The Mosquito Bowl

This weekend marks the “Memorial Day Holiday,” where we remember those who have given their lives in sacrifice for the freedoms we all enjoy. Veteran’s Day (Nov 11) is intended to honor all veterans, but Memorial Day is focused on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. As you gather with family and friends, light the barbeque, and begin the summer season, please recall those who made it possible.

In 2022, Buzz Bissenger, (Author of “Friday Night Lights,” a book, movie, and TV show, familiar to many football fans) wrote a book called “The Mosquito Bowl,” about a group of college all-star football players who all ended up in a semi-organized football game on the island of Guadalcanal on Dec 24, 1944. Though merely 8 months from the end of the War, they also faced a seeming lifetime of trials and tribulations.

Some of the players included:

— George Murphy, team captain at Notre Dame and the son of a clerk in South Bend, Indiana.

— Tony Butkovich, an All-American at Purdue and one of seven sons of a Croatian coal miner in central Illinois.

— Robert Bauman, a tackle and punter at Wisconsin. As a kid he had gone to work in the onion fields near his hometown south of Chicago after his father died.

— David Schreiner, an All-American end at Wisconsin whose German immigrant grandfather had established a prosperous family in Lancaster.

All were in their 20s when they played in the Mosquito Bowl and ultimately fought in the battle of Okinawa. Their World War II experience changed them just as it would hundreds of thousands of other Americans, their families, and friends.

I wouldn’t expect readers to know the names of these men or the countless other young football players who like them who found themselves fighting and in some cases dying for the freedoms we enjoy today.

However, in reading about them, I also recognize commonalities among the hundreds, perhaps even thousands of players I’ve played with and coached in the last four decades. While the names might be different, the character attributes are the same: selfless, dedicated, dependable, trustworthy, team-oriented… all had seemingly unlimited potential to be husbands, fathers, role models, and mentors. Men of integrity who would have led their community, and led others to greatness. Each name and circumstance could easily be from the hometown or city most familiar to the reader, and it’s exactly this “everyman” characteristic that makes the story so compelling.

While I am saddened by their lives cut short, I am bolstered by their ability to translate both the physical and moral elements of football to become players worthy of mention in Bissinger’s novel. I hope none of our student-athletes find themselves in a circumstance where such a sacrifice would be called for. Yet at the same time, I find myself drawn to the character, integrity, and courage underpinning each of those described in Bissinger’s book.

In the Bible, John, Chapter 15, verse 13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I salute the men and women who have sacrificed to ensure we have the opportunity to both recognize and honor them by emulating their honor, courage, and commitment. Those we honor this weekend; are the teammates we someday hope to be worthy of. Those we honor years from now are likely young men and women cut from the same cloth. Shaped by family, teammates, teachers, and coaches… We should be so lucky to turn over the responsibility of our society to leaders like those Bissinger describes in his book, and we’re blessed to work with student-athletes like that every day.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time! 

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