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Original champions: In 1971, the Jerome Tigers changed high school football forever

JEROME — The last time Jerome High School went undefeated in a football season, Richard Nixon was serving his first term as president of the United States, Apollo 14 had successfully landed on the moon and the 26th Amendment had lowered the voting age to 18.

And here in Idaho, the Jerome Tigers made high school football history.

Prior to 1971, the high school football program in Idaho had no way to gauge which was the best team in the state. Football seasons consisted of 10 games with no playoffs or culminating event. No state tournament. No trophy or honors for the schools that put in so much hard work. Just 10 games and a fond farewell for the players.

It was a system Jerome head coach Ed Peterson wanted to see change.

Without a playoff game, teams were restricted to playing the schools in their conference. Magic Valley teams never got the opportunity to play Boise schools.

“We approached the state board the year before about our conference playing off with the (Snake River Valley Conference) which was Emmett, Weiser, Meridian, Fruitland, Payette and a couple other schools,” Peterson said. “We got their OK to play an 11th game.”


Members of the 1971 Jerome High School football team are honored during halftime of the game against Twin Falls on Sept. 17 at Jerome High School in Jerome. 1971 was the last time a Jerome football team went undefeated in their season.

The permission didn’t guarantee the Tigers the right to play, but rather the best team in each conference. To get to the 11th game, they’d still have to prove themselves on the field.

So in the fall of 1971, Jerome set out to do just that. Little did they know, their actions would alter Idaho high school football forever.

Records before record books

If you look at the past championships in Idaho High School Activities Association records, you’ll find no mention of the 1971 team. Their oldest football records date back to 1977 when Homedale won the first official IHSAA tournament.

But six years prior to that game, Jerome’s desire to play paved the way for what we now know as the IHSAA State Football Championships.

Coach Peterson, now 85, met with some of his former players for a 50-year reunion Sept. 17 at Mountain View Barn in Jerome, where he discussed that fateful season and some of the unexpected effects it had on high school athletics.

“This group here was the first team in the state to play 11 football games,” he said. “Nobody had ever played 11 before, let alone win 11.”

When District 5 and District 6 heard about the game, they petitioned the state for a championship game of their own. By 1973, the tournament expanded to include two games played at Holt Arena at Idaho State University in Pocatello.


Shonnia Ward, far left, and Debbie Reinke, both cheerleaders on the 1971 Jerome High School football team, pose for a picture with today's cheer team on Sept. 17 at Jerome High School in Jerome.

“I guess that started the playoffs,” Peterson said.

To get to the 1971 championship game, Jerome had to be elected by the other teams in their conference. With a 10-0 season, the decision wasn’t difficult to make.

Barrett McClure, an offensive and defensive tackle on the team, organized this year’s reunion. He remembers hearing the news that the Tigers had been selected.

“It was exciting,” McClure said. “It was a unique thing that nobody had done before. To be the first ones to have a playoff, it was an honor.”

In November 1971, Jerome traveled to Boise to face Bishop Kelly.

On their first possession, the Tigers scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion. Bishop Kelly answered back with a touchdown of their own in the second quarter, but the extra point attempt was stopped by Jerome.

In the final two minutes of the game, running back Jeff Weigle busted through the center of the line and into the end zone, securing Jerome’s victory.

The Tigers defeated Bishop Kelly 14-6.

“It was a good year,” McClure said with a smile.

The boys are back together

McClure, who still lives in Jerome, wanted to do something to acknowledge the accomplishments of his team. What they did, despite how impactful it was to the sport, isn’t something most of today’s players or fans are aware of.

“It just sort of seemed like this was forgotten,” he said.


Barrett McClure, a player on the 1971 Jerome High School football team, catches up with teammates and coaches on Sept. 17 at Mountain View Barn in Jerome.

So McClure organized a reunion of his former teammates. With the help of Debbie Reinke, a cheerleader on the 1971 team, McClure got in contact with some of the guys he lost touch with over the past half-century.

“Some of them I haven’t seen in 50 years,” he said.

Reinke suggested that the players wear their old letterman jackets. To that, McClure just laughed.

“There isn’t a guy on the team that can still get in their letterman jacket from high school,” he said.

Shonnia Ward, another cheerleader on the team at the time, and Reinke, however, could — and did — wear their original JHS sweaters.

At halftime of the football game that Friday evening when Jerome faced off against Twin Falls, the 1971 team was brought onto the field and honored for their contributions to the game.

After 50 years, they were finally given the recognition they deserve — recognition for a record that still stands at Jerome High School.

“They’ve had some state championship teams, but there hasn’t been an undefeated team since 1971,” McClure said.

The Jerome Tigers then won the championship in 1985 and again in 1986, the last time they claimed a state title.

So what was it that made this team so special? For Coach Peterson, there isn’t one specific answer to the question.

“Some teams just come together,” he said. “Some teams don’t need a star. They had gobs of talent.”

Unlike other groups that Peterson coached, the 1971 team didn’t let ego get in their way. They were a group of kids devoted to the game and each other.

Most importantly, they had a desire to play.

“As good as those guys were, we could have played until spring,” Peterson said. “If you’ve got a good team, they don’t want to stop playing.”

The longer the game went on, the deeper their drive became. When they beat Burley 28-13 to claim the Cross State League Championship, Peterson recalls the energy his athletes had while leaving the field.

“The night we played Burley, I think all of the guys could have run back to Jerome,” he said with a grin.

Peterson no longer attends games, but he still follows the team. As for his advice to current and future teams, his answer is simple:

“To be successful, you’ve got to have the parents behind you and the kids have got to believe in you.”

Committee OKs $3.5T spending plan

WASHINGTON — Democrats pushed a $3.5 trillion, 10-year bill strengthening social safety net and climate programs through the House Budget Committee on Saturday, but one Democrat voted “no,” illustrating the challenges party leaders face in winning the near unanimity they’ll need to push the sprawling package through Congress.

The Democratic-dominated panel, meeting virtually, approved the measure on a near party-line vote, 20-17. Passage marked a necessary but minor checking of a procedural box for Democrats by edging it a step closer to debate by the full House. Under budget rules, the committee wasn’t allowed to significantly amend the 2,465-page measure, the product of 13 other House committees.

More important work has been happening in an opaque procession of mostly unannounced phone calls, meetings and other bargaining sessions among party leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers. President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have led a behind-the-scenes hunt for compromises to resolve internal divisions and, they hope, allow approval of the mammoth bill soon.

Pelosi told fellow Democrats Saturday that they “must” pass the social and environment package this week, along with a separate infrastructure bill and a third measure preventing a government shutdown on Friday. Her letter to colleagues underscored the pile of crucial work Congress’ Democratic majority faces in coming days and seemed an effort to build urgency to resolve long-standing disputes quickly.

“The next few days will be a time of intensity,” she wrote.

Moderate Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., joined all 16 Republicans on the Budget committee in opposing the legislation. His objections included one that troubles many Democrats: a reluctance to back a bill with provisions that would later be dropped by the Senate.

Many Democrats don’t want to become politically vulnerable by backing language that might be controversial back home, only to see it not become law. That preference for voting only on a social and environment bill that’s already a House-Senate compromise could complicate Pelosi’s effort for a House vote this week.

Peters was among three Democrats who earlier this month voted against a plan favored by most in his party to lower pharmaceutical costs by letting Medicare negotiate for the prescription drugs it buys.

Party leaders have tried for weeks to resolve differences among Democrats over the package’s final price tag, which seems sure to shrink. There are also disputes over which initiatives should be reshaped, among them expanded Medicare, tax breaks for children and health care, a push toward cleaner energy and higher levies on the rich and corporations.

Democrats’ wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate mean compromise is mandatory. Before the measure the Budget panel approved Saturday even reaches the House floor, it is expected to be changed to reflect whatever House-Senate accords have been reached, and additional revisions are likely.

The overall bill embodies the crux of Biden’s top domestic goals. Budget panel chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., cited “decades of disinvestment” on needs like health care, education, child care and the environment as the rationale for the legislation.

“The futures of millions of Americans and their families are at stake. We can no longer afford the costs of neglect and inaction. The time to act is now,” Yarmuth said.

Republicans say the proposal is unneeded, unaffordable amid accumulated federal debt exceeding $28 trillion and reflects Democrats’ drive to insert government into people’s lives. Its tax boosts will cost jobs and include credits for buying electric vehicles, purchases often made by people with comfortable incomes, they said.

“This bill is a disaster for working-class families,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican. “It’s a big giveaway to the wealthy, it’s a laundry list of agenda items pulled right out of the Bernie Sanders socialist playbook.”

The unusual weekend session occurred as top Democrats amp up efforts to end increasingly bitter disputes between the party’s centrist and progressive wings that threaten to undermine Biden’s agenda.

Biden conceded Friday that talks among Democrats were at a “stalemate,” though Pelosi and Schumer have been more positive in an apparent effort to build momentum and soothe differences. A collapse of the measure at his own party’s hands would be a wounding preview to the coming election year, in which House and Senate control are at stake.

To nail down moderates’ support for an earlier budget blueprint, Pelosi promised to begin House consideration by Monday of another pillar of Biden’s domestic plans: a $1 trillion collection of roadway and other infrastructure projects. Pelosi reaffirmed this week that the infrastructure debate would begin Monday.

But many moderates who consider the infrastructure bill their top goal also want to cut the $3.5 trillion social and environment package and trim or reshape some programs. They include Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

In response, progressives — their top priority is the $3.5 trillion measure — are threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill if it comes up for a vote first. Their opposition seems likely to be enough to scuttle it, and Pelosi hasn’t definitively said when a vote on final passage of the infrastructure measure will occur.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a high-level meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration during the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at United Nations headquarters Wednesday in New York.

breaking top story
COVID-19 has killed thousands in Idaho. Funeral homes are struggling to store bodies

BOISE — Stephanie Garcia was scared to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

But after the Post Falls funeral director lost her father to COVID-19, and a stream of new victims began pouring into the building, she became even more scared of the disease. In one weekend, Bell Tower Funeral Homes, where she works, received six bodies. Five had died of COVID-19.

She got her first shot soon after.

“That was a real eye-opening moment for me,” Garcia said. “That drove it home.”

The number of Idahoans dying of COVID-19 is on the rise as the state goes through its worst surge of the pandemic in terms of severe disease. Hospitals, funeral homes and coroners now find themselves tasked with figuring out how to manage the bodies filling their morgues to capacity.

More than 2,600 Idahoans have died in connection with COVID-19 so far — including a record 25 on Sept. 11. The state also continues to break records for its number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, intensive care unit patients and patients on ventilators. Ada, Canyon and Kootenai counties have seen some of the highest death totals.

As a result, morticians are forced to find new ways to store bodies in — and sometimes outside — their facilities. At Bell Tower, owner Lance Cox said they’ve converted a train car into an external refrigeration unit. The train car, which smells of diesel fuel and produces a large noise constantly, can hold up to 56 bodies.

But as Cox says, “It’s better than nothing,” because without it they’d have no more room.

‘History is repeating itself’: Coroners brace for more COVID-19 patients

The sheer demand has created a logistical nightmare for county coroners in the Treasure Valley. Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens said multiple funeral homes are no longer taking bodies from her office. She’s relying on a mobile refrigeration unit, which can hold up to 70 bodies, to store COVID-19 victims.

In one weekend, her office took in 24 bodies, even though her internal morgue only has space for 20. Like those in the funeral industry, the office has had little relief the past month.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Owens said.

Ada County Chief Deputy Coroner Brett Harding said that in his 34-year career, he could only compare the number of deaths to two major events, from when he lived in Florida: the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and a 1996 ValuJet plane crash in the Everglades that killed more than 100 people. Besides those two events, “it’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Hospitals typically hold those who die in their facilities in their morgue until family can be contacted to make funeral arrangements. If a person dies in an accident, or the coroner is called to the scene for an autopsy, the coroner’s office stores the body in their refrigeration units until the investigation is complete. The body is then transferred to a funeral home.

For those who die without family, Canyon County Deputy Coroner Steve Rhodes said, funeral homes take turns picking up the body from the coroner’s office.

Lack of space is nothing new for Ada County. The building has long struggled with too few spots; Owens said they were having to stack bodies, two bodies to one shelf, until they got the trailer in November. Stacking bodies is not recommended, as it can lead to bodies becoming disfigured if placed in the wrong position, Owens said.

However, if spaces continue to fill, they may have to start stacking again. The coroner’s office is still months away from a new facility opening in Meridian, and deaths haven’t slowed. Harding said the county still has plenty of space, but he’s worried that could change in a moment’s notice.

In Canyon County, the coroner’s office only has seven spaces for bodies. As of Monday, three of those spaces were full, Coroner Jennifer Crawford said, but she expects the rest to fill up. Crawford said she’s talked to multiple funeral homes who have reached their capacity.

Crawford’s office last year purchased a mobile refrigeration trailer that can store 20 bodies when COVID-19 deaths were first overwhelming hospitals and funeral homes. The office isn’t currently using the trailer, she said.

But at Dakan Funeral Chapel in Caldwell, Director Alan Kerrick said the cooling facility is currently operating at capacity. Last year, Kerrick doubled the funeral home’s capacity, and he fears he may have to add even more space.

“We have been through this,” Kerrick said. “History is repeating itself from last year. I think it is going to be more of an issue this year as we move into the fall and winter.”

Tammie Fleshman, manager of Boise’s Bella Vida Funeral Home, said she’s gotten multiple calls from family members looking for available space. They couldn’t find any at other Boise mortuaries.

“That was upsetting … to think that a family member has to call around to find room,” Fleshman said.

Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman 

Bodies after COVID-19-related deaths are stored temporarily in an external, refrigerated trailer at the Ada County Coroner’s building in Boise. Brett Harding, chief deputy coroner, said this is an added precaution to keep his staff safe.

‘There’s so much regret’: Families struggle with preventable deaths

It’s not just the Boise area. At Bell Tower in Post Falls, about a third of all intakes are people who died due to COVID-19. Even with extra space added, Cox said they are about 60% full. On top of that, they’ve been taking bodies from other funeral homes in Kootenai County, and sometimes as far as Spokane, Washington.

Some funeral homes are choosing to embalm bodies they wouldn’t normally embalm. The intensive process preserves bodies for burial, typically for those kept in an open casket — but Cox said some are embalming bodies to be cremated, just to relieve space in crowded refrigeration units. Embalmed bodies don’t need to be refrigerated.

Garcia said the additional work has strained Bell Tower’s staff and made it more difficult to have families gather for a funeral. Many families of COVID-19 victims are having to quarantine after testing positive for the disease themselves.

“It’s becoming increasingly a problem for families to be able to even come in here,” Garcia said. “We’re starting to see families kind of take a step back on services, because they’re afraid of the larger crowds and spreading this virus.”

Garcia said families sometimes express regret about the COVID-19 vaccine and how they wish their loved one had been vaccinated before they died.

Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.S. Nearly all of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients, many of them now younger than 60 without health conditions, are unvaccinated. Those who are vaccinated and hospitalized are typically immunocompromised, health care workers have said.

“It’s typically such a sore subject, because there’s so much regret,” Garcia said.

Harding said he’s upset by the politicization of the pandemic, which has convinced many to not get vaccinated and led to more bodies filling the county’s cooler.

“People want to believe what they’re told,” he said. “If you’re telling them that masks don’t work and vaccines don’t work, then they’re going to trust those people, especially people in authority.”

‘We’re frustrated’: COVID-19 leaves emotional toll on funeral workers

Those in the funeral industry say it’s an emotional business, with or without a pandemic. But the recent onslaught of new deaths has left many in the industry emotionally frayed. Owens said seeing so many preventable deaths has taken its toll.

“People assume that because we deal with death every day, that it’s something that we’re just immune to,” she said. “We’re frustrated and we’re tired and we’re behind on everything.”

Harding said the most difficult deaths for him are older couples, people who have been married for decades only to be separated by a cruel and sweeping pandemic.

It could get even worse. State health officials have warned of a potentially larger surge in October. If that were to happen, Owens said the entire system could be pushed beyond its limits.

“I don’t know if we can handle it,” she said. “We are barely hanging on.”