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Centennial Stories

Written by Robert W. Harris (brother of James J. Harris, HSC 1935 – 1938)

Charles “Charley” Erb was the football coach at Humboldt State College during the Depression years. Known as “a master of firing up a team prior to each game,” he was Humboldt’s first winning coach. In 1935, he learned that there was a group of Oakland and Bay Area high school graduates who had been outstanding football players in high school. Erb learned that the group met on weekends to play football for the love of the sport and arranged to get football scholarships for the team members to attend Humboldt. None of them would have been able to afford college on their own (less than five percent of the country at that time attended college). The scholarships enabled the football players to work part-time at a barrel factory in Samoa to earn their room and board.

With the addition of the new team members, the 1936 team beat San Jose State in a game played at San Jose. They also defeated Chico State. They were remarkable wins since both colleges were much larger than Humboldt. The football team at the time was known as the Humboldt Thunderbolts—they became the Lumberjacks in 1939.

During this era, there were no offensive and defensive teams who played only when their team was on offense or defense. All players played on offense and defense, a full 60 minutes per game, if they were able.

During the Depression, segregation was widespread in the United States. The scholarship football players ate their meals as a group in a boarding house. In keeping with the time, the kitchen staff set a separate table for the two black team members. At that time, segregation was considered proper.

At the first meal, all of the white football players walked out of the dining room, in protest to having the black players separated. Thereafter, all of players ate at the same table. This act was a tribute to the courage of the white players, as well as to Humboldt State College. They broke the color line decades before the rest of the U.S. The last of the Humboldt 1936 team, James J. “Jim” Harris, passed away in 2011 at the age of 95.

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