Rahway Football – Best of the Decades, Part I

(above) The 1958 Rahway High School Football Team is regarded by many as the best in school history. Co-captains Joe Williams (r) and Harold Gibson (l) hold team ball.

Rahway Football – Part I

Submitted by Al Shipley, City Historian and Rahway Library Research Consultant

Rahway football has a long and storied history dating back to 1908/1909. Over the decades, there have been championship teams that became sources of community pride and individual players who became local heroes. The following is the first part of a two-part article presenting an account of the teams that were arguably the best of each decade.


The 1914 squad, coached by Walter Short, finished the season 7-0 and was ranked the #1 public high school team in the state (#3 overall) by the Newark Sunday Call. The team averaged 29 points per game and outscored their opponents 197-31. Four of their seven victories were shutouts including a 33-0 win over Trenton, a perennial state powerhouse. When the All-Union County First Team was named, nine of the eleven positions were filled by members of the Rahway squad. Alfred “Johnnie” Brooks and Arthur “Monk” Armstrong were also named to the Northern New Jersey All-Scholastic Team. Brooks gained the highest honor by being named to the All-State Team, thus becoming Rahway’s first All-State selectee.  

1924, 1925

With many outstanding athletes on both rosters, these two teams achieved remarkable results. Under the leadership of “Johnnie” Brooks, who returned to his alma mater to coach, both teams were Northern New Jersey Class B Champions. The 1924 squad (7-1 overall) bested Nutley High 7-6 in front of 3,000 fans to earn the Class B honor. The 1925 team holds the distinction as the first Rahway team to win the championship on the field when they defeated Leonardo High 20-0 at Rutgers University (in prior years, selections were made by newspaper sports reporters). The team finished the season 9-0-1 scoring a total of 265 points. The brick-wall defense recorded eight shutouts and allowed a scant 10 points. Herb Castor, George Doty, and Nick Cappola played both years and were All-County selections. Castor became Rahway’s second player to receive All-State honors.


The 1930 squad went 8-1 in becoming the Union County Class A and B Champs. They recorded five shutouts and scored a total of 130 points while allowing only 12. Their biggest victory was a 20-6 win over Thomas Jefferson High of Elizabeth before a crowd of 4,000 at Riverside Park (Veterans’ Field). All-County players included Elmer Zuman, Vinson Orr, and Carl Carlson. The team was coached by Austin Singer who later served as Rahway School Superintendent from 1951-1965.

1940, 1941, 1948

The decades of the 1940s and 1950s are considered the golden decades of Rahway football. In the twenty year span, State Group Championships were awarded to 13 Rahway teams. Legendary coach Earl Hoagland, guided Rahway gridiron teams for fifteen years (1938-1952), compiling an overall 96-26-11 record, and earning nine state championships (six in the forties and three in the fifties). Ranking the best of the Hoagland teams is a challenge, but the 1940, 1941 and 1948 squads are given an edge to share the selection of top squad of the decade. Both 1940 and 1941 teams went 9-0 and won back-to-back New Jersey Group 3 State Championships. The 1941 squad ended the season ranked 4th in the entire state. Fred Jenkins, Ted Wilson, and Art Schweitzer made the 1940 All-State Teams. Frank Shupper, Joe Koberski, and David Mack garnered post-season state awards in 1941. Although the 1948 team lost its opener to Dover, they followed with seven straight wins to finish 7-1 and capture the State Group 2 Championship. Norman Davis, perhaps the decade’s most outstanding running back, and Allen Buhl won All-State and All-County honors 


Although six teams won Group Championships in the fifties, it was the 1958 squad that might rank not only as the best of the decade, but as the best ever in school history. Led by the unstoppable running back, Joe Williams, the offense scored 292 points in a schedule that only included eight games as a ninth opponent could not be found who was willing to play the Rahway juggernaut. The defense was also impressive, shutting out six of their eight opponents. Coached by Boaz “Buzzy” Firkser, who in his three-year stint as head coach (1958-1960) amassed a 21-2-3 record, the team was awarded the Group 3 Section 2 Championship. Dave Jenkins, Russ Natson, and Harold Gibson joined Joe Williams on the All-County First Team. But it was Williams who stood out above the rest. The speedy halfback carried the ball 104 times for an average of 11.87 yards per carry while scoring 30 touchdowns. His Union County single season scoring record of 190 points stood until the 1970s. His major post season awards included Junior Scholastic All-American, First Team All-State Newark Evening News, and First Team All-State Star Ledger.

(above) Coach “Johnnie” Brooks (2nd row at left), who was Rahway’s first All-State selection, coached the 1924 team to a state championship.