Annual Dexter-Earlham Thanksgiving Gridiron Clash

The Dexter-Earlham Thanksgiving football rivalry had been going on for decades!


The signs in the back say DEXTER 6, EARLHAM 0. The whiner in the lower left is holding an Earlham pennant. November 25, 1915.


Doris wrote Del’s name on this one because he made the winning touchdown. It was Delbert and Donald’s last high school football game.

In a 1934 letter from Leora to her Navy sons, she said that her brother Jennings had mentioned that they still had the honor of winning the last game that year against Earlham, and that Delbert had made the last touchdown. “That was the best all around teamwork that was ever played that year, so they say.”



Delbert and Donald Wilson were in the Navy. Their ship, the USS Chicago, was stationed in Southern California, where the brothers got to spend Thanksgiving with aunts and uncles, but they made sure to ask about the annual Thanksgiving game.

Dale (age 13) wrote, “I’m telling you that it [the game] was no good. Earlham swamped Dexter 26 to 0, just as bad as Adel did. Well, I’ll tell you how it happened so as to give you an idea of the game.

“In the first quarter Earlham kicked off to Dexter. Paul Willrich caught the ball and went about ten yards and was down. Earlham held them and then it was their ball and made first in ten, and then first in ten until they made a touchdown.

“In the second quarter, Earlham and Dexter battled until the half, the score being 6 to 0.

“In the third quarter Earlham kicked off and Dexter was down. Then Dexter tried the triple crisscross and lateralled to Mervin Wells, which he fumbled and Earlham recovered the ball and then they made first in ten until they made another touchdown. Then they shot a pass over the goal which made the extra point. Then Earlham kicked off to Dexter again and Dexter made 25 yards after the kickoff. Then it was the quarter and they changed sides.

“In the fourth quarter Dexter made about 35 yds. until they were 20 yds. from the goal. Then Earlham held Dexter, Earlham punted right back to Dexter and the ball went back to the other goal, which went over Paul Willrich, the quarterback. He ran back to the goal and picked up the ball and was tackled on the goal lines. That punt of Earlham’s was a good one. Then Dexter punted and the punt was blocked and Earlham dived on the ball, which made another touchdown. Then Earlham tried for the extra point, which they didn’t make.

“Earlham kicked off to Dexter the fourth time and Dexter was tackled on the 45 yd. line. Then Earlham held them. And it was Earlham’s ball. Earlham made about 30 yds. and then Dexter held them. And it was Dexter’s ball. Dexter made about five yds. and then shot a pass, which Earlham intercepted and went around the end for another touchdown. Then they tried for the extra point and made it, making the score 26 to 0.”

Not even fit for a penny

Here was nine-year-old Junior’s take on the game:

“Dear Brothers,

“. . . . Yesterday there was a football game. The Earlham guys skunked the Dexter boys. It came out to 26 to 0 and the ballgame was no good. It wasn’t even fit for a penny. Well, I’ll tell you just how it happened. First quarter Earlham kicked off and Paul Willrich grabbed the ball. He started running a ways, in comes an Earlham guy. Paul Willrich standed there a while and then Earlham tackled him in the middle of the field. They get in their places and shiffs the ball. They shot a few laterals and they lose the ball and the Earlham guy got it and laid their awhile, then got up. They get in their places, they shiffs the ball, and they blocked and knocked Mervin Wells out, and went for their touchdown. Well, I guess that’s all I got to say now. The next time I write, I’ll have more news, so so long!”

Leora wrote, “Junior wanted to write as soon as he came in, and I think by the questions he asked about spelling, he is writing about the game. Dale is pretty good isn’t he, in explaining about the game. . . . Can you read Junior’s letter without laughing?”


Dale Wilson played in this game, his last one as he graduated the next May. Donald was still in the navy at this point, and had even played some semi-pro football when his ship was in port, but there aren’t any letters from home saved from these months.

He mentioned that he’d like to see the annual game, and even see his younger brothers play on the Dexter team. He finally got to see a Dexter-Earlham game, but not until early November 1945, after World War II was over, and he came home for a visit with his wife Rose. Not on Thanksgiving, so those may have stopped because of the war.

Wesley D. Clampitt, was Superintendent of the Dexter School during the years that the Wilson family lived at Dexter. He also was a classmate of Clabe Wilson at Guthrie County’s Frog Pond rural school.

That attractive “silver football mounted on a black base” is in the trophy case of the Earlham School. Thanks to Cory Thompson for locating it and sharing a photo.

Mary Wells Jobst shared this framed ad for a game, giving the scores from 1912 through 1941.








Note (2022) from Dexter historian Rod Stanley: No love lost between Earlham and Dexter! I read an article that it was not safe for players to be in the others town. If they were seen they would be mugged and chased out! The games they had were sometimes violent between the fans with fights and altercations. Especially the year the Earlham fans brought a goat to the game. It infuriated the Dexter fans and led to a brawl. So much for good sportsmanship! I remember when I was in high school we never cared to much for Earlham either and I had several friends that I went to school with that played football for them. It was a rivalry game when we played them.


  1. I was going to ask the same thing–where is that trophy today? My parents had a hard time accepting our transfer to Earlham school since they both graduated from Dexter. What about yours?

    • I went to Earlham from 1955 thru 1968. When they added the new gymnasium in 1958 and Penn township came to Earlham the trophy you refer to resided in the new trophy case outside the gym. It always interested me because it was the oldest one there and recorded each year’s score going back to the early 1900’s. However, sometime in the 70’s or 80’s the trophy case got filled up this trophy and a lot of other old trophies were removed. I think at some point they were either auctioned off or thrown away. I have always hoped that someone saved it and took it home. Unfortunately, it has never reappeared. It was a beautiful trophy with a marvelous record of the Earlham/Dexter rivalry.

      • Someone asked when the rivalry stopped. I don’t remember it during the 1950s, or our family would have been there! There’s an Earlham museum. Do you suppose it might have ended up there? I’m sure hoping someone on the Earlham FB page will check this out! Thank you, John, for your heart-tugging note!

      • Cory Thompson located it in the trophy case at the Earlham School! I added the photo to the post, and also shared it on Earlham and Dexter Facebook pages.

    • The 1915 cartoon was in Grandma Ruby Neal’s 1916 (graduation) year book! But those others, Mom/Doris had pasted into a scrapbook. Sure never expected to use them for anything–until I found that old cartoon. I had no idea the rivalry had been going on at least that long.

    • Thank you, Steve! Those letters are why I could write the family’s Depression Era stories, also photos they took to be able to send their Navy boys–with captions on the backs of them. Grandma Leora left a hand-written memoir, so some of the stories came from her. (The three young brothers at home became pilots during WWII are the ones who were lost, so these memories are especially precious.)

  2. As a 1953 graduate of Earlham High School I can provide more information on the Earlham-Dexter series. The silver trophy had become a fixture in our trophy case by the time I entered high school in the fall of 1949. Earlham was on a winning streak dating from the early 1940s. The Cardinals bested the Owls again that year. In1950 my brother was on the team when Earlham won 52-0, a score that I believe broke the series record. In 1951 I was on the Earlham team that beat Dexter 54-0. In 1952, my senior year, I captained the Earlham team that won 40-0. By this time, the Earlham-Dexter rivalry had lost its importance because of the persistent mismatch. The game date had been moved from Thanksgiving to early November in the early 1940s.

    • Terry, I’m glad to added more history! I’m a 1962 Earlham grad, but came upon the story while writing “Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.” The older five Wilson siblings are Dexter grads. My sister and I went to Dexter until the school reorganization of 1958 sent all of us in Madison County to Earlham.

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