1997 Team Celebrates 25 Years


photo provided

Joe Bonnema’s 1997 season helmet

Ryan Rose, Reporter

It has been 25 years since Griffith High School brought home the state championship title. Griffith, being the powerhouse that they were, dominated the conference and only lost one game the entire season. Griffith football has changed over the last 25 years. The coaching style, the team, and even the town involvement are all different. Griffith has continued to play most of the same teams now as they did 25 years ago. During the 1997 season, they were ready, prepared, and strived to be state bound. In the regional championship game, Griffith defeated Hobart 35-21, a team that gave them their only regular season loss. That year Griffith became number one in the state and number 17 in the nation. When asked when he knew that they were a state championship team, Ryan Hill, defensive end and linebacker said, “We started the regional game off with an onside kick. There were 7,000 fans at The Boneyard. It was a packed house. We set the momentum there and before you know it we were beating Hobart 35-7. [We knew by] the start of the 4th quarter in the Regional Championship  Game at home.” Griffith then went on to defeat Fort Wayne Bishop Dwanger in a 35-21 victory and continued on to the state championship beating Hamilton Southeastern 49-7

The coaching staff was led by Russ Radtke, who has since left Griffith High School, and Jim Pickett who was on the coaching staff of the team in 1997 and is continuing to coach the current team. When assistant coach Jim Pickett was asked about the state team, he said, “The state championship team was a great collection of young men and coaches that understood their role and worked hard to make the entire program a success. That culture of loyalty, pride, and dedication was held together by Coach Radtke. He has had an impact on many players and coaches over the years including myself. This team was a special group. I am so proud to have been a part of it all.”  

Coach Radtke never had an impossible challenge for the team. They came to practice ready to play. Major contributors to the team included Shane Radtke, Tommy Grasha, Dennis Palucki, and Shawn Andriessen, who all had 1,000 or more offensive yards. The “Wishbone” offense was unstoppable which helped the team have successful seasons in 1996 and 1998. 

Panther Parents will be holding a 25th-anniversary celebration which begins at the football game during Panther Pride night on September 9th. They will be recognized at halftime of the game. The celebration will continue with a dinner being hosted at Bridge’s Scoreboard with highlights of the game being played on TVs throughout the restaurant. Memorabilia will be displayed including Panthers who have since passed, Joe Bonnema’s helmet, and Nick Taylor’s mom wearing his #40 jersey.