The Birth of Youngstown’s Most Famous Child: The Penalty Flag

By Brent Bigelow

If you watch any form of American football you’ve encountered the bright yellow, high-flying penalty flag. They’re annoying, intrusive, delay the game and are normally thrown against your team, but never against your opponent.

The penalty flag was invented by Dwight “Dike” Beede, the first head football coach of Youngstown College, according to YSU Athletics.

Back in the day when an infraction happened on the football field, referees would blow a horn or a whistle to indicate that there was a penalty. The problem was, when they blew the whistle, players would think that the play would be over.

This common problem brought Dike to create something that would mark where the penalty occurred and wouldn’t trick the players into thinking the play was over.

Dike told his wife, Irma Beede (also known as the “Betsy Ross of Football” because she would stitch all the penalty flags together) to make something that was bright and striped, so it was eye-catching. Irma Beede grabbed her daughter’s red Halloween costume and an old bed sheet for the flags. She used lead fishing sinkers from Dike Beede’s tackle box to weigh the flags down.

Once the prototype was created, Dike Beede brought the flag to Rayen Stadium on Oct. 17, 1941, where Oklahoma City University head coach Os Doenges and four game referees agreed to use the flags as an experiment.

One of the refs, Jack McPhee, would take the newly invented penalty flags to Columbus, Ohio, where it was used in an Ohio State football game against Iowa where the league commissioner, Major John Griffith, was a spectator. At first, Griffith was confused why McPhee kept throwing “rags” onto the field, but post-game McPhee explained himself and by 1948 the flag was introduced at the American Football Coaches session.

McPhee would carry and use the original penalty flag at many Princeton, Yale and Ohio State football games until the color finally faded and it was unusable.

McPhee and the original striped penalty flag finally made it to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, where McPhee tossed the flag in front of 100,000 people. The Youngstown-made invention finally made it to “The Granddaddy of Them All.”

The penalty flag is annoying, but it is the most important piece of simplistic technology that is used in all levels of football today. So, the next time you feel your blood pressure rise because the zebra threw a flag, remember — that’s from Youngstown.

1 comment

  1. I wrote about this in 1979 when I was on the sports staff of the Jambar. Just last week, I was talking to Dike Beede’s daughter and son-in-law about this (it was her costume). The flag is now in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Beede lived in Elkton, Ohio, near Rogers. He was a forest engineer and he built a beautiful farm. His son-in-law is the director of the Lou Holts museum in East Liverpool…lots of connections and great history.

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