The SCL’s First Champions – The 1971 Russia Raiders

Between games of Saturday’s scheduled doubleheader with Fort Recovery, the community of Russia spent nearly an hour to remember, honor…and remind the current baseball team of a team from 50 years ago that was hot back then – and that’s still hot in the hearts and appreciation of Shelby County League fans today.

And for what that team did fifty years ago, and what Russia, Ohio did on Saturday, we will recognize the 1971 Russia Raiders Class A OHSAA state champions in baseball as this week’s ‘Who’s Hot’ honorees on Press Pros.

I’ve gotten to know some of those ’71 guys over the years, principally Don Cordonnier and Ron Schulze, just from shooting the breeze in the hallways during Russia basketball games.

Cordonnier and I actually had the experience of playing for legendary coach Jim Hardman during our high school years. Cordonnier played on Hardman’s summer American Legion team while I played my high school baseball for Hardman at Piqua.

And Ron Schulze once took me to the basement of his home in Fort Loramie to show me the bat he used to collect five hits, score five runs, and drive in five more in the 13-5 thumping against Old Fort High School in the ’71 championship game. It’s a mark that still stands in the OHSAA record book for baseball.

But like any championship, it’s the story behind the story that’s often the most fascinating – that “I bet you didn’t know” thing – that I learned about on Saturday.

That ’71 state championship was not only the first title for Russia, but the first title for the Shelby County League – what they now call the Shelby County Athletic League – chartered to play basketball back in 1921.

From charter to championship it took 50 years to achieve the first and pave the way since for 28 more team titles for SCL schools in other sports. The original league was comprised of three schools. It now, of course, includes Russia, Fort Loramie, Jackson Center, Fairlawn, Houston, Botkins, and Anna.

“But Russia was the first. They showed the way,” shared Sidney attorney and league historian Stan Evans. “And they must have done a pretty good job because Anna won the state title in baseball again the very next year.”

While the community looked on, the ‘originals’ and the current Raiders saluted each other during Saturday’s ceremony.

In total, the SCAL has now won 56 OHSAA titles, team and individual, but the stories cannot match what you heard between teammates and life-long friends on Saturday. Like they say, the older you get the better you were back then…and just how much that state championship meant 50 years ago to a small rural community like Russia.

Or, that time can fade the facts and diminish the luster. The coach of that Russia team, Roger Eckenwiler, was on hand Saturday.

“What do you remember from that game?” He was asked.

“Well, I remember we won the game,” Eckenwiler said, drawing a good laugh from the crowd.

There were four who couldn’t make it, and there was one deceased.  And at the end the current Russia team saluted the originals with fist bumps to pay their respects, some of the same community names still active in Russia sports after all these years.

Don Cordonnier?   He’s spawned a couple of new generations of Cordonniers since ’71, but he’s still one of the best around to tell baseball stories.

And Ron Schulze? He’s still got that Louisville Slugger bat, proudly displayed in the basement. He’d probably give up the house before he’d give up the bat.

For baseball’s sake…that’s the way it should be.

Our congratulations to the 1971 state baseball champion Russia Raiders – the originals – this week’s ‘Who’s Hot’ honorees on Press Pros.

Peace of mind is as easy as the relationship you have with your local bank, and the St. Henry bank is small enough to know you, and big enough to serve you.  The St. Henry Bank joins Press Pros Magazine in recognizing this week’s “Who’s Hot” honorees…the 1971 baseball champion Russia Raiders.