With over 100 years of football, Monroe High School has seen many great athletes suit up for for the Orange and the Black. Even with the game changing throughout the years, there have been stars that have carved out their place in Bearcat football lore. This list covers some of the best running backs in Monroe history that defined the position in their time. This is by no means a complete list of great Bearcat running backs, notable players like Isaiah Lewis and Smiley Creswell will be covered in later articles. In this series, we’ll be focusing on great running backs from four different eras of football to highlight their accomplishments and contributions to program history. The first running back of the series will be none other than the legendary speedster, Lee Orr.
Early Life and Football Career
Lee Orr was born in 1917 in Saskatchewan, Canada. His family moved to Monroe when he was only 3 years old and it would be where Orr spent his childhood. While he was an extraordinary track athlete, Lee joined the football team in 1931 as a freshman. He joined a Bearcat football team that had reached its peak in the 1920’s and looked to be on the decline. In his first season, the team had a mediocre 3-4 record. He saw more action in his sophomore season and, along with his older brother Jack, showed flashes of talent. The brotherly duo of Lee and Jack were formidable but the 1932 campaign ended up being another losing season. Even with another lackluster record, the presence of Lee Orr gave Monroe much to look forward to in 1933.
By the time he was a junior in 1933, Lee Orr became the undisputed star of the team. The Monroe Monitor praised Orr, saying, “Coach Sackett will have one of the best men in the county. It is doubtful if a better prospective football candidate ever called for a suit on any Monroe team.” In the opening game against Arlington, Orr intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown to seal the victory. Monroe cruised to victories against Sultan and Marysville, setting themselves firmly within the county title hunt. Orr was injured during the Marysville game and his absence in the next few games derailed the season for Monroe. Orr played little against Stanwood and missed games against Edmonds and East Stanwood, resulting in two ties and a loss. Without Orr to carry the team, the Bearcats saw their title hopes disappear. Orr returned to end his junior season on a high note, scoring two touchdowns in a 13-0 victory over Snohomish.
Orr’s Finest season
After a solid but disappointing junior season, expectations for Orr’s senior year were sky high in 1934. The same could not be said of the rest of the team as Orr was once again looked to carry the Bearcats to a county title. Without a supporting cast, the Bearcats started the season with a loss to Arlington before beating Sultan and finishing with a tie against Marysville. This underwhelming start to the season led the new head coach, Stan Bates, to find help for Orr. A reported from Monitor stated bluntly, “To date Orr has carried practically the entire offensive threat.” With the introduction of Bud Rodgers to running back, the team flourished as Orr got the backup he needed. The Bearcats run over their next three opponents, setting up an important showdown with the rival Snohomish Panthers in the last game of the season.
On the muddy Monroe homefield, Orr dazzled everyone in attendence in his final game. The Bearcats first pulled off a trick play that completely fooled the Panthers, allowing Orr to scamper 40 yards for his first touchdown. The next score came when Orr picked off a Snohomish pass and ran it back 50 yards for another score. His final touchdown came when a bad Snohomish punt was caught by Orr and taken back 30 yards for his third touchdown of the game, sealing a 19-7 upset victory. On Orr’s exploits, the Monitor declared, “The whole game was a display of individual ability by the speedy Monroe halfback, who despite a field sloppy with mud, showed the large crowd a football performance they won’t soon forget.” Lee Orr’s final game as a Bearcat was fitting end to his high school career but his pinnacle as an athlete was still to be seen.
WSC Career and the 1936 Olympics
After graduating from Monroe, Orr enrolled at Washington State College in 1934 to join his brother, Jack, on the track team. Despite his skill on the gridiron, WSC Coach O.E. Hollingberry did not see Orr as an asset to his team. Nevertheless, Lee did make the team but played in a limited role towards the end of his college career. This allowed Orr to focus on his track career and he made a name for himself as an extremely talented sprinter. Orr’s transcendent ability was put to the test when he competed to represent Canada in the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, earning a spot to compete in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. In the 200 meter dashes, Orr made it to the final round and finished in 5th place. With the Olympics over, Orr returned to WSC and graduated with his Education degree in 1940. He later fought with the United States Army in Europe during World War II. He survived the war and lived out the rest of his days in Monroe, passing away in 2009.
In the early 1930’s, no Bearcat player was ever as renowned or highly touted as Lee Orr. Though Monroe had seen talented running backs in its early years, none matched Orr’s pure ability and talent on the football field. His athletic ability could carry an entire team and for the majority of his career, he was depended on to do just that. Despite never making an impact at the college level in football, Orr’s talent as an All-American track star and Olympian speaks for itself. Even with over a century of talented players, Lee Orr still ranks as one of the finest running backs in school history and the greatest athlete in Monroe history.
List of Sources
Monroe High School Yearbooks, 1930-1934
The Monroe Monitor, 1930-1934
The Washington State Evergreen, 1935-40
HistoryLink Article on Orr’s Life