Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's true: Welcome to The City of Byrd

       My Woodlawn friends are going to love this, or maybe not. But this happened, so they should accept it.
       I spent parts of last Saturday afternoon and evening figuratively visiting The City of Byrd -- and it was a good experience.
       OK, I "crashed" the Byrd High School Class of '65 50-year reunion, and no one stopped me. But crashed isn't exactly correct; I was invited. Visited with a couple of dozen old friends -- yes, I had friends over there -- and they did not make me sing We Are The Jackets.
       But I could have; I know the words. Heard them far too often in the 1960s. Same for the Notre Dame Victory March, which also is the Byrd Victory March.
       Actually, I went to school with some of these people when I lived in the Line Avenue area of Shreveport. And I went to Sunday School, religious school, at the Jewish places of worship, and was in the B'nai Zion Temple confirmation class of 1962 with a dozen future Byrd High graduates. By then, I was about to be a Woodlawn Knight.
       On Saturday -- when I drove from Fort Worth a day ahead of my speaking appearance at the annual Shreveport-Bossier Holocaust Remembrance Service -- I was invited to a reunion of those Temple/Byrd High people.
      Ben Sour Jr., my best friend among the Jewish kids from the time we first met in about 1958, organized the reunion. In the 50 years since we all graduated from high school, I had seen only a couple of them.
       The afternoon get-together at a Shreveport restaurant was -- honestly -- exciting. I was happy to see them, and vice versa. Because a few didn't make it, and were in town for the Byrd reunion -- plus I wanted to visit longer with some others -- Ben suggested I also attend the night dinner for the '65 Yellow Jackets at East Ridge Country Club.
       So, a drawing of Jack The Jacket was the only thing guarding the entryway. I joined the Jackets.
With my friends Ben Sour, Danny Goldberg, David Goldberg
       I have written this about the Sunset Acres/Oak Terrace/Woodlawn kids of the late 1950s/early
1960s: They welcomed me, and accepted me, and were my friends. They were a big part of my life.
       The same for the Temple kids. I always considered them a classy group, smart kids from good  families, and almost all were much better at and more dedicated to the religious teachings than I was.
       On Saturday, it was hello again to Ben Sour, Roy Adell, Jay Cheatham, Cyrelle Gerson, Robert Levy, Fred Phillips, twins Danny and David Goldberg, Stephen Katz, and Marilyn Meyer.
       I thank them for the friendships and the memories of classes with Mrs. Sylvia Katz and, in our ninth-grade year, the confirmation grind under Rabbi David Lefkowitz Jr.  We were all in it together.
        There is a unique bond with one of the girls in the class, which I will get to at the end of this piece.
         But there also is a bond with four of the guys who were athletes in junior high and then at Byrd -- Fred Phillips, the solidly built offensive guard in football; Danny Goldberg, the tough All-State defensive end; lanky David Goldberg, a starter in basketball; and Jay Cheatham, a good-looking dark-haired, strong All-State outfielder.
         I was a manager for the Oak Terrace and Woodlawn teams that competed against the teams with these guys, but I didn't root against my friends. I was proud of the Jewish kids.
         Didn't like losing to them, though, and as Danny Goldberg kept reminding me, "You guys didn't beat us in anything."
         Well, it's true. Woodlawn was 0-3 vs. Byrd in football in my high school years. And, as I've written previously, it was a bitter rivalry. That was the game each year in Shreveport-Bossier; crowds of 20,000-plus.
          One of my friends who played football said to me a couple of years ago that he "played terrible against Byrd; I always regretted that." I had to laugh at that; it's a little late for lament. Believe me, I got over the losses years ago.
           In basketball, after going 0-for-almost four seasons against Byrd, we routed them in my senior year -- one of our four wins (in 25 games) that season when one of my best friends, Ken Liberto, scored 37 points, hitting 19 free throws. That was in 19 attempts.
          And in baseball, best I can remember, we won six of eight games vs. Byrd in three years. So we didn't lose in everything.
          But, yes, Byrd was king in football those years, district champion twice and robbed of a chance for three in a row.
          Then, too, Woodlawn did quite well in football after we graduated -- five consecutive wins (all of them one-sided) against Byrd from '65 to '69, five district titles in a row, one state championship and six trips to the state semifinals in a 14-year period (1965-78).
           Byrd in that time: no district titles, no semifinals.
           I think the Woodlawn people can feel OK about the '60s and '70s. Besides, we also had a great school.
          I always loved the history of the older schools in Shreveport-Bossier, the tradition -- whether it was Byrd, Fair Park, Bossier or St. John's (later Jesuit, now Loyola College Prep), Booker T. Washington. Once I became a sportswriter, it was a treat to go to the schools and visit.
          I was a fan of all of them, and now I have friends from all the schools in the area.
          My opinion: Byrd remains Shreveport-Bossier's "star" school -- the best academics, some of the best athletics. It was certainly that way in the 1960s. Those people at Saturday night's reunion have reason to be proud.
          All the schools were terrific then, but Byrd probably is the closest to what it was then. Its magnet-school program and its active alumni base have kept it that way, and they are updating the building and grounds, which have been there since the school's first year (1926).
          Here was one of the fun parts for me Saturday night -- not only seeing the Temple kids, but also talking with others who were athletes.
          There were old friends from baseball such as James Gillespie, who looks young enough to still pitch nine innings, and Glenn Theis; and some football players who I'd seen play but had never met -- Gene Hunt, the inspirational quarterback; Robert Pirtle; Bill Erwin, a tremendous all-around athlete in junior high and high school; and Joe Walker, who (as I told him) I considered the unsung hero of the team, a big-play guy at receiver and cornerback.
          Two other longtime friends from that Byrd Class of  '65: pitcher-turned-umpire/referee Clyde Oliver "T-Willie" Moore and Shreveport Captains owner-operator Taylor F. ("Frosty") Moore.
Gene Hunt, still No. 10
        I wrote about Dr. Gene Hunt previously, in relation to the Byrd-Woodlawn rivalry and his opposing QB for two years, Trey Prather.
        Gene gave a rousing speech at the Class of '65 gathering Saturday morning in the Byrd auditorium. That night, as I approached him, he was busy talking to someone and, before I even spoke, he handed me a CD entitled The Sounds of Byrd.
          I didn't even have to ask.  But I did laugh, and I gladly accepted. A few minutes later, I had a nice talk with Gene.
          On the drive home to Fort Worth the next day, I listened to the 30-minute CD, which includes sound bytes from 1964-65 -- football practice with coaches revving up players, the "Go West Day" against Fair Park to end the regular season, tunes from the Byrd band, songs from the choir, skits and cheers from cheerleaders and the pep squad, pep rallies with the principal, J.H. Duncan, firing up the students, the P.A. describing game action while Byrd wrapped up the district title with a 14-0 win against a very good Fair Park team.
           And then the raising of the Victory Flag back at the school, a rousing version of We Are The Jackets (I got chills listening to it, and sang along), the students chanting "We're Number One" (and they were), and then the Byrd alma mater.
           I discovered about a year ago that the We Are The Jackets tune is adapted from the theme song of the movie Giant.
           Listening to the Byrd alma mater -- which the CD narration said has been used since 1943 -- I thought I was hearing Love Me Tender. So when I got home, I did some research.
           Wikipedia says Love Me Tender, written for Elvis Presley for the 1956 movie, "puts new words to a new musical adaptation of the Civil War song Aura Lee, published in 1861. ... It later became popular with college glee clubs and barbershop quartets. It was also sung at the U.S. Military Academy."
            Hey, do you people at Byrd do anything original? Aura Lee, Giant, Notre Dame Victory March ... At least -- I think -- the Woodlawn alma mater and fight song were original compositions by our first band director, Richard Jennings.
            But, look, I loved the CD. We are the Jackets -- best of all!
            There was one more reunion within the reunion for me. Ben Sour happened to mention the name Stan Gove. When he did, I almost jumped. Stan graduated in the Byrd Class of '65, but in 1957-59, when we moved to Sunset Acres, he and his family lived just across the street from us. I jumped their back fence hundreds of times to get to the Sunset Acres Elementary playground.
            We were friends and playing companions; he was in my sixth-grade class. So to see Stan -- whose family moved to the Byrd district as we entered junior high -- after all these years was another treat.                      
             Of all the people at the reunion, though, I went back further with one girl -- Marilyn Meyer (married name Kaplan for the past six months). When I saw her Saturday afternoon, the first thing she said was, "I remember in third grade ..."
Marilyn Meyer Kaplan
        On Jan. 12, 1956, the day we arrived by train in Shreveport at 7 a.m.-- after leaving The Netherlands by boat 15 days earlier --  I was enrolled at Line Avenue Elementary School that afternoon. Marilyn was in my classroom that day; she was in my third- and fourth-grade classes, then again for five years in Sunday School.
        She was, as I told her, the smartest girl in the class -- in fact, in any class she was in.  
        Talking about those days was an emotional few minutes for me. I remember how difficult it was to make the adjustment to a foreign place.             
        "You were cute," she said, "and you were small. I was small, too, so I liked that. You ate strange food, and I remember that I was fascinated because you were from a different culture. That's always fascinated me throughout my life and career."
       She also remembered my frustration -- "books slamming and desk-pounding" -- and that "sometimes we liked each other, and sometimes we didn't." And, yes, I remember that, too. But when she apologized for her behavior, there was no need. Because I was not an easy kid to know.
       It's all ancient history now, and the seniors of 1965 -- Byrd, Woodlawn, etc. -- are somewhat ancient. But those of us still here are not history, and for that we're grateful. And I'm grateful that for one night, I hung out in The City of Byrd.
       Danny Goldberg laughingly told me that if I was around for their 60th class reunion, they might award me an honorary degree from Byrd.
       I told him that I have 10 years to think about it. I'm thinking my Woodlawn friends are not going to approve.




  1. From Patrick Locke Sr.: Byrd, Class of 76. ...Great piece. .And as long as you aren't a Gator (Harrison kids excluded), you are welcome to join us.

  2. From Tim Looney: Nice article. But as a Jesuit grad, I would have to take issue with your assessment of Byrd as having "the best academics."

  3. From Bill Smith: Absolutely outstanding blog. I had many friends at Byrd. But we loved beating them. And be honest, I loved "We are the Jackets." I thought it was truly inspiring song.

  4. From Alice Richardson: Since I began and ended my teaching career at Byrd, with many, many years at Woodlawn in between, I love both schools. Byrd -- well, Byrd will always be wonderful. Woodlawn is like a once grand but now aging queen, who is searching for what once was hers -- Camelot. My heart is with both schools.

  5. From Jan Prothro: Excellent. Your work always takes me along on adventures. Thanks.

  6. From Charlotte Hudson Ewing: You better not show up there, invited or not! Unless, that is, if you don't want every hair on your head pulled out by large clumps. I hear that's very painful and besides Ken and Trey will probably roll up and out of the grave and come to haunt you forever. Remember who you are and don't fraternize with the enemy! You are a KNIGHT, loyal and true ... REMEMBER?

  7. From Sherry Gwin May: Read your blog about the City of Byrd. Fred Phillips was a skydiver when Adrian, my husband, had his skydiving business in Shreveport at the downtown airport. Adrian has fond memories of him. There is a street over by Wal-Mart named Jump Run. Fred named that street. Jump Run is the final stretch in the airplane just before the skydivers jump out.

  8. From Chuck Baker: The Woodlawn alma mater song may be original to WHS, but I was stunned a few years ago to hear the same tune to an alma mater of an Alma (Ark.) opponent. Sorry to say I don't remember who Alma played that night, but it was the same tune.

  9. From Danny Goldberg: Well, you outdid yourself writing this article. It sounded like you were wishing you had graduated from Byrd instead of Woodlawn, but I continued to read it and it was apparent that your loyalty was to your alma mater. I know your friends appreciated you coming to the festivities Saturday and it was great to see you. I enjoyed our visit and thanks for attending the functions at the City of Byrd, and I personally thank you for attending as it rekindled an old friendship and fond memories.
    As you are a "honorary" Yellow Jacket I will ensure you are invited to the next get-together. Great seeing you, my friend. Peace be with you!​

  10. From Perry Peyton: Really enjoyed the article. My oldest brother Tommy would have graduated with the Class of 1965 if he hadn't dropped out of school during his junior year (he eventually got his GED and went on to a successful law enforcement career in the Dallas area). I remember many of the names that you mentioned. But I remember some things about Jay Cheatham -- he was a really good baseball player and he was good friends with David Harter.
    I was at the Harter home many times in my junior high days (Mike and I were good friends) and remember that Jay Cheatham was at the house a lot. For some reason I think of him having some kind of a hitting streak his senior year at Byrd, something like Byrd played 20 games or so that year and Jay had at least one hit in every game. I could be imagining this, but it has stuck in my mind for all these many years. Do you remember anything about the Jay Cheatham hitting streak? Just let me know.

    1. From Jay Cheatham: It was a 17-game streak. Broken when I had one official at-bat. Walked. Sacrificed in the winning run and struck out. I hit in every game but that one. I think we played 23 or 24 games.

  11. From Mike Harrell: My opinion -- Byrd's "star school" status certainly waned in the late '60s when the demographic responsible for its status began to go to Captain Shreve.

  12. From Frank Bright: We were "at" Byrd for eight straight years with two sons. A parent of a senior gets to give the "graduation address" (very short) each year, and I was honored to give the address in 1996 when our younger son was a senior. I told the then principal, who finished Byrd the year I finished Fair Park, that she was taking a risk letting a FPHS grad have the microphone. I forwarded your blog piece to a couple of Byrd '65 friends.

  13. From Jimmy Russell: Enjoyed this. We do not realize in our younger days the memories we are making and then remembering them years later. They seem monumental in later years and they really are to us.

  14. From Marilyn Meyer Kaplan: You really tell a story well. I am so happy to know that you have fond memories of friends at Temple and in your neighborhoods in Shreveport. Thank you for sharing your feelings with all of us.

  15. From Jay Cheatham: It was nice reading your latest. Thanks for the plug. I passed it on to my children. They are 25 and 30 and know little about my days in Shreveport. They both grew up in London. My daughter (25) e-mailed me back with your words about me highlighted. Made me feel good.

  16. From Mary Higginbotham Richard: Purple and gold sort of turned my stomach -- until I saw my boys wearing the colors. Sang "We Are the Jackets" with the best of them. Saw plenty of other Knights there doing the same.

  17. From Karen Ann Bryant Dye: Thanks for the walk down memory lane. While we didn't go to Byrd, many of us knew kids who did, so I really enjoyed this. (By the way, my husband, bless his heart, was sitting on the other side of the field yelling, "Good Night Knights," when we were presenting our Knight during halftime at one particular WHS-Byrd game.)