Undefeated season

The undefeated record posted by the 1971 Golden Elks varsity football team made headlines, as evidenced by this copy of a Nov. 10, 1971 issue of the Cecil Democrat.

ELKTON — The players and coaches on the 1971 Elkton High School Golden Elks varsity football team did not set out to have an undefeated season — per se.

“We knew we had a good team,” acknowledged Keith Baynes, who played running back.

Better known these days as the Administrative Judge of Cecil County Circuit Court, Baynes was one of 19 returning seniors on that football team, which was led by Coach Maurice “Sonny” Tenney and Assistant Coach Henry Shaffer.

“Those two guys were wonderful. They were two great coaches. The only thing we worried about — or prepared for — was our next game. It was always one game at a time,” Baynes explained, before recalling, “All we wanted to do was win the conference.”

As it turned, that Golden Elks team did win its Bayside Football Conference in 1971. And it did so in grand fashion, finishing the season with a 9-0 record. That 1971 Golden Elks squad has the distinction of being the first undefeated high school football team in Cecil County history.

This weekend, two informal reunions will be held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that perfect football season. One will take place on Friday, at some point before, during or directly after the homecoming game for the 2021 Golden Elks football team. The other is planned for Saturday at an Elkton-area restaurant.

In addition to Baynes and his former teammates, those who participated in that undefeated 1971 season as Golden Elks cheerleaders or marching band members have been invited.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone, especially some of the guys I haven’t seen in a long time — 50 years for some of them. We were all friends,” Baynes said. “I’m looking forward to catching up on their lives, hearing about their families and just reminiscing about that season and talking about the games we played.”

One of the former teammates Baynes will see is Pat Conway, who played on the 1971 Golden Elks’ offensive line, sometimes at center.

Although interviewed separately, Conway and Baynes mentioned many of the same memories. Both, for example, recalled the 1971 Golden Elks trouncing Archmere Academy, a private Wilmington, Del., high school, by a score of 53 to 0.

It was viewed as a David-against-Goliath upset, according to Conway, who, after his gridiron glory days, worked 37 years for Cecil County, the last 28 of which as the Director of Permits & Inspections, before retiring.

“It was one of the most satisfying victories for us. Archmere was a big, private school and we were a small high school in Cecil County. Before the game, the headline in the (Wilmington) News Journal was, ‘Elkton Who?’” Conway said, chuckling as he remembered.

Both Baynes and Conway conceded that, while it is true that their 1971 varsity Golden Elks football team was the first undefeated high school football team in Cecil County history, it also was the only varsity football team in the county back then.

“North East, Bo Manor, Rising Sun, Perryville, none of the other high schools in the county had football teams back then,” Conway noted.

Because of that local deficit, the 1971 Golden Elks football team played in the Bayside Conference, which was comprised of high schools in Cambridge, Easton and Wicomico, for examples, in addition to a few closer to home, such as Havre de Grace High School and Aberdeen High School.

“We were always on the road,” Conway said.

Baynes holds that same memory.

“I remember those long bus rides, two or three hours, to get to some of our away games. It was rough. That’s because we were up here and most of the other teams in the conference were way down there,” Baynes said, before breaking into a grin and remarking, “Those long bus rides — coming back home late at night — were a lot more fun, though, because we had just won the football games.”

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