Monday, December 31, 2012

Gratitude for an old year, and a new one

          As I start this blog, there are seven hours left in this year. It is an hour-and-a-half until kickoff of the LSU-Clemson game, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta -- and appropriate finish for my sports year.
           I am also on the last page of my 2012 calendar, which -- as mentioned in a previous blog -- I used to write a daily gratitude. My wife encouraged that, and the other day, she asked if I was going to continue in 2013.
          And I am. Plan to do it in a different format -- such as a notebook -- but the idea is to stop daily and make note of something, or someone, that impacted life that day, or maybe that week.
          So my last gratitude of 2012 is for ... my gratitude journal. I'm saving it because Bea says it'll be fun to look at it again, say, three years from now. OK.
          In short, though, there is so much for which to be grateful, mostly family and friends. Facebook has its advies and disadvies -- as my close friend John W. Marshall III coined it years ago -- but the connection with old friends is, for the most part, a plus.
          One of the great pleasures of the past year was seeing old friends, some of them for the first time in many, many years. Can't express to you how good that feels. Going to Bea's high school reunion in Ringgold, La. -- where I knew only a few people but one of them was one of Louisiana's top basketball players of the early 1960s -- was a good day.
          Saw a lot of old familiar faces, too, in a more somber situation -- the visitation and then funeral service for our great friend, Dr. James C. Farrar ... Coach Farrar. He touched us all in a positive way.
          These days there are always too many old friends listed in the obits, and too many funerals.
           Our toughest days this year were Feb. 23 -- the day Bea's only brother, Howard (my age, two years younger than Bea) -- died (not unexpectedly) and Feb. 27, the day he was buried in central Texas.
 ---
            As the year closes, we're into a new phase, as I wrote last week. This is the ninth day of my retirement, not that I'm counting the days. And I'm bored.
            No, just kidding. It's a good life.
Our "big three": Kaden, Jacob and Josie
            Nothing boring about having my three grandkids together, which happens only a couple of times a year. It was -- as I put on a Facebook post Saturday -- a loud, busy afternoon in our little apartment. These three -- Josie, 5; Jacob, 3 (almost 4); and Kaden, 1 (almost 2) -- are lively, but they got along beautifully.
             If every day was as good as Saturday, Bea and I would be content. She adds, "also exhausted."
             So people have suggested I will be bored, and have asked, "What will you do with your time?"  Do not worry, I have told them, there is plenty to do.
            I have eight books sitting to my left that need reading; they have been sitting there for two years. I have an electronic picture frame that needs putting together, and the pictures on my computer that need organizing, so that the frame can function. Because my daughter is an avid scrapbooker, I could do scrapbooks -- many scrapbooks -- with the hundreds of career clippings, photos and memorabilia I have collected for 50-plus years.
            I have my daily walks -- through the TCU campus and around the nearby neighborhoods, looking for money that's been left on the streets and in drivethroughs and parking lots (it's a lucrative business, at times).
            If it's too cold or too wet, the walks are on the boring treadmill (but the workouts are more intense). Really should do that more often if I want to maintain the 155-pound level for which I am. Because we pay more attention to what we eat -- and cut out a lot of the sweet and white stuff (cake, ice cream, cookies, mashed potatoes, white bread) -- I lost 20 pounds about two years ago. Still, I could do better when it comes to sweets.
             We plan to travel some. We'd like to see Chicago and San Francisco and Boston and New York City again (the new Yankee Stadium sounds good, if someone will give me a ticket), and one goal for me is to make it to Cooperstown when Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera go into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Never been to Cooperstown.
               But our immediate travel goal is another trip to my home country, The Netherlands. Maybe in late April/early May when the tulips bloom. We're thinking of taking a river cruise so we can see a lot of the country. We'll see.
                Travel takes time, and money, and energy. We have the time. The money and energy ... hmmm. When we went back to Hawaii -- where we lived in 1980-81 when I worked for The Honolulu Advertiser -- we never did get over the jet lag. Still trying to get over it.
              And, of course, we'll be going to Knoxville, Tenn., a couple of times a year, hopefully, because that's where Josie, Rachel and Russell are. Plus, there will be plenty of trips to "new" McKinney, an hour away to see Jacob, Kaden, Ann and Jason.
              Also, what will keep me going is this ... the blog. Started it in late January a year ago, and it's been fun. It's a personal blog, my memoirs, I suppose, and a way to recall the events and thank people that have been important in my life.
               Sometimes it's a way to get on the soapbox and express my feelings. Of course, a lot of it is about sports and newspapers/journalism because that's what I know, that's who I am. Broke a personal rule and delved into politics a couple of times, and that irritated some people -- to say the least -- but so be it.
              Mostly, though, it's been fun to see the reaction and the feedback. It's been well-received and I thank you. How's that for gratitude?
              Happy New Year to each of you.
             
         

Sunday, December 23, 2012

One word: Retired

    "And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it."
---
     Borrowed the quote above from the last Tonight Show appearance by my favorite all-time television performer, Johnny Carson, in May 1993. Today it fits for me.
     My sportswriting career is finished. I am done.
     No more comebacks, even parttime ones. I thought I was done in May 2011, when I was part of the fifth layoff at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 3 1/2 years.
    I said then that my fulltime career was over. And it was.
     But because I wanted to cover high school football in the fall of 2011 and again this fall, and because there also was parttime work available inside -- on the desk, in newspaper parlance -- I worked four months at The Dallas Morning News and almost all this calendar year back at the Star-Telegram.
      One or two nights a week -- sometimes three nights -- wasn't a bad deal. Little pressure, and good people around. And the papers paid me.
     Covering high school football these past two seasons, at some fabulous facilities and some ordinary ones, was a blast. Texas high school football -- Friday Night Lights -- is as good it gets, if you love covering the preps ... and I always have.
      My last desk shift was last Monday, a tough five-hour grind right to the deadline. Edited my last story, wrote my last cutline, my last headline. Done. See you.
The last media credential
of my career.
      My last act, my last game, Saturday afternoon, the Class 5A Division II state championship game -- Cedar Hill vs. Katy -- at the fabulous Cowboys Stadium. Wow. What a finish. I wrote the story, and I checked out of a career.
       And I'm happy; I'm satisfied. There was a little sadness this past week, but not much. I've had enough.
---
      Several people the past few weeks have suggested I would be calling next fall asking to cover games again. Several have said I will miss working, will miss the newspaper business.
    No, no and no.
    I told Bea early this year that this would be my final year, my final set of games. I don't see as well, I don't hear as well, I don't sleep well after I work, I get tired more easily. 
     Covering high school football, as much fun as it was, is more difficult these days. The games are so fast-paced, the scores are so much higher, there are tweets to post, and stats to compile and enter into the computer, and there is -- always -- a deadline to meet. 
      I found I could still do it, and I still worked at it as hard as ever. Got there early, explored the stadiums and met people, and stayed late. Did two stories: (1) a version for the next day's newspaper; (2) a longer, more detailed -- with quotes -- for the paper's web site. Happy to do it. Loved the action.
       Glad to be done. Lots for which to be grateful. I'm certainly blessed.
---
       Can't say that I loved every single minute of my career; sounds good, but I don't believe that was true even for Johnny Carson. 
       In almost 50 years -- from the time I first walked into The Shreveport Times sports department when I had just turned 16 -- there were lots of tough times. Most were self-inflicted.
      I went from job to job because I got tired of some people and misbehaved, and they got tired of me. I was told to move on more times than I could have ever imagined. But if you believe that most everything happens for a good reason -- and Beatrice has convinced me this is true -- I found that change can be good.
       We went from Louisiana to Hawaii back to Louisiana, to Florida, to Tennessee and finally to Texas. I worked for seven daily newspapers, one college, and three pro baseball teams -- some great jobs ... and some jobs.
        I was never enamored with upper management in the newspaper field, never one to totally follow the rules. But I will say that upper management at the Shreveport Journal and The Honolulu Advertiser were the best and, with few exceptions, management in the sports departments where I worked was wonderful.
          Lots of people helped me along the way. Don't even want to start to name names; just too many people, and I don't want to slight anyone. Some people saved my career; I hope they know who they are. Most people enhanced it. I tried to learn something from everyone; I hope I passed on some knowledge/advice.
        I had some management roles; some were easier than others because I was working with great people. Shreveport Journal sports for much of the 1980s was the best group, the most fun; the Star-Telegram -- I arrived late in 2001 -- was the best section in which I was involved ... at least for the first half-dozen years. 
         There's lots of thanks all around, but the biggest thanks go to my home folks. My parents ... I miss them. Mostly, though, Beatrice -- who supported me through lots of great times and difficult ones; I can always say I married well -- and my incredible kids, Jason and Rachel, who put up with much more than they should have.
         There's more I want to express, and I'll do that in a couple of days. I've got time. I'm retired.         
      

Friday, December 21, 2012

A coach who should be Fame-ous

Woodlawn was so fortunate to have these two men
as its first head football coaches: A.L. Williams
and Lee Hedges (The Shreveport Times photo). 
   Getting right to what I want to say ...
    (1) A.L. Williams has been one of my best coaching friends -- a great friend, period -- for more than 50 years. If you read my previous blog on him, you already know that.
    (2) He should be chosen for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He's been on the ballot for several years, but he hasn't been picked. Maybe there's some debate on his credentials, but not in my opinion, of course because ... I'm biased (see point No. 1).
    (3) He should have been chosen for the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame years and years ago. They have been selecting people for 35 years. How in the hell they have overlooked him is a damn travesty. 

    The list of athletes, coaches and administrators for that Hall of Fame is a long one -- and there are many, many people who have been selected with far, far less credentials than A.L. Williams. How have they missed him this long?
    I haven't discussed these Hall of Fame matters with him, because I know he's too self-effacing to promote himself for these honors. So I don't mind doing the promoting.
     He helped win a state football championship in Louisiana's top class as a player; he scored the last five touchdowns for Fair Park's 1952 champions, the only football title in the school's 84-year history.
      He coached a state championship team (Woodlawn, 1968, the Joe Ferguson-led 14-0 Knights). He was part of high school coaching staffs at Woodlawn that won 111 games and seven district titles in a 13-year period (8.5 wins a year). His head coaching record there was 64-25, with district titles in each of his first four seasons.
      He was the track/field coach in his early years at Woodlawn, and in the spring of 1966, nurtured a national record-setting javelin thrower who had to be careful with a sprained right elbow. Terry Bradshaw didn't ruin his arm that spring, but got his first taste of national attention (and had a memorable best javelin effort of 244 feet, 11 inches).
     He was a star running back/defensive back and record punt-return man at Louisiana Tech, led the Bulldogs in scoring three years in a row. He was a part of two conference championship teams; the 1955 team, whose only loss was by one point, is considered one of the school's greatest.
     He was a star track man, too, part of relay teams whose school records stood for a decade, and also a long jumper/triple jumper. He is in the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame.
    He was a college head coach for 12 seasons -- eight at Northwestern State, four at Louisiana Tech. His team played for the Division I-AA national championship at Tech. He was an innovator; one of the first in Louisiana to go to almost all-out passing game.
     And I believe this: He did it the right way; he tried to play by the rules. He made it fun for the coaches, and the players, and the parents, and the fans.
     He very much bought into the philosophy/teaching of two of his mentors, Joe Aillet (Louisiana Tech) and Lee Hedges (Woodlawn), and the coaches who had guided him at Fair Park -- F.H. Prendergast, Roy Wilson and Clem Henderson.
---
    If A.L. Williams is nominated for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame just as a college coach, I can see where he might not qualify. The final record was 66-65-1.
     Those of us who know realize that he came into a Northwestern situation where his first two years there -- the first as an assistant -- were 1-10 seasons. So he rebuilt that program, developed a bunch of NFL talent (Bobby Hebert, Mark Duper, Joe Delaney, Sidney Thornton, Petey Perot, Gary Reasons, Victor Oatis) and made it a respectable program.
       He also had to rebuild much of the Tech program his first year (1983), but by the next season, the Bulldogs were playing in the I-AA national title game. Still, consecutive records of 10-5, 8-3 and 6-4-1 weren't enough to satisfy some of the Tech folks, and he chose to leave after the 1986 season rather than -- as had been suggested -- fire some of his assistant coaches.
       One of those coaches was Billy Laird, the offensive coordinator/play-caller who was being criticized (but probably not to his face). Laird had been Woodlawn's first star quarterback, close to Coach Williams since 1960, and on his staff for seven years. No way was A.L. about to let Billy, or others go; he took the fall himself.

       Dr. Pat Garrett was chairman of Tech's athletic council then and what he said when Williams' resignation was announced still rings true with me.
       "His worth to Louisiana Tech cannot be measured," Garrett said. "He was asked to come here and return stability and integrity to the football program, and he's done that in Tech fashion. And he's done it with style and class and often under adverse conditions. A.L. Williams is a winner."
 ---
        Look, A.L. has his opinions, his views on how things should be run -- especially how athletic programs should be run. He'll speak his mind, although almost always tactfully.

       For years, he was critical of the administration and some boosters at Louisiana Tech because he felt that Joe Aillet -- a man and coach he (and many others) revered -- had not been treated respectfully enough in his final years at the university.
       His coaching/teaching style was thorough and generally low-key -- if you saw players being abused or you heard profanity on the field, in practice or in games, by anyone, it was rare.

       But I have seen A.L. lose his cool. In fact, I've experienced it.
       We didn't always share the same view; he once got on me fiercely about a column I'd written and I'm sure there were other times when he held back. (Of course, John James Marshall says that people disagreeing with me is a long list.)
      People have been critical of A.L. to me directly, or I have heard it second-hand. I listened to those opinions and took them in. Didn't say I agreed. Because I know the man pretty well; I know where he's coming from; I believe I know his values.
      And if you ask me (and no one did), I will say that for all he did -- as an athlete and a coach, as a leader and a contributor -- he's a Hall of Famer.   
     I haven't been on the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame selection committee since I left the state in 1988. I know there are great candidates every year. But I know one person I'd choose if I had a ballot next August.
     As for the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame and whoever makes those selections, people ... how have you missed A.L. Williams all these years?        
    Don't mean to be overdramatic, but that might be the biggest oversight in the history of Louisiana athletics.
    

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A.L.: The players' friend

     Two memorable moments in A.L. Williams' early years as head football coach at Shreveport's Woodlawn High School:
     -- January, 1967: Trey Prather -- Henry Lee Prather III -- comes back to the Woodlawn athletics dressing room, having just dropped out of LSU and enlisting in the Marine Corps. The Class AAA All-State quarterback of 1964, a rarely used backup at LSU in the 1966 season, asks to speak to Coach Williams.
     They go into the trainers' room next to the coaches' office. Trey sits on the training table, where he so often had had his ankles taped and been treated for injuries. He breaks down in tears.
      "I made a mistake," he tells Coach Williams. "I should have listen to you guys [the coaches]. LSU wasn't the right place for me."
       But it was too late; he was on his way to Marines' boot camp, on his way eventually to the Vietnam War.
        "We would have done anything for him," Coach Williams remembers. "We would have helped him transfer anywhere he wanted to go. It was such a sad moment. If we'd have known ..."
        -- The night of Dec. 6, 1968, State Fair Stadium, Shreveport: Woodlawn has just won its first (and only) state football championship and thousands are on the field celebrating. It is probably the shining moment of Williams' coaching career, and he is being congratulated from all sides.
        Suddenly, he is face to face with Marilyn and Lee Prather, Trey's parents. It is almost a calendar year after Trey's death in Vietnam. Marilyn and Lee are crying.
         "This was Trey's dream," one of them blurts. "He would have been so happy."
         "That put it in perspective," Coach Williams remembers. "I was so high, so elated. And then to see them. It just showed that football is just a game, no matter how big the victory.  It could never make up for what we lost when we lost Trey."
---
         He was always the players' best friend. Whether he was fishing with Terry Bradshaw, making Joe Ferguson almost a part of his family (practically Amy and Kay's big brother), engaging Ken Liberto in dragon-fly snagging on the practice field, demonstrating how to field punts properly and return them with great success, guiding running backs and defensive backs and later quarterbacks on prep techniques, drilling QBs and receivers on the intricacies of the passing game, or just counseling kids on life itself, we knew we could count on Albert Lawrence Williams Jr.
         It's been that way for the 50 years I've known him. He always had time, too, for a young (and now old) manager/statistician/sportswriter. He always had time for the media, period, no matter how big the game ahead.
         If you had a dollar for every minute Coach Williams and I have spent talking in person or on the phone, we could clear the national debt. It's been that kind of friendship.
        We might not have gotten the world's problems solved, but we gave it a lot of effort.
Sarah and A.L. Williams
        Nah, mostly we told stories. Few people can tell stories in greater details from any of the past six or seven decades than A.L., and I've been known to have some lengthy conversations myself.
         "You know how A.L. can go on and on," Sarah Williams said to me recently. She was laughing, and so was I. Sarah knows; she's been his sweetheart dating to when he was a star athlete at Fair Park in the early 1950s and she was at that other school across town. Yes, it's been a Fair Park/Byrd marriage, and it's worked fairly well for, oh, a lifetime.
          And if Sarah and A.L. are at a reunion -- and they are at many these days -- you know they are among those at the center of attention, with Coach spinning his stories.
---
           Most people know A.L. Williams for his football coaching career, his work with quarterbacks, his frequent appearances at coaching clinics talking offense. You also should know his love for Sarah, his daughters and their spouses and especially the four grandkids; his love for fishing, and visiting, and these days being a spectator at Ruston High or La. Tech games.

Coach A.L. Williams and the one-time kid
who has been his friend for 50 years.
          Those of us who are familiar, though, can tell you how much of a star athlete he was back in the '50s. Maybe never the star on his team, but one of those outstanding players -- and a great team guy.
          That's why, as a coach, the team, the school and the kids -- and not the coaching staff -- were always his top priority. I've known few people who ran a cleaner, more efficient, more successful  program than A.L. Williams. He was well-respected and, besides, he was a darned nice guy. Yes, I'm prejudiced.
          There's a lot more to tell -- of course, there is -- and so this is going to be a two-parter.
         Next: Why A.L. should be Fame-ous.
                
       
        
         

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The "accidental" stories ...

      In the newspaper field, there are stories you just absolutely stumble into. Here are two examples. One turned into an award winner. The other never made it into print.
---
      My first year as a fulltime sportswriter was the 1969-70 school year, and one of the programs The Shreveport Times covered -- but only slightly -- was the basketball team at Baptist Christian College. We rarely, if ever, covered its games; usually, the coach or someone with the team phoned in the results with a box score.
       Baptist Christian was a very small school founded in the mid-1960s by Rev. Jimmy G. Tharpe; it was located, in fact, at the northwest end of my neighborhood -- Sunset Acres. A daughter of Rev. Tharpe was in my sister's classes, elementary school through high school. So I was familiar with the place.
      It was a non-accredited school, meaning a degree from BCC meant ... what exactly when searching for a job?
      The basketball program had some players who weren't quite at the level of those at the area universities (Centenary, Louisiana Tech, Northwestern State, Northeast Louisiana), or in a coouple of cases, players who had left those programs.
       BCC was competitive, though, against the schedule it played, mainly NAIA schools from Arkansas and Mississippi.
        The coach in 1969-70 had been a moderately successful high school coach from our area. I knew a couple of the players. The team had a good record past midseason, late January, although -- as I said -- The Times did not cover many of its games in person. In talking to the coach occasionally when he called in, he seemed to be a friendly type.
        One day, one of our parttimers -- Rob Durkee, then in the Air Force stationed at Barksdale -- came in with a Jackson, Miss., newspaper he had picked up on his way through there. He noticed a story that BCC had lost a road game to Belhaven College there. But when he came back to Shreveport, he noticed that in our paper it was a win for BCC. 
          Oh-oh.
          Rob and I took out the BCC schedule and began checking. There were a couple of other road wins that looked suspicious, and in making some phone calls, indeed, they were in fact losses,
          I found phone numbers for the two players I knew on the team. But the team was on a road trip. I reached one of the players' wives and asked what she knew about the results of these road games. After a few moments of silence, she broke into tears.
          "They told us not to tell," she confessed, "The coach said they'd take away the scholarship."
          I promised her I would not reveal who had told me the story. Tried to reach the coach by phone, but couldn't. Then I called Rev. Tharpe, told him what we'd found, and asked what was going on. He said he would check with the coach and get back to me.
           I had not gone to my boss, Bill McIntyre, with what I had found. Probably should have. But Durkee and I decided we should get an explanation first. 
          On a Sunday night a couple of days later, I was working in the office at The Times when the coach suddenly appeared in the office. This was the days before a security officer had to get permission to let people into the building.
           I was a bit fearful. But the coach wasn't angry or threatening; he was apologetic. He did not deny what he'd done. He was over-apologetic. He begged us not to do a story. I told him I would have to talk to my bosses about it, and he left on somewhat amicable terms.
           When I talked to McIntyre the next day, he said he would take it to the editor of the paper. When he did, the decision was we would not do the story in print. We did, however, cut off all coverage of BCC for the rest of the season.
            Which was fine with me; it wasn't my call.
            At the end of the season, the coach was gone from the program. He eventually went back to his hometown, where he'd been the high school coach, and became a school board member, and he's in the school's Hall of Fame.
              But he's not in my Hall of Fame.
---
              In 1982, I covered my first LSU football game. All those years at The Times, McIntyre and sometimes Gerry Robichaux covered LSU football. But in my first year as executive sports editor of the Shreveport Journal -- the Monday-Saturday afternoon paper -- I covered a couple of LSU games.
              My first game, on Oct. 23, was a tough 14-6 victory against South Carolina at Tiger Stadium. It was the third (and best) of Jerry Stovall's four seasons as head coach, and the win made the Tigers 5-0-1.
              They would get to 7-0-1 before a loss at Mississippi State and they lost at home to Tulane (for the first time since 1948) in a terrific game I also covered to close the regular season, then lost the Orange Bowl to Nebraska 21-20.                       
             Bea and Jason, then 8, made the trip with me to the South Carolina game. It was Jay's first Tigers' game; the first of many. Maybe he fell in love with LSU on that night.
             Because I didn't know the postgame routine, or know my way around, it took me a long time to do interviews afterward. I remember talking to Stovall, and to quarterbacks coach Mack Brown -- yes, that Mack Brown -- and to several of the players, and it was getting late. I didn't have to do a story (for Monday's PM paper) until the next day.
             So I was one of the last media people in the dressing room, maybe the last. As I was about to leave, I noticed an LSU player still in full uniform sitting in front of his locker, staring into space. Several players and coaches were coming by and speaking to him.
             It was Jeffery Dale, a sophomore starting safety from Winnfield and a future NFL player, a town in north central Louisiana on the fringe of our circulation area.
             "What is going on with Dale?" I asked an LSU sports information person.
              "His father died," he replied, "and they didn't tell him until after the game."
(from fanbase.com)
              This was a story waiting to be written. I was pretty sure I was the only media person who had it -- at least in that setting.
              I couldn't bring myself to go talk to Jeffery. But the scene stuck in my mind.
              Then, after going back to the press box and gathering up my stuff, I went outside the north end of Tiger Stadium, where Bea and Jason had waited much longer than they expected.
             "Dad, where have you been?" Jason said, shivering because it had turned cool. "I'm ready to go."
              My Monday column described Dale's despair and I contrasted it with my young son's reaction after his long wait. The column began on the front page of the paper, and received a lot of reaction.
               Jeffery Dale was a four-year starter at safety for LSU, a rangy, ball-hawking player who was a second-round pick in the 1985 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. He played with them for four years. A 2009 story I found on the Internet, from  Columbia, S.C., concerning someone finding his lost 1983 Orange Bowl ring says he was a director at St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis.
               I will remember him as the player who played a game at Tiger Stadium, then found out his father had died that day. And as the subject of a story that I found almost by accident.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The real St. Nick's day

Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Piets arrive by boat
(photo from Josje-bouwt.blogspot.com)
        I'm putting my shoes -- my wooden shoes? -- near the chimney tonight. Been doing it for 60-something years on the evening of Dec. 5.
        St. Nicholas -- and Zwarte Piet (translated: black Pete) -- are making the rounds tonight.
        The real St. Nicholas. Not Santa Claus. Not Nick Saban. Not a fat, jolly guy with elves nor a driven, single-minded, often obnoxious football coach.
        No, a tall, thin white-bearded man wearing a red miter, carrying a curled staff, riding a white horse, accompanied by "six to eight" black men. (Not really black, just painted that way. And not just six to eight; that was a myth. It could be just one, or it could be a boatful.)
        Word is that our St. Nicholas originally was the bishop of Turkey but now lives in Madrid, Spain, and comes to Holland by steamship every year in mid-November, arrives at the harbor in Amsterdam, and then is featured in a parade going into downtown.
         I have seen it happen, honestly.
         From the time I was old enough to figure out what was going on until we left Holland when I was 8, my parents took me (and my baby sister) to the parade. I can remember how beautiful it looked all lit up in holiday lights as we rode the tram toward downtown. 
          And then, amid the bands and floats and marching units, we saw the man on the white horse, with his helpers. I've seen them up close.
          What I'm realizing now, doing research for this piece, is that maybe -- maybe -- he also arrived by boat in the harbor in Rotterdam, and The Hague (Den Haag), and Eindhoven ... wherever he was needed in Holland.
            So, from mid-November until tonight, Sinterklaas -- it sounds like Santa Claus, doesn't it? -- makes public appearances. But there's work to be done tonight.
           Tonight is the night St. Nicholas -- accompanied by just one Zwarte Piet -- delivers the gifts to all the houses. The tradition is to place your shoes by the chimney or the door, with hay and/or sugar or a carrot for Sinterklaas' horse.
          In the morning, if you've been good, the shoes will be filled with chocolate -- often small bags of chocolate coins wrapped in gold paper. If you've been bad, you'll find a lump of coal.
           We did have coal at our little house in Amsterdam, but I don't remember it showing up in my shoes. Chocolate, yes. And there were gifts on the morning of Dec. 6.
            Now here's a twist that is part of humorist David Sedaris' essay/performance entitled "Six to Eight Black Men." Joe Garza, when he was sports editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram a couple of years ago, found it and printed it out for me, circled this part -- and reminded me of it often.
            As told to Sedaris by a Dutchman, the legend is that if St. Nicholas disapproved of a child's behavior, he would kick the child -- or at least pretend to kick him or her.
            So would Zwarte Piet. If the child was really bad, St. Nicholas would beat the child with a switch, then put the child in his bag and take it back to Spain.
            Yikes.
            Garza says that's what happened to me. Ha!
            Not true. I always got chocolate, and I made it to America. So did my sister. So there.
            Another story, and please don't take this the wrong way: There were, in the early to mid-1950s, few black people in Amsterdam. I was a kid; I honestly don't remember seeing many, or any black people. Except for Sinterklaas' Zwarte Piet helpers. I know, it sounds awful.
            So we get to the U.S., we get to Shreveport, and there are a lot of black people. And I'm thinking ... lots of Zwarte Piets here.
            Told you, it's an awful thought.
            Christmas really wasn't celebrated that much in Holland; St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) was the big day. So it was much different when we came to the U.S. and December was all about Christmas and this jolly character named Santa Claus and his elves and the North Pole.
            But I never forgot the St. Nicholas traditions. I even remember a couple of lines from my Sinterklaas songs. My wife has asked -- told me -- to refrain since I don't sing well ... at all.
            And I still put my shoes by the chimney on the night of Dec. 5. Oops, no chimney here. The patio will have to do. I'm sure St. Nicholas and Zwarte Piet can find it tonight. Chocolate, please.
---
     David Sedaris' essay entitled "Six to Eight Black Men" from the album Live at Carnegie Hall. It was originally published in Esquire Magazine: http://www.channels.nl/knowledge/28970.html

Monday, December 3, 2012

Valdosta meant lots of W's ... and LD

     On one of my infrequent trips to the nearby Barnes & Noble -- it's like a second home -- I picked up a new sports book, Must Win. It's a behind-the-scenes look at Valdosta (Ga.) High School's 2010 football season, in particular, and the story of Valdosta football in general.
      If you're not familiar with "Titletown USA" -- as ESPN named it in 1988 -- consider this: No high school football team in the country has won more games.
No greater tradition than Valdosta High School.
      I can name a dozen programs with great traditions, and numerous state championships. In my opinion, none of them top Valdosta.
      The book, by Drew Jubera, might be -- as I read in one review -- much like Friday Night Lights, the book that chronicled a season with the powerful Odessa (Texas) Permian program and turned into a movie and a television series.
      But Must Win is of interest to me because of one guy -- Lawrence Dennis. I began reading the book and couldn't help but think of him repeatedly.
      I've seen several games at Valdosta -- 12 miles above the Georgia/Florida state line  and about 120 miles from Jacksonville. All of us who worked at the Florida Times-Union through the 1980s and '90s lived almost every day with Valdosta. Larry was the reason.
       In just about every conversation with Larry, or LD as we called him, he talked about Valdosta High football. Whether we liked it or not. And there were no short conversations with Larry.
       He wrote about high school football in South Georgia for about 25 years, but mostly about Valdosta because (1) that was the love of his sportswriting life and (2) all the Wildcats did was win.
        Some quick numbers: 876 total victories (876-209-34 record), 23 undefeated seasons since 1919, 23 state championships (the first in 1940, the last in 1998), 41 region championships, six national championships (1962, '69, '71, '84, '86, '92), two legendary coaches (Wright Bazemore, Nick Hyder).
       Larry was one of those great characters you meet in 45 years of sports journalism. He was big, he was loud, he was gruff, he was -- well -- profane, he liked his drinks, he liked his work, and he complained (the nice way to say it) about a lot.
       I swear, Larry was the role model for Archie Bunker.
        If you had suggested to Larry that he was the epitome of a redneck, he would've said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Damn right, pal, and proud of it."
       But he was a smart guy, an expert on boating -- which he covered for the Times-Union all those years -- and many other subjects. He was a student of military history, especially World War II and even more so the Civil War. The Rebel flag flying from his sailboat was a clue whose side he favored in that one.
        But he was really an expert on Valdosta football. He didn't have to look up much on that and what he couldn't remember, he'd ask his friends Sandy Atkins and Scott Alderman, the chief historians for the Wildcats (see the web site www.valdostafootball.com)
         Larry more than wrote about the Wildcats, though. He was a star tackle for the Valdosta teams  in 1961 and '62. In fact, in Larry's three years in high school, Valdosta's record was 36-0-0 ... three Georgia state championships. He was good enough to earn a football scholarship to the University of Alabama.
         So Larry played for two coaches he revered, Bazemore and Paul "Bear" Bryant. Don't think he ever got in a game at Alabama, but he was in the program for a while, got his degree in journalism from Alabama, and thought nothing in the world was better than Valdosta or Alabama.
        (He would have snorted at my recent idea that Bill Snyder at Kansas State has done the greatest college football coaching job ever. "Pal," he would've said, "you're full of it." He wouldn't have used "it.")
---
         Larry was as legendary to us as the two coaches who built the Valdosta dynasty -- Bazemore and Hyder -- were to him. In fact, he wrote the words "the legendary Wright Bazemore" so often that the guys in the office simply shortened it to TLWB when talking about the man.
         We lost Larry in 2003 at age 59, kidney and liver problems taking him down after years of warnings from his doctors. He was a guy with a big heart who would do anything for anyone if he could -- even after he suggested he wouldn't.
         But he was a piece of work. He had been the prep sports editor when I came to the Times-Union midway in the 1988 football season, so I succeeded him in that role. Working with him in the office was unique.
          Larry had some expressions I've never heard before (and don't want to spell out). They were, uh, politically incorrect. He had a name for his second ex-wife that wasn't exactly endearing.
          He called parttimers "googins." We think he made that up. Looking it up, it is a fishing term and has nothing to do with parttimers. Again, I'd never heard that before, and only once since -- in The Dallas Morning News sports department some 15 years later.
        LD and I first crossed paths in the early 1970s when he was a sportswriter at the Monroe (La.) Morning World and I was in Shreveport. I'm sure he told me about Valdosta then, too, especially after Bazemore -- 14 state titles in 28 years, 11 undefeated seasons, three one-loss seasons, 268-51-7 record (83.2 percent) -- had retired after coaching a 1971 team considered one of Georgia's greatest ever, if not the best.  
       Shortly after Larry came to the Times-Union, he got one big scoop. Having covered the Clemson-Ohio State game in the 1978 Gator Bowl, he had a connection in the Ohio State athletic department. Larry was  at the team hotel the next morning and was the first to find out that Woody Hayes -- having shoved a Clemson player and swung at him on the sideline late in the game -- had been fired. Yes, the legendary Woody Hayes, who routinely abused the media and anyone who hissed him off.
        Here's what Mike Richey, our mutual good friend and sports editor in Monroe and then Jacksonville, remembers LD writing in a column: "Woody Hayes was a festering malignancy on the face of college football ..."  
---
        Larry loved to write about the 'Cats and TLWB and the "ghosts at Cleveland Field" helping Valdosta pull out another win. Maybe he called the stadium "Death Valley," too, although I know a couple of teams headed for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl that have their own Death Valleys.
        When I went with him as he covered Valdosta games in 1994-95, he seemed to know everyone that was anyone with the Valdosta program, and they knew him. He was treated as royalty.
         Although LD considered Bazemore -- by then wheelchair-bound and speechless after a stroke -- the greatest high school coach ever, he thought Nick Hyder was in the same class. Having dealt with Coach Hyder on the phone and meeting him at those games, I, too, thought he was classy.
         Hyder was known as a devout Christian, a life philosopher and spellbinding speaker with his players. He came in from Rome, Ga., after the coach who succeeded Bazemore was fired following 9-1 and 8-2 seasons -- yes, expectations were high in Valdosta. Hyder's first team went 3-7, but 10-2 in '75 kept him around and soon he was winning big.  In 22 years, he went 249-36-2 (87.1 percent, better than Bazemore).  That included six undefeated teams, six one-loss teams, seven state champions.            
          In the first five seasons I was at the Times-Union, Valdosta (and Hyder) went 64-3-1. Think Larry wasn't proud?
          Sadly, Hyder died of a heart attack in the school cafeteria in 1996, at age 61. His public funeral was held at Cleveland Field, with the home-side stands filled and his coffin placed at midfield. His gravesite includes a huge memorial wall. Bazemore, who died in 1998, had a more low-key funeral and has a more simple burial plot.
---
            The tradition, and the expectations, continue at Valdosta High. The Wildcats are still winning (7-4 this season), but changing demographics and less enrollment have made the program just ordinary these days.
            Its crosstown rival Lowndes, the county school, has won four state titles and another South Georgia school, Camden County (St. Marys), has won three since Valdosta's last title in '98.
            LD wouldn't like this much. But he'd think the ghosts are still rattling around at what is now, appropriately, called Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. He'd want to read this book, and he would have liked it. Plus, history buff that he was, he'd have found something to correct.
---
Link to the story in The New York Times from which the author developed his book ...
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/26/sports/26valdosta.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
---
Links to stories on the two Valdosta coaching giants ...
http://valdostascene.com/august2009/x20311895/A-coaching-legend

http://valdostascene.com/august2009/x20311893/Remembered-as-God-s-servant-and-a-football-coach

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Master of the one-liners

       Many of you have seen this piece before -- I sent it by e-mail two years ago. It's my eulogy for one of my best friends, Ken Liberto, who died two years ago today.
        He was one of the greatest athletes I've known; he could do everything well. He was a natural talent in football, basketball, baseball, even track (he could jump). If we'd have grown up with golf, I'm convinced he could have been a professional golfer. He had everything it took.
        So I'm posting the eulogy here because I wanted to make it a permanent part of my blog. I apologize because it's so lengthy, but I loved this guy.  I miss him ... and I always will.
---
        I want to thank Kathy for asking me to speak. It's quite an honor. Ken's death is a loss for me -- he was my friend for more than 50 years (hard to believe) -- and it's a loss for everyone here, but obviously mostly for his family -- and he was so proud of them.
       If I may, I'd like to name them all ... Kathy, his love and his partner for three decades; Kenneth and his wife Amanda and their new baby boy, Aiden; Kevin; Lauren and her husband Chris, and Jaxon and Ava; Brian and his wife Carey, and Tyler, Kaitlyn and Allyson. Wow -- six grandkids; that's four more than we have, but we'll be gaining on you soon. And his mother-in-law, Faye Rogers, who was such a big help the last couple of years.
      I want to mention this early because it was a funny connection between Ken and me. The phone would ring, either me calling him or him calling me, and the first words for both of us would be "Joe Fra-zier." Our Muhammad Ali imitations. Ken could do the greatest Ali -- the Ali shuffle (which evolved into “peel out” for the kids), the dancing, the way he boxed, the way he talked. We loved the way Ali would say "Joe Fra-zier," the way he would make fun of "Joe Fra-zier."
      I'm gonna miss that.
      You know this — this was a wonderful guy. He was quiet and reserved and polite and shy, true. But if you really got to know him, were around him a lot, you know he was quite funny.
       He could mimic anyone. Could make a joke out of most anything; he had a one-liner for most everything. Loved to laugh, loved to eat, loved ice cream as much as I did. We both loved the Beatles. Ken knew a lot of the lyrics and he could twist them ... unprintable. He loved country music, loved to go to Las Vegas (that’s where he married Kathy in 1980), loved riding in a Corvette, loved to watch all sports, loved the Cowboys and the Texans.
        Loved golf, that became his favorite sport. Also produced a couple of his best one-liners, involving our good friend Jon Pat Stephenson, who like Ken, was good at every sport he tried.
       Ken told Jon Pat, “I know the trouble with your (golf) game. You’ve got too much weight on both feet.”
      And, “After you hit your drive, you’re still standing too close to your ball.”
      And there was this line about Jon Pat’s house (a huge mansion-like place outside of Hallsville where Ken stayed one night): “When you call from one end of the house to the other, it’s in another area code.”
      I can't think of Ken without thinking of his parents. It was a neat story. Big, burly American serviceman meets petite English girl in a pub in London at the end of World War II, convinces her to marry him, then she follows him back to the United States, to his hometown of Shreveport. They have one child -- and what a beautiful child he was.
Miss Ivy always called him Kenneth; his dad called him Kenny. It was fun to go to their house. No one -- no one anywhere -- ever made better spaghetti than Anthony Liberto, believe me. That was a treat.
     My folks and Ken's folks were friends, through us, of course, and they remained friends long after we left school. There was the European connection with Ivy -- we were from Holland -- and my dad and Ken's dad were hard-working guys who thought their sons were the center of the universe. Tony wasn't the sports fan my dad was -- not many people were -- but Tony was so proud of Ken, and rightfully so.
      For 10 years, we went to school together -- three years at Oak Terrace Junior High, three years at Woodlawn High, four years at Louisiana Tech. I was a manager/statistician for nine of those years while Ken played a variety of sports; I probably kept stats in 95 percent of the games he played.
      For most of six years, we rode to school and a lot of games together -- Ken driving. So not only was I along for the ride in athletics, but literally, I was along for the ride. And what a great ride it was.
      That's a lot of time to talk about life, school, sports -- that was most of the conversation -- to analyze games, talk about players, coaches, talk about heroes, the Beatles, Ali (almost every day) and, yes, girls.
      Ken was tall, dark and handsome. He understood the tall and dark parts, the handsome part, he just brushed off. Here were all these girls who wanted to go out with him -- they'd mention it to me sometimes -- and he was just unaffected by it. It didn't register. I told Kathy that early last week and she laughed. "Oh, women used to come up to him and they're flirting with him,” she said, “and I'd mention it to him later and he'd say, 'What? What are you talking about."
      Those of you with Shreveport connections know this: He was one of the most talented, most versatile athletes of his era, in a time when athletics in Shreveport-Bossier were very, very competitive. He had great hands, great vision, great coordination, he was smooth, and he could run all day and never seem all that tired.
      He started three years in high school in basketball and baseball. Didn't play football until his junior year -- Ivy was worried about him getting hurt -- but he came out and immediately started at receiver and safety and was the team's punter, and it was no small high school.     
      This was a time when football in Shreveport was very, very competitive. He was an All-State receiver in the top class in Louisiana as a senior, all-district basketball (he averaged 21.6 points a game as a senior, had 37 points against our arch-rival Byrd when he made 19 of 19 free throws), All-City in baseball as a first baseman -- smooth fielder, excellent .300 hitter -- and then he was a long jumper and triple jumper in track when he found the time.
He had great hands, great vision, great coordination. He could run. Odd running style, straight up, laid back, but he could move. He was, from my viewpoint and many others, fun to watch.
      And through it all, through all the success and the publicity, he was the same calm, unaffected guy. Never changed. Didn't brag, played hard, cared, great teammate, coachable. Not as outgoing or fiery like our good friend Trey Prather (who was our quarterback and also played all the sports, all the same years as Ken, and played them very well) ... Trey went to LSU, dropped out, joined the Marines, and sadly, died at age 20 in Vietnam). Ken and I talked about him often.
      What did excite Ken -- and Mr. Liberto -- was this: The football scholarship to Louisiana Tech. That was a money-saver, a college education paid for. Tony liked that.
      I have to tell you about two times Ken was very excited. He had been talking about Cassius Clay for months -- this was when Clay was becoming the Louisville Lip, calling the round he would knock out people, and then doing it. We're riding to school, Ken's talking about Cassius. So Clay gets ready to fight Sonny Liston -- the Big, Ugly Bear. Ken's predicting he's going to win. I'm skeptical. And it happens -- one of sports' greatest upsets. And the next day, Ken was SO fired up. Then a year later, we're at my house listening to the Ali-Liston rematch on radio. This was the fight when Liston caved in, fell to the floor on the first round. Knocked out. Total controversy. And Ken is jumping all over the place ... he's replaying the fight. He's Ali, and I'm Liston. He's punching me -- well, just pretend -- and I'm getting knocked out.
       And this is the way it would be for the next few years. Ken is Ali; I'm the chump, the opponent. He's doing the shuffle on me, throwing punches, doing his Ali talk, and I'm laughing so hard I can't stand up anyway.
       Gosh, we must've watched every Ali fight for the next 10 years or so, and replayed them a thousand times. Those great fights with Joe Frazier, the fight with George Foreman -- and we just loved to listen to Ali and watch those silly interviews with Howard Cosell. We replayed it all so many times, had so many laughs.
      At Tech, Ken didn't play all that much the first 2 1/2 years. Maybe it was because he was quiet, maybe the coaches didn't understand him that well. He was perplexed, a little frustrated, but he didn't complain. He kept working, didn't lose his confidence. And all of a sudden in our junior year, he had that breakout game -- three touchdown catches. From then on, he was a starter -- and a star.
       The quarterback's name for much of the last two seasons was Terry Bradshaw. You might've heard of him.
       The highlight of Ken's Tech career came in 1968. Bradshaw threw the pass, Ken caught it -- 82 yards in the last minute to beat our arch-rival Northwestern State, which was about to beat us for the third year in a row. A lot of Tech fans were leaving the stadium or had left, Northwestern fans were chanting, "We wrecked Tech." Somehow Ken got behind the defense and Terry's long, high-arching pass hit him beautifully on the right sideline, right in front of the Tech bench. Ken went the rest of the 45 yards or so, although one Northwestern player dove at him and stripped him of one shoe.
      It was impossible come true, one of the greatest plays I've ever seen, a play for the ages, one of the greatest plays in Louisiana Tech football history. This past week a dozen people mentioned it to me.
       For years, Ken wouldn't necessarily tell people he had played football at Louisiana Tech or that Bradshaw had been his quarterback. But when they did find out, and if they asked how many passes Ken caught, he would answer, "One."
      Actually, he caught enough in his senior year -- 1968 -- to become the first Tech receiver ever with at least 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
       He would go on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ken didn’t make the team, but at least the Steelers knew the way to Ruston and Shreveport. A year later they made Bradshaw the No. 1 pick in the draft.
      In 1970, Ken went to camp with the Washington Redskins, where Vince Lombardi was the new coach. Ken said Lombardi treated him well, but Ken was ready to move on with his life.
       So he went to work. And mostly, he had a good time doing what he did. He loved his travel, loved meeting people. He became a factory representative for the Stetson Hat Company. Someone last week said that he must've been a good salesman. You know, I never thought of Ken as a salesman -- he wasn't pushy or aggressive. But I know he was such a nice guy, he met people well, he made them comfortable and he made them laugh. So, yes, I could see where he’d be a good salesman..
       We didn't see each other much, but we’d talk 3-4 times a year. They found colon cancer in my wife in October 2002, they found Ken's two months later. Bea was a Stage III, but she -- thank God -- is well. Ken's was a Stage IV. It never really went away, you know. He and Bea would talk, comparing the treatments, and talking to me, he’d always ask about her.
        So was in treatment from time to time, taking chemo. His mother would tell my mother that Ken wasn’t doing well. I would immediately call him and he’d almost always downplay what was going on. He'd say the chemo wasn't fun, but he didn't complain, he didn't feel sorry for himself. I always worried, we all did.
      I've got to tell you about my last visit with him. Five years ago, I came down to Houston and went to the house, stayed for three hours, met Kathy again, her mom and the kids. Oh, Ken and I laughed and laughed; I got to see the Ali Shuffle again, and he looked good. He was still a big guy, but not the 250 pounds he’d been once ("I'm a flanker in a tight end's body," he joked about that).
      When I got ready to go, he said, "Hey, man, you've got to give me a hug." Last time I saw him. Went home and told Bea that was the perfect afternoon -- what a great family he had, what fun it was to see him.
      Talked to him a few months ago, and he said he was OK. "Just something I have to deal with, got no choice," he said. He always said that. He didn't let on how sick he really was. Kathy said he'd go to the oncologist's office and cheer up everyone there because his attitude was so positive, and because he treated all the other patients so well and made them laugh. No surprise.
       But then things turned worse. I'm sorry to say I wasn't aware of it. But maybe it was just as well. Don’t know that I could have handled it all that well.
       Kathy wanted him to have one last trip to Vegas, one last ride in a Corvette. It didn't happen; he wasn't strong enough. His bucket list included a set of new golf clubs. He bought them. He never got to use them.
      When I got a message from Kathy last Saturday, she didn't spell it all out. But my heart sank. I knew the news wasn't good. Told Bea this was going to be one of the toughest return calls I’d ever make, and I took my time.
    "He never gave in," Kathy said, "but his body just wore out."
     So here we are. I'm not ashamed to say he was always one of my heroes. Better yet, he was my dear, dear friend.
      Good-bye, Joe Fra-zier, and thanks. God bless you and your family.


        

Thursday, November 22, 2012

JKF assassination memories (part II)

     Yale Youngblood: I was home from school, sick with a sore throat. I was in the second grade. I was lying on the couch watching Cartoon Carnival when a Channel 11 (an independent station in the D-FW area) news person broke in to say that the President had been shot. We immediately turned to a network station and watched as the news grew more dire by the minute.
     I remember my mom shaking a lot when we heard that President Kennedy had been pronounced dead at Parkland Hospital. I don't remember her crying, but I knew that this was a very significant moment, based on how she reacted. I remember little else from that day or from that weekend.

      Maxie Hays: The fall of 1963 was the first year of my coaching career. I was the athletic coordinator at DeQuincy Junior High and an assistant high school football coach for coach Billy Lantrip. I was in charge of all the scouting for the varsity football program.
     On Nov. 22, I was on a scouting trip to Lake Providence. I was at a gas station in Monroe when I found out that the President had been killed in Dallas. I went on to Lake Providence and scouted the game. Afterward, I drove back to Oakdale and spent the weekend with my mother. DeQuincy lost its game that night, so it was out of the playoffs.
      I was in a state of extreme disbelief, anger and sadness all at the same time. After all, this was something that happened in other countries, NOT in the United States of America. I will never forget the feeling of fear that I had because our security chain had been broken at the highest level, something that hadn't happened in my lifetime.

      Karen Bryant Dye: I was in the [Woodlawn] pep squad and we were in a convoy en route to an out-of-town football game. The buses pulled over for a few minutes, and our chaperone got off our bus. When she came back, she told us what had happened. The bus, which had previously been filled with lively teenaged girls laughing and talking, became very very quiet. I also remember later sitting in front of the TV watching the funeral and crying.

      Leon Barmore: I was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University walking through the student center on my way to a history class when I learned that President John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Like everyone, I was saddened and a little nervous about the news.      A few minutes later in John D. Winters' history class, he made a statement that helped greatly. He said, "It's a great loss for us all, but this country is so great someone else will take his place and America will remain free and strong." That was what I needed to hear at that moment. Thank you, John D. Winters.

      Jerry Byrd: I was living with my Grandma Allen on Topeka Street, a few blocks from Highland Baptist Church, and was watching TV in her house when the President was shot. I went back to the office [Shreveport Journal], where they had already published an extra edition of the Friday paper with Kennedy's picture and a story about the shooting on the top of the front page. About half of the reporters were out on the streets selling the paper. I was also watching TV at her house when Jack Ruby shot Oswald while they were bringing him out of the Dallas jail.

      Gary Ferguson: If I'm not mistaken -- since it has been so long ago -- wasn't Woodlawn in a football playoff game in New Orleans? The students of Wodlawn went as a group by bus, I think. One of the tours we went on in New Orleans was a boat called The President or something like that. Anyway, the captain announced over the speakers that JFK had been shot.

      Jim McLain (The Times sportswriter): I was in New Orleans to cover a Woodlawn High football playoff game. I had driven down from Shreveport after work and slept late in my motel room out near the airport. I went to a (I think) Krystal hamburger restaurant to get breakfast. I walked in, took a seat and heard one of the counter waitresses say, "Well, somebody finally shot that son-of-a-bitch."
      I asked which SOB she was referring to?
      "Kennedy, she replied, "and I think he's dead."

      Tim Looney: I was a junior at Jesuit High in Shreveport. Several of us were hanging around outside the basement classrooms after lunch and before our next class. Someone -- another student -- came up to us and said he had heard that President Kennedy had been shot. We were all incredulous. We didn't know for some time how serious the wounds to the President were.
      As I recall, the school broadcast the news over the classroom intercoms as more became known. When we found out that our young, vibrant hero was dead, a sick feeling came over us all. Too young to know about the horrors of war, and having lived our entire lives in a simple, idyllic time, it was almost impossible to process the magnitude of the tragedy.
      The next few days were surreal. The funeral procession. The evil, yet pathetic, figure of Lee Harvey Oswald. The shooting of Oswald on live TV by Jack Ruby.
      Tina, my wife, was a high school student in Dallas. They had gotten out of class to go line the President's motorcade route, hoping to get a glimpse of him and the beautiful Jackie. Indeed, she saw them pass just a few feet from where she stood with her friends. A very few minutes later he was shot. They had gone to eat at a Mexican restaurant. It was announced over the loudspeakers at the restaurant. She said they all broke into tears of shock, sadness, and disbelief.
     A dark day for our country.

     Gary West: I was in school, of course -- fifth grade, in New Orleans -- and it was after lunch, maybe 1:30, a time that usually found the kids anxious and starting to anticipate the end of the school day, when the principal came to the door, which was strange, and asked to see our teacher, Mrs. Landwehr, in the hallway. Mrs. Landwehr stepped outside, closing the door behind her.
      Her departure, of course, was the signal for Johnny Whateverhisnamewas to turn around in his desk and make faces at the beautiful Sylvia Memphas and for a half-dozen others to take shots at the wastebasket with wadded up balls of paper and for Norman the Noggin to reach into his trumpet case and pull out whatever Ian Fleming book he happened to be reading and had snuck into school.
      We were just silly, naive kids, doing the things that silly, naive kids everywhere do, but for some of us that was all about to change abruptly. I sat in the back of the class, nearest the door, and so when it opened, I got a close look at Mrs. Landwehr. She was pale, her face drained of color, her eyes shiny with moisture. She walked stiffly by me and up the aisle to her desk in front of the class. Slowly taking her seat, she attempted to say something about the lesson we were on. But then she burst into tears.
      We sat there shocked, watching her sob, not knowing what to do. I remember thinking something must have happened to her husband, who always seemed to be traveling. Mrs. Landwehr struggled to compose herself. And then, sitting very erect, she said, "Something terrible has happened. Our President has been shot."
      I don't remember much after that, don't remember when we found out President Kennedy had died. But I recall that some kids seemed completely oblivious to the significance of the news, or maybe they were just trying to be cool. As for me, I was shaken. I never had known anybody who had been shot dead. It was something that happened only on television or in Norman the Noggin's books. And, of course, in that world, only bad guys got shot, and the good guys always won and, well, this didn't make any sense because President Kennedy represented an idealized version not only of the presidency but of America.
      Is this what real life is like, I wondered. And, of course, it was. That day began what became for America a profound loss of innocence, which continued with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and culminated with Vietnam and Watergate. For all of us, I think, everything changed forever on Nov. 22, 1963.

      Robert Steckel: I was a freshman at Archbishop Rummel High School, in Metairie, La. My PE class was showering in the locker room when it was announced on the school PA system. My memory beyond that is only vague, but I’m pretty sure the reaction of my classmates was stunned silence.
      Next period was algebra, and our teacher did his best to try to speak wisely, calm us down, try to get some perspective that would help. I remember, later that afternoon, it was raining, and my mother arrived home from grocery shopping, weeping and worrying about those “poor [Kennedy] children.”
      On Sunday, we got home from church and immediately learned Ruby had shot Oswald. What a nightmare. The President of the United States, gets his head blown off in a public execution, in broad daylight in downtown Dallas. (A friend who is a native Texan (Corpus), and a liberal, remains resentful to this day for people trying to pin it on Dallas because of its “climate of hate.” Bullshit, he calls it. I agree.)

      Dr. Leonard Ponder: I was teaching at Oak Terrace Junior High on that fateful day in 1963. [Principal] Stan Powell had invited me to go with him to Baton Rouge that week where the Louisiana Teachers Association was holding its annual convention. I was flattered that Stan invited me, but a major part of his incentive was that he needed me to drive. Marti (his wife) needed their good car.
      I was harried because I had to get three classes prepared for a substitute teacher. The second period was always my planning period, which allowed me to go to the main office and check my mailbox. When I walked into the teachers' lounge everyone was talking about an event, but I couldn't catch what the event was. One teacher (and I have no idea who it was) said, "I didn't especially like him, but I didn't want him dead." That allowed me to ask "who?" "Haven't you heard, the President was shot and killed in Dallas just a little while ago."
      Little did we know what a chain of events that terrible deed started. I remain convinced to this day that most of the political animosity that we still experience was created by that event. 
     At that time in Louisiana one voted Democratic if he or she wanted to participate in the political process -- there was no other option. Even as a young man I knew that the Louisiana Democrats were corrupt so I chose not to participate in politics at all.
     I, therefore, had not voted for John Kennedy or Nixon, but I thought Kennedy's term was off to a good start. He was very likable. Whatever he was going to accomplish was still before him. Lyndon Johnson gets credit for completing much of Kennedy's agenda, but he was much too abrupt and created unnecessary animosity.

      Billy Maples: I was a sophomore at Louisiana Tech University with residence in McFarland dorm, first floor. After class that day, I was preparing to drive home to Bossier City and a close friend Don Cope (who later became an orthodontist, now deceased) was to ride with me. Don lived on the upper floor and I was waiting on him in the dorm parlor. Suddenly, I saw him running down the hall yelling that JFK had been shot in Dallas. Don was wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans and a short sleeve shirt.
      JFK was not popular in the southern states and I was not a JFK fan. I was shocked to hear he had been shot but not devastated. I later learned the gun shot was fatal.
Throughout the weekend, news reports kept reporting what was thought to be the facts, including the arrest of Oswald.
      On Sunday at home, I was preparing for a return to Tech. I was watching TV in our living and like millions of others, saw Oswald shot as he was being led from the Dallas jail.
Then, I remember a commission was appointed with a finding Oswald had acted alone. Then all the theories followed, even today.

      A.L. Williams (Woodlawn assistant coach): I was with you at the Holiday Inn in New Orleans for the Woodlawn-East Jefferson game the day JFK was assassinated. Ronnie Hooper came to me and told me the President had just been shot. It was decided the game would be canceled; then it was decided the game would be played, and this decision was changed back and forth several times. The final decision, of course, was to play the game, which was a very rainy game that wound up a 7-7 tie. (Woodlawn) lost the game on first downs. Ken Liberto made an outstanding, one-handed catch of a pass from Trey Prather but came down out of bounds. It was a very bad day: We lost our President and our game.

      Sarah Williams: I was at home with Amy Williams, our 3-month-old first -born watching As the World Turns when the soap was interrupted with the news that the President had been shot. The news was most unnerving and unbelievable.

      Ken Sins: I grew up in Rome, N.Y., attended St. Mary's Catholic grammar school as an eighth- grader. We heard the news early afternoon during a class; the nun-teacher looked ashen as she recounted the report that the President was dead, and she led us in prayer. Since Kennedy was Catholic, this was an incredible shock in our community. Kennedy was a hero to us; he'd campaigned in our town a few years earlier, and the memories still lingered.
      There was speculation that somehow the Russians had something to do with it. Actually, Oswald did have Russian ties ... his wife, his background. Anyway, it was an emotional day.     
     I was an altar boy and had to serve Mass at St. Paul's on Sunday. I don't recall much about the service other than the priest asking the congregation for more prayers for both the country and the Kennedy family, and there were tears shed by men and women in the pews.
       We returned home, and as the eggs and bacon and toast were served, we watched in horror on our black and white Philco as Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby in the basement of Dallas police headquarters. What an emotional weekend! What a confusing weekend for a kid!
      Then, about 15 years later, here I was living and working in North Texas. One of my first tourist trips from Fort Worth was visiting the Triple Underpass and Dealey Plaza in Dallas, long before the museum was installed, going through the events of that day and wondering how in the hell this terrible event took place. To me, Dallas was the City of Hate, and here I was, a Yankee in the midst of it all. That feeling never left; I always felt like a stranger there, 'til the day I left.
 
      Ben Sour: I was eating lunch in the [Shreveport] Byrd High cafeteria, just like every day at that time. Bobby Pack sat down across the table from me. We exchanged greetings. I think he was interested in my sister. He said, "Did you hear about Kennedy getting shot." I said no. We had a couple of Kennedys at the school. A promising basketball player had been wounded in a hunting accident, thus ending his career. I figured one of the Kennedys in the school had been accidently shot. It took a minute to sink in that it was President Kennedy.
      The cafeteria noise picked up but no one was really sure what had happened. Was he dead? How many people were shot? It was like someone who was a big part of you life had suddenly died. You knew it but you really could not believe it. It was not something any of us had ever thought about.
      After my father died, I kept expecting him to come out of his bedroom while I was sitting at the kitchen table, just like he always did. I knew he wouldn't, but that's what I kept expecting and wanting to happen. That was the feeling when lunch ended that sense of not being able to quite accept it.
       A few minutes after Bobby broke the news to me, we went back to class. The cafeteria was on the first floor. Most of the classrooms were upstairs. As we climbed the stairs to return to class, we passed the kids coming down to go to lunch. None of them knew anything about the shooting. As we passed them, we told them what we knew. I honestly don't remember a single emotional outburst. It was like we were just starting to realize that we had all been wounded.
      After about an hour, Mr. Ravenna, the assistant principal, came in to our classroom and told us exactly what was known. He was very calm and precise. That really helped. I think an administrator went to every classroom.
       Mr. Ravenna was at Byrd for nearly 40 years I think. If I saw him tomorrow, he would say, "Hi, Ben, how is your sister, Beth." He had a system for memorizing every student's name and their relation to other students.
      Some 15 years after the assassination, I attended a theater production in London. I saw a familar face in the crowded lobby. Bobby Pack and I recognized each other instantly even though we had not seen each other for years. We recounted the story of where we were when JFK was assassinated. I think I was the first person he told, and I am not sure how he had found out.

      Leo Van Thyn: I remember being in grade 11 and it was some in the afternoon. Our class was suddenly interrupted by a P.A. announcement by the principal saying that the President of the United States had been shot. It brought reactions of shock from my classmates. On my way home after school I remember feeling a profound sadness. Even though JFK was not the leader of Canada it felt as though he was. He was relatively young and I had known political leaders as being older adults. It felt as though someone from our younger generation had died.
      My friends and I had admired his willingness to deal strongly with the leaders of the Soviet Union and Cuba. My generation in Canada looked at him as the leader of all the democratic nations. However, it was his youthfulness that appealed to us and we liked his charming wife and their children, and his younger brothers.
      I remember being glued to the television watching the reports of the assassination and the funeral. It seemed as if I couldn’t get enough and even took me away from watching hockey, which is saying a lot for someone young in Canada.
         
      Bill Smith: I was in ninth grade at Oak Terrace coming out of Miss Waddell's class on my way to my locker when we were told. It was a shock. Many mixed feelings because that weekend was the football team's annual trek to see LSU play Tulane. It was my first train ride. When we got back and were at the train station in Shreveport when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. Quite a shocking week.
    
      Jimmie Cox: A bunch of us Woodlawn students were on the SS President steamship on a river cruse in New Orleans. We came down on the train to go to the Woodlawn-East Jefferson state playoff game in football. I always thought it was ironic that we were on the President when the President died.
    
      Beverly Clark Porche: As a member of the Woodlawn band, we were on our way to New Orleans for the playoff game. Of course, like everyone else, that weekend will forever be in my thoughts.
    
      Sandra Groves Timmons: I was on the [Woodlawn] pep squad bus heading to New Orleans for the football playoffs. We had stopped at a little store to get drinks, food, etc. when we heard the news in the store. It was very surreal; the remainder of the ride was very quiet. I think we were all just trying to process what we had been told.
 
      Brenda Boyette Laird: Sandra, I also remember stopping at that little store and hearing the news about President Kennedy.
        
      Jan Baker: As a Dallasite, this day really hit us hard. My dad had taken off work and he drove my mom along the route the President would drive. They parked out by the Haggar Slack building. They were shocked to hear he had been shot a few minutes later.
I
was in elementary school listening to Mr. Shelton, my math teacher, drone on about fractions. He was a bear of a man. I remember the principal calling him into the hall and he was crying when he re-entered. It shocked me. All the students were gathered into the cafeteria and auditorium and we watched tiny black and white televisions on rolling carts as we heard the news for the first time.

Almost every parent took off and picked up their students. I don't recall us going back to school for almost a week. We watched TV nonstop. Scary stuff for a kid.

      Douglas Yoder: I was in the fourth grade and my teacher started crying. Had no idea what was going on. She explained to us what happened and a class of 9- and 10-year-olds were all very quiet and subdued.
    
      Priscilla Goff Cox: It was my Dad's 50th birthday. But the [Woodlawn] pep squad was on the buses going to the playoffs. I remember people standing on the highway holding up signs saying "President Assassinated." Girls on the buses were crying. It was such a sad day in history.
     
      Patrick Booras: I had just turned 2 when JFK was assassinated. I know from listening to my parents and other adults (years later) that it was a huge shock to adults who were trying to comprehend how it could have happened. I don't think any common citizens in America have ever felt comfortable talking about JFK's assassination. "Let's not go there" was the feeling I always got (conversations ended abruptly).

      Gerry Robichaux: I was at home, just waking from a night's sleep from working the PM shift [at The Shreveport Times]. I did the only thing I knew to do. I knelt at the foot of my bed and prayed. And cried.

      Ike Futch: I was going to lunch at the A&W drive-in (Highway 80, I believe) in Ruston, La., and heard it on the radio.

      John Sturbin: I was a seventh-grader at Transfiguration School in Rome, N.Y. By midday my mind already was wandering to Sunday and the New York Giants' game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. Because back then, my hero, quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and the Giants always beat the Cards twice a season.
      Shortly after lunch a TV was rolled into our classroom and our teacher, a Franciscan nun whose name has escaped me, quietly told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, and we needed to pray for him. It wasn’t long after that we watched CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite inform the nation that, indeed, JFK was dead. That reality hit hard in our little parochial school, where Kennedy was revered as the first Catholic president.
      I didn’t realize it then, but Cronkite’s now-famous and emotional words marked the beginning of the coming-of-age of TV as a news medium. Coverage of the Kennedy tragedy continued all weekend on what were then the three major networks. Among the enduring figures to emerge was a young Dan Rather, then a reporter at a Dallas TV station.
      My memories include my mom coming home from work in tears; my father coming home from work irate and blaming the Russians and Fidel Castro … and getting drunk that night. I remember returning from Mass on Sunday morning with my mom and sister, walking in the door only to hear my father yell out: “They shot him! Somebody just shot Oswald, right on TV!” He was referring to Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby’s assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s accused killer. The conspiracy theories launched by that single act continue to this day.
     On Monday, I watched on a black-and-white TV as the funeral courtege wound its way through Washington, D.C., impressed by the stoicism of the Kennedy family, the magnificent and respectful pomp-and-precision of our military and the rhythmic drum beat that served as the background music en route to Arlington National Cemetery.
     A resident of Fort Worth since 1978, I since have done the tourist thing at the School Book Depository and Dealey Plaza with my mom and sister, and am grateful that tragic moment in American history has been preserved.
     Back to Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963. The Giants lost to the Cardinals, I think by 14-10, in a Yankee Stadium that I recall being described as "eerily silent." NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who made many groundbreaking decisions that propelled the league to the prominence it still enjoys, dropped the ball on that one by opting to play the full schedule. I believe the Cleveland Browns played the Cowboys on that Sunday, with coach Tom Landry and his team suddenly and unfairly carrying the burden as the most hated city in America ... only soon enough to become "America's Team."