Friday, May 11, 2012

Tommy Tresh: troublemaker

      About that day in high school when I almost got sent to the assistant principal's office ... it was Tom Tresh's fault. Tommy Tresh, and the New York Yankees.
       Fifth period at Woodlawn, 1 to 2 p.m., yearbook period (in  place of study hall). Miss Smith's room. Actually, the setting was the yearbook workroom -- behind a regular classroom. 
       Miss Willa Smith, other than my coaches, no question was my favorite teacher.
       We got along great -- then and now. She's been retired from teaching for three decades, lives back in her hometown -- Tylertown, Miss. -- in the house she grew up in, and we've stayed in touch. Few teachers I ever admired more.
         But on this one day ...
         Miss Smith was a typing/shorthand teacher. I had her for typing, and I already could type pretty well by my junior year, but she helped refine my technique.
        More importantly, she was Woodlawn's first yearbook advisor, 1960 to '68. It was part of her life's work ... she told me recently she was the advisor for 31 high school yearbooks.
         For the last six years of her stay at Woodlawn, the Accolade earned All-America honors from the people who judge yearbooks. This was a select, competitive honor.
         Here's how good she was as an advisor -- she was as skilled, as knowledgeable, as dedicated and as successful as Woodlawn's football coaching staff ... and Woodlawn was the winningest Class AAA school of the decade in Louisiana.
        She taught me things in journalism that would stay with me through a career -- how to write a copy block to fit, how to write headlines (be clever, not cute or trite), how to write cutlines to fit (no one- or two-word "widows," breaks to the next line -- I've seen it often in newspapers), how to select good photos and crop them, how to use big photos (didn't do that enough in my days as a page designer).
        We had page margins, and we observed them. Didn't run type into those margins. We could "bleed" photos into a margin, but only once a page.
         Miss Smith stressed two things about yearbooks: (1) It was a history book; what we were putting together was a reference book; (2) be accurate, on facts and especially on names. This is where we started each year -- checking names of the kids for class photos. Nicknames were taboo, unless they were commonly used. Trey was OK; Bubba or Buster or Cookie, not necessarily so.
         Also, in the Woodlawn books, you didn't see cutout photos or collages as you did in so many yearbooks. No personal messages or poking fun at people. It was strictly business.
         Miss Smith let the students do the work, come up with the ideas. She was patient; she guided us gently; and she kept us on schedule -- meeting deadlines throughout the school year leading to that thrilling day in May when the books arrived.
        (The color of the cover was always a secret; only Miss Smith and the editor -- Sharon Bagby in our senior year -- knew. Because the covers in my sophomore and junior years had been red and then white, I lobbied for blue all year. Thank you, blue it was. See above.)
         I loved working on the Accolade staff my junior and senior years. Maybe even more than I did working on the school newspaper, the Herald.
         But on Monday, Oct. 12, 1964, yearbook work was slow. And Game 5 of the World Series -- St. Louis Cardinals vs. Yankees -- was on radio. Series tied, two wins each. Games started at noon, Central time, those days. I had my transistor, and I was in that backroom by myself listening.
         And I was miserable. The Cardinals were winning 2-0, bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium, Bob Gibson pitching for St. Louis against Yankees rookie Mel Stottlemyre, a rematch of Game 2 won by Stottlemyre (yes, we had beaten the great Gibson four days earlier).
          So, little hope for the Yankees. To open the ninth, Mickey Mantle reached first on an error by Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat. But the next two batters made outs. That left it to Tresh, the Yankees' left fielder.
           And he crushed one -- deep into the right-center field bleachers, a long drive at the old stadium. Game tied 2-2.
           I jumped, I screamed -- and I kept screaming.
           That is, until Miss Smith bolted through the door. And she was m-a-d. Totally unlike her.
           OK, maybe I was disruptive. Maybe they heard me in Sunset Acres, which was a mile and a half away. Maybe, Miss Smith "suggested," I shut up. She threatened to send me to see Mr. Cook, the assistant principal in charge of discipline. 
           "But it's 2-2; we're back in the game," I think I might have said. Man, I was happy.
            I promised I'd be quiet. And I was. I was real quiet when Tim McCarver of the Cardinals hit a three-run homer off Pete Mikkelsen in the top of the 10th inning. By the time I'd left yearbook period and headed for football practice, St. Louis had won 5-2.
            Disgusting. But not as disgusting as three days later when Gibson and the Cardinals won Game 7. Little did I know that would be the Yankees' last World Series game for 12 years.
            I've reminded Miss Smith of that day, and that incident, whenever we talk. She should have known how passionate I was about the Yankees; she knew I was about the Woodlawn Knights. She can laugh about it now ... I think.
             And I know that J.W. "Bubba" Cook, sports fan that he was (and still is), would have told me to restrain myself, and then sent me back to the yearbook room. Of course, he was probably a Cardinals fan; so many people in North Louisiana from that era were because that was the team that was on radio in that area until Houston got a team.
             If he was a Cardinals fan (and a Yankees hater), he would have laughed because they won the game, too.
             Right, Mr. Cook? ... Mr. Cook?

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