Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A 1972 column on one of my favorite kids

      Column from The Shreveport Times, Sunday, Jan. 9, 1972:
      Bickham: A Champ
      Life Was Too Short ...  
      Donnie Bickham was the little freckle-faced kid who grew up to be an all-stater.
      In 1965, my summer occupation was the public address announcer for junior baseball at SPAR Stadium. One of the teams playing there frequently was Blanchard's Jr. A team and I remember how one player's little brother would come to the press box and sit and talk.
      That little brother was Donnie Bickham.
      He did it quite often that summer, and sometimes he'd be in his own baseball uniform, having just played a game in another part of town. He was a kid full of enthusiasm and life, and somehow you knew then that he had quite a future.
      And there he was again in 1969, my first year at The Times. Only he wasn't the little kid anymore. He was at Northwood High School and he was a senior and he had, indeed, turned out to be quite an athlete. And quite a person, too.
      The game of life ended for Donald Thomas Bickham on Thursday evening, snuffed out by a head-on car collision on a Texas highway.
      And suddenly you find yourself groping for the words that sum up your feelings about Donnie Bickham. And you know deep down that you can't ever say enough. That you were fortunate like so many others, to have known him, to have watched him play, to have seen him in his times of glory and in his times of defeat, and of the latter there weren't many.
      He was, if we could sum it up, a model athlete-scholar.
      Think of Northwood High School and Donnie Bickham comes to mind. He came with the school. He was there when it opened in 1967 and he became a leader on the school's first championship teams in football and baseball. He ran track. He earned all sorts of honors in other fields, too.
      Then it was more of the same at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, for the past 1 1/2 years.
      Just look at some of his many accomplishments.
      All-district and all-state in football. All-district and all-state in baseball. "Player of the Year" in District 1-AAA baseball. "Player of the Year" on The Times' All-City American Legion baseball team in 1970.
      At Northwood, an A student, Key Club president two years, Mr. Northwood, National Honor Society. At Blinn, a 9.3 scholastic average out of a possible 10, the Dean's List three times, "Who's Who in Speech," etc.
      He was 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, blond hair, sparkling eyes, always happy ... unless he was int he midst of a game. Then he was serious and concentrating.
      He wasn't a big man and we remember how, after his senior year in football when he scored 92 points and helped Northwood to a 9-2 record, not many colleges wanted to recruit him. Oh, he could have had his pick for baseball. But Donnie wanted to play football.
      Blinn was willing to give him a chance, though, and off he went with a combination football-baseball scholarship.
      We kept getting reports on how well he was doing, and we'd see him here at home for the holidays and he was happy at Blinn. He did well enough to earn a football-baseball scholarship to Baylor University for his final two years. And he was to have transferred there at mid-term.
      And now, there are only memories ...
      ... for 'The Thumper'
       They called him "The Thumper" and I never knew why.
       "He liked that name," recalled James Farrar, who coached him in football and baseball at Northwood. "He had a lot of pride in it."
       But that was the Bickham way. He had a lot of pride in everything he did. And he did it with class.
       "I can't ever remember him saying anything bad about anybody," Farrar said. "He made fun out of working and, man, he worked. I can remember hitting him a thousand ground balls, and he'd never be satisfied. He'd always want to do more.
       "There are a thousand things that fly through your mind," Farrar added. "I remember our first football game in 1967 at Logansport. He ran back the opening kickoff and he got tripped up by one of our players. And he came off the field saying, 'I could have scored, coach.' "
       And Farrar recalled, too, a moment after Donnie's junior football season. "He didn't make all-district and he should have," James said. "And I called him in the office and told him he hadn't made it.
       "He had big 'ol tears running down his face and he said, 'Next year, I'll make sure. There'll be no doubt.' "
       And, next year, there was no doubt.
       His closest friends at Northwood already have made plans for a painting of Donnie to be hung in the school foyer above the trophy case.
       One of them, Francis Grigsby, has a fond last memory of Donnie. It was a touch football game two weeks ago when many of the ex-Falcons were home for the Christmas holidays.
       "We were on the same team and we're behind by two points and the other team is on our 2-yard line," Grigsby recalled. "It was getting pretty dark, too. So they tried a pass and Donnie intercepted it and ran 101 yards. That was the end of the game.
       "That's the last time I saw him and I'll never forget it ... 101 yards and 101 percent effort. That was Donnie Bickham."
       Oh, there are so many memories. How he scored the winning touchdown on a spot pass in the last minute at Springhill in 1969 and how one week later he scored a touchdown and intercepted a last-minute pass in a 14-6 win at Bossier. He disappointed he was at losing in a state playoff game on a bitterly cold night at Tallulah. His senior season in baseball when he helped Northwood win its third straight district championship and he batted .435. That summer when he hit .478 and got a city-record 33 hits for Miller's Drillers of Blanchard in Legion baseball.
       And how I called him one night when I could reach the coach and said, "Well, Coach Bickham, who are you starting tomorrow?" We laughed about it together.
       "Boy, he was some kind of baseball player," recalled Perry Peyton, who pitched against him. "I figured that for a career he was 10-of-13 off me. One game, I got him to pop up on a change-up with the bases loaded. The next time he came up, he had fire in his eyes. And he hit a smash. I think it was a double. He was a great competitor."
       Those are the things to remember about Donnie Bickham. He had ability, and he had pride, and he was humble. He always remained the same, even as the honors kept coming. He was a champion in every respect.
        Maybe James Farrar, who knew him better than most, summed it up.
         "Donnie Bickham," he said, "was the type of young man you want your son to be like."       
---
A letter to The Shreveport Times ...
      I recently found a letter from Jim Jamar, a Shreveport resident, to The Shreveport Times, not sure of the date.

     This letter is to congratulate the first student body at Donald Thomas Bickham Middle School! And to tell you what I know about your namesake.
     I knew Donnie Bickham when I was fortunate enough to be on the same "termite" baseball team with him. The very first baseball I was ever in we lost (and it wouldn't be the last). But what I remember most is instead of allowing our team to wallow in the misery of defeat, Donnie rallied us all around the pitcher's mound and led us in a spirited cheer of "we lost, by golly, we lost!" That was Donnie -- defeat did not beat his determination. I never forgot that lesson.
     I knew Donnie Bickham when he was a middle-schooler at Blanchard Junior High School. I remember him sinking countless 30-foot-plus baskets in front of an appreciative home crowd, game after game. But I don't remember him ever mentioning anything about it. I remember Donnie that same summer hitting during batting practice. He called every pitch and wherever he said he would hit the ball, it went. That was Donnie -- not talking about what he did, but doing what he said he would. I marveled at his matter-of-factness.
      I knew Donnie Bickham as a high-schooler at Northwood High School. He was a leader, a scholar, a supreme athlete and bubbled with enthusiasm and personality, and more. That was Donnie, he knew the sky was the limit, and he reached for it. I looked up to him.
      Donald Thomas Bickham is gone, but Donald Thomas Bickham Middle School is here and going strong! If the students at Bickham Middle School will set as standards the one that Donnie Bickham lived by, they too will not be beaten by defeat. Accomplishment will be a way of life. And they will reach for the sky.

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