Few mayors would hand over the keys to their city to a group of teenage boys for the day, but then again, not many mayors were as confident in the boy citizens of his city as Detroit’s Mayor Albert C. Cobo back in 1952.
Mayor Cobo thought it was so important to develop today’s young men into future leaders that he officially proclaimed Friday, October 17, 1952, as Detroit Boys’ Day.
Defined as “a day upon which the citizens of Detroit can publicly acclaim the leaders of the future,” Boys’ Day allowed a group of teenage boys, selected by the Boys’ Committee of Detroit - a committee of business and civic leaders - to take over the city government for a day. The goal was to teach the boys about the workings of Detroit government in hopes that they would one day take over.
But none of this would have been possible without Detroit Catholic Central High School.
According to a 1955 issue of the Detroit Free Press Newspaper, the event grew out of the annual Boys’ Town – Catholic Central football game, which, until 1952, was a fundraising event that had raised over $600,000 in building funds for each school.
Boys’ Bowl games were so influential that Mayor Cobo encouraged all Detroit citizens to set aside a special day in recognition of the future of Detroit’s leaders, stating in a press release, “The Catholic Central and Boys Town football contest has become one of the really important sports events of the year here in Detroit, one which is undecidedly worthwhile for its own sake, and doubly so on account of the cause which it promotes. This cause is better citizenship – the building of manly men and good Americans. No objective is more worthy of popular support.”
What Happened On Boys’ Day?
The first Boys’ Day featured nominations of over 200 boys between 15 and 18, representing both public and private schools and other agencies that work with boys. Approximately 100 schools and agencies participated, but only three boys from each lot were picked for each post.
The Boys’ Committee of Detroit was responsible for choosing the team of boys who took over the city for the day. In 1952, Thomas Keating was the Chairman of the Boys’ Day Committee.
Other members included Lisle Alexander, Insp. Ralph Baker, Joseph Beattie, Harvey Campbell, Edward Church, John Considine, Edward Crowe, Father Carroll Deady, Lloyd Diehl, A.J. Freitag, Edgar Guest, Ralph Hileman, Semon Knudsen, Bert Livo, Arthur McGrath, Sam Rabinovitz, Samuel Roth, Amos Shields, Ward Smith, Father Wilfred Kehoe, CSB, John Witherspoon, and Elbert Wright.
The General Chairman of the 1952 Boys’ Bowl Game was George Romney, who was known for his outstanding civic leadership duties in Detroit, especially where young people were concerned.
He served on many committees that helped build a better educational, recreational, and cultural life for youth in the Detroit area and later became the Governor of Michigan from 1963-1969. It was his suggestion that the scope of the annual Boys’ Town – Catholic Central game be widened to include the activities of the Boys’ Clubs of Detroit.
On the morning of Boys’ Day, the boys assembled at the Veterans Memorial at 8:30 am before being accompanied by police escort to the City County Building. Upon arrival, they were greeted by the mayor and sworn in. A luncheon followed as well as public speakers.
In the afternoon, the boys inspected city departments and attended a special presentation called “Detroit Tomorrow” by the City Plan Commission. The day ended with a civic dinner and reception at the Statler Hotel, sponsored by the Detroit Board of Commission. The group concluded the workday by attending the annual Boys’ Town – Catholic Central High School football game.
Boys’ Bowl, Bigger Than Football
The history of Boys’ Bowl dates back to 1944, when Catholic Central played Nebraska’s Boys’ Town in the largest sports gathering in America at that time.
The initial game ended in a 14-14 tie with Joe Maglio scoring the first-ever touchdown for Catholic Central High School. It was the start of a continuing series year-after-year between the nation’s two best high school football teams that attracted thousands of spectators and encouraged a day of celebration for the growth of local boys.
Eventually, Catholic Central went on to play other high school teams under the Archdiocese of Detroit during Boys’ Bowl, including U of D, Notre Dame, De La Salle, Detroit Cathedral, and the school’s current biggest rival, Brother Rice.
Today, Shamrocks relate Boys’ Bowl with the Spirit Week before Catholic Central’s homecoming football game. During Spirit Week, Juniors and Seniors paint large banner posters and hang them over the walls and ceilings. The school holds pep rallies with pie-eating contests, tug-of-war contests, and more.
Boys' Bowl weekend kicks off the Friday before the game with the Shamrock Shuffle, which is a fundraising event featuring a walk and run around the high school campus. There is a class reunion for all classes the Saturday before the game and mass is held the afternoon before the game. A homecoming dance takes place that night.
Despite its evolution, the spirit of Catholic Central and Boys’ Bowl remains the same as it did in 1952, with a large emphasis on building tomorrow’s leaders by investing in local young men.
Boys’ Bowl demonstrates the power of sports in fostering community spirit and leadership, as reflected in Mayor Cobo’s bold move to hand over the reins of the city to a group of teenage boys for a day.
Born out of a football rivalry, Boys’ Bowl represents a symbol of community, leadership, and the enduring spirit of Detroit, with an emphasis on grooming our youth into responsible citizens one day.