Two decades later, the memories are still vivid and very blue.
Hamilton High School is preparing to honor its 1997 football team that went 10-0 in the regular season and won its second Greater Miami Conference championship, two levels Big Blue haven’t reached since.
HHS lost to St. Xavier in the first round of the Division I playoffs that year, but history had already been made. Hamilton was 10-0 only two other times, 1929 under Dana King and 1935 under A.R. Tilton.
“It really elevated our program at that point,” said Ed Mignery, the HHS head coach from 1988 to 2001. “To do it in the 100th year of football in Hamilton was so special. It was great for our city and the Big Blue football program.
“I just remember looking up in the stands and reminiscing back to when we built the stadium in ’94. It just reiterated to me that we did a really good thing building a really nice stadium. I did mention to Larry Wood, the athletic director, ‘You know, I don’t think we built this stadium big enough.’ ”
The 1997 squad will return to Virgil Schwarm Stadium for a 20th anniversary celebration at the Sept. 8 game against Oak Hills.
A reception will be held before the game in the stadium’s Blue Room starting at 5:30 p.m. All team members will be recognized on the field between the first and second quarters.
“I’m looking forward to it. I just honestly can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” said Wallace Morris, a senior cornerback in ’97. “There’s definitely going to be some different looking guys. Me too, but we’re still truckin’ on. That’s all we can do.
“That team had a lot of guys that were dedicated. It brings back memories of how close that group of seniors was.”
Andy Mignery, Big Blue’s junior quarterback on the 10-0 team, plans to be in Hamilton on Sept. 8 with his father. Senior center Deron Bowling won’t be able to attend, but he’ll be thinking of his old teammates.
“It would be nice to see some of the guys again, but unfortunately, life prevails,” said Bowling, who lives in Richmond, Va. “That season was a good ride and really fun to be a part of. It was luck of the draw. We had a bunch of good guys and good coaches, and it all came together for us.”
Andy Mignery chose to stay in Ann Arbor, Mich., after playing for the University of Michigan. He has to hurry back to Ann Arbor after the Oak Hills game because he’ll be coaching his oldest son, 10-year-old Devin, in his first tackle football game the next day.
“Knowing how difficult it is to go 10-0 with the many challenges in a high school football program, it speaks for itself that 20 years later we’re still celebrating it,” Mignery said. “We had a very cohesive team with great leaders from a senior standpoint, and we were accountable.
“We grew up in a system where we were running the same offense from Little Blue all the way up to Hamilton. And you have to remember that we had several new coaches in ’97, so they had to really come together too. There were a lot of firsts that year.
“We had so much support from the city and the alumni and the boosters. It was just a wonderful season to be a part of. There’s not one negative you can think of with that ’97 squad.”
Hamilton had seven players on the Journal-News All-Butler County team in 1997 — junior tailback Mike Myers, senior wide receiver Danny Jones, senior offensive linemen Brandon Bridges and Bowling, senior defensive lineman Reuben Bailey, senior linebacker Gary Richardson and junior place-kicker Brett Jackson.
Myers was the Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,613 yards and 21 touchdowns on 213 carries. He was held under 100 yards just once (48 against Middletown).
“We knew we were going to be pretty good. I don’t know if undefeated ever really crossed our minds,” Bowling said. “Coach Mignery had done a good job of just keeping us looking at the next game instead of everything down the road. But we had a lot of talent. I think between all three grade levels that year, we had about a dozen guys that ended up going D-I for football.”
Big Blue had a couple difficult games during the regular season, earning hard-fought wins over Sycamore (17-10) in Week 4 and Princeton (21-19) in Week 6.
“I specifically remember (Princeton’s) Vince Harrison, one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bowling said. “He led them in all three sports that he played, and he was always fun to compete against.”
Schwarm Stadium was overflowing in Week 7 when Hamilton defeated Colerain 37-21. Since that day, Big Blue are 0-16 against the Cardinals.
“That was the first year they came into the GMC,” Bowling said. “I think they were trying to toot their own horn a little bit, so it was nice that we showed them what the GMC was about.”
Said Morris, “I went to college with a guy from Colerain. One thing he said to me my freshman or sophomore year in college was, ‘That’s all right, Hamilton will never beat Colerain again.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, right.’ I guess he’s been right so far.”
HHS wasn’t at full strength heading into the postseason as Andy Mignery missed most of the last three regular-season games with a high ankle sprain. He played against St. X, but struggled with his mobility.
“It was frustrating,” Mignery said. “It was a brutal injury. I had to miss some basketball practices into the winter because of it.”
As disappointing as the 27-14 loss was, it couldn’t take the shine off the regular season. Big Blue had been voted fifth in the preseason GMC coaches poll.
“We knew as a team we probably should’ve beaten them, but it didn’t ruin what we accomplished,” Morris said. “Back then, there were only four teams that went to the playoffs from around here. We were honored to be one of the top four teams in the tri-state at that time.”
“One of my goals was to win a playoff game, and we never did,” said Ed Mignery, who was 0-3 in the postseason. “We thought we could do it in ’97, but Andy’s injury hurt us. That was still my best team by far. We had a very, very good line, our defense was really tough, and we were able to go two-platoon overall. We just played good football. I hope the Big Blue can get back to those days.”
Mignery, 68, is retired and lives in Xenia. He spends time traveling around the country visiting his three children and six grandchildren.
Andy Mignery is the Midwest regional director for Hines Securities in Ann Arbor. He has remained close to the Michigan football program by hosting the “Monday Morning Quarterback” call-in show on WTKA-AM (1050) every Monday from 8-9 a.m. during the season.
Hamilton residents can listen to his show on iHeartRadio. Anyone who wants to see Mignery dance — that’s right, dance — can go to YouTube. He recently participated in Michigan’s version of “Dancing with the Stars” for cancer research.
“Thirty-seven lessons,” Mignery said with a laugh. “I’ve got a lot of respect for dancers after that. I was able to cut the rug a little bit that night. People didn’t know this big man could move like that.”
Like Mignery, Bowling is married with three young children. He’s a field sales marketing representative for Cincinnati Insurance.
Morris still lives in Hamilton and his six children, five girls and a boy. His oldest is about to turn 16. He works as a barber in Hamilton and founded the Hamilton Saints youth football organization (ages 5 to 12) this year.
“We’ve got a total of 149 kids and a couple cheerleaders,” Morris said. “I really wanted to give back to the community. I felt it was just time to start something different around here. I like helping kids and just finding different solutions for them. As coaches, we should be role models.”
He coached current Big Blue quarterback Khaliyal Sowell in pee-wee ball.
“That’s my part of giving back to Hamilton and hoping they can get another 10-0 season around here someday,” Morris said. “The guys that I played with, we can always hold our head high and make people realize it can be done.”
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.