Thursday, March 21, 2013

In the 1960s, Woodlawn was our "Camelot"

     Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.
Woodlawn: A beautiful sight for us Knights
       My wife, bless her heart, refers to the 1960s Woodlawn High School years, as "Camelot."
       "Just on what I've heard," she explains. She wasn't there; she's from Jamestown and went to school at Ringgold, some 35 miles from Shreveport.
       But it was our Camelot, like the ideal land of folklore, of King Arthur; like in the early '60s, the Kennedy White House, or so we heard and read. Civility and nobility, and all that.
        I'm writing this because this weekend the Woodlawn Class of '63 -- the first class to attend the school for all three years -- is having its 50th reunion. Members from other classes are invited. There will be some memories.
       They'll remember our sparkling new buildings and the beautiful quadrangle -- my favorite spot on campus, although the gymnasium and the varsity dressing room and equipment storage areas were where I spent hours.
       They'll remember the Camelot theme. We were the Woodlawn Knights. The school was located in the Sherwood Park neighborhood; not Sherwood Forest, but close. We called our place the Castle.
Woodlawn's Sir Knight
       We had Sir Knight -- the lifesize replica suit of armor standing guard in the lobby of the Woodlawn gym and also the live mascot at games, a person inside a suit of armor.
       We had the Herald (school newspaper) and the Accolade (yearbook) and an Accolade pageant and a Knights' ball in which we had a king and a queen, senior Knights (actually "knighted" by the king) and Ladies, junior squires and ladies-in-waiting, and sophomore pages and maids. I remember references to the Round Table ... maybe that was our Student Council.
       We had, we thought, the best school colors (scarlet and royal blue), the best alma mater, fight song, cheerleaders, pep squad, band, the best 4-H group, the top faculty and administrators ... and the best kids in town.
       We know we had the best fans anywhere. The deeper we went into the 1960s, the more fans we had. Especially for the football team because in the '60s no Class AAA school in Louisiana had a better record.
       And by the time the '60s were done, we thought we had the best tradition.
       All those kids -- from Sunset Acres, Southern Hills, Cedar Grove, Summer Grove and from points in the Werner Park and Caddo Heights areas -- were pretty proud of that place.
       We carried the Woodlawn tradition out into the world. When I went into sportswriting at The Shreveport Times, it was difficult to be impartial because I was still very much a Knight.
         But here's what I found as I began visiting other schools regularly -- I loved them all, I loved all their traditions. Loved visiting the athletic departments and school offices, walking the hallways, admiring the memorabilia in the trophy cases.
          Especially at Byrd and Fair Park, and Bossier, and Jesuit -- our city rivals in the '60s. All of them with wonderful traditions. And -- yes, you're reading this correctly -- they were all terrific schools with great kids.
          Lots to be said for the City of Byrd, the Reservation at Fair Park, the River Rats at Bossier, and Snoopy's Squadron at Jesuit. Extend that, though, to any school in North Louisiana; it was neat to visit them all.
            And Ringgold became a special place to me, too. I knew Ringgold from its two state basketball championships in the early 1960s. Beatrice says, "It was one of the best schools academically on its level in the state, tight-knit and nurturing, and filled with tradition, just like the big schools."
             One difference: We had about 550 in my graduating class, about 1,500 students at Woodlawn in the early 1960s. Bea had 26 in her graduating class, about 125 students in grades 10-12, and Ringgold's school/campus had kids from kindergarden through senior year.
             Our school had this: togetherness.
The Woodlawn shield
             Most of us were from "average" families, economic-wise -- hard-working parents, lots of them blue-collar workers. We had some kids/families with money, some not well off at all, but most of us were in the middle class.
              In that regard, we were like one of our neighbor school, Fair Park. There were more well-off kids at Byrd and Jesuit, more of a military presence at Bossier (and later Airline) because of Barksdale Air Force Base.
              Most of our dads were World War II veterans; most of our mothers were stay-at-home moms, maybe with a parttime job but most often not.
              At Woodlawn, there was a spirit, a bond that's hard to describe. I felt as if those kids, that school, "belonged" to me, and I belonged there. I'd like to think others felt the same way.
               I was asked by a Class of '63 member for some memories of the '62-63 school year, my sophomore year. I began with this: From the first day -- actually starting in spring football practice when I was still a ninth-grader at Oak Terrace -- you realized how important, how business-like, football was at Woodlawn. Winning football.
               When we got there on Aug. 15, the start of football practice, we were totally dedicated to that program. And, yet, those coaches made it a lot of fun, too, because they were some of the best people I've known. So were the young men who dressed in those Knights' uniforms ... for years.
               But there was great enthusiasm about every program at Woodlawn, far beyond athletics.
               As the school grew through the '60s, and enrollment increased, Woodlawn became a power in every sport, peaking in 1968-69 with state championships in football and basketball, a third-place in track and field, and a baseball team that went to the state tournament for the first time.
                And I'm sure that every other aspect of Woodlawn grew, too.
                The school began changing in 1970 when Southwood opened, followed a few months later when Shreveport schools integrated almost totally. Woodlawn remained a wonderful place for a couple more decades, but it wasn't the same. It wasn't Camelot anymore.
              Yet, I think about this -- it wasn't ideal; it was just real life. We had kids that drank -- yes, even at the Knights' Ball, I heard; we had those who smoked (if caught, that meant a suspension or dismissal from the athletic teams); drug use -- marijuana -- was still a few years away. I also heard we had kids who engaged in sex (couldn't prove it by me).
              There was little, or no, talk about gays -- the word used in that context then was always offensive to me -- or same-sex marriage. No talk of mixed-race marriage; most of us never went to school with a black person, even in college.
              Blacks were a separate world; they might as well have been on a separate continent (and that's what many people suggested in those days). Yet Union High School was maybe not more than a mile from Woodlawn; in our sophomore year, because of roadwork, we went by there every day on the way to school.
              We had future alcoholics (maybe alcoholics even then), future drug users, those whose marriages failed (some many times), those who married while still in high school; those who married other Woodlawn kids, and made it work -- even through today.
              The early 1960s were a much simpler time, and it was mostly, a good time. But  Camelot -- the folktale, play and movie, and the Kennedy White House -- didn't have happy endings.
We had, in Sunset Acres and at Woodlawn, a future serial killer and a serial bank robber; both died in prison, the convicted killer in the electric chair.
               Real life.
               Woodlawn was special, but not perfect. Great memories, though, and the Class of '63 reunion will respark those. Maybe those Knights and Ladies will talk about the Castle in Sherwood Park this weekend while they wear scarlet and royal blue, and sit around round tables.                              


  1. Nico,
    As a member of that 1963 graduating class from Woodlawn, all I can say said it well. I look forward to seeing some of my classmates, and others who are coming from other classes, at the reunion of Friday and Saturday. I haven't seen most of them for 50 years. Thanks again for saying it so well.
    Lawrence Robinson

  2. This is a great tribute to Woodlawn, I graduated in 1962 and my sister 1965, we have so many wonderful memories of our years there. As the first two classes at Wooodlawn we got to choose everything - name of the yearbook, school colors, etc. so exciting. A lot of us transferred from Byrd and Woodlawn gave us the respect that we all deserved and never got at Byrd. Thanks for this article. Marty Rowland Adams, Cindy Rowland Marrus

  3. From Rick Dawson: Well said, Nico. As a member of the 1968-1969 class, we were extremely proud of the heritage that you and the former classes of Woodlawn left for us.

  4. LOVED this article! You did say it well and just like the Camelot of legend, it was a long time ago in a land, now far, far away. I graduated in 1968 two years behind Terry Bradshaw and a year in front of Joe Ferguson. I marched in the band's dress line and played flute in the concert band under Richard Jennings. Those were great years! Duane Ebarb, though injured our senior year,has kept our class together through all the years. So, HAIL, Knights so true! May those wonderful days live forever in our hearts.

  5. From Bill Hollifield: That was no replica, that is a real suit of armor -- money was raised for it for several years by the student body organizations. WHS was one of the all-time best experiences of my life (senior '71) and the teachers, coaches, and Mr. Cook all will tell you that there was something VERY SPECIAL about those times.

  6. From Jimmy Russell: This was a good piece and I thought the same thing about Minden High School in those days. We as kids did not know about real life. (We thought we did). Everything centered about school, the teams, and how important we thought we were. It was certainly important to us and we had no idea anything else was going on. Additionally, Minden was a one school town(we certainly never thought about Webster HS) and a lot of people followed the teams. Minden, Lousiana (Minden Crimson Tide) Home of Champions, it was called then. Anyway I got a feel for what you are saying and I identified with it during my time. We will agree times have changed. I cannot say all the changes were for the best.

  7. Jerry Dring Moore: Your blog about Woodlawn is great. I feel the same way, as many people do. I got a great education and belonged to a great group of people. I was in the band for 3 years and attended every football game from 1965-68, marching in every one.

  8. From Cindy Marrus: LOVED THIS! Makes my heart ache and happy at the same time.

  9. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: You have totally outdone yourself today. I had tears in my eyes reading this awesome tribute to what truly was "our Camelot." Those were times -- for the most part -- of joy, innocence, and times that would never be again. We didn't worry about drug overdoses, being shot in a drive-by, losing all our money to Ponzi scheme snakes, or that our friends would have AIDS. Just a few short years later, we would be in the middle of some of the most radical changes our country has ever seen and Camelot would be a treasured memory.
    The Vietnam Nam war, anti-war demonstrations, the free-love/flower child era and "the pill" would change us individually as much as the civil rights movement and women's lib would change our laws and society in general.
    As a nation we have made a lot of positive changes, but I think many of us still treasure the days at Woodlawn and being a Knight because these were the last days of our innocence as individuals and a nation.
    Great blog, Nico. Thanks for the memories.

  10. From Elsa Van Thyn: Great article. Woodlawn, Oak Terrace and Sunset Acres were great schools to attend while growing up. We were very lucky to end up there.

  11. From Tim Hall: Great article about Camelot. ... All of my friends and I felt the same way about that "special" time growing up in the '60s in Alexandria at Menard High School. It was all somewhat "magical" until we got to the next phase that required us to move on. I am of the opinion that transition is the one that makes the nostalgic look back at high school times that much more warm and fuzzy for many of us.

  12. From Beverly C. Porche: As usual, Nico, your writing has "captured" those Camelot years at Woodlawn. Super article.

  13. From Pam Shaw White: I enjoyed this so much. Your writing just takes me to that place. Woodlawn was my escape. My home was turmoil but high school was family to me. Thank you for helping me remember that.

  14. From Gary Ferguson: Nico, you are the best ambassador to Woodlawn we could ever hope for. Thank you for the memories, both good and bad to some memories you bring up we can relate to.

  15. From Joyce Williams Brown: Enjoyed your writing as I always do and you were so "in touch" with WHS and still know how to stir our feelings and keep them ever alive for the innocent days of old. From one of your diehard fans and classmates, "Thanks for the Memories."

  16. I am Johnny McFarland; a member of the class of 1963. I remember so well all of the fun. A fabulous football team and the band playing "The Stripper" at halftime and the beautiful girls marching on the football team. I played guitar with Dino and the Cruisers and we played for some functions including the Senior Prom. I moved on to the Army but I want to someday come back for a class reunion.