a loss for a time, until they get the feel of the play. And by then the game may be lost.

The SRV men made quick gains in the opening minutes marching 65 yards in eight plays for their first touchdown. This same opening pattern of attack has been characteristic of Vale teams. Some of the tricks of catching an opponent off balance at the start of the contest must be credited to Cammann’s different style of attack.

Through the years I have sometimes heard Cammann criticized as being “hard boiled,” such criticism more often originating in Ontario than in Vale. I have heard it said that he was too rough spoken and too rough in manner.

There is a certain metal in Cammann’s manner, but it performs an essential function. High school athletes are not little boys. Many of them are men in physical and emotional development although still boys in knowledge and experience so that they live in a sort of in-between state between boyhood and manhood. They need firm treatment and they have an almost pathetic eagerness to follow strong, well-informed leadership that teaches them what they want to learn under the rigors of rigid discipline.

Underneath Cammann’s authoritative manner lies an understanding heart. If you would talk to him personally about his boys as I have, you would learn that his devotion to them is almost like that of a fond parent, and this affection is understood by the boys. They reciprocate with their own devotion that sees through his firm manner.

Once in a while a great teacher comes along. He seems to have an almost mystic understanding of what goes on in the mind of the student, and with it a super ability to direct the pupil’s learning process. Almost every person has had one such teacher at some time. I had one for a single year in math. She could teach geometry to the slowest student with a magic that amazed the learner, and the kids almost worshipped her.

Cammann is a great football teacher. If his health permitted, he could coach at any university in the Northwest and better than hold his own against most of his competition. For reasons of health he chose to stay in Vale.

Now, because of health handicaps, he has resigned as the coach at Vale, retiring from his chosen work while he is still in his mid-thirties.

He won’t soon be forgotten by his athletes, or his opponents either for that matter. My personal sentiments --- feeling it was a real privilege to watch his teams perform --- must be shared by thousands of football fans throughout the valley.

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