Friday, April 17, 2015

Rose and her 'camp sisters'

Jannie and Rose: Reunited in Shreveport, 1977
 (The Shreveport Times photo)
       For my mother (Rose Van Thyn), out of the horrors of the Holocaust came some beautiful relationships, ones that lasted for the rest of her life.
       A few minutes after she stepped off the train -- the cattle car -- at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, she found perhaps the greatest friend she ever would -- Marianna van de Kar.
       Everyone close to her called her Jannie. Like my mother, she was from Amsterdam.
       She was the first of what Mom forever would call her "camp sisters." And, as you will see, she played a critical role in my mother's future.
---
       When she went to Auschwitz, Mom had an older sister, Anna (called Annie). What she didn't know then, what she wouldn't know until much later, was that Annie went to the gas chambers the day she and her husband (Nico Fierlier) arrived at Auschwitz.      
       Mom often said she and the others would not have survived 2 1/2 years in Auschwitz, in the cruel medical-experimentation program, without the support of her "sisters."
       Two other women -- Hilda Meier Kretsenstein (a German native who had married a Dutch citizen) and Trees Suttendorf Van Praag-Cigar (also from Holland) -- were in the group of four who suffered that time together in Block 10.
        The "sisters" group grew to 10 on the horrific "Death March," a couple of months of walking in the middle of nowhere in Poland and then Germany, from one concentration camp to another, in the middle of a typical brutal European winter.
       This, as my mother told it, with rags for clothing, some with shoes but some (such as Mom) with pieces of wood tied to their feet with string, and with less food than clothes.
        How? How did they survive all that?
        "You were really dependent (on others); you couldn't go through that yourself," Mom said in her 1996 Shoah Foundation interview about her life and the Holocaust. "You had to have people close to you. And we took care of each other."
         Through the dire circumstances in Block 10, the women somehow became Holocaust survivors ... and bonded forever. 
         The interviewer asked my mother: "Did you, among yourselves, the four women, talk about this?"
          "Oh, sure," Mom answered. "I always said when you spend almost 2 1/2 years, or over a year and a half, with women 24 hours a day, you know more about them. I spent more time with them than I spent with my own family. We knew everything about each other.
          "We knew everything about each other," she repeated, "and at night when the guards would leave -- and I know this sounds just crazy -- we would sing songs, and since my father taught us all kinds of songs, I knew songs the other women had never heard. And the four of us, we were very, very close."
          But to the very end of their lives, it was Rose and Jannie who were the closest. They each would wind up with their families far from The Netherlands -- Mom in the U.S., Jannie in Israel -- but they always remained in touch.
         There were joyful reunions in Nahariya, Israel, and in Shreveport -- and a 1977 story in The Shreveport Times about that, a subject I will return to in this piece.
          I cannot verify this, but I believe they lived longer than any of the "camp sisters." Mom died June 27, 2010; Jannie died April 26, 2013.
          Kitty Wiener, Jannie's daughter who lives in Israel, told me in a letter that although her mother was having memory issues near the end, "she kept telling what happened to them during the war and
 how their friendship actually saved their lives. They supported each other and that meant everything to them."
          Kitty added, in another note, "She could never stop talking about her terrible years in Block 10, but she kept talking about Ro as the sister she had during these years."
--- 
          The day in 1942 before they were "arrested" by the Nazis and sent to the Westerbork transition camp in eastern Holland, Jannie married Abraham "Appie" van de Kar -- who had grown up in the same (mostly Jewish) neighborhood as Louis Van Thyn and Rozette Lopes-Dias. (My mother had married Moses "Mo" Lezer in the same time frame; they also were sent to Westerbork).
          Louis and Appie knew each other. They were in Auschwitz, or nearby camps, at the same time. They met again just after the Russian Army came in to find the prisoners in the camps the Nazis had abandoned in 1945. At one point, both Dad and Appie wore Russian Army uniforms they'd been given.
           Now here is the connection.
           Jannie and Appie, reunited in Amsterdam as survivors, were housed in the same diamond-cutting warehouse turned into barracks for displaced Holocaust survivors. Because they were married, they were given a separate room in the attic; Rose was among the women sleeping on cots on the bottom floor (men were on the other side of the building).
            Dad had traveled back to Belgium, where he lived from 1936 to '42 and had married Estella (who died during the war), and had seen Appie, who suggested he come to a get-together of survivors.
            And so Jannie knew Rose, Appie knew Louis -- and they were introduced. They had grown up two blocks apart (Dad was two years older), but only knew of each other.
             They began dating, they married, and the marriage lasted a mere 62 years.
             It began because of the van de Kars.
---
             The first day at Auschwitz, Sept. 16, 1943 (Mom knew that date) ...
              "So when I came out of the car, in the car next to me was a woman my age," Mom said in her Shoah Foundation interview. "I had gone to school with her, to kindergarten, elementary school, high school, and then we lost track of each other. She went with another group [of friends] and I went with a group."
             That woman was Jannie.
             "Then when we got out of the cattle cars, she grabbed my hand," Mom said, "and we were waiting with those hundred women and she said, 'I don't know what's going to happen to us, but whatever is going to happen, we are going to stay together.
          "...  And we walked about 15 minutes and we came to the gate of Auschwitz with the sign, 'Arbeit Macht Frei.' And then we went to the sauna, Block One. We went in there, we had to undress, the SS was in there with us, and they shaved us, our hair everywhere, and they sprayed some disinfectant spray or powder on us, and then they gave us ice-cold showers.
           "And we were really upset. Still didn't register where we were. Ice-cold showers, I mean in the middle of September. No soap, no towels, no nothing. They threw us some clothes. We had no striped clothes. I had, for example, a navy-blue, polka-dot dress which came to my ankles and my friend, my childhood friend who was -- and still is -- a very good-looking woman, 5-foot-10, very tall, had a very short dress. So we changed. And the SS was in there and they were making fun of us, the way we went in and the way we got out."
"Camp sisters" -- that's Rose Van Thyn (bottom left)
 and Jannie van de Kar (top row left)

---
      Here is how close Rose and Jannie were. The number tattooed into my mother's left forearm by the Nazis was 62511. Jannie's number was 62506.
      That fact was in the story done by The Times when Jannie and Appie visited with my parents in Shreveport in 1977. A copy of that story is posted below, and the photo of Mom and Jannie was taken that day by a Times photographer.
      Kitty Wiener provided the group shot of nine of the 10 Dutch "Death March" sisters (right).           
      In her Shoah Foundation interview, Mom said, "I was very close to my sister, but I'm closer with them [the camp sisters] because what we went through, and the bond we had -- all survivors have a bond. I knew their families, although I didn't know them personally, I knew, I knew who they were, I knew where they came from. We are so close.
          "It's like one of the 10 women I was with went back to Holland and moved to South Africa. I had not seen her in 40 years. She came here and it was like I had talked to her the day before. It was like 40 years didn't mean anything. We really picked up right where we left off."
            But the Van Thyns and the van de Kars, that was a special bond.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The infamous Block 10: An unpleasant memory

       There are millions of stories within the big story (the Holocaust), and within the many stories that my mother told, the most gripping part -- in my opinion -- was about the medical experiments.
      Gripping, and another description, disgusting.
      The infamous Block 10 at Auschwitz was where Mom (Rozette Lopes-Dias Lezer) was imprisoned for nearly 2 1/2 years and where the Nazis used women, men and children as medical guinea pigs. 
      Bottom line was this: They tried to sterilize her. They failed. Thankfully. Which is why, after she met my Dad and became Rose Van Thyn, eventually I came into this world and so did my sister Elsa.
      "They told us, the women who were there, how fortunate we were to be in this block, to be used for medical experiments," my mother said in the 1996 interview she did for the USC Shoah Foundation. "And in a way, probably we were fortunate because that saved our lives."
      If you read on from here, be aware. There are a few uncomfortable moments.
---
      In her interview, Mom talks extensively on life in Block 10, where she was known not by name but by the number tattooed on her left forearm (62511). This article will deal only with the medical experiments.
       The most famous -- and I use that word loosely -- doctor to work in Block 10 was Dr. Josef Mengele, known mostly for his obsessive (and maniacal) research and treatment of twins and children. But my mother said she never heard of Mengele then and was not aware of the twins research ... not until well after World War II had ended.
       The name to remember here -- the one she remembered -- is Dr. Carl Clauberg.
       "The Dutch women were used mainly for sterilization experiments and other experiments," Mom told the interviewer. "I had, for example, hundreds of shots in my chest. They didn't tell me what it was and I doubt very much if they knew what it was.
      "I gave a lot of blood for the German soldiers," she continued, "because my veins are right on top of my skin, and they really enjoyed doing that."
      Interviewer: "Who did the experiments?"
      Mom: "Dr. Carl Clauberg. He had done experiments in Raavensbruuck and then he went to Auschwitz and set up this Block 10. ... He had an assistant who in civilian life was a barber. ..."
      From the Jewish Virtual Library:
      "Carl Clauberg experimented with sterilization in the camp. Part of Block No. 10 in the main camp [at Auschwitz] was put at his disposal. Several hundred Jewish women from various countries lived in two large rooms on the second floor of the building.
      "Clauberg developed a method of non-surgical mass sterilization that consisted of introducing into the female reproductive organs a specially prepared chemical irritant that produced sever inflammation. Within several weeks, the fallopian tubes grew shut and were blocked. Clauberg's experiments killed some of his subjects, and others were put to death so that autopsies could be performed."
---
       Here is my mother's recollection of the methods and the results:
       "The experiments were (pause) ... were terrible," she told the interviewer. "They had a whole laboratory downstairs where they had renschen (?) apparatus, and they would give us internal shots, and they would tell you the night before. They would come up and they would say, '62511, you can't go out on commando tomorrow because you have to be used for experiments.
       "And then they would give you those shots and the doctor would be there, and the assistant would be there, and they would make X-rays, and then they would be upstairs again, and (the shots) were very painful."
       The interviewer asked her: "Did you have to undress when they did the experiments?"
       Mom: "Ya, we undressed from the, uh, bottom, you know."
       Interviewer: "Would you care to describe how the experiments went?"
       Mom: "You were put on a regular operation table, and then they would put the renschen apparatus on top of you and then they would give you a shot internally ... in your vagina."
       Interviewer: "Do you know what the shot was?"
       Mom: "No, never found out. And I still hope that when the Russians got hold of them [the Nazis], that eventually when the wall came down and they found all those records and eventually that eventually they might find out.
       "Now, again, we are very blessed. I'm one of the few women who could have children after the war. And I had the same shots. ... I went with other women at the same time and they couldn't have children.
        "Then we would go upstairs, and no medicine, no nothing. ..."
        Interviewer: "What happened? What did you feel after you ... ?"
        Mom: "Oh, burning, pain. I didn't know then because I'd never had children, but it was like labor pains. Terrible. ...  I had three shots, three shots into ... like I said, most of the women, most of those who came out (of the camp) were sterilized, couldn't have children."
---
       No reason to think that Mom concocted or exaggerated this story. But Dr. Robert Jay Lifton wrote extensively on  Clauberg in his book, The Nazi Doctors, and here is one section (page 273):
       Descriptions by women experimented upon begin to tell us in human terms what Clauberg was really up to: A Czech Jew named Margita Neumann told of being taken into a dark room with a large X-ray machine:
        "Dr. Clauberg ordered me to lie down on the gynecological table and I was able to observe [nurse/main assistant] Sylvia Friedmann [described as Clauberg's top assistant], who was preparing an injection syringe with a long needle. Dr. Clauberg used this needle to give me an injection in my womb. I had the feeling that my stomach would burst with the pain. I began to scream so that I could be heard through the entire block. Dr. Clauberg told me roughly to stop screaming immediately, otherwise I'd be taken back at once to the Birkenau concentration camp. After this I had inflammation of the ovaries."
---       
      The Shoah Foundation interviewer asked my mother: "Why did you keep menstruating?"
      Mom: "I don't know, my body probably was so healthy. I don't know. There were more women who kept menstruating. Not a whole lot ... Two other women were pregnant and gave birth. Same way."
       In addition to these experiments, and the shots she received in her chest ("every four weeks or so, ten at a time; altogether about one hundred shots") and the blood she gave ("I don't know how much ... but a whole lot ... about every five weeks"), there was this ominous threat.
       "They had trucks lined up twice to take [people] to the gas chambers because of sabotage in the block, sabotage in the sewing room," she remembered. "We were put out, outside the block and they would bring trucks. Commandant (Hess) would come in and say, 'Let the rabbits go back in the block." Yes, they knew it was Hess: "We knew him. He came in quite often."
      And so the interviewer asked, what else going on in this block?
      "Strange things," my mother answered. " ... People would disappear and never came back. We didn't know where [they went]. Only thing we could figure they were going to the gas chambers."
 
 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Football integration at La. Tech: Making it work

(12th in a series)
     The success of the integration of the football program at Louisiana Tech University, starting in 1971, is evident in the on-the-field results of the first five seasons.
     The off-the-field result ... it depends on perspective. It wasn't as easy for some of the first seven  African-American players to take the field for Tech as it was for others.
     Wenford Wilborn, a cornerback from White Oak, Texas, and Gerald Eddings, an offensive guard from Minden, La., were in that first class and both have been successful in business and family life.
      But while Wilborn, looking back, says being among the first black players at Tech "wasn't a bid deal with me because everything went so smoothly," Eddings -- although grateful for the opportunity and the education -- has a somewhat different take.
      Asked if he can remember any tough times -- because as I prepared this series I had mostly positive feedback -- Eddings replied simply "yes" and cited some examples. Read on below.
       It makes me think of a comment from a friend as I related my intention in writing about Tech's football integration to complete this season.
       "My heart hurts just thinking about what these guys have been through by growing up in the South," the friend wrote, "yet I am thrilled that they had the opportunity to play at Tech."
        I think we -- old-time Tech fans and others -- are satisfied with it. But you know that in the early 1970s the path traveled by these athletes, in an area dealing with the mixture of black and white, it was an adjustment.
---
       Neither Wilborn nor Eddings had an easy path to Louisiana Tech. Wilborn, small at 5-9 (maybe) and 155 pounds, was not recruited much by bigger schools. Eddings was recruited too much and, in fact, turned down a chance to play at LSU.
Wenford Wilborn, as a
White Oak Roughneck
     Both have what I think are interesting stories.
     At White Oak, Wilborn had been a standout running back (2,467 career rushing yards for a Class AA school) and cornerback, and a regional champion high jumper and member of a state champion mile-relay team. But because of his size, the only recruiting interest for football came from area Texas junior colleges and Stephen F. Austin.  Into track season, he had not signed an athletic scholarship.
       Enter E.J. Lewis, Louisiana Tech assistant football coach (defensive backs) and assistant track coach -- and, significantly, an enthusiastic, ebullient recruiter for both sports for 15 years in East Texas. He helped bring dozens of talented, productive athletes -- and some great ones -- from the area to Tech.
       "I was there looking at some other kids," Lewis remembered, "and I had no idea about this kid." Until Tommy Atkins, White Oak assistant football and head track coach with North Louisiana ties, told him about Wilborn.
       "Here's a kid who runs a 4.5 in the 40, high jumps 6-2, broad jumps 20 feet; he's All-State in football and basketball, and he's in track and field," Lewis said. So he did his research, watched football film ... and called Tech head coach Maxie Lambright.
       When Lewis cited Wilborn's credentials and told Lambright he was unsigned ... Wilborn picks up the story here, laughing: "Coach Lambright said, 'What's wrong with him?' "
       After Lewis replied, "He's a black kid."
       Long pause. Then Lambright said, "Sign him."
       Done.
       In August drills, Wilborn and Larry Griffin (from Shreveport-Northwood) earned starting cornerback positions, just as fellow freshmen Fred Dean (defensive tackle) and running backs Roland Harper and Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel did. Integration in football was an immediate hit for Louisiana Tech. Winning followed: A 44-4 record for four seasons.
      Starting immediately helped ease the path for Wilborn, too.
       "Because I started right away, everything went well for me," said Wilborn. "If there were problems, I'd be the first to tell you. But I can't think of anything."
       Integration was as big a factor for him, he noted, because White Oak had been a black-and-white school since his eighth-grade year. (The high school also had been recruiting territory for Tech; a year after signing Wilborn, E.J. Lewis recruited future NFL star tight end Mike Barber from there.)
       Wilborn, Griffin and Dean -- and the emerging wild man at linebacker, Joe McNeely -- improved what had been a fairly strong defense in a frustrating 2-8 season in 1970. And for four seasons, Wilborn and Griffin held down those corners for the Bulldogs.
       "Those guys could cover anybody," said Ken Lantrip, Tech's senior QB in 1971.
Coach E.J. Lewis (bottom left), Wenford Wilborn (bottom right) and the
Wilborn family (back, from left) daughter Wendy, wife Sarah and son Ryan
       Each wound up with 15 career interceptions, and are still listed among Tech's all-time leaders. They made a better player, too, of safety John Causey, a two-time all-conference choice whose 10 INTs in 1972 is the school record.
       "Some teams hardly ever threw to my side of the field," said Wilborn, remembering a game at UT-Arlington when UTA threw 50 passes, "but only two near me, and one was overthrown."
       Still, he led the team in interceptions in three of his four seasons. But he is even more prominent in the Tech record books, even today, as a punt-return man.
       No one has returned more punts (91), only Larry Anderson -- who went on to play in the NFL -- had more punt-return yardage than Wilborn's 742, and Wilborn's 91-yard return against Eastern Michigan in the 1971 Pioneer Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas, on a brutally cold day (Tech's first postseason victory in its "golden era") is the second-longest in school history.
       Not bad for a guy known at Tech as the "little wimp," a nickname given him by Roland Harper. Wimps is part of his e-mail address now.
       Wilborn got a tryout with the Houston Oilers, but the NFL was not his future. Coach Lewis helped him line up a job at Kodak in Longview, and soon Wenford was buying properties, building condos, making money and a family man.
       "I'm proud of him; he's done so well," said Lewis. "I kind of helped raise him."
       "Coach Lewis was like a second father to me," Wilborn said. "He was such a good dude."
       Wilborn settled back in White Oak; a daughter attended Louisiana Tech; and he and wife Sarah run Willand, Inc., which for tw decades has provided homes for the mentally challenged. They have 60-65 consumers in White Oak, Longview and Tyler, and a workforce of 70.                
 ---            
       Gerald Eddings had rough moments in Minden, in even arriving at Tech, and after he got there -- on the practice field and in the classroom. But he was a tough, solid, all-star offensive guard, part of a football dynasty ... and a Tech graduate.
       "Louisiana Tech prepared me for the job I have and everything I am today," he said. That job is a salesman for a valve company, a position for more than 30 years, and he's been a world traveler because of it. He and wife Joyce settled in the Houston area (Sugar Land) not long after leaving Tech.
        In '71, it was getting to Tech that was a problem. He decided he did not want to go to LSU as one of the first black players there, although LSU wanted him at linebacker ("which is what I really loved."). But he wound up signing a letter-of-intent with Southern University ... and then with Tech.
       This was before the binding national letter-of-intent was established (remember, Terry Bradshaw in 1965 signed with Tech, then signed with LSU two weeks later ... and, well, he went to Tech.)
        Actually, Eddings was -- to choose a word -- tricked into signing with all-black Southern University in Baton Rouge. He was waiting to see where "Quick Six" McDaniel would go to school because he wanted to be his teammate. They had played for rival schools in Webster Parish -- Minden and Springhill.
        Eddings had signed with Tech, but when a Southern coach told him McDaniel was going to sign with Southern, Gerald also picked the Jaguars. Then he found out McDaniel indeed was signing with Tech.
Gerald Eddings
        Then Southern would not give him a release. After a hearing and court action, the ruling was that he would have to sit out his first year at Tech. So it was a redshirt season. He was part of Tech's first group of black athletes, but not an active player in 1971.
        Meanwhile, feelings about integration were strong in Minden. He went to Minden High when it was integrated, but all-black Webster High across town remained open (unlike many Caddo and Bossier Parish all-black schools which were phased out at the time). Some Webster faithful were resentful of Eddings' choices of high schools and colleges, and physical trouble followed.
        Things got physical at Tech, too -- on the practice field.
        "Fred Dean and I would go against each other in practice almost every time," Eddings recalled, "because when we didn't want to have to fight (white players) in one-on-one drills. It would almost end up in a fight every time we did go against them."
        That problem subsided in time, but Eddings said when he began playing for Tech the next year "people would mess with my wife in the stands. An ex-player harassed her ... " And, he said, "she also ran into some problems on campus."
         Plus, in the classroom, he recalled working on a paper with two white students "and I did most of the work." When they turned in the paper, the professor gave the white students an A grade and Eddings a C. "The other guys lied about who had done the work."
         But there were people he regarded as great assets, notably Tech President Dr. F. Jay Taylor and offensive line coach Wallace Martin.
         "Dr. Taylor was a good man; he did things with us far above and beyond what a college president would do," Eddings said. "We [black students/athletes] would be sitting as a group at a basketball game, and he would come sit in the middle of us, and eat popcorn and talk. He did a lot to help move things along."
         A fond memory for Eddings: "When I graduated, going across that stage, I shook his hand and he said, 'We're going to miss you.' I appreciated that."
         Just as he appreciated Martin, the ex-Tech offensive lineman from Ruston who joined Lambright's staff the same year as the football integration began.
         "He was a heckuva coach, and he was a spiritual leader," Eddings said. "He was responsible for keeping everything headed in the right direction."
         To sell his product, he visits chemical plants -- in the U.S. and Europe -- "and I meet with people and deal with them," and the Tech experience "prepared me for life today."
---
         Pat Collins, the Tech assistant coach who recruited several of the original class of African-American players, says he is "indebted to those guys. They saved our jobs."
         That might be a stretch, but they did change the program for the better.
         "The black guys were just awesome," said David Wilkins, who played alongside the group for two seasons. "But, remember, there were no black players or white players. We were all Bulldogs."

      

Thursday, April 9, 2015

In '71, Louisiana Tech football turned for good

Fred Dean, at Louisiana Tech
     (10th in a series)
     When Louisiana Tech University's football program integrated, it did so in a big way ... and it paid off in a big way.
      Unlike the basketball program, in which only one player (George "Petey" Thornton) broke the color "barrier" in the fall of 1968, six African-American players joined the Tech football team in the fall of 1971. They signed scholarship grant-in-aids in the winter of 1970.
      The names -- and old Tech fans will remember -- were Fred Dean, Roland Harper, Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel, Wenford Wilborn, Larry Griffin, Gerald Eddings. This was a dynamic group.
     Dean was a hometown kid (Ruston), a defensive tackle who would wind up in the Pro Fotball Hall of Fame. Harper (Shreveport-Captain Shreve) and McDaniel (Springhill) were running backs; Wilborn (White Oak, Texas) and Griffin (Shreveport-Northwood) were cornerbacks; Eddings was an offensive lineman from Minden.
      All but Eddings (who redshirted) were immediate starters. All, including Eddings, were four-year regulars. All were, from the people I've talked to recently, good fits off the field, as well.
      What a class it was; what immediate impact those players made. Joined by some other talented (and sensational) white recruits, they touched off the greatest five-year period of Louisiana Tech football.
      The Bulldogs went from a luckless 2-8 record in 1970 -- the first year AB (After Bradshaw) -- to 9-2 in 1971 and a Southland Conference championship in Tech's first year in the league.
      Then came successive records of 12-0, 12-1, 11-1 and 8-2. Add it up: 52-6 in five years, 37 victories in 38 games in one stretch (and 42 out of 44). Four consecutive Southland titles and two national championships -- a "mythical" one (1972) and then the first official NCAA Division II title in history (1973).
      Think integration didn't help turn Tech's program in a hurry? But who knew how it was going to turn out?
---
      According to the three then-Tech assistant coaches -- Pat Collins, Mickey Slaughter and E.J. Lewis -- I spoke to, there was no grand plan to integrate Tech football.
      There was no edict from school president Dr. F. Jay Taylor, no single meeting in which head coach Maxie Lambright told his assistants to begin recruiting black players. But after that 2-8 season, something had to change.
      "Because we were playing teams with black players," Slaughter recalled, "we came to the realization, as a staff, that in order to compete, in the present and future, we had to recruit good athletes regardless of color. We wanted kids that could make a contribution. It just kind of evolved at a time when teams in the Deep South actively began recruiting black athletes. ... It was the natural order of things."
      "It was time for us to get with the program," Collins said, "to get with what was going on around us. And Dr. Taylor gave his blessing to that [integrating the program].
      "As a staff, we kept persisting that we should do this."
      Tech was four years behind rival Northeast Louisiana, which brought in running back Joe Profit in 1967. A hometown player (Richwood High), Profit played sparingly as a freshman, but by the time he finished in 1970, he had been outstanding enough to be a first-round NFL draft pick (by the Atlanta Falcons).
      LSU integrated its program the same year as Tech, 1971, although the two signees (RB Lora Hinton of Chesapeake, Va., and cornerback Mike Williams of Covington, La.) didn't play play with the varsity until 1972 (freshmen were not eligible in Division I then).
      Collins, who -- with Slaughter, Lewis and Pat "Gravy" Patterson -- was part of Lambright's staff for all of his Tech tenure (1967-78), said integration almost happened sooner.
      The 1970 recruiting class included, he said, "one hellacious running back and a great kid" he signed from an all-black high school in Shreveport. The young man reported for fall practice and worked out for three days before the Tech coaches learned he would not qualify for school academically.
      "We had to take him to the bus station and put him on a bus back to Shreveport," Collins said. "It was a sad day for us, and a sad day for him."
      And in the previous spring training, an African-American student already enrolled at Tech tried out as a walk-on. "He had some ability, but didn't make the team," Collins said.
      But it provided a lesson for the linebackers coach who, after leaving Tech went to Northeast Louisiana and built a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame-worthy head coaching record (he'll be inducted this summer).
      "We rolled him out there with the rest of [the team]," said Collins, who like the others on the coaching staff had never coached a black player, "and I realized that it didn't matter what color a guy was when he put on that helmet."
      "Everyone on our staff looked at our players as all the same," Slaughter said. "They were athletes going to college. We treated them all the same. Maxie set the pace on that. He expected good efforts from everyone."
---
      Here is what else Lambright -- a quiet but stern man -- expected.
       "Maxie was a stickler about this," said Collins, who has been known to use some colorful language. "He didn't want any turds. He wanted good people. He wanted us to treat recruiting white and black kids equally."
      No one could recall any significant problems, on or off the field with the black athletes and with the mixture of black and white kids on the team.
      "They were quality citizens, all of them," remembered Ken Lantrip, the starting quarterback of the 1970 and '71 teams, the left-hander who succeeded Bradshaw in that role. "They were very athletic -- more so than the white boys, if I can say that. They could run, and their speed made so much difference on our team. ... They all had God-given ability."
      David Wilkins, who was a junior defensive end lined up next to Fred Dean at tackle in 1971, said, "When we signed them, it made so much difference. ... They had all that talent, all that ability, all that speed."
      And there was this, Wilkins added, "We had great respect for those guys. We were so focused on the hippies and Vietnam at the time, and maybe that mattered more then. So we had these athletes and they were great players -- I mean they could play -- and they kept to themselves. They were respectful, and they were there to get an education and take advantage of the opportunity given to them."
      "We got along with them," said Lewis, 86 and living at a retirement home in Ruston, "because they were good guys. They went to class, and they behaved themselves."
---
      There was one memorable "incident" with three of the black players who arrived at Tech in 1971, but it happened a year or two later. Both Slaughter and Lewis recalled it.
      "They were veterans and one year they reported to run the Bulldog Mile [at the start of fall practice]," Slaughter said, "and they had facial hair. We had team rules against that." (Remember this was a long time ago.)
      "Maxie saw them, and he blew his whistle and called them over," Slaughter continued. "They knew the rules. He told them, 'Shave that stuff off or you can go home.' He gave them 15 minutes to go to the dorm and report back [clean-shaven]. And he meant it; he didn't care. He was very strong in that regard. When he said something, he meant it. He was a tough disciplinarian.
      "I knew that because he had been my high school coach [at Bolton in Alexandria, La.]. And let me tell you, he was just as tough on his young coaching staff as he was the players. So he didn't surprise me, but he might've surprised the others."
      The players, as you might guess, returned within 15 minutes ... without facial hair.
---
      It has been 45 years, so there is a slight dispute about the story of the day Fred Dean committed to attend Tech and signed the grant-in-aid scholarship papers.
      Collins says he and Lambright were headed out on a trip in late afternoon and as they were driving out of the Joe Aillet Fieldhouse parking lot -- Maxie driving -- Dean came walking past, on his way home from nearby Ruston High School (headed west; he lived on the road toward Grambling).
      "Maxie whipped that car around," said Collins, "and asked Fred if he needed a ride. Fred got in the back seat; he was so big he had to scrunch his legs up, and he had his hands on his thighs, and Maxie asked him, 'Fred, have you made up your mind what you're going to do?'
      " 'Yup,' Dean replied.
      "Maxie said, 'What's that?'
      " 'Gonna go to Tech,' Dean answered.
      "Maxie stopped the car, punched a button [on the glove compartment] and a bunch of scholarship papers came falling out. We drove to Fred's house, and his parents were there, and they all signed the papers."
      Told that story, E.J. Lewis has his own version.
      "I saw Fred walking [near a store on Tech Drive, close to Ruston High] one day that December (1970) and I flagged him down, asked if he needed a ride; he sometimes rode to school with Luke and Jed (Lews' sons]. Then I asked him if he was ready to sign," Lewis said. When Dean said yes, "I carried him over to the Fieldhouse to meet with Maxie."
       OK, pick whatever version you want. Bottom line: Dean signed, shunning Grambling -- which was recruiting most of the good black football players in North Louisiana, the state and the area.
      Lewis said Ruston High's legendary coach, L.J. "Hoss" Garrett, helped steer Dean to Tech.
"Coach Garrett liked ol' Fred; he appreciated Fred."
      Tech had a four-time all-conference defensive tackle, "Defensive Player of the Year" in the Southland Conference in 1972 and '74 (Tech linebacker Joe McNeely won the award in '73), a second-round NFL draft pick in 1975 (33rd pick overall) by the San Diego Chargers, an 11-year NFL player, Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers, Hall of Famer.
      "No one could block Fred Dean," Lantrip remembered of his 1971 freshman season.
      Dean is No. 6 on Tech's career list of tackles made (records in this category date only back to the late '60s) with 392. The late McNeely, a super aggressive madman who led Tech in tackles in the 1971-72-73 seasons, is No. 3 with 400.
      There is a legendary story that one day during his Tech career, Dean practiced with a gunshot wound in his side.
      "I heard that after practice," Wilkins recalled, "and I went to the trainer's room (where Dean was being treated). I had to go look. There it was, the shot went right through his oblique. It went in and out of him, a flesh wound."
      On the field, Wilkins could vouch that Dean was unstoppable.
      "Fred never said two words," Wilkins said. "When he first got there, when they called a blitz, we might have to help him, double-check on the call to make sure he knew what to do.
       "Fred, he was an unbelievable guy; we were all just amazed at his athletic ability. One day we lined up to run the 40, and he outran Wenford Wilborn ... and Wilborn was very fast."
       The talent level went far beyond Dean, though, at Tech in 1971.
       (Next: A running-back team to remember)


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Quick Six," Roland and Co.: Big winners at La. Tech

(11th in a series)
     He is not the most heralded running back to come out of Springhill, La. -- that was locked up for good a long time ago (John David Crow) -- but Charles McDaniel was a special football player.
     His nickname was special, too: "Quick Six."
     By the time his four-year career ended at Louisiana Tech University in 1974, McDaniel was considered by many -- me included -- as the best running back in school history. If not the best, certainly the most productive.
     The numbers, his then-school record rushing and scoring totals, bear that out.
     Start with his freshman season (1971) with 14 rushing touchdowns (17 overall), 104 points, 913 rushing yards -- all school records then -- and it's easy to see why Tech's team went from a 2-8 record the year before to 9-2.
     There was a lot more to the turnaround, a lot more players responsible, than McDaniel -- one of the six African-American players who integrated the Tech program that year. But the people who were there, and the longtime Bulldogs fans, will tell you that what Fred Dean -- a future Pro Football Hall of Famer -- was to the defense, "Quick Six" was to the offense.
     "He was really the difference for us," said Ken Lantrip, who quarterbacked the 1970 and 1971 teams. "His speed, the threat that he could break any play for a touchdown."
     "That breakaway speed, the great outside threat," said David Wilkins, a junior defensive end in '71.
     McDaniel's career numbers (all school records when he finished): 553 carries, 2,754 rushing yards, 52 touchdowns (15 as a senior in 1974 when he was the Southland Conference "Offensive Player of the Year), 314 points. He led Tech in rushing three of his four seasons and had nine games of 100 yards or more.
     Tech's four-year record: 44-4, two national titles, four Southland titles ... the greatest era in school football history.
     He wasn't big; he wasn't a special-teams player -- factors which probably kept him out of the NFL -- but he was as explosive a runner as North Louisiana had ever had to that point ... and maybe that's still true. It's subjective.
     I can say that if I had to choose, he'd be among the best I'd seen. Of course, I didn't see Crow at Springhill in 1952 and '53 -- well before my time -- but I'd rate McDaniel with Tony Papa of Shreveport-Jesuit (1964-65), Pat Mason of Captain Shreve (1971) and Raymond Tate of Minden (1979-80) in a select group.
     There are many others -- some with great speed and size, some grinders who could break tackles repeatedly, some with great moves. But for excitement, "Quick Six" was as good as any.
     I covered several of Springhill's games in his senior year there (1970) -- the team reached the Class AAA semifinals -- and one of those games and one of my game stories (and I'm not humble about writing this) led to his nickname.
     Against Jesuit at then-State Fair Stadium, McDaniel twice broke long touchdown runs. He was in the end zone seemingly before the Flyers could react. In the story the next morning, I described them as "quick six" touchdowns.
     The Springhill people picked up on that. The next week he was known as "Quick Six" McDaniel. The next time I covered the Lumberjacks, there were banners with "Quick Six" references.
     I can't recall his high school uniform number, but when he went to play at Louisiana Tech, his number was ... 6. No surprise, and what a great marketing tool.
     The Chicago Bears took McDaniel in the 13th round of the 1975 NFL Draft, the 316th overall pick. But he didn't make the team. It was his four-year partner at running back at Tech who did make the Bears' team ... and stuck.
     Because as great as McDaniel had been, the much unheralded Roland Harper was in the long run (yes, that's a play on words) the more durable and versatile back. He was quite a talent, too.
---

Roland Harper
     Roland Harper blocked for Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel. Then he blocked for Walter Payton. But he was a lot more than a blocker; he was a quiet leader.
     "I thought he was our most valuable offensive player in 1971," Lantrip said. "Not only did he block for Quick Six; he did so much. We put in a dive option that season, and he got the tough inside yards for us. He was a great blocker; he was a great receiver; we screened to him a lot."
     As a high school senior at Captain Shreve -- part of the integration of the football team there -- he was a standout as Shreve won its first district championship (in the school's fourth year). I thought the 1970 Gators were the second-best of Coach Lee Hedges' annual powerhouse teams, topped only by the undefeated state champions of 1973.
     That Shreve team lost a second-round playoff game at Sulphur, lost on first downs in a 20-20 tie in which Shreve's usually reliable placekicker missed the PAT that would have won the game.
     Pat Collins was the Tech assistant coach mainly in charge of recruiting Shreveport players. He had been looking at Harper, and in the game at Sulphur, assistant coach E.J. Lewis -- back in his hometown -- also got a look.
     "I saw him play one quarter," Lewis recalled, "and I knew we wanted him. After the game, I went down to meet him, put my arm around him and said, 'We want you on our campus (for a visit) next week. He said, 'I'm coming.' "
     He did, he signed, and he started as a freshman alongside McDaniel. Tech was on its way to a tremendous era.
     Four years later the Bears also had scouted a complete running back and drafted him in the 17th round, the 420nd pick overall. It was quite a bargain.
     He developed into a starter as a rookie, the main blocker for and good friend to fellow rookie Payton, a first-round pick who began the journey to becoming the NFL's all-time leading rusher (until Emmitt Smith topped him).
     Harper was with the Bears for eight seasons, missing one with a knee injury, and he ran for 3,044 yards, with 15 touchdowns.
     He remained in the Chicago area, runs a trucking and excavating company, and has been -- according to the website -- "a passionate advocate" for Little Angels, a home for children and young adults with severe disabilities and complex medical needs. 
---
     Joining McDaniel and Harper in the 1971 freshman class and as four-year regulars were two  offensive linemen, tackle Roy Waters and guard Randy Crouch. Both eventually were all-conference selections. The same was true for 1971 recruit Gerald Eddings, a guard who redshirted the first year.
     All-conference offensive linemen, in fact, became a tradition. Center Phil Israel made it in 1971, his replacement (Russell Bates) did so, as did tackle Pat Greer twice.
     At wide receiver, split end Eric Johnson -- a small "least like to succeed in college football" type -- developed into a two-time all-conference player. Denny Duron was productive at wide receiver, too, in 1971 before moving back to his high school position (QB) to be a terrific passer and runner and even better leader -- setting the tone for a devout Christian group of student/athletes at Tech.
     At QB, Duron led Tech to 12-0 and 12-1 records, two national championships in NCAA Division II. He was the SLC "Offensive Player of the Year" in 1973.
     But the best receiver on the team was a lanky, very fast white kid from a small town, Cotton Valley, who didn't play high school football. Roger Carr came to Tech as a track-field athlete and wasn't sure he wanted to stay with college football. He came and went, and came back again -- the coaches had to go get him several times -- but in 1971 he began to fulfill his enormous football promise.
     He led Tech in receiving each of his last three years, wound up with 19 career TD catches, in 1972 was the Southland Conference "Offensive Player of the Year," and made enough plays, especially as a deep threat, to develop into a first-round draft pick (24th pick overall) by the Baltimore Colts in 1974.
     Soon he was an All-Pro receiver, on the end of Bert Jones' passes for playoff teams, and he played for 10 seasons in the NFL.
     (Starting in the 1972 season, Tech's receiving corps also included tight end Mike Barber and split end Pat Tilley. Both would be standouts and NFL Draft pick -- Barber in the second round, Tilley in the fourth -- and play for a decade in the league.)
 ---
      In 1970, Tech's team had enough talent on defense to keep it close in most games,but the offense had a middling running game, with no real speed threat. There were losses by 6 points, 2, 3, 4, 3 and 7; eight losses overall, six in a row after an opening victory.
      Lantrip, taking over at QB after backing Terry Bradshaw for two seasons, proved he was capable of throwing the football well enough to continue Tech's strong QB tradition. But typical of the frustration of that season was the last game, a 27-20 loss to Northeast Louisiana.
      After falling behind by two touchdowns early, the Bulldogs -- with Mickey Slaughter, the assistant coach calling plays -- just abandoned the running game.
      Lantrip threw 74 passes, shattering the school record for a game, for a school-record 492 yards (Bradshaw's best was 445). But it was still a loss.
      In 1971, though, Lantrip -- with those linemen, receivers and at least three good backs (Glen Berteau had started before "Quick Six" and Harper arrived) -- had plenty of help.
---
      The impact of the 1971 freshmen, especially McDaniel and Harper, is evident in the team per-game statistics compared with 1970. The running game went from a paltry 80.4 yards to 193.1; total offense went from 299.3 to 411.1; the scoring average went from 16.5 to 27.4.
       The passing game was almost identical -- 218.9 to 218.0. But Lantrip, who threw for 2,156 yards and then 2,105, had five few interceptions and five more TD passes in 1971.
       "Coach Slaughter always wanted to be 50-50 run-pass," Lantrip said. "We tried to balance it out, and we did that in my senior year."
       So with "Quick Six," Harper and the 1971 recruiting class came a formula that worked for most of the 1970s, a winning tradition, and what became a yearly recruiting haul.
       (Next: Making it work at Tech)

     
                        
   

In 1971, La. Tech football turned for good

Fred Dean, at Louisiana Tech
(10th in a series)    
     When Louisiana Tech University's football program integrated, it did so in a big way ... and it paid off in a big way.
     Unlike the basketball program, in which only one player (George "Petey" Thornton) broke the color "barrier" in the fall of 1968, six African-American players joined the Tech football team in the fall of 1971. They signed scholarship grant-in-aids in the winter of 1970.
     The names -- and old Tech fans will remember -- were Fred Dean, Roland Harper, Charles "Quick Six" McDaniel, Wenford Wilborn, Larry Griffin, Gerald Eddings. This was a dynamic group.
     Dean was a hometown kid (Ruston), a defensive tackle who would wind up in the Pro Fotball Hall of Fame. Harper (Shreveport-Captain Shreve) and McDaniel (Springhill) were running backs; Wilborn (White Oak, Texas) and Griffin (Shreveport-Northwood) were cornerbacks; Eddings was an offensive lineman from Minden.
     All but Eddings (who redshirted) were immediate starters. All, including Eddings, were four-year regulars. All were, from the people I've talked to recently, good fits off the field, as well.
     What a class it was; what immediate impact those players made. Joined by some other talented (and sensational) white recruits, they touched off the greatest five-year period of Louisiana Tech football.
     The Bulldogs went from a luckless 2-8 record in 1970 -- the first year AB (After Bradshaw) -- to 9-2 in 1971 and a Southland Conference championship in Tech's first year in the league.
      Then came successive records of 12-0, 12-1, 11-1 and 8-2. Add it up: 52-6 in five years, 37 victories in 38 games in one stretch (and 42 out of 44). Four consecutive Southland titles and two national championships -- a "mythical" one (1972) and then the first official NCAA Division II title in history (1973).
     Think integration didn't help turn Tech's program in a hurry? But who knew how it was going to turn out?
---
     According to the three then-Tech assistant coaches -- Pat Collins, Mickey Slaughter and E.J. Lewis -- I spoke to, there was no grand plan to integrate Tech football.
     There was no edict from school president Dr. F. Jay Taylor, no single meeting in which head coach Maxie Lambright told his assistants to begin recruiting black players. But after that 2-8 season, something had to change.
     "Because we were playing teams with black players," Slaughter recalled, "we came to the realization, as a staff, that in order to compete, in the present and future, we had to recruit good athletes regardless of color. We wanted kids that could make a contribution. It just kind of evolved at a time when teams in the Deep South actively began recruiting black athletes. ... It was the natural order of things."
     "It was time for us to get with the program," Collins said, "to get with what was going on around us. And Dr. Taylor gave his blessing to that [integrating the program].
     "As a staff, we kept persisting that we should do this."
     Tech was four years behind rival Northeast Louisiana, which brought in running back Joe Profit in 1967. A hometown player (Richwood High), Profit played sparingly as a freshman, but by the time he finished in 1970, he had been outstanding enough to be a first-round NFL draft pick (by the Atlanta Falcons).
     LSU integrated its program the same year as Tech, 1971, although the two signees (RB Lora Hinton of Chesapeake, Va., and cornerback Mike Williams of Covington, La.) didn't play play with the varsity until 1972 (freshmen were not eligible in Division I then).
     Collins, who -- with Slaughter, Lewis and Pat "Gravy" Patterson -- was part of Lambright's staff for all of his Tech tenure (1967-78), said integration almost happened sooner.
     The 1970 recruiting class included, he said, "one hellacious running back and a great kid" he signed from an all-black high school in Shreveport. The young man reported for fall practice and worked out for three days before the Tech coaches learned he would not qualify for school academically.
     "We had to take him to the bus station and put him on a bus back to Shreveport," Collins said. "It was a sad day for us, and a sad day for him."
     And in the previous spring training, an African-American student already enrolled at Tech tried  out as a walk-on. "He had some ability, but didn't make the team," Collins said.
     But it provided a lesson for the linebackers coach who, after leaving Tech went to Northeast Louisiana and built a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame-worthy head coaching record (he'll be inducted this summer).
     "We rolled him out there with the rest of [the team]," said Collins, who like the others on the coaching staff had never coached a black player, "and I realized that it didn't matter what color a guy was when he put on that helmet."
     "Everyone on our staff looked at our players as all the same," Slaughter said. "They were athletes going to college. We treated them all the same. Maxie set the pace on that. He expected good efforts from everyone."
---
     Here is what else Lambright -- a quiet but stern man -- expected.
     "Maxie was a stickler about this," said Collins, who has been known to use some colorful language. "He didn't want any turds. He wanted good people. He wanted us to treat recruiting white and black kids equally."      
     No one could recall any significant problems, on or off the field with the black athletes and with the mixture of black and white kids on the team.
     "They were quality citizens, all of them," remembered Ken Lantrip, the starting quarterback of the 1970 and '71 teams, the left-hander who succeeded Bradshaw in that role. "They were very athletic -- more so than the white boys, if I can say that. They could run, and their speed made so much difference on our team. ... They all had God-given ability."
     David Wilkins, who was a junior defensive end lined up next to Fred Dean at tackle in 1971, said, "When we signed them, it made so much difference. ... They had all that talent, all that ability, all that speed."
     And there was this, Wilkins added, "We had great respect for those guys. We were so focused on the hippies and Vietnam at the time, and maybe that mattered more then. So we had these athletes and they were great players -- I mean they could play -- and they kept to themselves. They were respectful, and they were there to get an education and take advantage of the opportunity given to them."
     "We got along with them," said Lewis, 86 and living at a retirement home in Ruston, "because they were good guys. They went to class, and they behaved themselves."
---
    There was one memorable "incident" with three of the black players who arrived at Tech in 1971, but it happened a year or two later. Both Slaughter and Lewis recalled it.
     "They were veterans and one year they reported to run the Bulldog Mile [at the start of fall practice]," Slaughter said, "and they had facial hair. We had team rules against that." (Remember this was a long time ago.)
     "Maxie saw them, and he blew his whistle and called them over," Slaughter continued. "They knew the rules. He told them, 'Shave that stuff off or you can go home.' He gave them 15 minutes to go to the dorm and report back [clean-shaven]. And he meant it; he didn't care. He was very strong in that regard. When he said something, he meant it. He was a tough disciplinarian.
     "I knew that because he had been my high school coach [at Bolton in Alexandria, La.]. And let me tell you, he was just as tough on his young coaching staff as he was the players. So he didn't surprise me, but he might've surprised the others."
     The players, as you might guess, returned within 15 minutes ... without facial hair.
---
     It has been 45 years, so there is a slight dispute about the story of the day Fred Dean committed to attend Tech and signed the grant-in-aid scholarship papers.
     Collins says he and Lambright were headed out on a trip in late afternoon and as they were driving out of the Joe Aillet Fieldhouse parking lot -- Maxie driving -- Dean came walking past, on his way home from nearby Ruston High School (headed west; he lived on the road toward Grambling).
     "Maxie whipped that car around," said Collins, "and asked Fred if he needed a ride. Fred got in the back seat; he was so big he had to scrunch his legs up, and he had his hands on his thighs, and Maxie asked him, 'Fred, have you made up your mind what you're going to do?'
     " 'Yup,' Dean replied.
     "Maxie said, 'What's that?'
     " 'Gonna go to Tech,' Dean answered.
     "Maxie stopped the car, punched a button [on the glove compartment] and a bunch of scholarship papers came falling out. We drove to Fred's house, and his parents were there, and they all signed the papers."  
     Told that story, E.J. Lewis has his own version.
     "I saw Fred walking [near a store on Tech Drive, close to Ruston High] one day that December (1970) and I flagged him down, asked if he needed a ride; he sometimes rode to school with Luke and Jed (Lews' sons]. Then I asked him if he was ready to sign," Lewis said. When Dean said yes, "I  carried him over to the Fieldhouse to meet with Maxie."
     OK, pick whatever version you want. Bottom line: Dean signed, shunning Grambling -- which was recruiting most of the good black football players in North Louisiana, the state and the area.
     Lewis said Ruston High's legendary coach, L.J. "Hoss" Garrett, helped steer Dean to Tech.
     "Coach Garrett liked ol' Fred; he appreciated Fred."
     Tech had a four-time all-conference defensive tackle, "Defensive Player of the Year" in the Southland Conference in 1972 and '74 (Tech linebacker Joe McNeely won the award in '73), a second-round NFL draft pick in 1975 (33rd pick overall) by the San Diego Chargers, an 11-year NFL player, Super Bowl winner with the San Francisco 49ers, Hall of Famer.
     "No one could block Fred Dean," Lantrip remembered of his 1971 freshman season.
     Dean is No. 6 on Tech's career list of tackles made (records in this category date only back to the late '60s) with 392. The late McNeely, a super aggressive madman who led Tech in tackles in the 1971-72-73 seasons, is No. 3 with 400.
     There was a legendary story that one day during his Tech career, Dean practiced with a gunshot  wound in his side.
       "I heard that after practice," Wilkins recalled, "and I went to the trainer's room (where Dean was being treated). I had to go look. There it was, the shot went right through his oblique. It went in and out of him, a flesh wound."
       On the field, Wilkins could vouch that Dean was unstoppable.
     "Fred never said two words," Wilkins said. "When he first got there, when they called a blitz, we might have to help him, double-check on the call to make sure he knew what to do.
      "Fred, he was an unbelievable guy; we were all just amazed at his athletic ability. One day we lined up to run the 40, and he outran Wenford Wilborn ... and Wilborn was very fast."
       The talent level went far beyond Dean, though, at Tech in 1971.
        (Next: A running back team to remember)


       





Saturday, April 4, 2015

Birthday No. 70: It's Bea's day

     She is 70 today. Amazing.
     Yes, it is Easter Sunday and for us baseball fans, it is one of the great days of the year, Opening Day (well, for me and the Yankees, it's Monday). But for the Van Thyns, this is Beatrice's Birthday.
     "You don't have to write anything about me," she said Saturday. Of course, I don't. But sometimes -- not often -- I don't do what she says.
     Right.
     And I'm proud of her. So are Jason and Rachel, and the two in-law kids (Ann, Russell), and I know the four grandchildren (Josie, Jacob, Kaden, Eli) are even if they're not all quite aware.
     Even Beatrice Annett Shaw Key Van Thyn -- born 4-5-45 -- will admit she is proud to celebrate her 70th birthday today.
     "The standard significant birthdays that everyone goes by -- the 20th, 40th, 50th -- didn't mean that much to me," she said Saturday, "but this one feels epic. I'm just so grateful to be here, and to have my health."
     Well, yes, there was colon cancer 13 years ago and then a recurrence three years later, and 30 years of smoking (and then to stop cold some 15 years ago). So good health is a major victory (as it is with anyone, at any age).
     She does go through physical discomfort occasionally, but she battles and she is tough ... and, well, we all make mistakes we regret. But here is what I love: Most days she has a young mind-set and a young attitude. With her, "younger next year" is more than a book title.
     She has become a workout enthusiast and she continues her yoga classes and home practice,  and she has encouraged her roommate to join the yoga classes. That's right.
     Honestly, we don't always agree. There is more than one stubborn, hard-headed, argumentative person living here. One of us in not quite as anti-football (getting there, but not giving it up yet); one of us is not quite the NBA/Mavericks fan the other one is; one of us doesn't give a rip about the others' favorite teams and sports.
      But we do love books and our book club, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra pops concerts, and jazz concerts, visits to the YMCA; we eat healthier and wiser (much of the time); we keep the apartment clean as we can; we are diligent about laundry and car maintenance; we do our grocery shopping together once a week ... and mostly we love visiting with the kids and grandkids -- in person, by phone or by Facetime.
       She loves her I-Pad and Google, and Facebook, and her new smart phone (finally), and Michio Kaku, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Deepak Chopra, Morgan Freeman and the Wormhole and -- for some reason -- Person of Interest. Also, Dancing With The Stars and Downton Abbey.
       She tolerates (barely) our cats ... most of the time.
       She is wise about money, and people, and doing what's right. She is planning for our future.
       She is my biggest booster, and my biggest critic, and I am hers. If I'm writing a blog (often) or a speech (rare), and I need help or revision -- or to be told it's too long -- I know who to ask.
        (I hope this isn't too long. But her view is going to be that anything I write about her is too long.)
        I love the way she is concerned about friends, about her sisters, her late brother's widow and all the families involved, and mostly the way she looks after her kids, their spouses and their kids ... and me.
        It's her 70th, and it's a great day. Happy Birthday, Miss Bea ... and many more.

    










Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wiggins: coach, neighbor, friend ... winner

     When Billy Wiggins died Friday in Shreveport, the news was difficult to hear. It was a tough day.
     Not a big surprise because his health had been in obvious decline for several years. But tears came several times after his son, Freddy, sent me a Facebook message in early afternoon.
     Wig meant a great deal to me, professionally in a coach/sportswriter relationship, and more importantly, on a personal basis because he looked after my parents -- especially Dad -- for years.
     Wish I had written this months ago. Wiggins might've enjoyed it, although to be honest, I don't think he gave much of a damn about personal publicity. He never had much to say about anything I wrote about his teams or their games.
     But then Wiggins never had much to say about anything ... unless he was coaching his players or berating basketball officials. That he did quite well.
     He was short, in stature and with words. I've known few people who could be more succinct in describing games, people and situations. Ten words was a speech for Wiggins.
     If you were a sportswriter, he would give you exactly what you needed (if it was printable), but he was not going to be expansive or rambling. He was direct, and he was honest. If he didn't like something or someone, you'd know it.
     He was calm on the bench, actually one of the calmest coaches I've seen in basketball ... until he got hot, and that did happen.
     It wasn't so much with his players, although he could be stern. But if the officials got it wrong, in his view, he could be livid. He respected opposing coaches, but if he didn't like them, he wouldn't have much to do with them.
     But within the Shreveport-Bossier, North Louisiana and state coaching fraternity, he was popular ... and respected. Because he was a winner; his teams were winners. They played hard, they played clean, and they were efficient.
     Not many teams faced his teams at North Caddo, Captain Shreve, Trinity Heights and other private-school stops, and had an easy time. (Well, he did have a couple of clunkers late in his coaching career when talent was severely lacking.)
     His teams were tough, physically and mentally. In that way, they much reflected their coach.
     His players had to be tough; if they weren't, they sat. Or they left. And they were fundamentally sound in basketball; not many coaches in my experience in North Louisiana were better teachers of fundamentals -- shooting, passing, dribbling, rebounding, in-your-shorts man-to-man defense (almost always man-to-man, seldom played zone defenses).
     And, mostly, competitive. That was Wiggins.
     Mike Harrell, in my opinion one of the two best players Wiggins ever coached (his Captain Shreve teammate Jeff Sudds was the other), told me Friday, "I never met anyone who hated losing more than he did, in anything, ping-pong or whatever. ... One thing he instilled in me was to be very competitive.
     "I thoroughly liked him as a coach," added Harrell, now an attorney in Dallas. "Wiggins set me up good for college basketball [at Bradley University]."
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     I thoroughly liked him as a person. Coaching was only one reason. Being around him, because he was fun and subtly funny, was another.  
     Loved what seemed to be an easy relationship with Miss Amy -- she is as talkative as Wig wasn't -- and his kids (Sharan and Freddy), and I've read on Facebook how his grandkids adored their "Popi." (Sharan, not incidentally, married one of Wiggins' players on his early -- and greatly successful -- Captain Shreve teams, Tommy McGuire.)
     But what made Wiggins special to me -- as with some of the Woodlawn coaches of the 1960s -- was his relationship with my parents. When they moved to South Broadmoor in 1967, Billy and Amy moved there, a couple of blocks away, a couple of years later.
     My Dad loved basketball, and he appreciated great athletes and great coaches. He knew Wiggins had been a great athlete in high school (Winnsboro, La.) and college (Louisiana Tech); I told him that.
     I could do paragraphs on Wiggins' achievements in athletics. His Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame bio covers it: http://www.latechsports.com/hallfame/billy_wiggins.html
     Dad was quite the Woodlawn fan, so he wasn't rooting for Wiggins' teams when they faced Woodlawn. But otherwise, he became a Wiggins fan. And he came to realize in time what kind of neighbor Wig was.
     As they both retired -- well, Wiggins "piddled" at jobs long after he stopped coaching and teaching -- Wiggins would often walk those two blocks to my parents' house and visit for coffee and conversation. I mean, this was an almost daily thing for a decade or so in my parents' later years.
      You can imagine, my Dad loved to talk (and so did Mom); Wiggins was sparse with words. So who did most of the talking -- Dad, with his world view, his many experiences.
      Here was a contrast -- Dad from a big city overseas (Amsterdam), a Holocaust survivor who spoke broken English, sometimes hard to figure out. Wiggins, a four-year U.S. Air Force veteran from a rural place who spoke Southern. But he seemed to understand Dad, who amused him and Wig gently could tease him.
       I got in on quite a few coffee visits while we lived in Shreveport-Bossier (through 1988) and on return trips home. But Wiggins was much closer to my parents' age than he was mine.
       When Dad got too old to care for his yard, Wiggins did it. For a couple of years, he cut Dad's grass every week or so. Wiggins -- basketball/football coach, yardman.
       Mostly Dad loved it because they could talk sports and because Wiggins paid attention to him. It was a beautiful friendship.
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       Mike Harrell said Wiggins "was the first coach I had who was intense" and he can tell stories on how much of a taskmaster the coach was on defensive and shooting drills -- to the point that as a sophomore Harrell walked off the court and wasn't sure he wanted to play. 
       "He was scrupulously fair with everyone," said Harrell, the city and state's "Outstanding Player" in the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons. "... He didn't play favorites, he made everyone work equally hard. ... 
       "He never yelled at you as much as expressed disappointment," Harrell added. "I heard him yell 'crap!' a lot ... very loudly. He wasn't demeaning or belittling you, but he had a temper."
       Yes, he did. And I heard a lot worse than "crap." I saw him irate -- ready to fight -- after a one-point loss at Woodlawn in 1972 when Robert Parish made a putback shot at the buzzer after his own missed free throw -- a much-too-long 2 seconds after it looked as if an underdog and deserving Shreve team was about to beat the eventual state champs. No printable Wiggins quotes that night.
       He was absolutely crushed and furious, as were many others, after the Class AAA state championship game in 1970. Brother Martin won it 72-56, but that score ... so misleading.
       Shreve, with Harrell and Sudds (both All-State) as seniors, had won 33 in a row and was 35-1, then built a 16-point halftime lead. But in a tightly officiated game, Shreve's stars got into foul trouble, Brother Martin caught up and it was tied at 56-56 when Shreve lost a chance to win near the end. Guard Shelby Houston was called for charging on the baseline -- a highly debatable call -- with 8 seconds remaining in regulation.
       Shreve's team lacked quality depth -- its only real weakness -- and when its starting lineup practically fouled out, some in OT, Brother Martin won the OT 16-0. It was one of the toughest losses I've seen a great team take.
       The charging call was made by Bobby Olah, who after the game was laughing and joking with people in the lobby of Rapides Coliseum in Alexandria. I didn't think that was funny, and neither did Jerry Byrd, who stared him down. If looks could have killed, Byrd killed Olah that night.
       A friend Friday said he guessed Olah won't be a pallbearer at Wiggins' funeral. Olah was a name Wiggins really didn't want to hear.
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       I remember the first time I saw Billy Wiggins up close -- early December 1962, a Woodlawn basketball game at North Caddo, my sophomore year as manager/statistician. Our bus pulled into the circular drive in front of the school and there was the basketball coach busy doing something. He waved, Coach Jerry Adams -- the bus driver -- stopped, and Wiggins got on our bus. What?
       It was quickly evident, as Wiggins gave directions to the back of the school where the gym was located, that our coaches (Adams and W.B. Calvert) were fond of this guy.
       We saw a lot of Wiggins and North Caddo in those early '60s years, and his teams were good but not great. He would admit that early in his coaching career at North Caddo, where he went when it opened in 1956, he was not as good a coach as he might've been. He'd rather scrimmage with his players than purely coach them.
        His teams were offensive-oriented, but not the defensive-minded units he would develop later. Once he determined he needed to coach better defensively -- remember, he had been an offensive star as a player -- the championships started coming.
         He didn't have big winners until the 1965-66 season when North Caddo -- led by Mike Durham, Pete Schuler and Jerry Carlisle -- won the Class AA state championship. That was neat to see because, even from another school's standpoint, we had seen those kids grow as players.
         Wiggins, the guard, became a masterful teacher, too, of post play with such stars as Durham, Harrell, Sudds and Tommy Grubb (Captain Shreve).  
         After the North Caddo title, Wiggins returned to Louisiana Tech -- where a lot of people wanted to see him -- as an assistant to Scotty Robertson for the 1966-67 season (my sophomore year there), and Tech won the Gulf States Conference title.
         But he didn't like the college coaching role and returned to high school when Captain Shreve opened in the fall of '67. One of his fellow North Caddo coaches, Stanley Powell, was Shreve's founding principal. 
         By the second season, the Gators won the District 1-AAA championship, taking two of three games from state champion Woodlawn. That team went 29-4, finishing with a state quarterfinals loss in New Orleans to St. Aloysius (soon to become Brother Martin in a merged school) 
         Wiggins was part of a Shreve state championship team, as a football assistant coach, in 1973. Those Gators were talented, dominant and undefeated.
          In the same school year, Carlos Pennywell -- receiving star of the football team -- led the basketball team to the state semifinals, where it lost to a stronger Brother Martin team, led by future Kentucky and NBA star Rick Robey.
          Wiggins won another state championship in the private school organization with Trinity Heights in the early 1980s. But his great coaching days soon were done. 
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           Dad made it to 89. Wiggins made it to 85. They died seven years apart. For both, the last few years were tough.
           Which brings me, finally, to my last visit with Coach Wiggins. Bea and I stopped by the house in South Broadmoor last Aug. 1 -- on the day of the Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum Hall of Fame event in Shreveport -- and Wig was in the living-room recliner where he spent many days in the past few years.
            He was hooked to an oxygen tank, could barely talk, and mostly just listened to Amy and me. Amy whispered that "he can't hear anything," but every now and then I would see Billy smile, and he would utter a word or give me a thumbs-up, which indicated to me that he knew exactly what was being said.
            He was still the good audience he had been for Dad all those years.
            The fiery days were long behind, the great player and great coach a distant memory. For those of us who were around him quite a bit, he is an unforgettable, honest treasure.
            My writer deluxe friend Joe Rhodes, a manager/statistician for Wiggins at Shreve in the early 1970s, posted this Friday on Facebook:
            "Coach Billy Wiggins, who taught me how to drive, who trusted me with the keys to the gym, who gave me refuge and inspiration and a sense of responsibility, died today. Good game, coach."