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Celebratory cannon tradition returns to Anthony Wayne

2011 grads' gift harks back to '80s

  • Celebratory-cannon-tradition-returns-to-Anthony-Wayne-2

    In his senior year at Anthony Wayne, Jeff Chamberlain, left, joined friends Dave Gray, Tom Glover, and Roland Gallardo with his cannon. It replaced a smaller one Mr. Chamberlain also had built, from plans in a magazine.

    <The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • Celebratory-cannon-tradition-returns-to-Anthony-Wayne

    Jeff Chamberlain recently pulled out of storage this cannon, which he built himself in the late 1970s and fired after touchdowns by the Anthony Wayne team.

    <The Blade/Andy Morrison
    Buy This Image

Celebratory-cannon-tradition-returns-to-Anthony-Wayne

Jeff Chamberlain recently pulled out of storage this cannon, which he built himself in the late 1970s and fired after touchdowns by the Anthony Wayne team.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Growing up, Jeff Chamberlain stumbled upon a teenage boy's dream: a how-to-build-a-cannon article in Mechanix Illustrated magazine.

Mr. Chamberlain had memories of a man shooting off a cannon -- actually a 10-gauge shotgun that used blanks -- at Anthony Wayne High School Generals' football games during the 1970s.

The booms celebrated the local team's touchdowns.

Eventually, the cannon went away, and when Mr. Chamberlain was a high school freshman in 1976 he decided he would try to resurrect the school tradition and make his own cannon, using the article as a guide.

He built a model naval cannon about five feet long with a three-inch-diameter barrel, then tested it out at home because, he said, "my dad and I weren't too sure about this thing."

The cannon worked. In fact, it worked a little too well. "It was so loud, we couldn't believe it," Mr. Chamberlain said. "It'd take your breath away."

The cannon was back at the Generals' football games.

And after a while, Mr. Chamberlain grew more ambitious. He upgraded the cannon, building one that looked like it came straight from the Civil War.

The second cannon was about seven or eight feet long with a half-foot-wide diameter barrel.

It fired -- usually a wad of newspapers or a Wiffle ball -- from the force of a chemical reaction caused by calcium carbide and water mixing together.

But the gas reaction wasn't instantaneous.

Mr. Chamberlain needed two or three minutes to get the cannon ready to fire, which can be a lifetime in a quick-paced game of football.

When he anticipated the Generals about to score, Mr. Chamberlain prepared the cannon, but occasionally the delayed boom would sound as the Generals fumbled the ball and the opposing team scored instead.

The noise was so powerful that spectators told him they could feel it in their chest.

By the early 1980s, Mr. Chamberlain was married to his high school sweetheart, Becky, and too busy for Friday night football games. School officials were also worried about the liability of shooting the cannon.

Celebratory-cannon-tradition-returns-to-Anthony-Wayne-2

In his senior year at Anthony Wayne, Jeff Chamberlain, left, joined friends Dave Gray, Tom Glover, and Roland Gallardo with his cannon. It replaced a smaller one Mr. Chamberlain also had built, from plans in a magazine.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

They agreed to retire the cannon, said Mr. Chamberlain, a 1980 Anthony Wayne graduate. He disassembled it and stored it in a building about a quarter mile from the high school, where it was forgotten.

Until now.

Last year, seniors wanted a more traditional present to give the school as a class gift.

For about $2,000, the 2011 class bought from a specialty store in Canton "a little Civil War cannon" that shoots black powder, said Principal Jeri Hoellrich

"I know the football team is just thrilled and the student body is so excited," said Ms. Hoellrich, who notified village officials so nobody would "think anything bad happened at the school" before they shot off the cannon. It made its debut Sept. 30 against Bowling Green High School.

Mr. Chamberlain, who never left Whitehouse and now owns the Buzz Family Diner, General Pro Hardware, and the Whitehouse Party Store, said the new cannon has prompted people to ask him what happened to his homemade creation. He recently pulled it out of storage.

Mr. Chamberlain, 49, still goes to football games and will see the tradition come back -- though this time as a spectator in the crowd. Someday, his son, Joe, an eighth grader at Anthony Wayne Junior High, will play football there and experience the same crowd pleaser as his father did as a youth.

"It's a neat thing," Mr. Chamberlain said.

Contact Gabrielle Russon at: grusson@theblade.com or 419-724-6026.

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