High School Football’s First National Championship Game

by Jeff Fisher

As all of our readers know, I spend a LARGE amount of time scanning the internet for high school football stories that sometimes don’t find their way into the mainstream.

Our 35-day cross country trip from the end of October to the beginning of December certainly put me behind on some of my reading and that usually results in some cool stories.  Then came the holidays, which put me even further behind.  Over the last couple of days, I have started to dig around my bookmarked stories that I had put aside. Today, I want to share one gem that appeared in the New York Daily News, just before Christmas.

It was published two days before Santa arrived and describes what may be America’s first on-field, “mythical” national championship game between Garfield High School from New Jersey and Miami High School from Florida that was played Christmas Day 1939 in Miami’s Orange Bowl.

Don’t believe me? Check-out the YouTube video of the game above.

The NY Daily News story reports that the game was the creation of the National Sports Council, which was chaired by legendary sports columnist Grantland Rice.  The council was charged with picking two teams, one from the north and one from the south, to decide high school football’s national championship. The game was dubbed the “Infantile Paralysis Bowl” in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from polio.

According to another story on NorthJersey.com commemorating the 75th anniversary of the game last October, an estimated crowd of 25,000 fans showed-up at the Orange Bowl to watch the battle between the two unbeatens.  Both teams entered the game with 9-0 records and the Miami Stingarees riding an 18-game win streak.

Aside from the 25,000 in the stands, some 2,000-plus fans listened to the game via a “phoned in play-by-play” in the Garfield School No. 8 gym.

Garfield won the “mythical” national title with a 16-13 win on Bennie Babula‘s 22-yard field goal, the first-ever in his career.  Coming into the game, Miami reportedly had only given up 14 points during the entire season.  Garfield finished a perfect 10-0 on the season.



About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.