The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

April 8, 2014

Like father, like son

Conneaut legend Rex Gaugh shared much more than his name with his boy

Rexford D. Gaugh was a three-sport athlete at Conneaut High School in the early 1940s.

Rexford D. Gaugh Jr. was a three-sport athlete at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Fla. in the late 1970s.

* * *

Old-timers in Conneaut will recall Rex Gaugh as the quarterback on the Trojans’ 1941 football team and lead man in their Four Horseman backfield. He also lettered in basketball and track and field.

Conneaut did not win the former Lake Shore League championship that year, placing third while sporting an overall record of five wins, four losses and three ties. Still, the Trojans were an exciting team for the spectators with their four senior running backs: Gaugh at quarterback, speedster Bill Cowden and Dick Tully, a left-handed passer, at halfback, and Howie Grable at fullback.

The season opener at Meadville, in the heart of northwest Pennsylvania’s tough football country, provided Gaugh his shining moment, one of a number throughout the ensuing season. Playing defensive halfback, he intercepted a Bulldog pass and ran it back for a touchdown and a 6-6 “upset” tie.

The highlight game of the year was Conneaut’s 47-0 midseason win over archrival Ashtabula — the largest margin of victory over the Panthers in their ancient rivalry. It also was Gaugh’s greatest game. He scored two touchdowns in the first three minutes of the game, then handed off to his backfield mates as they took over.

Cowden and Grable each made two more touchdowns and Tully the seventh. Gaugh punted only once, did not throw a pass and his back mates ran for 471 yards. (In all fairness, it must be noted that the following year, the Panthers avenged their loss by an even bigger margin of 56-0. In that game, Paul Dellerba ran for six touchdowns and was named Ohio’s Player of the Day).

At season’s end, six Trojans won all-league honors: backs Cowden and Gaugh, linemen George Ferl, Herbie Reo and Bob Gilbert, and Nick Colby, the league’s top pass-catching end.

The 1942 class was the first to graduate after Pearl Harbor. In June, days after receiving his diploma, Gaugh enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served more than three years during World War II, mostly as a gunners’ mate on landing craft in the Pacific, including duty in the Aleutians. (Later, he served during the Korean War). Along the way, Rex’s commanding officer recommended him for officer’s school. On July 3, 1945, after schooling and training at the University of Michigan, Western Michigan and Fort Schuyler, he was commissioned an ensign in the Navy.

Two days an officer, he married his high school sweetheart, the former Jane Duffert, Class of 1944, in Conneaut’s St. Paul’s Church. They had corresponded throughout the war that, at that point, was nearing its end. The newlyweds’ honeymoon was a trip to Florida, where Rex reported for his first assignment, the Miami U.S. Naval Training Station. There, he played football for the station’s Tars, a team made up mostly of college players and a few pros. He served mostly as a punter and blocking back against such other service teams as Charlie Trippi’s 3rd Air Force, the Jacksonville Naval Air Station and the Homestead Army Airfield.

With his Navy duty done, Rex’s next step was enrollment at Western Reserve University, Cleveland, where he was to play Red Cats’ football for two years, 1946-47. He played in most of their games, but, being primarily a quarterback was a problem. His competition at that key position was Warren Lahr, a storied name in WRU football and later a veteran back with the Cleveland Browns during their early championship years. In Gaugh’s senior year, the Red Cats won four and lost five. They defeated Ohio University, 20-7, Akron, 8-0, Butler, 6-0, and Case, 13-12, but lost to Duquense, 6-0, Rutgers, 20-7, Wayne, 20-13, Baldwin-Wallace, 13-6, and Cincinnati, 7-6.

The Baldwin-Wallace game was memorable for the leadership of the Yellow Jackets’ fullback, Lee Tressel, who, after stints at Mentor and Massillon, became B-W’s 1) head football coach, 2) athletic director, 3) member of the College Football Hall of Fame and 4) the father of a coaching dynasty of three sons, Dick, Dave and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel. That game was also memorable for Rex Gaugh. Trailing, 13-6, with less than a minute to play, his all-out last pass, intended for the end zone and a win, was tipped at the last minute and fell to the ground.

Gaugh’s last collegiate game, played on a frozen field ad the Cleveland Indians’ old League Park, was the 52nd annual Turkey Day game with the Case School of Applied Science (now merged into Case Western Reserve). A crown of 8,500 frozen fans saw the Red Cats win.

From that day on, Gaugh’s life was the Naval Reserve. Over the years, he rose from ensign to captain (the equivalent to a colonel in the Army) and served in naval uniform, off and on, for 33 years. At the time of his untimely death of a fast-growing cancer at age 52 on July 7, 1977, he was the commanding officer at the Navy’s Bayboro Harbor Training Center, St. Petersburg.

Rex and Jane had been married for 32 years and were the parents of three children: two girls, now Connie Mathews, Clearwater, Fla., and Debbie Peterson, Jacksonville, and a boy, Rexford D. Gaugh.

To avoid confusion wit his dad, he will be called Rexie, his nickname, from this point on.

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