Some 55 years ago, George Shafer was a 6-foot-4-inch star student athlete at Union High School.
Shafer, a Co-Captain along with Bob Carmichael, played right tackle and defensive end for the 1962 unbeaten, league-winning Golden Knights football team. Shafer was also the starting center for the 1963 Knights basketball squad, which did not lose a game during the regular season in two consecutive seasons, either.
Shafer played under Pennsylvania High School Sports Hall of Fame coaches Rich Vidunas in football and Don Stemmerich in basketball during what is considered the “golden years” of Union athletics. He scored 1,280 points in his hoops career, and graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer, a mark that held up for over 40 years.
It would seem peculiar then, that a small town kid from Purity Avenue in Rimersburg, would end up as part of the Midwest Football League’s championship winning 1970 Lansing All-Star Football team that was recently inducted into the Greater Lansing Area Sports Hall of Fame in Michigan on July 26. But that is exactly what happened to Shafer.
After graduating from Union, Shafer attended Richmond University, and then came back home to work at Owens-Illinois glass plant, before transferring to another factory in Charlotte, Michigan. His friend Dan Hosey from Rimersburg was working with him there when he gave Shafer an idea.
“Dan would tell me to put out a resume up to the team (in Lansing). I told Dan at the time, ‘I’m 26 years old, I’m overweight and extremely slow.’ But I mailed one up anyway. It’s thanks to Dan Hosey that I’m in the Hall of Fame.”
Shafer said that soon thereafter, he was contacted by Robert “Turf” Kauffman, the head coach of the team in Lansing.
The now 74-year-old Shafer said that another big key to his ultimately being a part of the now enshrined team was that shortly after graduating, he had participated in the annual Big 33 football classic in Hershey, a matchup of high school players from Pennsylvania and Ohio. It just so happened that Kauffman was from Hershey, and after receiving Shafer’s resume, had given him a tryout.
Shafer said that he had decided he was going to quit not long into the season, because of the caliber of players on his new team
“There were All-Americans sitting on the bench with me from Michigan, Michigan State, Oregon,” Shafer said, thinking he had little chance to play. “But when one of my teammates broke his ankle, I stepped into the wide receiver position and started for two years.”
The former lineman said he was in better shape than he had been, but wasn’t necessarily a deep threat.
“I wasn’t real fast, but I caught a lot of passes. When I would do an out pattern, the quarterback would throw the pass to me like I was one of the speedsters,” Shafer said. “So I would reach out and just catch it with my fingertips. The owner of the team just loved it.”
The 1970 Lansing All-Star Football team went 10-0 during the regular season. Over two seasons (1969 and 1970), its overall record was 28-0. The team averaged 35 points per game and held their opponents to an average of 8 points. They also won the Midwest Football League championship during Shafer’s short but successful two year tenure. A tenure in which Shafer said he made $7,500 a week.
“By the grace of God, all of it happened,” Shafer said. “I thank God for the opportunity.”
Shafer said he decided after one particularly cold game in which he couldn’t close his hands to catch the ball, to call it quits. He bought a camper and traveled around the country, before ending up in Tucson, Ariz., working as a contractor.
Now, Shafer is retired, still living in Tucson with his wife Donna, albeit partly immobilized and getting around through the use of a wheelchair and a couple of scooters.
Shafer said when he attended the ceremony in which his team was inducted, each of his teammates from long ago as well as he himself also received plaques commemorating the occasion. Still, Shafer noted that it felt like not much had changed after getting back together with his team.
“My teammates were so good to me. It was almost hard to describe. You know, after 50 years, it was like yesterday with those guys,” Shafer said. “We laughed and had a good time.”
Shafer’s team is now part of a Hall of Fame that includes Lansing area native Magic Johnson, and Hall of Fame baseball players John Smoltz and Charlie Gehringer.
Not bad company at all.