Most people know John Queen as an educator, and it’s a
safe bet that few of his students--current or former--remember him as a
Not only did he play football in high school, he starred
as a halfback for the Red Devils. His senior year of 1970 is one that
any coach would be pleased with. He rushed for at least 1,100
yards--rushing stats are only available for seven games--and scored
exactly 100 points while leading Calhoun to a 7-3 record.
He tallied four touchdowns in a game against Ripley, and
piled up 238 yards on only 11 carries versus Doddridge, a 21.6 yards per
carry average that still stands as Calhoun’s single game record.
At the end of the season, he was named halfback on the
All-Little Kanawha Conference squad for his outstanding year. During his
career, he scored 124 points. He was a three-year starter at defensive
back and had two years as starting halfback.
Queen’s first experience with organized football came
when he was 11 and played in the backfield on both offense and defense
with the Chesapeake Vikings in Kanawha County.
In June of 1966, his family moved to Little White Oak
Road in Calhoun, which he remembered as “the beginning of a great time
in a small county.”
Without a junior high football team in his area, Queen
had to wait until the following year to step onto the high school
gridiron as a freshman. His wait lasted a bit longer, though, as he
contracted pneumonia in the summer and was not cleared to play until the
first week of the season had passed.
Still suffering the effects of his illness and
completely out of shape due to his convalescence, Queen fell behind in
every drill. By his estimation, the fall of 1967 “was not a glorious
beginning. In the eyes of many, it probably looked like I didn’t belong
on the field.”
Despite these obstacles, Queen’s perseverance allowed
him to get back into shape and form a bond with other players on the
His hard work on football fundamentals was aided by
Wayne Underwood, who, at this time of his career, was assisting head
coach Don Weaver.
One afternoon during practice, Queen was fielding punts
from fellow freshman Mike Propst.
“His punts were very difficult to field,” Queen
recalled. “He was able to place a back spin on them and they would trail
away from the receiver and back toward the punter.”
Underwood, who “always prowled around the practice field
and observed everything,” immediately noticed that Queen was having
trouble with the punts and stopped to work with him on proper
Only a few weeks later, Underwood died, but the
instruction stuck with Queen: “It is with pride I state that I never
fumbled a punt reception at Calhoun County High School. I attribute that
to Coach Wayne Underwood.”
Queen’s sophomore year saw the arrival of new coach
Robert Young, a native of Beckley and most recently the coach at Wirt
County. He arrived during a tough stretch for Calhoun football. Once the
dominant team in the Little Kanawha Valley, the Red Devils had fallen
into mediocrity during the 1960s.
The Red Devils had stumbled to a 2-8 record in 1966, the
same year that Young had led Wirt to the Class A state championship.
Young was eager to mold the downtrodden Calhoun squad into a winning
“Coach Young had motivated us to do our best,” said
Queen. “(He) would always slap his right hand into his left hand and
say, ‘hard running, hard blocking, and hard tackling will win this
football game!’ He really motivated us to play hard for each other.”
Queen remembers that, in addition to being a great
motivator, Young also had a sense of humor: “If you stumbled on the
football field (during practice), he would call time, bend over and pick
up a blade of grass and toss it out of the way. He made it known that
was what brought us down and next time that small blade of grass would
not cause us to fall down.”
The Red Devils did not see immediate improvement upon
Young’s arrival. The 1968 team compiled a 3-6-1 record and in 1969 it
was 3-7, clearly not the results the fan base wanted.
Though the team was not winning, Queen saw increased
playing time. He started as a defensive back his sophomore year and
entered the starting offense as a halfback his junior year. Simply
playing was not enough--he and his classmates wanted to win in their
“We had worked very hard the last three years,” Queen
said, “and felt we had something to prove to the community.”
It would be an uphill climb, as Calhoun’s players were
smaller than most of its opponents. Queen weighed only 140 pounds--maybe
145 soaking wet, as the coaches liked to joke--and the offensive line
that was to block for him would always be at a weight disadvantage. It
was apparent that grit and determination would be required if Calhoun
was to produce a winner in 1970.
Although small, the 1970 team had a group of exceptional
athletes, and most possessed excellent speed. As the starting halfback,
Queen was the star of the team, but he is quick to point out that he
wouldn’t have been able to escape his own backfield had it not been for
the coaches and his fellow players.
“Coach Young always called two plays he knew could grind
up some good yardage. Forty-two hand back trap and forty-six power
always gained a lot of yards. The blocking on those two plays was
tremendous. Many times I was never touched until I was down the field at
least 10 yards.
“Our line was made up of Steve Schoolcraft, Bob Riddle,
Bernard Cooper, Ralph Cunningham, Donnie Price, Eli Ray Tingler, and
Charles Owens. The offensive line of 1970 had to be one of the strongest
and quickest that Calhoun County has ever fielded. Those boys were the
reason I gained yardage my senior year. They were strong, quick and
fearless. Many thanks goes out to those hard nosed football players that
blocked their hearts out for a small 140 pound halfback.
The starting offense in 1970 included, left to right, first row, Bob
Riddel, Steve Schoolcraft, Eli Tingler, Donnie Price, Ralph Cunningham,
Bernard Cooper, Charles Owens; second row, Holly Bell, Mike Collins,
Gary Smith and John Queen.
“I played with
some great guys through the years. Steve Schoolcraft (co-captain with
Queen in 1970) was about six foot one and about 180 pounds. He was quick
and very strong. Mike Propst was our punter and the best to ever set
foot on Wayne Underwood Field.
“Eli Ray Tingler was the quickest and most devastating
blocker I have ever seen. He was the type of player that could make
young boys’ teeth rattle when he hit them. Gary Smith has to be rated as
one of the smartest quarterbacks Calhoun County has ever had. Donnie
Price was an All-State player his senior year (1971-72), but even as a
youngster, you could tell he was a leader and a tough-nosed football
This talented group of players exceeded all
expectations--except maybe their own--and finished with a 7-3 record,
the school’s best since the 1950s. Losses were to Harrisville, Wirt
County and St. Marys, and the list of vanquished foes included
Williamstown, Ripley and bitter rival Spencer.
In addition to all the wins, the team produced a lot of
great memories for Calhoun students and fans alike. Many of the players
who graduated that year, left Calhoun to attend school or to enter the
Queen and a handful of others were able to return to the
county and provide support for the next generation of Red Devils.
Though it has been nearly 40 years since he set foot on
Wayne Underwood Field as a player, Queen still has fond memories of
playing football at CCHS. Memories he and the entire 1970 team should be