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The 1959 Hillsboro football squad: New coach, only 17 Indians

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, don’t look now, but football season is upon us.

As the 2021 season kickoff approaches, let’s take another trip back to the “old days” and see what football was like in Hillsboro more than 60 years ago. We’re driving the ol’ Studebaker back to the year 1959.

Back in those days, the season didn’t start until September, a few weeks later than today and consisted of one fewer regular season contest. Hillsboro opened the 1959 season on Sept. 18, 1959 with a home game against “newcomer” to the schedule Paint Valley, followed by eight more games: at Logan, at Washington C.H., vs. Circleville, at New Boston, vs. Pleasant View, at Wilmington, vs. McClain, and then at Franklin Heights to round out season on Nov. 13.

At the helm for the Hillsboro Indians varsity football squad was first-year head coach Bill Atsalis, a Wilmington College graduate.

Atsalis, just 26 years old at the time, was named head coach for HHS in April 1959 after previous football coach George C. Williams resigned a few weeks earlier. Hillsboro Superintendent Paul Upp had conferred with Atsalis, who had coached at Beavercreek High School the previous two years, and Atsalis indicated he would accept the post prior to the board’s approval.

When the young head coach arrived and opened summer camp, it must have been like something out of the movie “Hoosiers,” as only 17 players came out for the Aug. 17, 1959 physical evaluations at the HHS gymnasium. To make matters worse, Atsalis was without a line coach as Donald Stagg, previously of Portsmouth, had decided to “withdraw” from his position.

A front-page newspaper headline read that Atsalis “issues a call for candidates.” From there, he and two other first-year HHS football coaches hit the “recruiting trail” and were able to boost the numbers on the practice field from 17 to 33 by Aug. 20.

On Aug. 25, 1959, it was written that, “Three news football coaches at Hillsboro High decided that 17 boys were too few to have a good football team – and did something about it. They knocked on enough doors to put a Fuller Brush man to shame. They invaded restaurants, they picked up husky, strapping hitchhikers. They did it morning, noon and night for two days. ‘Now they’re coming in on their own,’ one coach observed. Two days later, on the first day of practice on Thursday, Aug. 20, 33 husky teenagers were on the field, toughening up for the fall gridiron season.”

The three first-year coaches at Hillsboro High were Atsalis, line coach Ron Fenik and junior high coach Tom Bryant, who was also the head basketball coach and assistant backfield football coach.

As the whistle blows at the first summer football practice, let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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