Monday, July 18, 2016

Staying connected (or not) ... my political world

        So I've taken a three-week break from blogging, for one reason because the last two weeks have been so difficult.
     These have been sad times, depressing -- and I don't like being depressed. I want to think that my world view is more optimistic, but these last 14 days ... dang, it's hard.
     Makes me sometimes wish I could do without television, the computer and the phone.
     Which is why six hours two weeks ago Tuesday -- July 5 -- were actually kind of nice but also distressing.
     Got up that morning, the night after a significant storm hit here, to find that (1) my computer would not connect to the Internet and (2) the TV would come on, then not function.
     Those kind of things can mean panic here in this apartment.
     See the accompanying photo: That's our TV/Internet (U-Verse) modem. If those five green lights are on, good. If four are on, OK. Anything less, and especially if the bottom one turns red, uh-oh.
     We weren't totally out of touch. Bea's I-Pad was working fine; my phone was connected to the Internet. So e-mail and Facebook and Twitter were available there.
     But I like the TV; I like the computer -- and I want to use them. No such luck that day.
     Still, through the other devices, we weren't cut off from the world. So we learned this ...
     It was that morning that the news broke that the FBI was not going to charge you-know-who with wrongdoing in regard to e-mail servers. That news, of course, sent many people into orbit. 
     I've written this once or twice or 128 times before -- I try not to discuss politics online or with my friends who I know don't see the political/social world the same way I do. Does no good; only can cause hard feelings, and I value the friendships more than telling those people how stupid and gullible they are.
     I am going to say this again: I am sick and tired of this political season. I have been sick and tired of it for more than a year; I am going to be sick and tired of it through at least early November. 
     Aren't you?
     The answer to that is yes. But it's also no, not enough to shut up about it. I am appalled at the harshness, the bitterness, the ugliness of so many people's Facebook posts and e-mails about so many things.
     On Facebook, I have "turned off" many people's posts. But I do not turn off all of the posts I don't like because I want to keep somewhat of an open mind. There are people I respect, longtime friends, that I might not agree with -- aw, heck, I disagree -- but I will consider their viewpoint.
     They won't change my mind, but I pay attention. Because I want to stay connected to the world.
     So back to that morning and afternoon without my computer and the TV. I am not a technologically minded person; I am not a dumbass ... but close (there's a laugh there). It took a while, but I have figured out enough on the computer to set up my blog, write it, insert photos and then post it.      
     On this day, though, nothing I did was working. Then, nothing on the TV moved. The remote control doesn't scare me as badly as it did for months, but be it computer or TV, I am fearful of tinkering too much and making matters worse.
     So I knew to call AT&T for technical support. Doing so  is generally a pain in the behind. But at least I didn't panic as badly.
     It took two phone calls -- got cut off the first time -- and two disconnecting and resets of the system, but when the red light on the modem turned green, I knew we were about back in business on the TV.
     The computer, not so much. I looked and looked and looked, and could not find the network/sharing page I needed. The "off" button for connectivity stayed off.
     Before making a third call to AT&T -- this is now 6 p.m. -- I decided to keep looking, keep trying. And ... yes! I found the right button, the right page, and as soon as I did, I saw the "off" button for connectivity switch to on.
     By then, I'd also found that I somehow had switched on the button, bottom left front on the computer, for Bluetooth -- thus preventing the normal Internet connection. But even after that, the problem was -- I think -- that the storm the night before had knocked off my computer offline.
     Once I put in the Internet access code and the password (a complicated one), I was back in business.
     And then the two weeks of bad news began, every day or so it seemed. Baton Rouge, Minnesota, Dallas, Bastille Day in Nice, France, coup attempt in Turkey and hundreds dead, Baton Rouge again. 
     This after the Pulse club in Orlando, after Paris, San Bernardino, Charleston, Colorado, and go back some, Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Colorado again ... back, back, back to Oklahoma City and 9-11. Schools, churches, military bases, planes blown up or disappearing, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East for Europe.
     It's just keeps happening. So fast now it's hard to keep up. What a world, what a country we're living in.
     Meanwhile, there are the memorial services and the tributes, and the reporting and analysis never-ending on news shows. The endless debate on gun control and on racial matters and on ISIS and ...
     Practically every day, the candidates for President hammering, belittling each other. People hammering, belittling the candidates. People playing the Blame Game. Blame the Black Lives Matter movement, blame the white supremacists, blame ISIS, blame the LGBT people, blame guns, blame the media, blame the liberals, blame the conservatives, blame Hillary, blame Trump, blame the President. Always blame the President.
      It goes with the President's job. We've been listening -- for a couple of months -- to an audio tape (33 discs) and here is what we heard late last week:
       "... What is indisputable is that the democratic Republican society led to a much more raucous style of American politics. Instead of discussing politics politely at dinner tables or in smoky taverns, these groups were likely to take to the streets in mass rallies.
      "These government critics also had few qualms about chastising their leaders. ... Now the opposition sought to debunk [the President's] entire life and tear to shreds the upright image he had so sedulously fostered. ..."
      Talking about Obama? Oh, no. George Washington!
      The book is Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, also the author of Hamilton, which led to the Broadway musical (ever hear of it?).
       At the end of his second term, Washington was pretty darned unpopular, particularly with some of his fellow Founding Fathers (such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Presidents-to-be Nos. 3 and 4).
       George Washington, the Father of our feuding country.
      Heck, I blame Jerry Jones. Nah, not this time (wait a couple of months).
      Blame Nick Saban, who assures us it's much tougher being a college football head coach than, say, being an officer of the law. Just don't ask him about disciplining his players for a little marijuana use and a gun in their car ... because, well, there are LSU fans in Louisiana and the system is "rigged" (gee, where have we heard that?).
       If the media dares to ask Coach Saban, well, blame them, too ... for doing their jobs.
       I blame the New York Yankees, for some mediocre baseball this season. But as I often say and know full well, not many people feel sorry for them. Also know this: We've won our share and lots of other teams' shares.
       Really, I blame Richard Nixon -- for everything. That's an easy one.
       The worst President ever. He was a crook. Twice-elected, Republicans. Hard to forgive that; soured me forever on Republicans. But you have a chance to top it this year.
        Just got done reading Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward. Oh, Tricky Dick. Talk about crooked and liar, about self-absorbed, arrogant, deceitful, paranoid, conspiracy theories, and "a secret plan" that really wasn't there. And, out of the public and media's sight, cursing and a blacklist.
         Give Mr. Trump this: Unlike Nixon, he doesn't hide his terribly slanted views. His flaws are out there. I could go on, but I'm not going to.
          I'll blame Trump for stirring up the nation's anger, and taking millions with him. And millions will blame Hillary ... and Obama and, well, George Washington.
         Here's my disqualifier for Trump; I could list a thousand reasons. But if David Duke endorses you, if Bobby Knight speaks up for you ... that's enough for me.
         Ah, I got into politics some, didn't I? Sorry to bother you.
         I like news shows, news/analysis shows; I want to hear and see the reasoning, the differing viewpoints. Might not agree, but I want to do my own evaluation.
         Can't hide from the bad news, either. Wish it wasn't so. The protest marches, the mass deaths remind us of the difficult days -- mixed in with great times -- of the late 1950s and the 1960s. 
          I am not a political/social expert, not a pundit. But I have been telling Bea for months that I feel a revolution of sorts coming on -- maybe from minority groups, from the middle/lower class, and from the disenfranchised majority.
         There is anger, and there is violence, there are these "wild cards" -- and it's playing out in the streets, across the world. And the "blame game," particularly by our politicians, just stirs up the anger.
          Can't avoid seeing it on TV or on the Internet. Unless you abstain or you can't connect online.
          (After President Obama was re-elected in 2012, I wrote a blog piece saying we needed to move on. One of my sportswriter friends wrote and said I should stick to sports. Good idea ... but I'm living in the world, not just the sports world.)
          The previous two weeks have been ugly, and sad. I expect the next two weeks, with our political conventions, could be ugly -- mayhem in the streets in Cleveland and maybe Philadelphia. It could be a sign of what's to come in the next four years.

          And the rest of the world is shaky, too.
          I don't want to be angry, or depressed, so after I post this blog, I will take a two-week break from Facebook -- I know you'll miss me -- and I will limit my TV watching.
          I will watch the NBC Nightly News and the PBS Newshour and CBS' Sunday Morning because I like those and they keep me informed, and I'll keep up with the below-.500 New York Yankees (not much fun right now). Too early to worry about LSU football.

         You can have politics.
         And if the lights on the modem don't come on, and the Internet and TV don't work, for the next two weeks ... no panic. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Joe Reding: LSU football was "the greatest experience"

    (Third of three parts)
    He was at LSU from the fall of 1964 until his graduation in the spring of 1969, and Joe Reding calls being part of the LSU football program "the greatest experience of my life. They treated us so well."
LSU football, program photo
    It is an example of his athletic ability, his strength and good feet, that he was able to go from running back and linebacker in high school to the offensive line in college.
    He gained weight before his freshman season -- perhaps a factor in limiting his shot put potential that spring -- and was at 220 pounds when he reported to training camp in August.
    With only upperclassmen eligible for varsity ball in NCAA Division I at the time, he played on the freshman team in 1964, a four-game schedule, and practicing against the varsity, he learned something.
    "There was no way a freshman could ever have played on varsity then anyway," he said. "There was such a gap between the freshmen and the guys who had been there a year or more. It's not like today where kids come out of high school and they're All-Americans as freshmen. In those days, a freshman wouldn't have a prayer in hell of playing."
    By spring practice of 1965, he was down to between 195 and 200 pounds and in line to play at guard. He did not think he would redshirt; most D-I linemen then did sit out one year.
    "I was hard as a rock, fast, quick," he said. "I was one of the very few people that lifted weights regularly."
    But then ... the first knee injury. So it was a redshirt year and a year of rehabbing the knee. LSU wound up the '65 season by upsetting Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl -- a memorable game -- and Joe was merely a spectator.
    He played in 1966, '67 and '68. As in high school, he was only on a couple of very good teams, but not championship teams.
    The Tigers were 5-4-1 (3-3 in the SEC) in his sophomore season, a difficult year in which experienced quarterback Nelson Stokley was hurt during the second game (knee injury, out for the year). LSU led Rice 15-7 in that game and lost 17-15, and then struggled to a 3-4-1 record until two victories at the end.
    It was the worst record in the first 12 years of Charlie McClendon's LSU head coaching tenure.
A favorite photo -- Page One, Baton Rouge Morning
 Advocate, coming home from a victory at Florida.
    Reding was one of three alternating "messenger" guards -- bringing in play calls from the sideline to the huddle -- until an offensive-line shuffle midway in the season made him a starter ... for good. He wound up starting the last 28 games of his career -- the last season at tackle.
    With LSU shy of experience at the position, "they [the coaches] asked me during the off-season (after the '67 season) to switch to tackle."  
     Fine, but unlike high school, when he usually was one of the biggest players on the field, at LSU he played at 6-foot-1, 210-215 pounds, and "I was one of the smallest starting offensive linemen in the SEC."
    The Tigers were 7-3-1 (3-2-1 SEC) and 8-3 (4-2) the next two seasons and bowl winners each time -- the Sugar Bowl (20-13 vs. Wyoming) on Jan. 1, 1968, and the first Peach Bowl at Grant Field in Atlanta (31-27 vs. Florida State in the rain). 

    The down side: In his three varsity seasons, the Tigers were 0-5-1 combined against Alabama and Ole Miss.
    As a senior, Reding was a co-captain for the season's sixth game, a 10-7 victory against TCU at Tiger Stadium. The other co-captain that night: tight end Robert Hamlett, his old teammate (a year younger) at Bossier High.
    Reding was not the star in college he had been in high school, and his size kept him from a pro football career. But no matter; he loved the program.
    "I got to play with some great football players," he said.
    And this: "They treated the players so well, especially the married players. They treated us like family. It was unbelievable.
    "They paid for everything. When we had the baby (Kathy), they paid for the baby expenses, baby food." And there was a place where the married players could go "and stock up on food -- steaks, meat, all sorts of food."
    Plus, he added, players were lined up with summer jobs -- and no gimmes there: "They were union jobs, hard work -- pipefitting, offshore jobs. And those paid well."
    And Joe did not even mention game tickets. It was common knowledge that LSU players could sell their two or four games tickets for whatever they could get for them -- no NCAA rules against that then (the NCAA put a stop to it a few years later). As now, LSU game tickets were much in demand, so there was money to be made.
    Hearing these things, I asked Joe: Was this within the rules?
    "Who knows," he answered. "They did it."
     As for McClendon -- the folksy country boy who lasted longer than any LSU head coach (18 years) and was so often criticized -- Reding said, "Coach Mac was just great to me.
    "I could not have been treated any better. It was the best five years of my life [in athletics]."
     He remembers this, too, about wearing jersey No. 78.
    "I think I have a unique position at LSU," he pointed out. "The guy who wore that number before me, George Rice, was a first-team All-American [defensive tackle]. The guy who wore it after me, Ronnie Estay, was a first-team All-American."  
    Rice was a huge man, out of Istrouma (like Cannon), who went on to play several seasons with the Houston Oilers (also like Cannon). He was a practice opponent for Reding and "he hit me with a forearm, and I have never been hit as hard in my life. And then he laughed at me."
    And when Joe's right knee buckled and was torn up in a 2-on-1 blocking drill in the spring of 1965, the player who drove him to the ground: George Rice.
    His playing days finished, his degree earned, he moved into coaching, back home in Bossier City. He and David Smith were named assistant coaches at Parkway, which was converting from a junior high school to a high school by adding a sophomore-only class in 1969.
    The head coach was Freddy Shewmake, who had been Reding's coach in kids' baseball for several years in the late 1950s/early 1960s.
    After one year, Reding moved to the Airline coaching staff. Jack Gray was the head coach and had one of the area's best programs (state champions in 1967, the school's fourth year). 
    Reding was the offensive line coach for five years, the last two with M.D. Ray as head coach. The highlight was a district championship team in 1972, with a superb passing game (with Steve Haynes at quarterback) and an 11-3 record that ended with a tough 6-0 loss to Neville (Monroe) in the Class AAAA state finals.
    That was a bad-luck night for Airline -- the game was played on Neville's field in a downpour on a soaked, slippery field that was perfect for the well-coached, defensive-minded Neville team.           
    Reding remembers that Vikings team as much for its  intelligence as its ability. "Great group of kids, a lot of very smart, disciplined kids," he said.
    "I loved coaching," Reding said. "I was like a big kid. I had so much fun with those kids. I'd wrestle with them, run with them, lift weights with them."
    Billy Don Maples remembers the friendship with the Redings -- pool parties and camping trips.
    "Our families used to visit a lot," he said. "Karen's parents lived in Broadmoor (in Shreveport) and they had an indoor pool. We'd go there and swim after games, and we have a good time."
    And Maples also recalls the long hours the Airline staff put in, especially Reding.
    "Jack [Gray] was known for long practices, 3-4 hours; he kept us out there," Maples said. "Then on weekends, we'd be hours breaking down films. Joe would do that, then he go work at Roadway, loading and unloading trucks."
    He'd worked at the freight company even in his high school days and while coaching, Reding concurs, "I worked some nights, and weekends. I'd go work from 5 p.m. Sunday to 1:30 a.m., then be at school the next morning."
    The managers at the freight company were impressed with his strength and work habits, and in 1974, one manager suggested to Reding that he come to work there full-time.
    Joe told him he didn't want to load and unload freight his whole life. No, the manager assured him; he meant for Joe to learn a management position.
    Reding said he talked with Karen about it, and she was open to his decision. He decided to leave Airline as soon as the '74 football team was eliminated from the playoffs.
    So on the Monday after a first-round loss, Joe Reding moved into a new career and "I tripled my salary starting that day."
    Thus began the freight company journey -- one move after another, one company after another, one advancement after another, from assistant terminal manager to terminal manager, to company executive.
    And in 2005, back home to Louisiana -- downstate, near LSU.

     The long, relentless hours the jobs required were part of his life; he always had had the desire to work, work, work. 
     The admittedly reticent young man grew into a sure-of-himself speaker at company gatherings, and -- I'll vouch for this -- he now is a free talker and story-spinner.
     He remains a Tigers fan, but attending games is more of a chore now -- he hasn't been to a Tiger Stadium game in three years -- "and it's easier to sit in my recliner at home and watch."
    He's not the modern communicator -- seldom uses the computer now that he's no longer working; the only cellphone he has is the old flip phone sort he bought after Katrina hit -- when phone lines were out -- and keeps in his car for emergency use only. So no texting, no messaging, no Internet.
    There was a special honor at Bossier High in 2010 when he, Dick and their father were inducted into the school's athletics Hall of Fame -- a Reding triple play. He returned the next year as featured speaker when, among others, Neal Prather was inducted.
     Joe's weight ballooned to 240 a few years ago and a knee surgery and major back pain convinced him it was time to get back in shape.
    He was at 175 a year ago and is 180 now, and "I go to the gym six days a week when possible and have stayed in great shape for a 70-year-old. ... I still push the younger guys there."
    And those younger guys probably don't want to challenge him to a shot-putting contest. Even Billy Cannon was no match for him.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Joe Reding: Topping Billy Cannon's record

(Second of three parts)
     The first few years Joe Reding played organized football, he could not play with kids his age. He was too big.
     Because kids football in Bossier City (and Shreveport) in the mid to late 1950s was organized by weight limits, Joe always was too heavy for his age group and so he played "up" with kids a year or two older.
     But in 1959 and 1960 (eighth and ninth grades) at Rusheon Junior High, he was unlimited ... and unstoppable. And even as an eighth grader, he was big enough and good enough to play with the ninth-grade team.
    He was nearing his full height (6-foot-1) and growing toward the 200 pounds or so he was in high school. Opposing teams' kids found him hard to tackle in football; he ran over them or past them. Hard to guard in basketball, impossible to beat in track.

In junior high school and at Bossier High (above), Joe Reding
was the big man in the middle (front row)
     Shreveport sportswriting legend Jerry Byrd called him "a superstar" and here's why: As a ninth grader in football, he scored 120 points (in eight games); in basketball, he was the dominant center who led his team to 37 consecutive victories; in track and field, he set four city (Shreveport-Bossier) records (shot put, discus, long jump, high jump).
    Rusheon swept every championship for two years and was so good, its facilities better than any across the river, that the next year the Shreveport schools' league excluded the Bossier City schools. Don't know that they ever reunited.
    David Smith, a longtime coach/administrator in Bossier Parish and for the past 23 years an insurance agency manager now based in West Monroe, La., recalls that Joe's success was due to "No. 1, he was such a competitor.
    "He was a quiet guy, didn't say a lot, but he was great. He came from a great family; his Mom and Dad were such nice people; it was just a super family.
    "He didn't talk about his accomplishments, he was just an ordinary guy like anyone else, but he was a super guy.
    "We had a great time together; I spent a lot of time at their house."
    They headed to high school together, but in the summer before their sophomore year, reality dealt the Reding family a huge blow -- his father's death.
    "That put me in a tailspin," Joe said. "I was only 15. I didn't really understand life."
    Mr. Reding "was always pretty tough on us, he stayed on us all the time," Joe said, "but he was very encouraging. He was always trying to teach us. I wasn't the greatest student, and I can remember him sitting at the kitchen table working with me on algebra, etc.
    "Our relationship was good, and the sad thing was we were just getting to the bonding stage."
    For a couple of days before Mr. Reding's fatal heart attack, he and Joe worked to refurbish a garage apartment on the house they owned (and lived in) near Bossier High (they subsequently moved to a home on Old Minden Road, a few miles away).
    "I treasure those last 2-3 days; we worked together and we worked hard," Joe said. "I treasure those days a lot."
    Another treasure: When Mr. Reding passed away, construction was well underway on a new gymnasium for Bossier High, replacing the old gym inside the main school building where some 600 fans crammed in to watch the Bearkats win the Class AAA state basketball championship in 1960.
    The spacious new gym opened early in 1962 ... and was named E.L. Reding Gym. It's still in use, and last season's Bossier team won another state championship.
    For the dedication ceremony, Dick and Joe -- both playing basketball for Bossier -- were in uniform. "It was very special" for the family, said Joe. "Memories I will never forget."
     In the 1961 football season, Dick was a senior end and Joe was an immediate starter at tackle for the Bearkats in an era when few sophomores ever played at a Class AAA school. Not only did he start, "he made 18 tackles in his first game," said Dick.

     He made All-City (Shreveport-Bossier) as a sophomore, the first of three consecutive All-City selections.
     "He was so physical, so tough," said Billy Don Maples. He recalled a big, strong Springhill running back (white-haired Larry Fambrough) colliding with Reding in a brutal matchup early that season.
    "Fambrough hit him high in the chest," Maples said, "and Joe was down. He was moaning and crying, and bleeding from the nose, and they took him out of the game. He came back in the second half, and led our team in tackling."
    In his three seasons, Bossier had records of 8-3, 9-2 and 7-3-1. But Byrd and Woodlawn and a surprising Bastrop team in 1963 kept the Bearkats from making the state playoffs.
     Because at the time, only 11 players were selected for the All-State team, it was his teammate and classmate Neal Prather who made the Class AAA team in 1963. Prather, who went on to play at Northwestern State and then became a doctor in Shreveport-Bossier, was a breakaway back (Reding was the strong inside runner). Like Joe, Prather was very mature physically early and also a star as a sophomore.
    If the all-star teams had had separate offensive and defensive units -- that didn't begin until later in the 1960s -- Reding would have been a first-team cinch at linebacker. In fact, he was an All-City choice in 1963 as a designated "defensive specialist."
    LSU was impressed enough to sign him to a football scholarship. And Joe was talented enough to convert to the offensive line.
    So football was the ticket to college, but where Joe Reding really was impressive was in the shot put.
    The Reding boys learned to shot put tossing the ball back and forth in the backyard.
    "It [the shot] would just fly out of his hand," Dick recalled. "It was like he was a freak."
    As a Bossier sophomore (spring 1962), Joe bettered 56 feet, got close to the state record -- and won his first Class AAA state title. Just a beginning.
    He began the next spring with a 58-9 effort at the season-opening Shreveport Relays at Byrd, topping Billy Cannon's state record (57-10). Thus, the photo (and distance on the shot put) arranged by Jerry Byrd for the Shreveport Journal
    A few weeks later, at the Indian Relays at Fair Park, he broke the sound barrier -- 60 feet -- with a 60-3 1/4 toss.
    Cannon had won the state shot put and 100-yard dash titles -- a phenomenal double -- for Istrouma (Baton Rouge) in the spring of 1956 before going to LSU and becoming a football immortal.
    To break his record, said Reding, "was almost beyond my comprehension."
    He repeated the state titles in 1963 and 1964 ... but he never improved on his best mark. He had a 60-1/2 toss early in his senior year, but that was it. 
    "I don't know what happened," he said. "I got stuck between 57 [feet] and 59." 
    But he competed without the benefit of much weight training -- it wasn't part of many athletes' workouts those days -- and certainly not any performance-enhancing drugs (those were for a later era).
    This was a clean era, and Joe's tools were strength (those hands, wrists and forearms), technique (form and quickness across the shot put ring) and hard work/practice.
    When The Shreveport Times last year had a panel of a dozen or so sports-minded people voting on Shreveport-Bossier's top 20 greatest all-time athletes, my ballot included Joe Reding at No. 17. As I wrote then in a blog piece, as one of the "oldtime" voters, I probably was the only one who listed Joe.
    My reasoning: His shot-put state record "stood up for a decade or two" and he was a three-year football starter at LSU in a great era (1960s). 
    Oops. Upon further review ... His state record stood up for a few weeks.
    His meet performances in North Louisiana probably stood for some 20 years until the bulked-up Campbell brothers, first John and then Arnold, shattered them while competing for Airline in the early 1980s. Arnold was Louisiana's first 70-foot shot putter and his 74-10 1/2 in 1984 is an out-of-sight record.
    But Reding's state best was topped by Terry Esthay of LaGrange (Lake Charles), who got even for Reding's victory over him in the state meet a week later when -- again competing against Joe -- he beat him with a 61-4 1/2 effort in the New Orleans Recreation Department "Meet of Champions."
    Soon enough Reding and Esthay would be teammates, offensive-line mates, at LSU. And their shot put days were short-lived.
    Joe did compete with the 16-pound college shot put (12 pounds in high school) as a freshman, and he threw it 53-plus feet. But football was -- is -- king, and that's why he was there.
    "We just didn't have time [for track and field season]," Reding said. "We had off-season workouts and then 20 spring practices, four days a week [five weeks]." So he and Esthay only occasionally "messed around" with the shot put.
    "They were married to the football program," Dick Reding observed.
    Next: LSU football was "the greatest experience"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Joe Reding: A big shot, always

      (First of three parts)
    Whether it was athletics or business or family, Joe Reding has a lot to be proud of and cherish.
    He is 70 now, white-haired, actually lighter than he was in high school and college, and in relatively good shape physically, retired and living a few miles from New Orleans.
Joe and Karen Reding, on their 50th wedding anniversary
     He was, as those of us from his time (basically 1960s) well remember, one of the distinctive athletes from Shreveport-Bossier -- Bossier actually -- and in Louisiana.
    Three athletic achievements that set Joe Reding apart:
    (1) He was the first Louisiana high school shot putter to break the 60-foot barrier.
    (2) When he set the state record in the shot put, the athlete whose record he broke was ... Billy Cannon. (If you don't know who Billy Cannon is, you probably don't need to read any further.)
    (3) He won three consecutive state championship in the event. That might have been equaled but likely will not be topped.
    I will add another, and it's a personal observation because being a year younger than Joe and being at other schools, I saw him in a variety of sports: He was the biggest, best, most dominant, junior high athlete I've seen.
    He was -- to us -- Superman. With him as team leader, I don't remember Rusheon Junior High in Bossier City ever losing in football, basketball and track/field. 
    So when he went on to star in football (fullback-linebacker) and track (shot put) at Bossier High, and then go on to become a three-year starter (1966-68) in the offensive line at LSU, it was no surprise.
    "He did some amazing things; it's hard to believe," his older brother and role model, Dick Reding, told me a few weeks ago, recalling that even when Joe was in elementary school, his athletic potential showed. And Dick was a standout all-around athlete himself.
     "He was a fine football player, and great in track. ... Quite a guy," said David Smith, Joe's junior high and high school teammate and good friend. "He was a 'man' early -- just bigger and better and stronger than anyone."
    "He was strong as a bear, with God-given talent," said Billy Don Maples, a Bossier High football teammate two years older than Joe and later on the same Airline High School coaching staff for five years.
    "Dick maybe was the better all-around athlete, but Joe was a genuine guy with good values. ... He was an excellent offensive line coach [at Airline] ... a very, very hard worker."
    The work ethic, traced to his parents' nurturing in Bossier City, and his talent and dedication carried Joe a long way through a lot of places.
Three-year starter in the offensive line, 1966-68
    For almost two decades, athletics was a big part of his life. They provided an outlet, recognition as a star, the above-mentioned notable distinctions, eventually a college scholarship and then an entry into coaching.
    That was a long time ago. Then he moved into real life, the real world.
    There's not much glamor, not many headlines, in the freight business. But for some 38 years as a manager -- until he retired in 2012 -- it gave Reding and his family what they needed.
    Home is now Pearl River, La. ("actually it's north Slidell," says Joe), and has been for 11 years. The Redings arrived there "just before [Hurricane] Katrina" and Joe was the manager of UPS freight division in the New Orleans area.
    "We like South Louisiana; we're very, very at home here," he said. (Of course, South Louisiana is where he played college football.)
    That was last of 12 moves through such stops as Memphis, Little Rock, Springfield, Mo., a decade in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore corridor and four years in Hurst, Texas (mid-cities area of Fort Worth-Dallas).
    "I worked for five different companies, three went bankrupt," Joe said. "You move a lot; it's sort of like coaching or being in the military. ...
    "It's been a good life; it provided well for my family."
    Family: Joe and fellow Bossier High graduate Karen (Reisinger) have been married for 50 years (since his second year at LSU), with two children -- daughter Kathy, 49, and son Kris, 34 (both in the Little Rock area), two grandchildren (Kassey, 26, and Joe, 21) and 5-year-old great grandson Abel.
    But he knew about close family ties from way back.
    His father, E.L. (Elbert Lee) Reding, was the Bossier High football coach (1927-32) as a young man in his 20s; the Bossier High principal in the early 1950s, then after a few years out of education, a supervisor (assistant superintendent) in the Bossier Parish school system.
    Dick was 18 months, two grades in school, older than Joe. Becky was four years younger than Joe.
    E.L. and Doris Reding were deeply involved in their children's schooling and athletics, almost always present and watching.
    But all lives have hardships, and so it is with Joe.
    E.L. Reding, at age 57, died of a massive heart attack, sitting at home one evening drinking ice tea, in the summer of 1961 -- just before Dick's senior year at Bossier and Joe's sophomore year.
    For Joe, it's been three knee surgeries, beginning with "a horrible knee injury in the spring of my freshman year at LSU" and three years ago  "invasive lower lumbar
surgery called a laminectomy ... which decompresses the lower back."
    And then this: In December, on their 50-year wedding anniversary cruise, Karen became ill. The result: esophageal cancer.
    She has undergone treatment in New Orleans and "we don't know what's ahead of us," Joe said, "but right now [it's] going very well and she has responded well. Best I can put it: We are encouraged, but guarded."
    Athletics began early; Bossier elementary schools -- unlike those in Shreveport -- had organized teams. Joe's prowess first showed in baseball; as Dick recalls, playing in the Dixie League programs, Joe once hit five home runs in five at-bats at one of the then-new Walbrook Park diamonds.
    As a 14- and 15-year-old, he was a star on Bossier teams that played in the national VFW "Teener League" tournament in Hershey, Pa. The second year Bossier lost the title game 4-1 to a perennial powerhouse from Gastonia, N.C., and Reding scored the Bossier run. 
    "He was a great hitter; if he had stayed with it, he could have been a major-league player," says his older brother. But he left baseball after that summer of '61 and in high school gravitated to football, basketball (for a year) and the shot put and discus in the spring.
    He got plenty of practice, and guidance, at home.
    "When we were kids, we played a lot together," Dick said, "and we loved each other. But we were brothers; we fought a lot, too.
    "Joe was pretty methodical," he added, "and very opinionated. He would argue at the drop of a hat, and he was very dogged in what he thought, what he believed in."
    Athletics caught hold. "I remember Joe looking at the newspaper almost every day," Dick said, "and looking at statistics, writing them down. We had all these little pieces of paper all over the house, with the stats on them."
    Dick would develop into a three-sport star at Bossier High. An end in football, he earned a scholarship to Northwestern State, where as a senior in 1966, he was an all-conference player and a leader of an undefeated [Gulf States] conference team coached by his father-in-law, Jack Clayton, in the final of his 10 years as NSU's head coach.
    By the time he was a senior, he was a "future" pro football draft pick -- Washington Redskins (NFL) and Kansas City Chiefs (AFL). He did go to the Redskins' training camp in 1967, but did not make the team.
    (He and Nancy, Coach Clayton's daughter, for years have made their home in Colorado where he was a teacher and coach.)
    Dick, significantly, also was a two-time conference champion in the shot put. He was not the best shot putter in the family.
    Here is how the late Jerry Byrd put it in his book Football Country"Dick Reding was a rare example of an athlete who grew up in the shadow of a younger brother. ..." 
    Dick remembers this about Joe: "He had really strong hands, thick forearms, always. I realized after a while it might be better to have him as a friend than someone I wanted to fight every day."
    Keep those strong hands and forearms in mind because soon they belonged to The Best Ever in the shot put in Louisiana.
    (Next: Topping Billy Cannon's record)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

An ideal time: 69 ... and counting

One of the joys of life these days: Spending time with the
youngest of our four grandchildren: Eli Smith, 1 1/2.
     So it's the annual birthday blog -- the fifth annual since the blog began in 2012 -- and let's start with my age today.
    I will begin with how my mother used to answer when someone asked how old she was. "Well, it starts with a 6 ..."
    Today will be the last time I am able to answer that way because this is birthday No. 69.
     The number 69 has, well, an unconventional definition you might know, but never mind that. I found a web site -- -- with this:
    "... 69 is a number of idealism, family, and harmony. It's also a number of health and compassion.

    "The number 69 is a philosopher and an idealist. It tends to determine an ideal way of being or method of doing and sticks to it, yet is open to alternate points of view and may change its own ideal as a result."
    Now that is how I'd like to be this year ... and every year.
    That is what I wish for everyone -- it's the idealist in me -- but the reality, it seems to me, is that we're more divided, more contentious, in this country than we've been in a long while.
    I can't fix it, but I can try to fix my part in my world.
    I'd like to think I do fit some of that definition. But there's always room for improvement.
    My wife several times in the past week has quoted this verse to me:
    "Talk less. Smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for."
    This is from the musical/play Hamilton. You might have heard of it recently.
    Bea, as some people who follow my posts on Facebook and my e-mails might know, was Hamilton-obsessed a few months earlier than most of the world. So here she is borrowing from Aaron Burr's advice to Alexander Hamilton in their first meeting.
    Put it in hip-hop form, and you have the right rhythm.
    But the advice is pretty solid, don't you think? Talk less, smile more.
    Most people who know me know that I love to smile -- well, laugh -- a lot. But talk less? Ha. I probably should, but that'll be the day.
    Still, as for letting you know what I'm against or what I'm for, you won't find a lot of that from me on Facebook or in my e-mail posts -- at least not on politics or social issues.
    Again, people who know me well know I'm pretty darned opinionated. But, thinking of that harmony/compassion aspect of the number 69 -- and open to those alternative points of view -- I will leave the public opinions to others.
     You can guess what I'm against and what I'm for.
     I don't even post that many thoughts about the sports world -- and I know a helluva lot more about sports than I do politics and social issues. But arguing online, or in person, is not how I want to waste my time, or yours.
     Just don't feel like bashing anyone, or being bashed. No sense in it. There is too much negativity all around us.
     A year from being 70, I do think more and more about our mortality. Not planning to leave soon, but we're talking about living wills and emergency situations and, well, funeral plans.
     I figure, if I keep eating right and stay in relatively good physical condition and remaining fortunate, I will stay around. My parents -- who went through a lot of hardships -- lasted into their late 80s.
     So maybe I have a couple of decades left. That's a lot more birthday blogs. I welcome the thought.     
     I will keep smiling and living a day at a time, maybe talk less (and maybe not).
     I embrace family first, compassion and harmony, an open mind and others' point of view, and I'll try to be philosophical and even idealistic.
     I want to be optimistic and realistic and -- if possible -- idealistic. So here's hoping for the best ... for everyone, for our country, for the world.
     See you next June 16, birthday No. 70.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day, and why those kids in Vietnam mattered to us

      Explaining the why and how of my four blog posts of the past month, all related to Woodlawn High School in Shreveport and the Vietnam War:
     Writing about the annual memorial service for the 1960s Woodlawn students who died in the service of this country and then about three of those young men -- Edward Cox Jr., Harold O'Neal Jr. and Glenn Ogburn -- actually was timed to  lead into this Memorial Day piece.
     I wrote Memorial Day blogs in 2012, 2014 and 2015 (in 2013, I was in the middle of writing a series about our trip to The Netherlands), and those blogs were inspired by Trey Prather.
    That is no surprise to regular readers of this blog. And Trey also inspired the thought behind the blogs this May.  
    Trey inspired us as a superb athlete, as a fellow student and friend, as the subject of frequent blog pieces and e-mail/Facebook posts by me in recent years ... and, of course, as the most prominent of the four Woodlawn 1960s "kids" killed in Vietnam.
    I did not know the other three ... but I know a little more about them now. And hopefully those who read the blog pieces on them do, too. 
    After a January e-mail/Facebook post (actually a re-post) about Trey showing the painting of him in his Marines Corps uniform -- first provided to me by Colin Kimball of McKinney, Texas -- the response was significant, as it usually is when I post an item concerning Trey.
    The people who remember him from Woodlawn, and many other people, always appreciate it.
    But one of the responses -- from Sandra Thrasher Ourso, a one-time Woodlawn cheerleader who now lives in Baton Rouge and is a journalist and published author -- said (in effect): You are always writing about Trey. Why don't you write about the other three Woodlawn guys who died in Vietnam?
    My first reaction (not an unusual one for me): I don't like people telling me what to write.
    But the more I thought about it, the more I felt this might be a good idea, and certainly a challenge.
    As a fellow sports writer reminded me frequently many years ago, everyone has a story. We just have to find those stories.
    It has been almost 50 years. I didn't know much at all about Glenn Ogburn, Harold O'Neal and Eddie Cox, although I have mentioned them almost every time I have written about the memorial monument in the center of the Woodlawn quadrangle -- where their names (and Trey's) are posted.
    But I didn't know their background, their families, where they lived, why they joined the service, where they served, and -- unfortunately -- how they died. The only pictures I had were those on the Internet's Vietnam War web sites.
    I did not know if they had family still around to give me some insight.
    This was going to take some research ... and a lot of help.
    It worked. It took four months to develop and then to write, but it's done. Thank you, Sandy, and you're welcome. And thank you to those who helped me reach four of the five remaining siblings.
    Mostly, thank you to those siblings -- Dale Cox, Michael O'Neal, Farrelyn Ogburn Hemperley and June Ogburn Morgan. Each of them was cooperative and helpful. 
    Re-living the loss of their respective brothers, talking about them, no doubt was a bit painful. But they also were proud of their service and their sacrifice, and they always will be.
    I know that Marion "Pou" Prather, Trey's younger sister who lives in Bradenton, Fla., certainly feels that way.
    On Jan. 19, I sent out an e-mail and posted a Facebook message to the Woodlawn people on my lists telling them about this "project" and asking for any information about the three young men and their families.
    There was enough response for me to realize this might be a worthwhile effort. I received some clues that each of the three might have siblings in the Shreveport area.
    But I moved slowly as I worked on some other blog ideas.
    Internet research, on the Vietnam War/Wall sites, gave me background on their service and their deaths (and photos of Ogburn and Cox -- but not O'Neal -- in uniform). That was a start.
    Through Facebook connections, I first was able to reach Dale Cox and interview him. He led me to Tommy Craig, Eddie Cox's close friend who lives in Mansfield, La., joined the U.S. Army at the same time as Eddie and served in Vietnam at the same time.
    Several people told me that Michael O'Neal, Harold's younger brother, was still living in Shreveport. But no one could tell me exactly where or give me a phone number.
    I searched the Internet -- I call myself searching -- but kept coming up empty. Finally, Wally Hood gave me the number.
    When I called, Mike answered -- and was more than happy to talk about Harold and the O'Neal family. He also told me he was listed in the phone book.
    As it turned out, the "empty" was my research diligence.
    I had seen a number for Michael O'Neal in Shreveport among those on "White Pages" listings, but because it began with 221 (downtown), I didn't think that would be him ... and I didn't try it. I should have; he was right there available for me all along.
    I also talked to two of my old Sunset Acres friends -- they lived close to us and both were All-State football players -- and they were friends of Harold's. Also, two other Facebook friends provided photos of Harold during his high school years. 
    After I had written the Cox and O'Neal pieces, I still had only scant information on Ogburn. But several people told me that he had two sisters living near Shreveport -- Farrelyn in Stonewall and June, who was in my Class of 1965 at Woodlawn, in Keithville.
    Through a couple more Facebook connections, I got a phone number for Farrelyn and she did provided all the back story I needed, and then June and I traded Facebook messages and she made several family photos available. A couple of Woodlawn friends helped me lift Glenn's photos from school yearbooks.
    Like I said, lots of help, and we're grateful.
    The underlying thought I always have about Vietnam and these deaths: What a waste.
    I wrote about the everlasting Vietnam War debate last year, and I was reminded of it during my talk with Farrelyn and the exchanges with June on Facebook.
    Glenn, said June, "had such a loving heart, I often wonder, had he come home, what the war would have done to him."
    She added: "They saw things over there that I pray we never have to. When Glenn was in on leave, he wouldn't talk about it much, so we didn't pressure him. But he did say that he would see his little brothers in the faces of some of the children over there. And his heart would break for them.
    "He volunteered to go over there to keep that from coming here. For that reason I supported him being there. I just wish our government had better supported them there and when some came home."

    Farrelyn also talked about the family's support, but in the same vein, she said, "After Glenn died, I could understand why some people wanted to avoid it [military service and the war], why they went to Canada.
    "I didn't want to see other families have a loss like we had."
    There are 58,195 names on the Vietnam Wall (pulled that number from a Google search) and there is a story for every name. I've written about a half dozen -- Trey, segments on Gene Youngblood of Shreveport and Terry Cross of Oakdale, La., last year, and now these three.
    These are only a glimpse, though; there's more that could be written. Certainly there is much more I could write on Trey, and maybe that will happen.
    But now, as their family and friends always knew -- and I hope you'll agree -- Glenn Ogburn, Harold O'Neal and Eddie Cox are more than just names on the monument at Woodlawn.

    Links to the previous Woodlawn/Vietnam-related blogs:


Monday, May 23, 2016

Glenn Ogburn: The first in line in Vietnam

     (Third of a three-part series) 
     It is important, I believe, to know that Glenn Ogburn wanted to serve with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam in 1966-67.     
     Just as, inspired by an uncle who was a Marine, he knew from the time he was a boy that he too wanted to be a Marine.
     And, as his older sister Farrelyn Ogburn Hemperley told me last week, "Glenn really believed in what he was doing in Vietnam, and we [the family] supported him."
     He believed in it so much that after serving a year in Vietnam, he "re-upped" for another six-month tour in the war. That began after a leave and a trip home to Shreveport.
     Three months later, the next trip home was his final journey.
     Perhaps it explains why his family, many of his friends, and those of us who affiliated with Woodlawn High School in Shreveport in the 1960s and long afterward still think of  Glenn Roy Ogburn.
     He was the first ex-Woodlawn student to die in action while in the military, the first of "our" four 1960s Vietnam War deaths. 
     Thus, his name is at the top of the memorial monument in the center of the Woodlawn High quadrangle -- Glenn Ogburn/USMC (Class of) 1964.
      He also was the oldest of the four, in two ways: (1) born first and (2) length of life. His death by an enemy mortar attack on July 7, 1967, came two days after his 21st birthday.
      Henry Lee "Trey" Prather III (Class of 1965) was 13 days short of his 21st birthday. Harold O'Neal Jr. and Eddie Cox Jr., both Class of '67, were 20.
      The pertinent facts on Glenn Ogburn: 
      He was a corporal (3rd Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 9th Regiment, H&S Company), listed as a motor vehicle operator. His service ID number was 1947161, and he is  No. 38549 on
      He was listed as a "ground casualty," hit by enemy fire. The specific location: Nva 152mm Shell at Con Thien, Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. (Con Thien was a cluster of three hills about 158 meters high.)
      His name on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., is on Panel 23E, Line 30, and he is buried in Centuries Memorial Park in Shreveport.
      Posted by his sister Farrelyn -- who lives in Stonewall, near Shreveport -- on the "Wall of Faces" web site (compiled by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund):
    "I still love and miss you. I often wonder how different our lives would be if you had come home from Vietnam. It just wasn't meant to be."
     There was so much to like about Glenn Ogburn.
     He came from a large family; Wilma Ogburn delivered  seven Ogburn kids. Glenn was the second, three years younger than Farrelyn (who was in Woodlawn's first graduating class, in 1961), a year older than June (Class of 1965). There were four younger brothers.

     Farrell Ogburn was an oilfield worker and later owned a fence company. The family lived in the Queensborough neighborhood of Shreveport before moving to Sunset Acres (on Hollywood Avenue) for a couple of years, then to Summer Grove (on Mansfield Road) during Glenn's high school years.
Woodlawn sophomore year
    One Woodlawn student of the early 1960s remembers him as "tall and quiet." Another called him "range" (long-limbed, tall, slender). Both remember him as "a nice guy."
     He was, it seems, inconspicuous. His picture is in the Woodlawn yearbooks only four times in three years, only once among individual class photos (as a sophomore, at left). (Having an individual class photo was optional.)
     Two of the photos were of him in National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) platoons -- foreshadowing his military future. Another was in a math class.
     A couple of the photos show that he was taller than most of his classmates (he was 6-foot-2 or 6-3, 180 pounds, and above 200 during his time in the Marines, his sister said.)
From a Woodlawn yearbook, an NDCC cadet
(middle back)

     "He was the kind of typical Woodlawn student then," said Warren Gould, also from the Class of '64. "He was 'everyman.' I can't remember him sticking out, but he knew who you were and you knew who he was. He wasn't a standout, but he wasn't a nothing, either. If you were in the room with him, you knew he was there."
      "He was a compassionate person," Farrelyn said. "He loved people ... family was first with him. I don't know anyone that didn't like him."
      Plus, he loved animals and to hunt and fish. 
      "After a flood [or hard rain], he would be knee-deep in the Cross Lake overflow," Farrelyn recalled, "usually with a string of catfish.    
      "... Just a good ol' redneck boy."
      And he was, well, good-looking. I was going to write that; then I saw some comments on Facebook from women who knew him after June Ogburn Morgan -- who lives in Keithville, just south of Shreveport -- posted pictures of Glenn (and also made them available for this blog).
      From Judy Gail Chandler: "He was my first kiss as a kid. Only had one date with him as a teen. Not sure why not another. Either way me and my family always loved him, and still do."
      From Johnnie Hall Covington: "Glenn was tall -- I think at least 6-3. He was nice-looking and very, very shy. Glenn helped his family by working as a carhop at a drive-in root beer place. ... "
      From Mary Hemperley Gray: "Man, he was handsome."
      From June: "Everyone said he looked like Elvis."
      Mary: "I think so, too."
      Yep, Elvis. Sounds good to me. (Especially in the photo  below.)
      June added this: "Susan King was always the love of his life. They broke up before he went to Vietnam because he didn't want her waiting in case he didn't make it back."
MP duty while stationed in Alaska
     Even in his senior year at Woodlawn, he was headed to the Marines; he had joined the reserves, although his parents had to sign and give permission.
      Then in the summer of 1964, he was a Marines regular -- basic training at Camp Pendleton (in southern California), then off to Adak, Alaska for a year.
      "He said the wind blows in four directions there," Farrelyn recalled, laughing. "Don't go pee outside; the wind will blow it back in your face."
      Then he went to Camp Lejeune (Jacksonville, N.C.) to train for duty in Vietnam and, after a short leave and a trip to Shreveport, he went for his first tour in that awful "conflict."
      Three months into his second tour, fate intervened.
      "He drove for the colonel [in his platoon]," Farrelyn said. "They'd been out all night, and Glenn was worn out. When they got back to the barracks, he was asleep in the colonel's bed. A mortar hit the bunk."
      For three days, the platoon was under fire and unable to move. So the Ogburns, in Shreveport, did not receive word until the second week of July.
      Two officers from the Marines came to the house, but only one of Glenn's brothers was home. The officers handed him a card for the parents, asking them to call.
      Farrell Ogburn was a World War II veteran, so when he saw the card, he knew what it meant.
Final trip home: fishing with one
of his younger brothers, Ambrose
      "It destroyed our family," Farrelyn said. "We thought we were going to lose Mother then. ... For 2-3 years, it was all we could do to keep her grounded."  
     The damage to Glenn's body was so extensive that it was left to a priest and an uncle to make the identification "and they advised us not to open the casket," Farrelyn said.
      Warren Gould, who served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, remembered learning of his classmate's death and said, "When I heard, it was a shock. This was a guy we knew."
      Posted by Judy Matheson Trammell eight years ago on a web site: "I dated Glenn a few times during Christmas vacation, and he was such a sweet honest and patriotic man. He loved his family and he was proud to serve his country."
      From Sue Lafitte Corley: "So sad. Still hurts; he was just the sweetest."
     One memory June has is that Glenn "was a very protective big brother to me. He screened most of my male friends. Needless to say I had few dates. I really miss him."
      Wilma Ogburn lived to age 92, and died last month (April 4), her final years with Alzheimer's. There was more tragedy for her and the family, the loss of three of Glenn's brothers from 2001 to 2006; only Steve survives (in Texarkana, Ark.)
    One of the Ogburn uncles had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), so that was a goal for Glenn. "His dream was to work for the FBI or the CIA," said Farrelyn.
    It's likely that he would have been just as dedicated to that task as he was the Marines. But Vietnam ruined many dreams.
    "It's amazing how when we talk about it [Glenn's death] in detail, it's almost like it happened yesterday," sister June wrote on Facebook. "I miss my big bro so much still. ...  It's good to keep him alive in our memories, though."
    "It still hurts," Farrelyn said of the loss. "It's something you never get over."