Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Penalty Flag

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Photo by Hector Alejandro [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

We love that yellow flag when it is thrown against the opposing football team and groan and complain when it is thrown against one of our home team guys. But did you know that the penalty flag is a Youngstown invention and first used on one of our own venerable football fields? It is an invention more famous (or infamous) than its inventor.

Dwight “Dike” Beede was the coach of the Penguin football team from the beginning of the Youngstown football program in 1938 until 1972. Before coaching at Youngstown, he coached at Westminster College and Geneva College, both nearby schools in western Pennsylvania. In fact, his first football game in Youngstown was a decade before he became Youngstown’s coach. On September 24, 1927, Westminster College played Carnegie Tech at South High Stadium in the first college-level game played in Youngstown.

Until 1941, penalties were signaled by the blowing of horns or whistles. Often, neither the players nor the fans could hear them, and when they could, the sound was irritating. Before a game against Oklahoma City University, played on October 17, 1941, Beede shared an idea with his wife, Irma. He asked her to sew together bright red cloth from an old Halloween costume with white stripes from old sheets. Lead sinkers used in fishing were used on one end to weigh down the 16 inch by 16 inch flag. Irma Beede has been named “The Betsy Ross of football” for her contribution. The opposing coach and the officials agreed to use the flags in the game, played at The Rayen Stadium, where Youngstown’s games were played until Stambaugh Stadium was opened in 1982.

The flag caught on. One of the officials, Jack McPhee used the flags in an Ohio State-Iowa game attended by league commissioner Major John Griffith. Griffith liked the idea and mandated its use in the Western Conference, now the Big Ten. In 1948, professional football adopted the flag, changing the color to yellow in 1965.

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Dwight “Dike” Beede coached football for forty years. His last year, 1972, as a coach was my first year as a Youngstown State student. His later years were predominated by losing seasons. Things were a bit better in 1972 when he and the team finished 4-4-1, perhaps because of the talented leadership of Ron Jaworski, known as the “Polish Rifle,” who later went on to an NFL career with the Eagles, and then a broadcast career.

What most don’t realize is that Beede actually finished his 40 year career with a winning overall record of 175-146-20, and a 147-118-4 record at Youngstown. He had 17 winning seasons including an 8-2 record in 1947 and an undefeated season in 1941, not to be repeated until the Tressel years. He created the “spinner” play. In 1957 he was named Small College Coach of the Year.

Off the field, he taught forestry and held the status of Associate Professor in the Biology Department. He was a dedicated tree farmer and on the Ohio Forestry Advisory Council. He retired at the end of his 1972 season, and died just a month later, on December 10, 1972, from a drowning accident in Little Beaver Creek near his farm in Elkton. His son, Ruud, also died from drowning in 1957.

In 1982, the playing surface at Stambaugh Stadium was named Beede Field. He was part of the inaugural class named to the Youngstown State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985. In Mosure Hall, on the fourth level of Stambaugh Stadium, visitors can see two of the original penalty flags used in that first game in October of 1941, the idea of Dwight “Dike” Beede, and the creation of Irma Beede, that changed the game of football forever.

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