Shoeless Wonders Come Back For Homecoming
Lynchburg, VA - They were nearly undefeated and made a name for themselves more than fifty years ago. The Shoeless Wonders were a football team of orphans from Lynchburg's Presbyterian Home back in the 1940's. This weekend they were reunited for their old home's Homecoming. Most of the boys came from broken homes to live at the Presbyterian Home. The team of 15 played football without their shoes on, and they were still good, actually. The group grew up together and became a team on and off the field."I was standing out here and they were playing a game, you throw it up in the air and whoever caught it got killed by all the rest of them," said John Swisher who came to the Presbyterian Home when he was eight years old and had never heard of football.Swisher says some kids dropped the ball and he just picked it up."I took off running, the next thing I knew I was knocked out... I ran into the goal post! And they just came on picked up the ball and went on like I wasn't even there. That was my first introduction to football," said Swisher.From then on, Swisher and his friends couldn't put the football down."We never lost a little league game and we lost one varsity game," said Swisher. The boys, now men, grew up in the brick houses they visited again this weekend."When we came here and had indoor plumbing we thought we done hit the jackpot," said Cliff Thomas."First few years I was real nervous, until the football starts, football games started playing," said Jim Swisher.The team formed bonds that can't be broken. They all spoke fondly of their coach Jim Blackburn, once a resident at the Presbyterian Home himself. Swisher says Blackburn taught them the love of football and values they still have to this day."When you come out here and you've got somebody who gives their time to make you feel special, that helps," said Jim Swisher.After all of the years of growing up with football, the former team members say it never gets old coming home."I don't think I've missed a homecoming since 1946," said Swisher."Home, this was home," said Thomas."It was when we reflect on it, an absolutely wonderful life," said Hugh Stallerd.Many team members went on to be successful in life. Some became lawyers, others CEO's of corporations. There were teachers and fire fighters, too. Members say the entire team stays in touch as often as they can.