Friday, June 24, 2016

Joe Reding: Topping Billy Cannon's record

(Second of three parts)
     The first few years Joe Reding played organized football, he could not play with kids his age. He was too big.
     Because kids football in Bossier City (and Shreveport) in the mid to late 1950s was organized by weight limits, Joe always was too heavy for his age group and so he played "up" with kids a year or two older.
     But in 1959 and 1960 (eighth and ninth grades) at Rusheon Junior High, he was unlimited ... and unstoppable. And even as an eighth grader, he was big enough and good enough to play with the ninth-grade team.
    He was nearing his full height (6-foot-1) and growing toward the 200 pounds or so he was in high school. Opposing teams' kids found him hard to tackle in football; he ran over them or past them. Hard to guard in basketball, impossible to beat in track.

In junior high school and at Bossier High (above), Joe Reding
was the big man in the middle (front row)
     Shreveport sportswriting legend Jerry Byrd called him "a superstar" and here's why: As a ninth grader in football, he scored 120 points (in eight games); in basketball, he was the dominant center who led his team to 37 consecutive victories; in track and field, he set four city (Shreveport-Bossier) records (shot put, discus, long jump, high jump).
    Rusheon swept every championship for two years and was so good, its facilities better than any across the river, that the next year the Shreveport schools' league excluded the Bossier City schools. Don't know that they ever reunited.
    David Smith, a longtime coach/administrator in Bossier Parish and for the past 23 years an insurance agency manager now based in West Monroe, La., recalls that Joe's success was due to "No. 1, he was such a competitor.
    "He was a quiet guy, didn't say a lot, but he was great. He came from a great family; his Mom and Dad were such nice people; it was just a super family.
    "He didn't talk about his accomplishments, he was just an ordinary guy like anyone else, but he was a super guy.
    "We had a great time together; I spent a lot of time at their house."
    They headed to high school together, but in the summer before their sophomore year, reality dealt the Reding family a huge blow -- his father's death.
    "That put me in a tailspin," Joe said. "I was only 15. I didn't really understand life."
    Mr. Reding "was always pretty tough on us, he stayed on us all the time," Joe said, "but he was very encouraging. He was always trying to teach us. I wasn't the greatest student, and I can remember him sitting at the kitchen table working with me on algebra, etc.
    "Our relationship was good, and the sad thing was we were just getting to the bonding stage."
    For a couple of days before Mr. Reding's fatal heart attack, he and Joe worked to refurbish a garage apartment on the house they owned (and lived in) near Bossier High (they subsequently moved to a home on Old Minden Road, a few miles away).
    "I treasure those last 2-3 days; we worked together and we worked hard," Joe said. "I treasure those days a lot."
    Another treasure: When Mr. Reding passed away, construction was well underway on a new gymnasium for Bossier High, replacing the old gym inside the main school building where some 600 fans crammed in to watch the Bearkats win the Class AAA state basketball championship in 1960.
    The spacious new gym opened early in 1962 ... and was named E.L. Reding Gym. It's still in use, and last season's Bossier team won another state championship.
    For the dedication ceremony, Dick and Joe -- both playing basketball for Bossier -- were in uniform. "It was very special" for the family, said Joe. "Memories I will never forget."
     In the 1961 football season, Dick was a senior end and Joe was an immediate starter at tackle for the Bearkats in an era when few sophomores ever played at a Class AAA school. Not only did he start, "he made 18 tackles in his first game," said Dick.

     He made All-City (Shreveport-Bossier) as a sophomore, the first of three consecutive All-City selections.
     "He was so physical, so tough," said Billy Don Maples. He recalled a big, strong Springhill running back (white-haired Larry Fambrough) colliding with Reding in a brutal matchup early that season.
    "Fambrough hit him high in the chest," Maples said, "and Joe was down. He was moaning and crying, and bleeding from the nose, and they took him out of the game. He came back in the second half, and led our team in tackling."
    In his three seasons, Bossier had records of 8-3, 9-2 and 7-3-1. But Byrd and Woodlawn and a surprising Bastrop team in 1963 kept the Bearkats from making the state playoffs.
     Because at the time, only 11 players were selected for the All-State team, it was his teammate and classmate Neal Prather who made the Class AAA team in 1963. Prather, who went on to play at Northwestern State and then became a doctor in Shreveport-Bossier, was a breakaway back (Reding was the strong inside runner). Like Joe, Prather was very mature physically early and also a star as a sophomore.
    If the all-star teams had had separate offensive and defensive units -- that didn't begin until later in the 1960s -- Reding would have been a first-team cinch at linebacker. In fact, he was an All-City choice in 1963 as a designated "defensive specialist."
    LSU was impressed enough to sign him to a football scholarship. And Joe was talented enough to convert to the offensive line.
    So football was the ticket to college, but where Joe Reding really was impressive was in the shot put.
    The Reding boys learned to shot put tossing the ball back and forth in the backyard.
    "It [the shot] would just fly out of his hand," Dick recalled. "It was like he was a freak."
    As a Bossier sophomore (spring 1962), Joe bettered 56 feet, got close to the state record -- and won his first Class AAA state title. Just a beginning.
    He began the next spring with a 58-9 effort at the season-opening Shreveport Relays at Byrd, topping Billy Cannon's state record (57-10). Thus, the photo (and distance on the shot put) arranged by Jerry Byrd for the Shreveport Journal
    A few weeks later, at the Indian Relays at Fair Park, he broke the sound barrier -- 60 feet -- with a 60-3 1/4 toss.
    Cannon had won the state shot put and 100-yard dash titles -- a phenomenal double -- for Istrouma (Baton Rouge) in the spring of 1956 before going to LSU and becoming a football immortal.
    To break his record, said Reding, "was almost beyond my comprehension."
    He repeated the state titles in 1963 and 1964 ... but he never improved on his best mark. He had a 60-1/2 toss early in his senior year, but that was it. 
    "I don't know what happened," he said. "I got stuck between 57 [feet] and 59." 
    But he competed without the benefit of much weight training -- it wasn't part of many athletes' workouts those days -- and certainly not any performance-enhancing drugs (those were for a later era).
    This was a clean era, and Joe's tools were strength (those hands, wrists and forearms), technique (form and quickness across the shot put ring) and hard work/practice.
    When The Shreveport Times last year had a panel of a dozen or so sports-minded people voting on Shreveport-Bossier's top 20 greatest all-time athletes, my ballot included Joe Reding at No. 17. As I wrote then in a blog piece, as one of the "oldtime" voters, I probably was the only one who listed Joe.
    My reasoning: His shot-put state record "stood up for a decade or two" and he was a three-year football starter at LSU in a great era (1960s). 
    Oops. Upon further review ... His state record stood up for a few weeks.
    His meet performances in North Louisiana probably stood for some 20 years until the bulked-up Campbell brothers, first John and then Arnold, shattered them while competing for Airline in the early 1980s. Arnold was Louisiana's first 70-foot shot putter and his 74-10 1/2 in 1984 is an out-of-sight record.
    But Reding's state best was topped by Terry Esthay of LaGrange (Lake Charles), who got even for Reding's victory over him in the state meet a week later when -- again competing against Joe -- he beat him with a 61-4 1/2 effort in the New Orleans Recreation Department "Meet of Champions."
    Soon enough Reding and Esthay would be teammates, offensive-line mates, at LSU. And their shot put days were short-lived.
    Joe did compete with the 16-pound college shot put (12 pounds in high school) as a freshman, and he threw it 53-plus feet. But football was -- is -- king, and that's why he was there.
    "We just didn't have time [for track and field season]," Reding said. "We had off-season workouts and then 20 spring practices, four days a week [five weeks]." So he and Esthay only occasionally "messed around" with the shot put.
    "They were married to the football program," Dick Reding observed.
    Next: LSU football was "the greatest experience"


  1. From Joe Harris: I remember Joe well. ... I started at Rusheon in 1959; Joe and David Smith were both there.

  2. From Ross Montelbano: Great. You brought up a name that stirs my memory: Neal Prather. My dad played at Bossier and his two youngest brothers were stars (I think one or both made All-State) -- Tony in 1950, Jake in 1955). I believe Jake had the city record for touchdowns in a game, with six against Fair Park. Seems that it has since been tied or broken.
    Back to Prather. My dad was the only one of five brothers to move to Shreveport. The other four stayed in Bossier. They razed him for moving and he swore that he would never cheer for Bossier again. I was the opposite. I knew the history of my uncles and I would cheer for Bossier, and Neal Prather was my hero.
    Thanks for the memories.