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The streak started with six wins to end the 1963 football season.

And then Red Lion kept winning.

And winning.

And winning.

By the time the streak ended, in the fall of 1967, Red Lion had won 37 consecutive games.

Most of the victories were not even particularly close. During the win streak, Red Lion held opponents to seven or fewer points in 29 games — including 11 shutouts.

It would be easy to argue the streak was just a matter of a superior group of athletes arriving at Red Lion High School at the same time or a change in culture or superior coaching or even a weak run of teams in the area. But for those who led the program, it might not be as simple as that.

After all, Red Lion switched leagues in the midst of its streak, and it won league titles by playing on either side of the Susquehanna River. The Lions moved from the Conference of Roses, where it competed against teams like Cocalico, Hempfield and Manheim Central, to the York County Interscholastic Athletic Association — the forerunner of the YAIAA.

Even the roster numbers varied. The team had 30 letter winners in 1965, including 15 seniors lost to graduation. The next year, Red Lion still went undefeated, using all 45 of its players in lopsided victories.

And it wasn't a matter of a superior scheme confounding defenses, seeing as Red Lion adjusted its offense to suit its personnel. It played a stacked-I formation in 1964, lining three backs behind the quarterback. Two years later it was running an I-Wing formation.

"I don't know," Ron Fitzkee Sr. said. "I don't feel there was a change (in the school or program). I feel the kids did their very best and we were extremely fortunate. Guys dedicated themselves to the game and the opportunity they had."

There were stars, but it was almost by accident.

"A lot of it had to do with the fact none of us cared about individual statistics — it was not as important as winning games," 1966 Red Lion quarterback Sam Neff said.

Fullback John Pitzer matched a school record with 20 career touchdowns scored, including 18 in 1963, in Red Lion's final season of the Conference of Roses. The Lions shared the conference title after a 9-1 season, and Pitzer headed to what is now East Stroudsburg University. Red Lion linemen Denny Deardorff and Nevin Posey also went on to play at East Stroudsburg.

Danny Smith set the York league record for career touchdowns (50) and career rushing yards (2,688). His touchdown mark stood for 32 years. He scored 138 points in 1964, including five touchdowns in one game. Both remain school records. He signed to play baseball in the Red Sox organization after high school.

Kicker Craig "Buzz" Ellis, an offensive guard, remains in the school record books for what he could do on special teams. He kicked more than 40 PATs during the 1965 season.

And there was Neff, who began his college career at Maryland and finished his playing days at Delaware. He helped the Lions win the last of their three straight York league titles in 1966.

"Like any team that is a winning team, you have a very capable group of young men, and I think these guys accepted our challenge: If they could put it together, they could come up with some excellent results," Fitzkee said.

"And they did."

Fitzkee himself had a terrific run, with his teams going 86-42-1 during his tenure from 1957-68 before returning for one season in 1981. He led the team, first at Nitchkey Field — which in the late 1950s and early 1960s hosted baseball, football and track events — and during its transition to Horn Field.

He can recall the first season at Horn Field, when the school moved the bleachers, built by students, from Nitchkey to in front of the hillside until permanent seating could be constructed.

He was surrounded by homegrown talent, in fact he and his entire varsity coaching staff — with Dale Shellenberger and Russ Urey — were Red Lion graduates.

"Our coaches would always do stuff to psych us up," Neff said. "One year before we played Dallastown he brought in a cake and said that this is from Dallastown, and that Dallastown believed they were going to win the game. I don't know if it was from Dallastown or not, but we all thought it was."

Fitzkee laughs when asked to highlight some of his standout players from that era. He had so many.

Fitzkee would leave the coaching ranks after 1968 and accept a promotion from assistant principal to principal. And the school would bring in Donald Dyke to run the football team. Dyke would win more football games than any coach in school history.

"We had a lot of talent, and some good coaches. And the whole town of Red Lion was behind us," Neff said. "Red Lion was a big football town, and it still is. But you grew up wanting to play at Horn Field. We had intramurals in seventh and eighth grade, but didn't play on Horn Field. And when you were a freshman, you had games but not that many. When you finally got there, it was something special.

"I don't think we talked about the streak a whole lot, but we were all aware of it."

Hanover ended the winning streak with a 20-19 victory in the third week of the season. Red Lion kicked an extra point to tie the game momentarily, but a penalty wiped the point off the board.

It marked the first loss since Red Lion lost, 27-13, in the fourth game of the season to Elizabethtown in 1963.

Red Lion finished the 1967 season 7-3, coming in second place in the league to West York and missing out on a league title for the first time since 1962.

Thirty-seven consecutive wins set a District 3 record.

"The one thing I will always remember is they were extremely well disciplined," Fitzkee said. "They did what we asked or what they were told to do, and not just training but disciplining themselves. Even though we had some pretty tough rules, including getting home at night by a certain time, there was an attitude that if you want to be good you have to work at it and work together.

"They were all part of the team and really an excellent group."

Note: Red Lion plans to welcome back players from the 37-game winning streak before its 7 p.m. game on Friday, Sept. 12 against West York at Horn Field.

Contact Jim Seip at 771-2025.

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Winning streaks

Longest winning streaks by area teams:

37 games: Red Lion 1963-67

35 games: Red Lion 1971-75

23 games: York Suburban 1960-62

Red Lion's streak

Red Lion has the longest winning streak of any York or Adams County high school football team, winning 37 straight games.

1963: 9-1*

1964: 9-0

1965: 10- 0

1966: 9- 0

1967: 7-3+

* - Lions won final six games of season and shared the Conference of Roses title

+ - Lions won first two games of season

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