Friendships born in grade school, middle school, and high school can last a lifetime. The proof is four friends from the Cambridge High School class of 1961 who returned to Cambridge for the 2023 Homecoming football game.
Bill Lawyer, Jon Rogovin, Tim Merrill and Denny James, all members of the Bobcat football team during their high school days, became friends when they were classmates at Ninth Street Elementary School, which later became Washington Elementary School.
“We all played from 1958 to 1960,” Lawyer said. “We were the entire right side of the line with Tim at center, me at right guard, Jon at right tackle and Denny at right end.”
A photo from 1960 features Jon Rogovin (number 74), Tim Merrill (number 52) and Bill Lawyer (number 67) in the front row with Denny James (number 81) in the second row. Others in the picture are Larry Burch (61), Danny Cross (68), in the first row, Jim Held (85), David Elwood (33), and Joe Whitcraft (32) in the second row, with Dale Dickson (23) and Bill Reed (84) in the top row.
Rogovin and Merrill were co-captains for the 1960 team that went 4-5-1 with wins over McConnelsville, Barnesville, Dover and New concord and a tie St. Clairsville.
Merrill was selected third team UPI defensive end and honorable mention center. Rogovin was first team UPI and second team API and also played in the North-South All Star game in Canton.
The foursome, celebrating their 80th birthdays with the homecoming trip, go on an adventure every five years to celebrate their significant birthdays. The tradition started when they turned 50 with a white-water rafting trip at Ohio Pyle in Western Pennsylvania.
“We do these every five years,” Lawyer explained. “When we were 75, we went to Washington D.C. and spent four or five days. We turned 80 and we didn’t want to go to New York City, but I don’t know how we chose to come here.
“I started sending emails to various people we know still live in the area and before we knew it we had invites to do a lot of things,” Lawyer continued. “Tim came up with the schedule.”
The schedule ended up including hooking up with Judge David Elwood who guided them to Cambridge Airport and the memorial to fellow classmate Bill Reed. They paid their respects at cemetery, checked out some of their old haunts, and visited the VFW as two of the four were active military during the Vietnam Conflict.
But mostly, they reminisced and shared stories with each other and the many folks they talked with while in Cambridge.
Rogovin and Lawyer both flew in from Florida for the weekend while Merrill came in from Western Pennsylvania and James from Eastern Tennessee.
Members of the class of 1961 met up prior to the Cambridge Homecoming football game wearing their celebratory t-shirts, their Ninth Street Gang hats, and their varsity jackets from when they were in school. They are (l to r) Denny James, Jon Rogovin, Tim Merrill, and Bill Lawyer.
They attended the homecoming football game with Lawyer and James wearing their high school letter jackets, stayed to the bitter end and maybe even teared up a little bit at the playing of the alma mater.
In addition to the letter jackets, the foursome could be seen wearing matching t-shirts with a photo of the four of them from a previous adventure and hats embroidered with “Ninth Street Gang” in reference to the school they all attended on the corner of Ninth Street and Foster Avenue (later known as Washington Elementary School).
The hats spurred a conversation about another one of their classmates, John Knapp, who was principal at Washington Elementary for several years.
They were kind enough to provide a short synopsis of their post high school lives with Lawyer being razzed by his buddies about being long-winded.
Lawyer served in the U.S. Army spending three years in Vietnam before coming home and finding a job working for Cessna selling planes to airplane dealers. He eventually worked in a similar capacity for Piper and then for a bank in Canton making loans to businesses and individuals buying personal aircraft. He moved to Florida in 1998 and became involved in tech support for a school district until he retired last summer.
Rogovin went New Mexico Military Institute, where Roger Staubach attended, to prep for the Naval Academy. He decided against the Naval Academy and accepted his scholarship to Ohio State where he played for Woody Hayes. Bo Schembechler was his recruiter and his line coach. Unfortunately, he never got to play and accepted that he reached his limit with football. However, Jon continued his studies in biology and eventually podiatry and spent many years as a podiatrist.
Merrill went to Yale and played football for four years. Upon graduation, Tim got a job in the steel industry where he worked at three different steel mills in Western Pennsylvania. He started buying energy for those mills and eventually started his own energy company where he became involved buying and selling oil and gas.
James attended Ohio State with Bill and Jon and eventually dental school. He entered the U.S. Airforce in 1968 for six years. He landed in New Mexio for several years before moving to Eastern Tennessee where his wife’s family was located.
Even though they scattered after graduating from Cambridge High School, they never lost touch with their hometown and the friends they made in Cambridge.
“I think the best memory of Cambridge is the friendships that developed over the years,” Rogovin said.
“Cambridge was a great place to grow up,” Lawyer added. “It was a small town, but had enough to keep you out of trouble, for the most part. We always enjoyed sports and the comradery with everyone we came in contact within the school.”
Merrill agreed that “sports was the glue” that held their friendships together while James said, “sports was the only reason I went to school.”
The foursome spent their freshman year at Central High School, which later became the Junior High School that is now part of St. Benedict’s School. Much of the building was demolished after St. Benedict’s purchased it.
Their sophomore year was the first year at the High School that is now the Cambridge Area YMCA. They started out playing football at Pine Field until McFarland Stadium was completed. So their return for Homecoming 2023, more than 60 years after they graduated, was significant.
“It was disappointing not to win the game but after 62 years it was still a thrill to see the football action and the great marching band,” Lawyer wrote in an email after his return to Florida. “The flag-raising and National Anthem were very impressive. Not to forget singing of the CHS Alma Mater before and after the game.”