As a football coach, the fall of 1960 was more to the liking of former Haverhill star Bill Leeman.

That was the year that 11-man football was reintroduced at Perley High School, which the next year — upon the completion of a new facility — would be renamed Georgetown High School.

The previous year at Perley High as a first-year coach, after graduating from Drake University, Leeman was the coach of the area's last six-man football team. And he admits he learned that version of the game on the fly.

"It was a wide-open game and you could make up some pretty good plays," said the 79-year-old Leeman, who played in the Sun Bowl with Drake back in 1957. "I was more excited about 11-man football because I knew more about it, but we did the best we could."

Because of the limited enrollment at Perley, six-man football started in 1954 and filled a need in an area where the sport was growing in popularity.

It was a godsend, for example, for George "Skip" Prescott, who played the game all four years at Perley before graduating in 1958.

"I would have loved to play 11-man football, but my parents had moved to Georgetown and that's all we had, and I liked it," said the 71-year-old Prescott, who currently lives in West Newbury. "I weighed 160 pounds and I was faster than hell, so it was my kind of football.

"I enjoyed the heck out of it. I was fast and mean and you had to be both. I had a nasty streak to me. I'd run into people instead of running around them."

Dick Spofford, whose father, Bert, was a well-known athlete and later a local sports historian, remembers watching Prescott and his Perley teammates play the six-man game.

"As a young boy, I went to all the six-man games and just loved them," said Spofford, a 1964 graduate of Georgetown and a fine football player in his own right. "Two things that impressed me were the absolute speed of the game and the violence of it.

"When you were playing six-man football, you had to be one heck of an athlete. Linemen had to be quick — the big, lumbering linemen of today wouldn't be able to play. They'd be keeping score.

"I remember watching Skip Prescott. He was one tough cookie and, pound for pound, he could play with anyone."

Over four years, Prescott scored 13 touchdowns for Perley and many people believe he was the most talented six-man football player to ever play the game. But Prescott disagrees.

"I would never say that," said Prescott. "You've got to consider Chet Holt — I could run like a deer, but Chet Holt was faster than me. He was faster than greased lightning."

Holt played on the final six-man squad, which went 3-3-1 under Leeman, in 1959, and recalls how important it was to be fast. Late in the season that final year, the speed of the game was hit home after the team added a few players and played an 11-man scrimmage against Pentucket.

"I remember playing in that scrimmage and the play seemed so much slower," said Holt. "Six-man football was fast and wide open, but it was also really physical. One time, I chipped my hip bone and I was out for a couple of weeks.

"My favorite play was getting the ball, going right up the middle and then going to the outside. It was just a lot of fun."

There were several different rules for six-man football, which is something else that Leeman had to get used to.

For example, every player was an eligible receiver, a quarterback had to pitch the ball instead of handing it off and at least two players had to handle the ball on each play.

The latter rule meant that a quarterback couldn't take the snap and run. However, a favorite play was to have the center snap the ball to make contact with the quarterback's hands and then break for the end zone for a quick pass over the middle.

The playing fields were 80 yards long and 40 feet wide, instead of 100 by 53, and teams had to go 15 yards for a first down. Field goals were worth four points and a conversion kick was worth two points. A conversion run or pass was only worth one point.

Perhaps because they were so wide open and featured plenty of speed and athleticism, the games were highly entertaining and drew crowds upward of 500 fans. The games were generally played at 10 a.m. on Saturdays so as not to compete with Haverhill, and other 11-man programs, which played in the afternoon.

Among the opponents for Perley were Story of Manchester, Lancaster, Eliot (Maine), Harvard and the Cambridge School of Weston.

Although there was a strong following for six-man football, 11-man football was becoming more popular all the time. In the late 50s, the New York Giants were attracting a huge following and that started filtering down to the lower levels.

Thus, when Pentucket approached Leeman about a scrimmage in 1959, his players were excited about it. They recruited some extra students and went over to Pentucket and outscored the Sachems three TDs to one. All three Perley scores came on pass plays over the middle from quarterback Dennis Simcoe to halfback Gerry Seaman.

"That was seen as kind of a trial to see if we would have enough kids and be competitive for 11-man football," said Leeman.

The answer was yes on both counts, which led to the rebirth of 11-man football (there were two seasons of it in the 1920s) at Perley. Since then, largely under Jim Collamore, who took over for Leeman in 1961 when Leeman went to Newburyport, 11-man football at Georgetown has been going strong.

Later this month, at its homecoming, Georgetown will be celebrating its 50th anniversary of 11-man football. It will be a memorable event, for sure, but it might not have taken place without its predecessor of six-man football.

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