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50 Years Later, Dayton's 1966 State Championship Team is Honored Again

In front of a packed house at Davis Field on Friday night, Dayton officials re-presented the state championship trophy to the 1966 Dayton High School football team, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Greendevils’ state title run.

The ceremony was scheduled to take place at halftime of a rivalry game between Dayton and Bellevue but with 7 minutes left in the second quarter, and Dayton leading by a score of 8-7, a series of lightning delays put the game on hold, eventually forcing a postponement to Saturday night.

During the first delay, members of the 1966 football team and their families gathered at the 50-yard line to once again accept the first and only state championship in Dayton’s history.

After dropping their season opener that year to Highlands by a score of 28-13, the Greendevils rattled off several consecutive wins before losing two close October matchups with Campbell County and Bellevue. They entered postseason play with a record of 7-3.

In the first round of the Class 1A playoffs, they handedly beat Millersburg Military Academy. In the state semifinals, they pulled out a close 20-19 win over Pineville, setting up a state championship matchup with the undefeated and heavily favored Russellville.

Russellville scored the only points of the first half on a safety, taking a 2-0 lead into halftime. The Panthers’ lead stood until late in the fourth quarter, when Dayton finally found the end zone.

Russellville promptly marched back down the field, all the way to the Greendevils’ eight-yard line for a first down. The Panthers inched closer to the end zone, but were stopped on fourth-and-goal at the four-yard line, with just a few tics left on the clock.

Dayton took over possession and knelt the ball once as time expired, winning the 1966 Class 1A State Championship by a final score of 6-2.

The Greendevils finished the season with a record of 10-3, outscoring their opponents 208-120 along the way.

Despite a diminutive offensive line, even by the standards of 1966, several alumni said the team compensated for it with athleticism, a strong backfield, and unwavering team chemistry.

Throughout the delay, several hit songs from the 1960s rang out through the stadium’s speakers, including “Old Man River” which had various releases since its original recording 40 years earlier, including one in 1965. Several players said after every game that championship season, Dayton head coach Ray King would belt out the tune during the bus ride home.

“I had so much respect for Coach King. The whole team revolved around him. He was really a great man and he brought us all together,” said Fred Wilburn, who starred on the team with his brother, Sam. “He’s the reason we didn’t really feel like underdogs in that state championship game. We didn’t really feel much pressure because he was so sure that we could do it.”

Wilburn, who now lives in Independence, was a juggernaut for the Greendevils. Though just a sophomore in 1966, he played virtually any position that involved him touching the football on offense, and played defensive back on the other side of the ball.

“I didn’t expect all of this,” said Wilburn, motioning to the stands, which were still mostly full, despite the extended lightning delay. “This is amazing. I feel so great right now. We’ve lost some guys through the years, which I guess is to be expected. But it’s great to see all of these familiar faces.”

At the time of the delay, Bellevue had just taken over possession on their four-yard line, after stopping Dayton in the red zone. The game will resume at 7 p.m. Saturday at Davis Field.

Story & photos by Alex Valentine, RCN contributor
Top photo: Fred (left) and Sam Wilburn hoist the state championship trophy
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