’79 Falcon football team honored at Wall of Fame banquet

The 12-1 Langley Falcons football team gathers for a group photo outside the Kingdome. The team  finished the 1979 season with just one loss, to Omak in the title game. - Photo courtesy of Charlie Davies
The 12-1 Langley Falcons football team gathers for a group photo outside the Kingdome. The team finished the 1979 season with just one loss, to Omak in the title game.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Charlie Davies

The Falcons’ most celebrated warriors of the gridiron will take another victory lap later this week.

The 12-1 Langley football team that went to the 1979 state championship game will be honored Friday, Oct. 8 at the South Whidbey High School Wall of Fame Banquet during homecoming.

Student-athletes also to be honored at the banquet include former football stars Henry Mead and Hunter Rawls, as well as fastpitch standouts Allison Wood and Melanie Murphy.

In total, 10 former student-athletes will be inducted, an increase from the usual six honored in years past, said Ursula Shoudy, co-president of the SWHS booster club.

Damian Greene, the master of ceremonies and a member of the 1979 football team, said the event is more about the future of South Whidbey than the past.

“They’re very deserving to be represented for a long, long time in the Wall of Fame,” said Greene of the student-athlete honorees.

“I hope it instills the spirit of the past into the youth.”

Jim Leirer and Greg Willis coached the 1979 team to 11-0 going into playoffs.

It beat the top-ranked team, Castle Rock, 30-14, in the semifinal game. Greene said Castle Rock had allowed only one touchdown in 11 games before facing Langley.

Langley led 16-6 at halftime against a team that never trailed heading into the locker room that season. Greene also said his team may have peaked against Castle Rock and took the championship for granted after defeating the favored team.

The win sent Langley to the Kingbowl against Omak.

“All I remember is after the first quarter they were crying,” said Brian Stelling, a strongside linebacker, backup fullback and team captain on the 1979 team. “We ran right at them. It was smash-mouth football.”

In the championship game, the undefeated Falcons faced the 11-1 Omak Pioneers. In the Kingbowl, the Falcons lost 7-6, which ties them for the lowest-scoring championship game in Washington state history.

But Langley also holds a championship-game record for the longest fumble recovery for a touchdown, 52 yards.

Greene was a defensive and offensive tackle and a team captain in 1979. As a senior on the historic team, Greene credited the team’s success to senior leadership and community support, more than to individual talent.

“We thought until the last second of the game we were going to win,” Greene said. “You come out of a game losing 7-6, it’s a heartbreak.”

Fellow team captains Bob Iddins and Stelling agreed. Iddins was the quarterback on the 1979 team.

“It’s nice to be recognized as one of the best teams to come out of Langley and South Whidbey,” Stelling said. “It was absolutely the best high school experience I had.”

A retired Lieutenant Commander in the Coast Guard, Iddins called the experience of being honored surreal.

“I never expected it,” Iddins said. “I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity to have the team be honored for the value the team provided for the community and for the school.”

Iddins praised former Falcon coach Leirer. Iddins visits coach Leirer and his wife every time he’s here from Annapolis, Md. Iddins was on Whidbey this summer for the 30th reunion, but Leirer was out of town for a family wedding and he regretted not being able to visit his former coach.

“The man is a living legend,” Iddins said. “I owe a great deal of my personal foundation and life success to the man. His leadership and mentorship go way beyond the athletic field.”

Shoudy, of the booster club, is proud of its increasing membership.

She also said the club helped to increase the amount of financial support for South Whidbey from around $3,000 to $30,000. The money is used for equipment and grounds and facilities maintenance.

In years past, the booster club was more for spirit and support than aiding athletics financially, Shoudy said.

“Now with the budget cuts, it’s more for necessity,” she said.

In the banquet’s fifth year, Shoudy and co-president Jodi Grimm expect 350 guests. The banquet costs $5 per person and all the proceeds go to South Whidbey athletics.

The booster club is able to keep the cost down and proceeds high because of local donors and businesses, Shoudy said.

The banquet starts with dinner at 4:45, followed by the program at 5 p.m.

Iddins recalls the packed stadium at home games and the parade of cars that followed the buses from the school to the ferry. Stelling remembers the cars honking all the way to the ferry.

“You can’t put a value on that,” Iddins said. “It’s really not about us. It’s about the community.”

During the 1979 football season, the Langley Falcons defeated the Sultan Turks 48-20 on homecoming night.

Now, 31 years later, the South Whidbey Falcons have an opportunity to take a page from the history book to write a new story when it hosts Sultan again on Homecoming Friday. Game time is at 7 p.m.

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