A Look Back @ The 1970 Mythical State Football Championship Season 50 Years Late

     By James “Flash” Lashley #22

     1970 team


    “Remembering The Falcons”. The 1970 Mythical State Championship Season 50 years later. I could just leave the photo of this team; my team and that to some would be enough. However just a photo, a snapshot would not do THIS team justice. Please allow me to take you back to 1970 and let’s reminisce together.


    In 1970 the economy looked a “little” different:

    Cost of a new house was $23,450.00

    Average yearly income was $9,420.00

    Gallon of gasoline was .36 cents

    Voting age was lowered to 18 years old

    American Bandstand introduced “The Jackson 5”


    There was civil unrest in America; 100,000 people marched on Washington D.C. to protest the Vietnam War. The Ohio National Guard opened fire on Kent State students protesting the Vietnam War. That day 4 students were killed and 9 others were wounded. 1970 say its own “Health” crisis with a “Cholera Epidemic”.



    The Coaching Staff:

    Wayne Lunak/Head Coach

    Dick Russell/Line & Linebacker

    Pete Jensen/Defensive Backs

    Wally Shatkowski/Quarterback & Receivers

    It was instilled in us that we were going to “out work” everyone else. During the course of the summer of 1970 some of the players worked out together in Dolton Park. While others worked out in the Thornridge weight room doing strength training, and getting “speed work training” by doing “wind sprints” in neighborhood parks. You see it wasn’t so much formal/organized “training” back then. Preseason training was done informally out of the pure desire and determination to “win”. There was no recruiting “superstar” players; no travel ball or anything of that nature. This team was “homegrown” and players had come through the “ranks”.

    Summer sessions commenced on Monday August 10, 1970. It was a common thing that during the summer there would be 2 practices per day 6 days a week (Mon-Sat). Well, this Falcon team was not like most teams. Our coaching staff decided that if we were going to be twice as good we would have to work twice as hard. Thus, the 4 practice sessions per day was “born”. The schedule is still embedded in my mind 50 years later. The schedule was: 7:30a-9:00a/Defense; 10:00a-11:30a/Offense; 12:30p-2:00p/Scrimmage; 3:00-4:00/Special Teams.

    There was an amazing amount of talent on this team. Coach Lunak implemented the “One Way” rule. This meant that there would be “limited 2-way” players. Players would only play an offensive or defensive position during games. This strategy worked for several reasons. Players were well rested, and it gave an opportunity for reserve players (like #22) to get a lot of “quality” playing time.

    Practices were VERY grueling and VERY intense. You see we had mad love for each other in the locker room, but when we snapped up that chinstrap and stepped “between the lines” it was may the best man win! Needless to say there were a few scuffles/tussles but everyone survived “4-a-days”. NOW bring on the season!!!


    The Offense: led by #12 Quarterback Gary Lester; RB Scott Wesley; FB Eric Biehl;  WB Dennis Ulanowski; TE Joe Dumakowski; Wide Receiver Quinn Buckner. The line was led by All-State LT Mark McClain; LG Paul Zakula; Rich Vickers; John Fuermeyer; Jim Mirabelli; just to name a few. Quarterback Gary Lester had total command in the huddle. The game plan was covered during practice and Lester was allowed to call all his own plays. The offense put up a lot of points (32 ppg) with an 80% running offense! Receiver/Slot Back/Free Safety Quinn Buckner led the team in scoring with 13 TDs (with most of those coming on Special Team and interceptions from his Free Safety position)!!! Thanks to All-State left tackle Mark McClain and left guard Paul Zakula QB Gary Lester played most of the time on his feet and not getting sacked (no blind side hits or sacks).

    The Defense: led by All-State “Monster Back” Art Riley; All-State Free Safety Quinn Buckner; NG Tyrone Lawrence; LB Dennis Brugeman; LB John DeYoung;       DE Dave Spence; DB Roger Tarala: DB Dan Holmer. This was tough/hard hitting and VERY stingy crew (only allowing the opponents an average of 4.0ppg).

    Special Teams:

    All-State Free Safety Quinn Buckner was absolutely amazing to watch on kickoff and punt returns. “Q” was scored 13 TDs to lead the team in scoring while spending most of his playing time on defense! On many occasions turning the “defense” into “instant” offense with some of his interceptions returns for TDs!


    Home games were always played before a capacity crowd. There was a sign that we touched on the way out of our locker room. It read “The Thornridge Winning Tradition Will Not Be Put In The Hands Of The Weak and The Timid”. Simply stated “Be The Strongest Today”. As we would get dressed to do battle there was no music playing; no talking; no playing around; just focus, laser focus. Once we were dressed we’d assemble in the F2 Gym (no coaches just the players). There the lights would be dimmed and we would sit or lie on the floor; relax and focus on your assignment. When the coaches came in the lights would go on and Coach Lunak would flip the chalkboard over to reveal the starting lineups. We would “circle up” for some last minute instructions and our team prayer before taking “The Walk”.  “The Walk” was in single file formation we’d leave the F2 building and make our way to the field. No “hoopla” just 60 guys heading out to “do battle”. Chanting in sync the words Beat (whoever was our opponent). I still get “chills” when I talk about this some 50 years later! Once we emerged out of the darkness of the school building we were greeted with a “thunderous roar” from the capacity/frenzied crowd. I can still feel “The Roar” and the band playing our school song. “Onward Onward Thornridge High; on to victory do or die…….


    All year the Thornridge Falcons were ranked #2 in the State by channel 7’s sportscaster Dwayne Dow. Loyola Academy of Lake Forest (featured All-State OT Dennis Lick. Who went on to play for the Chicago Bears ) was ranked #1. Loyola Academy suffered a late season loss to St. Rita. The Thornridge Falcons were moved into the #1 ranking and the rest is history! We were now the #1 team in the State and crowned “Mythical State Champions”. The “Mythical” tag was because there was not a playoff format in place in 1970. The Football Championship was based on “statistics”. In 1970 we had 3 shutouts; averaged 32ppg on offense, and with a very stingy defense our opponents only scored an average of 4.0ppg!!! The #1 ranking/the Mythical State Championship was the final piece of the 1970 Thornridge Falcons puzzle. All of our preseason goals had been met and exceeded:

    1.    To finish the season undefeated and untied.

    2.    To be conference champs.

    3.    To have several All-Conference players.

    4.    To have 2 All-State players (we had 3 selections)

    #41 Quinn Buckner/Defensive Back/Special Teams

    #79 Mark McClain/Offensive Tackle

    # 75 Art Riley/Defensive Lineman


    50 years later I’m STILL proud to have had the opportunity to play on what I consider THE GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM in Thornridge History. I STILL “BLEED” and PROUDLY wear the Thornridge Falcons “Columbia Blue & Gray” school colors. I always wore that #22 jersey with pride. Kudos to my teammates; my coaches; our Cheerleaders; the Lassies; the Pom-Pom squad; The Thornridge Marching Band; the Amazing Loyal and always our Super Supportive Fans. Some of my teammates are no longer with us; but they’ll NEVER be forgotten!!! #12 Gary Lester; #45 Mike “Buzz” Payne; #46 Roger Tarala; #75 Art Riley. You guys will forever live in our hearts. The friendships; the comradery; the relationships that were forged way back then are lifelong! Brothers forever. This is my story/our story/the Thornridge Falcons story.

               I’M PROUD TO BE A MEMBER OF THE


                                    THORNRIDGE FALCONS                           #AllWeDidWasWin                  #IAmaFalconFaLife#22        #FalconNationForever