Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's only been 50 years, but the memories ...

The Woodlawn shield, introduced in the 1963-64
school year, also was the cover for the yearbook.
     Woodlawn High School's Class of '64 will celebrate its 50th reunion Friday and Saturday in Shreveport, with the emphasis on celebrate.
     This is not my class -- the Class of '65's 50th will be next year -- but we all share this sentiment: We're just happy to be here.
     Unfortunately we lose some of our schoolmates every year and that's sad. But we know we're at that point. The planning committee for this reunion, which has done a wonderful job and kept us posted regularly on Facebook, I'm sure will honor the memory of those who are gone.
    The seniors of '64 were our elders, at least by a year, and we learned a lot from them. At least they'd like to think so, and we'll let them. Actually, we were all in it together at Woodlawn in the early to mid-1960s.
     Most of us will agree, it was a heckuva lot of fun, a great time.
     I wrote a blog piece a year-and-a-half ago for the 50th reunion of Woodlawn's Class of '63 and called the school "our Camelot."
     So let's take another nostalgic trip to the Class of '64's senior year: 1963-64.
     It was memorable, on a national scale, for three notable events: (1) the Kennedy assassination; (2) the Beatles coming to America, and that first TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show; (3) only 16 days after the Beatles' Sullivan debut, one of sports' greatest upsets -- a young, loudmouth Cassius Clay becoming the world heavyweight champion by shocking "unbeatable" Sonny Liston.
     I have written blog pieces on each of those happenings.
     For many of us at Woodlawn, the memory of the day JFK was shot in Dallas is tied to New Orleans. We were already there, the football players, coaches and managers, for a state playoff game; cheerleaders, pep squad, band members and fans were probably on the road to the game.
     What we tend to forget all these years later, because Kennedy became a martyr of sorts, is that in the South, in our area, maybe at Woodlawn, he was not a popular President. In truth, many were not fond of him or his policies, his liberal viewpoint.
     And, well, his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson -- LBJ -- might've been even less popular, and he was from next-door Texas.
     The Beatles, as I've written, is what everyone at school was talking about on the Monday after we first saw them live. Their sound was so fresh, so lively; it was like the moon landing of rock and roll. Only Elvis' TV debut seven years earlier could compare.
     We really had no idea how huge Beatlemania would become, and how 50 years later, it still has a grip on us and the whole world.
     Maybe Clay's victory against Liston doesn't rank with the other two events, but then he became Muhammad Ali, and I dare say -- and you don't have to like him -- that no athlete of our lifetime has had a bigger impact world-wide. OK, maybe Michael Jordan. Maybe.
     The Woodlawn kids of 1963-64 were several years from integrated schools, integrated public facilities, mixed seating in public transportation, from use of drugs, from the feminist movement and Title IX, from color televisions (most of us, anyway), garages at home (carports only, if that), from so many modern conveniences to come (think calculators, remote-control clickers, microwaves, digital watches, etc., etc.)
     And significantly, several years from the Vietnam War. The American "advisors" were already in Vietnam, but the military combat troops would be there in a few years -- and how deeply that would impact us. We lost a treasured friend and popular all-around star athlete, and some other noble ex-Knights in those faraway rice paddies and mine fields. A terrible memory.
     Thanks, too, to the ex-Knights who served over there, and elsewhere, and are here to tell about it. Thanks for service to our country.
     In the early '60s, we wore our hair short, crew cuts were in. Sideburns were not. Well, we did have a few "greasers," in our terminology, throwbacks to the leather jackets and ducktail hairdos of the late 1950s, some of them spoiling for any fight they could find.
     We didn't wear shorts to school, or tennis shoes. We had to wear collared shirts, tucked in.
We did wear white socks, even with dark slacks, sometimes with suits. It looks hilariously wrong in yearbook photos.
     Girls had to wear dresses, no pants. Big hair, teased hair, bleached blonde hair was in. Also, the "bouffant" style, with a flip to it, or a tall beehive. Yeah, we noticed.
     The fads included Bass Weejuns penny loafers, Madras clothing, the Twist in dancing, drag races, "submarine" races.
     We listened to KEEL Radio for the Top 40 and other hits of the day every chance we got. I guess there were country music fans, but not like there would be a decade or two or three later.
     We made regular stops at the Dairy Queen on 70th Street right near the Sunset Acres and Garden Valley neighborhoods, and we had two -- only two -- regular TV stations, KTBS (Channel 3, ABC) and KSLA (Channel 12, CBS), with a third, Texarkana-based KTAL (Channel 6, NBC) just starting to make an impact in Shreveport.
     Don Owen, Al Bolton and a very young Bob Griffin were KSLA's news-weather-sports team. If you wanted network news, it was only 30 minutes -- expanded from 15 just as the school year began. Walter Cronkite (CBS) and the Chet Huntley/David Brinkley team (NBC) were already network anchor superstars.
     The political hero in our area was Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Mr. Conservative. He would have won the Presidential election at Woodlawn. But he was swamped by Johnson in November 1964, as one-sided an election as there had ever been.
     If Goldwater wasn't the hero, Gov. George Wallace -- staunch segregationist -- was. Not at my house.
     The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a steady presence on the television news, leading the fight for civil rights and equality for blacks. As you can imagine, he was not popular at Woodlawn. The protests and scenes of violence toward blacks were shocking sights on our TVs.
     The biggest sports stars were Mickey Mantle, Johnny Unitas, Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown, the Green Bay Packers, the Navy quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner (Roger Staubach), Bill Russell (the Boston Celtics won the NBA title every year with him at center), Wilt Chamberlain, Arnold Palmer and a blond, chubby kid who was taking golf's majors from Arnie's Army -- Jack Nicklaus.
     UCLA won its first NCAA basketball title in the spring of '64 (and nine more in the next 11  years). Australians ruled the tennis world, and the Toronto Maple Leafs still won Stanley Cups (but  who in our area cared any about ice hockey?).
     The Yankees and Dodgers remained baseball's dominant teams, as they had been for almost two decades. I liked that.
     At Woodlawn, our football team -- as noted above -- made the state playoffs, but only thanks to a couple of Byrd High forfeits. An 8-3-1 record wasn't bad, but it was the worst Woodlawn did in a nine-year span.
     We didn't win enough in basketball or baseball to suit me, but as a team manager/statistician for three sports, I loved the guys on those teams, loved the games, and even loved the practices. That was my life. I made so many friends for a lifetime.
      One story I remember was the late-in-the-school year Sunday Magazine feature in The Times on our beautiful, popular senior cheerleader Barbara Norrid (now Shaver). Still have that story in my files.
     If you were a Woodlawn senior, you had to have a class ring (and they weren't cheap). If you were a student, you had to buy a yearbook. I had a special interest in that.
     It was my first year as co-sports editor of the school yearbook, the Accolade. Lewis Allgood, a recent addition as a Facebook friend, and I agreed that we had a blast sharing the job. We had an All-American rated yearbook, thanks mostly to our advisor, Miss Willa Smith, and our editor, Robbie Ashford (now Chalk). But all the kids on that staff enjoyed the work.
     So did the kids on the school newspaper staff, the Herald. Charlotte Hudson (now Ewing) was our editor and as I looked over the molded bound of that paper a couple of weeks ago, it was an often creative effort. We remember, I think, "The Ballad of Sir Yomas Toungblood," among other gems.
     I was assistant sports editor that year, and -- although I'd had my first bylines in The Shreveport Times in the summer of '63 -- I didn't show any flair or creativity in my stories and "Spotlight on Sports" columns. I would improve some over the years.
     But here is what counted: a friendship. The sports editor that year was a fellow junior, Ray Jackson, who lived right across the street from Woodlawn. We became decent friends and two decades later, our sons played kids baseball in the Bossier City rec leagues.
     Four decades-plus later, we reunited in tough circumstances -- our mothers each were in their final days in a Shreveport rehab/nursing facility. Their obits ran side-by-side in The Times.   
     As I looked back over the Herald papers, I noticed one major error -- and I was not responsible. In an obvious late addition, a story on our playoff game in New Orleans said it was played Dec. 22. No, no, no. The paper came out before that, and of course, it was the day JFK was shot -- Nov. 22. No mention of the assassination.
     (What's more, they cut my column to get in that story. Oh, well. Like I said, my stuff was boring.)
     I know it will be a fun reunion, and the Class of  '64 has invited members of the few classes before and after that year to attend. Also, some faculty members are alive and active, and part of many Woodlawn reunions. Sadly, one reunion regular -- J.W. "Bubba" Cook, then the assistant principal and later the longtime school principal, the man I called "Mr. Woodlawn" -- is no longer with us. He died just after New Year's Day.
     I won't attend this week; my Saturdays in the fall have another priority  (college football), but I'll be thinking of those Woodlawn kids, of my old friends.
     Because 50 years later, I value what they and the school gave me, a love and a time in my life that remains special. I will borrow the title of a Shreveport magazine piece I wrote on Woodlawn football several years ago: "They were Knights (and days) to remember."

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