Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The road to (and from) Ringgold

      Not much goes on in Ringgold, Louisiana. It is typical conservative small-town America -- no big buildings, not much new, really. In fact, it has an old and faded look.
       One main grocery store, a pharmacy, the funeral home, and a few churches -- and there you have the main intersection "downtown."
       Not much traffic. In fact, at the only stoplight in town, two or three cars stopped for red at one time means a traffic jam.
       But this past Saturday, Ringgold was a nice place to be. And the people who attended the Ringgold High School Class of '62 reunion -- which included members of the Class of '61 and the Class of '63, and some guests/spouses -- were a nice group to join.
        My wife Beatrice was (is) in the Class of '63. This was her first Ringgold High reunion. She was looking forward to it, but honestly, she also was anxious. These were people she had not seen in 50 years. As with any reunion, you don't know exactly what to expect.
       Quick summation: No problem. Enjoyed it all. I will guess that the three dozen Ringgold graduates and the spouses/guests did, too.
       No problem finding the spot. The '62 Chevy Impala -- I think it was an Impala -- parked in front of the United Methodist Church was a good clue.
      But we know our way around these parts.
       Ringgold (population 1,495), 35 miles southeast of Shreveport on Louisiana state highway 154, is a special place for us. So is Jamestown (population 139), the village five miles east of Ringgold.
      In Jamestown, the only traffic signal was a blinking light at the only four-way intersection in town. It's a short distance from where Bea grew up on what we call Shaw hill. It's also a short distance from where Jamestown School once stood; that's where she went through fifth grade.
     Then the school -- elementary, junior high, high school combined -- closed, probably for lack of numbers. Bea remembers the fifth grade had five people (and with sixth grade in the same classroom had 11 total).
       So off to the big town she (and her siblings) went. Bea's final seven years in school were at Ringgold.
      Bea will tell you that despite its small size, Ringgold High in the late '50s/early '60s had an outstanding administration and faculty, a whole bunch of smart kids, grads who went to Harvard and other top-notch universities, its future attorneys and engineers, and beauty pageant winners on the state level.
      It also had a boys basketball team known mostly for (1) three Class B state championships in a five-year period, plus a 66-6 team that didn't win state; (2) its barber-pole red-and-white, Harlem Globetrotters-style shorts; and (3) one of the best players in the state in that era.
      Barrie Haynie stood taller than anyone at the reunion, literally and figuratively. No question he was the best-known person in the room.
       He's still 6-foot-5, but not the stringy kid he was then. He's filled out nicely, not fat, but a big man these days. He is, though, still the affable guy he was when he was chosen "Mr. Ringgold High" and earned all sorts of basketball honors.
       And when he was given an enduring nickname, the "Ringgold Rifle." He was quite the sharpshooter.
       He could fill the basket from anywhere, a wonderful shooter. With big, burly Billy Ray on the inside, they were an unstoppable combination on the 1960 and '61 state champions -- Barrie's sophomore and junior years.  As a senior, he averaged 35 points and 20 rebounds a game.
      Billy Ray, who is deceased, went on to play at Northwestern State. Barrie played college ball at Centenary, and thus his number of fans grew. Centenary home games when he was there were televised on a delay basis, late night, so a bunch of us high school kids grew to root for the Gents.
       How good was Haynie? He set a school record with 46 points in 1966 against the Elvin  Hayes-led University of Houston Cougars, then one of the country's best teams.
      Still, Barrie was only the second-best scorer at Centenary behind his road roommate, Tom "Captain Hook" Kerwin, a 6-9 forward-center who will be the subject of a future blog here.
       And Barrie had another roommate at home, Karon Orr, also a member of Ringgold's Class of '62. They married while still in high school. At Saturday's reunion, they were the longest-married couple, just a bit longer than Judy and Bill Holmes. The applause for both couples was well-deserved.
       As you might expect, Barrie and I swapped some stories and memories. He told me of the "benefits" of being a top-level college recruit; I promised not to divulge the details. You'd be surprised.
Barrie Haynie, right, at the reunion
       Barrie and Karon shared this story. When Adolph Rupp of Kentucky, then the most powerful coach in college basketball, was invited to speak at Jonesboro-Hodge's basketball banquet in 1962, he requested that the Haynies attend. So Barrie sat next to Rupp, even though he could not offer him a scholarship because he was married.
         Barrie came back to Ringgold High in 1967 to coach the Redskins for seven seasons, becoming the first player to play in the state tournament and then return as a coach in 1969. He was principal at the school for 19 years -- longer than anyone else has held the job -- and oversaw the beginning of a football program, and he's still working, in his 20th year as Bienville Parish director of transportation and maintenance.
      No wonder he's Mr. Ringgold.
     But I don't mean to slight the other Ringgold kids at the reunion. About half have stayed in the immediate area; Northwest Louisiana is their comfort zone, and more power to them. Saturday's event, though, brought back people from California and Florida, and even Texas.
     The bond was evident; the togetherness of growing up in this little town, at this school so special to them, the memories of that school located just as you come into town (the artist's drawing of the old buildings we saw Saturday was impressive and heartwarming).
     It is no more, but the people in town are proud, too, of the new school complex just off the road to Jamestown that opened in 1979.
      Distinct memories of Saturday:
     -- The tributes to the class members who are deceased, three prayers and a candle lighting. Well  done.
     -- Good company, good food (fried fish is always OK with me), fine organization (thank you, Janice Marler & Co.).
     -- The presence of the widows of basketball coaches Bob Corley (boys) and J.C. Davis (girls), both women still radiant and popular. 
      -- Stories told to Bea, one woman thanking her for her friendship in their senior year, the other a fellow school-bus rider remembering how Bea had written short stories and read them to her on the bus rides. "You encouraged me to read, and to write," she told my wife.
       Bea is still an avid reader, and writer. And I can tell you she's proud to be a Ringgold Redskins  graduate.
      "That was a very nice experience," she said as we pulled out of a town we remember fondly.


  1. Thank You Nico for a wonderful account of our reunion! It was great to visit with Bea and you. RHS was a great school to grow-up in and you have recalled some very special times for us all. Ringgold was a wonderful small town with a family-like atmosphere during those days and to read your blog brought back many precious memories! Thanks again!

  2. From Janice Marler:
    Nico, Thanks for such a wonderful write-up on the reunion. It sums up the day and area beautifully. In a small town you can't divide your friends into just those that are in your grade. You are pretty much friends with everyone. Look forward to the next reunion in 5 years and your write-up then.