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Tanks anniversary logo

The Lawrence Herald

IRONTON - Ironton holds the distinction of being one of the first American cities to field a professional football team, forming the groundwork for what would become today's NFL.

The Ironton Tanks were formed 100 years ago this year, and that special anniversary will be recognized on Friday, Sept.13, at halftime of the Ironton vs. Fairland high school football game at Tanks Memorial Stadium.

According to Ironton historian Joe Unger, the Tanks came into being following the Armistice of World War I, when the men of Company I, and several other Ironton veterans, banded together and formed a professional football team.

"These men, veterans of combat in France and Belgium, likened their team to the great land-ships that crossed the battlefields," Unger wrote. "Thus was born one of the first NFL teams, the Ironton Tanks (the stadium still stands and is listed on the National Register). These veteran soldiers proceeded to defeat early NFL powerhouses. The Chicago Bears, the New York Giants and the Kansas City Cowboys all fell to the Tanks."

The Tanks franchise was active up until the 1930s, when it was absorbed by the Portsmouth Spartans, today's Detroit Lions.

The Tanks helped launch the professional football career of Glenn Presnell, who was a star at Nebraska University when he came to Ironton to play football and teach science at Ironton High School in 1929. Presnell was known as the oldest living NFL player until he died in 2004 at the age of 99. After an illustrious NFL career followed by prestigious coaching jobs, Presnell chose to return to Ironton to live out his retirement years.

Presnell, who played halfback for the Tanks, and several of his Tanks teammates, joined the Portsmouth Spartans when the Tanks folded in 1931.

In 1934, the Spartans moved to Detroit and became the Lions. Presnell became one of the team's star players. He was the player who chose the Honolulu-blue and silver colors for the Lions jerseys.

He played on the Lions 1935 NFL championship team before retiring in 1936.

Presnell served as the football coach at Nebraska in 1942 before becoming a longtime coach and athletic director at Eastern Kentucky University.

The highlight of the Ironton Tanks was a three-week period when the team took the train to Cincinnati and played at Redland Field against both the Giants and the Bears in 1930.

"A bunch of people from the Ironton area would get on the train and go down to Cincinnati to watch the games," Kay Rader, with the Lawrence County Historical Society, told The Herald-Dispatch for a previous story. "They would play down there when they were expecting a big crowd."

The Tanks beat the Bears and Hall of Fame Player Red Grange by a score of 26-13.

A couple of weeks later, the Tanks beat the New York Giants by a score of 13-12. The Tanks were trailing with only a few seconds left in the game when Presnell threw a touchdown pass and then kicked the extra point to put the Tanks ahead.

In its 12-year history, the Tanks had a record of 88-17 with 15 ties.

The Ironton Tigers continue to play in the original Tanks stadium 100 years later.

The Fighting Tigers-Dragons Ohio Valley Conference match up will kick off at 7 p.m. at Tanks Memorial Stadium.

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