QUINCY -- Randy Krutmeier walked into his home and brought out a surprise for his visitors.
A group of men recently had gathered to talk about the 50th year of varsity football at Central High School. While he was digging out his scrapbooks, Krutmeier had discovered that his wife, through several family moves, had kept the black cotton varsity jersey with a peeling gold number from when he was on the 1968 team as a senior.
"They weren't too fancy," he said.
The same could have been said for the beginning of the football program in 1966.
Central High School in Camp Point was formed in the fall of 1955 by the consolidation of several smaller schools in eastern Adams County, but football didn't start until the fall of 1966.
Two members of the Central School Board -- Cy Hull and Wayne Shank -- were credited as the people who helped get the ball rolling. But why did it take 11 years?
"Nobody on the board had pushed it before," Kay Lord said.
Lord was hired as a teacher at Central in 1965, and he remembered that pressure from other schools in the Midwest Conference that had been playing football for years helped spur the decision to start the sport in Camp Point.
"Mel Oberling was the one who figured out how not to make it cost the school district a bunch of money," Lord said. "The school board didn't have enough money to build a field and furnish equipment for the team, but they did pay for the uniforms. The school didn't contribute anything else but the land for the field and the track."
Lord said Joe Jake was hired as Central's coach in the summer of 1966, and construction of the field east of the school started that summer.
Ron Husemann, president of the school's Quarterback Club for 13 years, said several local contractors donated their services to build the field just to the east of the school. He even built the first set of goalposts himself.
"(Jake) knew what the dimensions were supposed to be, so I made them to his dimensions," Husemann said. "A year later, we had to make them 18 inches wider. I had to cut the ends off, slide a pipe in each end, weld it all back together and then put the arms back on it. That was quite a trick."
Lord said multiple farmers camp in to shape the fields and add dirt. The lights were paid for in part by a donation from Dr. Frank Adrian, plus Oberling had the idea of selling 10-year season tickets for $100 apiece.
"Ursa Electric Co-Op sold us the poles and the wire at their cost, and their employees came out and put them up on their own time after hours," Lord said.
Farmers also donated trucks to haul gravel from a quarry near Loraine to help build the track surrounding the field, and local contractor T.C. Christner allowed volunteers to use five dump trucks to haul cinders from the Illinois Veterans Home on weekends.
"We had to buy the fuel ourselves," Lord said.
Twenty-seven players went out for the first team, which played a junior varsity schedule in 1966. Only freshmen and sophomores were allowed to play, and Krutmeier was one of them.
"I just remember an annoucement that we were going to play football, and I wanted to play football," he said. "We were all coming from small towns or farms, and Coach Jake had to teach us everything. I mean everything. The penalties, all the things that go into it. He gave us a playbook, and you looked at it, and you had to find out which player was which spot. There was a little confusion at first."
"I'm sure there was room for improvement, but we didn't know. We had nothing to compare it with."
Lord recalled that Jacksonville Routt brought its team to Camp Point for a scrimmage just to help the fledgling team get used to the sport.
"We would run a play, then we would stop, and they would explain to our kids where the guard was supposed to go and the tackle was supposed to go," he said. "Those kids were really nice."
Central didn't win a game in 1966, and every game was played on the road while the field was built.
During Krutmeier's junior year in 1967, the senior class was allowed to play as Central took on its first varsity schedule. The team's first victory was a 7-6 decision over Unity.
The Panthers went 3-24 in their three varsity seasons under Jake.
"Those first couple of years were really tough," Lord said.
Krutmeier played quarterback as a sophomore, running back as a junior and wide receiver as a senior, but he loved playing defensive end.
"When we could going out for the coin toss, (Jake) thought we weren't good enough on offense, so we'd always play defense first, even if we won the toss," Krutmeier said with a laugh.
Roger Brickman came to Central in 1969 and eventually served several years as the school's athletic director. He remembered scouting the Panthers in 1967.
"We came away shaking our heads," he laughed. "We weren't very impressed."
Nonetheless, the program continued to build.
Lord set up a refreshment stand in the nearby bus garage, buying all the candy and making the hot chocolate. He also helped build a primitive platform upon which he did the announcing for home games, borrowing the public address system from the Paloma Lions Club.
"We thought someone needed to explain to everybody what was going on," he said.
It was a job he kept for nearly 35 years.
Husemann recalled that Virgil Kindhart led the charge to get an electric scoreboard erected at the field in the late 1960s.
"Whatever was needed, the Quarterback Club did it," he said. "We got the ballboys, the chain gang. Nobody knew we needed all of those things."
Even for one game in 1967 when two referees failed to show up for a game, Lord filled in.
"Talk about someone who didn't know crap about the rules of football," he said. "I threw a flag on one play, and the (opposing) coach went about nuts."
It took decades for Central to finally enjoy football success.
Bob Winstead guided the Panthers to three victories to open the 1970 season, and they finished 5-4. The Panthers didn't have another winning season until they were 6-3 in 1981 under Bob Wilson.
Central had 22 seasons of three victories or less from 1967 to 2000. The first playoff berth came in 2001.
Central has been much more successful in 21st century. The Panthers have qualified for the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, reaching the Class 2A semifinals in 2013 and the Class 1A semifinals in 2015.
"The program has come so far and is so successful now, compared to what it was," Brickman said.
Krutmeier lives in Quincy and doesn't get to many games these days, but he still follows Central.
"I'm proud to be part of the history of the first team," he said. "I just love reading about the Panthers. I still watch out for them."