Big game with historical connections

St. Paul Central Coach Scott Howell at James S. Griffin Stadium Friday, September 24
Photo by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald

I missed the football game between St. Paul Johnson and St. Paul Central last Saturday. The matchup between these schools has special meaning.

Here are a few special meanings to support this viewpoint: (1) I graduated from Central, where I also spent two years on the varsity basketball team from 1981-83; (2) I’ve been a social studies teacher at Johnson since 2001; (3) It matched two of the state’s best coaches in Central’s Scott Howell (1984 Central graduate) and Richard Magembe (2004 Johnson graduate); and (4) the game was played at James S. Griffin Stadium (Central), named after a St. Paul community icon.

As I reflected on the game I missed, I started to think more about the historical connections this matchup brought to mind.

First the game.

Dwayne Givens returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown and ran 75 yards for another. Quarterback Elijah Knox completed a 15-yard pass to JaJuan Bobmanuel for a score and another pass to J’Sean Jackson for the two-point conversion, leading Johnson to a 26-14 victory. 

Photo by Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald St. Paul Johnson Coach Richard Magembe at Minneapolis North High School Friday, September 2

Quarterback Cole Fee had touchdown runs of 12 and 2 yards and placekicker Simon Amnuel provided the extra-point conversions to lead Central.

Now let’s get to the historical connections. Oh, where to start!

Givens is the grandson of former St. Paul Johnson basketball great Barron Chapman. The elder Chapman teamed with Monte DeBerry, Wayne Ellis, Chris Garrett, Scott Ackerson, Darron Chapman, Scott Marx, Coy Suggs and Tony Adkins to lead the Governors to the 1983 St. Paul City Conference championship with a 16-0 record.

James S. Griffin was not only the first Black officer in the St. Paul Police Department, he was also the first to become a sergeant, captain and deputy chief. He also refereed high school football and basketball games. Later in life, he served on the St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education.

Griffin’s grandson Chris Garrett also starred in football and earned a scholarship to play at Arizona State University as a tight end in 1984. Younger brother James Garrett actually played on the field named for his grandfather from 1987-90, helping Central capture two city championships in ’87 and ’88.

The stadium was renamed in 1988.

Howell, the head coach at Central after taking the reins following the retirement of Hall of Fame coach Floyd Smaller, has coached the Minutemen since 2000. During his two-year stint as fullback for Central during the 1982 and 1983 seasons, he earned All-Metro honors and went on to play at St. Cloud State University from 1984-87.

Magembe is in his first year at Johnson. He earned All-Conference honors as a linebacker for Johnson before, ironically, earning a scholarship to St. Cloud State University. He played there from 2004-2007.

You can see the head-bust statue of James S. Griffin in a glass case as you enter the stadium. Each Central player touches it before warming up.

I wasn’t at the game, but I definitely felt a connection.

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