Commentary: A look back at the 1947 Farmington-Bayfield 'debacle'
Teams will meet this weekend for first time in 71 years
FARMINGTON — Farmington and Bayfield, Colorado, have not faced each other in high school football in 71 years, but Friday’s season opener will renew that rivalry.
Few fans are around to remember that 1947 game. As the headline read in the Farmington Times Hustler, it was a “debacle.”
Prep football in the Four Corners in those days was limited to a handful of schools. Bayfield and Farmington had played each other occasionally starting in the 1920s, and over six outings, the Scorpions had prevailed three times, with the other three ending in a tie in that low-scoring era.
Like most small-town schools during the Depression, Bayfield dropped football after the 1936 season amid a 21-game losing streak. A limited schedule in 1946 against new Colorado teams Pagosa Springs and Silverton revitalized the sport at the school.
Farmington, on the other hand, started becoming the largest town in the area.
Though the population in 1947 was only 3,500, compared to Bayfield’s 300, Farmington was shedding its reputation as the “Home of the Big Red Apple,” which defined its early days as an orchard town. It was becoming an oilfield town.
FHS had 257 students on its first day of school in 1947. BHS had fewer than 50, with only eight boys in the senior class.
It was unknown if Bayfield would have enough boys would suit up for football. The male students helped their families with the fall harvest and wouldn’t be released for school until after classes had started.
Aaron Baker, who was Bayfield’s coach and superintendent at the time, said his team, if there was one, would fill in any spots available in the other schools’ schedules.
Eventually, Bayfield saw 12 players come out for football, barely enough to field a team.
While other high school teams were converting to plastic helmets, the Wolverines still had old, woolen army tank helmet liners. Their canvas jerseys lacked numbers or color.
Farmington had new green-and-white jerseys with new shoulder and rib pads for its 35 players. Floran Hutchison, Farmington’s coach, returned 11 lettermen and added a couple of transfers from Raton. Additionally, three-year letterman Billy Woods had returned from military service to compete for his fourth letter.
In 1947, news came that a surveyor had arrived to survey the Colorado-New Mexico state line and help make sure Cedar Hill residents know which state they lived in. A new car cost $1,300. The average annual income $2,850, and gas was 15 cents a gallon.
And the San Juan County Fair was held the weekend of Sept. 16. A football game at the fairgrounds was hurriedly scheduled with Bayfield.
It is likely that the Wolverines had no more than a week of practice. It’s equally likely that Baker failed to recognize the growing differences between the schools and communities. The post-war boom was on in Farmington, but not in Bayfield.
After the kickoff, Bayfield's Jimmie Frahm fumbled the ball, and the rout was on.
The score was only 21-0 at the half. But early in the third quarter, Wolverine quarterback Harold LePlatt broke his shoulder and left the field. The Times Hustler’s 1947 story described the 4-foot-11 LePlatt as a “shifty” runner, but one has to wonder how effective he might have been against the Scorpions.
The score was 41-0 after three quarters.
By all accounts, Hutchison used his substitutes early in the game, but the 60-0 final did seem a little much for the victors.
Bayfield finished 0-4-1 in 1947, while FHS went 6-2, which was the best record in the area.
The Bayfield administration realized the difference between the two schools and settled into a six-man football schedule from 1948-55. Bayfield lost just two of its next 500 games by 60 points or more.
Farmington grew to more than 23,000 people by 1960 and eventually would have the largest high school in New Mexico. FHS later split into two high schools with the addition of Piedra Vista High in 1998.
The Scorpions’ football fortunes also grew when they hired former University of New Mexico Lobos star Lou Cullen as the head coach in 1948.
FHS would outgrow and drop Aztec, Kirtland and Navajo Mission from its schedule in favor of Albuquerque schools more their size. Farmington won the state championship in 1952 and another in 2013.
Bayfield has won three state championships in Colorado — in 1996, 2015 and 2017.
After a 71-year hiatus, the two sides finally scheduled each other again this season.
Farmington is coming off an eight-win season, which included a district championship. With more than 1,400 students enrolled, the Scorpions will welcome Bayfield to Hutchison Stadium Friday, a facility named after their coach from that 1947 game.
Bayfield’s defending state champion Wolverines enter 2018 on a 13-game win streak, but lost some core players to graduation.
Possibly because of the 60-0 debacle, Bayfield’s football fortunes took a different route, only to come full circle back to Farmington after 71 years.
Dan Ford is a New Mexico and Southwest Colorado football historian, as well as a 1966 Aztec High School graduate. He also broadcasts Bayfield football games on KPTE 92.9 FM. Ford can be reached at www.danfordsports.net.