Friday, February 24, 2017

Coach Farrar: To his players, he was a giant

      (Third in a series recalling Coach/Dr. James C. Farrar, a legendary high school football/baseball and college baseball coach/professor in North Louisiana -- mostly Shreveport-based -- for three decades.)
      James C. Farrar inherited a powerful baseball program when he came to Fair Park in the fall of 1961. But under his guidance, it became the gold standard for the sport in our parts.
      There are programs in a variety of sports which had a longer run of success and more championships, but no one had a better-run, more dynamic program than the Fair Park Indians in baseball, 1962 to '67. There were two state championship teams -- 1963 (44-4-1 record) and 1965 (33-3) -- and, with a couple of breaks, there could have been a couple more.
At Centenary
     It was the culmination of Shreveport's then-blooming SPAR program, the baby-boomer generation that had been playing the game as kids for years. There were enough very good players at Fair Park for most of the 1960s to field three competitive teams ... and that, in fact, was the case in the summer American Legion program.
     When they were all together at what the media and Fair Park people back then liked to call "The Reservation" -- it wasn't politically incorrect in those days -- it made for some awesome teams.
     No team in Shreveport-Bossier history -- and few teams in state history -- was better, deeper in talent, than the 1963 Fair Park team. Danny Bob Turner, who played third base, remembers that 24 of the 25 players on the regular squad went on to play either professional or college baseball. And the competition for the 25 spots -- that's all the uniforms there were -- was fierce.
   And the man in charge was a memorable figure. He was a big man -- he would jokingly refer to himself as "the fat man" or "the old man" or "Ol' Lillie," a tribute to his little hometown. Don't remember him being fat, exactly; barrel-chested, or burly, might be a more apt description. But, well, he didn't exactly sprint out to the coaching box at third or to the mound.
   As a former catcher -- good enough to make All-Gulf States Conference twice for Louisiana Tech in the early 1950s and good enough to get a short (very short) shot at the pros and then player/manager for the Minden Redbirds in the semipro Big Eight League in the late 1950s -- speed wasn't a plus for James C. Farrar.
    But baseball smarts were. He loved the game, he knew the game, he knew players, and he knew how to teach the game.
     If you looked at Fair Park in the 1960s from the opposing bench -- as I did -- it could be intimidating. The players carried themselves as winners; they looked confident; they were well-drilled and prepared; their uniforms were sharp (Coach Farrar was going to make sure of that); and you sensed that the coach really knew what he was doing.
   "He was a jewel to play for," recalls Randy Bouknight, one of the two star pitchers -- with Dick Hicks -- on the 1965 state champions. "It was a magical run, those three years (1963-65). We didn't really realize how good we had it. We'd play 35, 40 games a year. A lot of schools didn't play more than 20."
   Bouknight and others point to the Indians' practices as the starting point.
   "He was like an orchestra leader, the way he ran his practices" recalled Bouknight in 2012. "It was like he'd move that baton, and things start happening all over the field. ... He kept everyone busy, he ran it like a major-league practice."
   Farrar always was a big believer in having his pitchers pitch live batting practice. If they were hurt, he'd test them in live BP; a bullpen session or simulated game wasn't enough. If they could throw BP effectively, they could pitch in games.
    And in live BP, said Bouknight, "if a batter hit the ball, your infielders and outfielders would play the ball as if it were a live game. If the batter hit a foul ball, you'd have one guy with a fungo bat on the third-base side hit a ball across the diamond to either the second baseman or first baseman; or a guy on the first-base side hitting to the third baseman or shortstop."
    And then there were the situations -- rundowns, pickoffs, baserunning plays, bunt plays, holding runners on base, cutoff throws and relays. "We'd practice situations over and over, every day," Bouknight said. "Not only did you know what to do in a situation, but everyone on the team knew what you were supposed to do."
    It was the knowing what to do that was SO important to the coach.
   "You respected him so much, and that was enough motivation to get things right," Turner said. "Most of the regulars played almost every day. If you made a physical error, he wouldn't say anything or say much. If you made a mental error, that was a way to be taken out of a game.
    "He had a way of getting on you that he made his point."
   "The practice sessions were oriented to situations; we spent hours on those," said Tom Giles, the All-State catcher on the 1965 team. "When those situation happened, you wouldn't have to think about what you had to do. That's a big plus for 16- and 17-year-olds."
    Practice sessions, said Turner, "were long and detailed. He planned it out. He drilled you enough that you knew what to do. If you didn't do it because you made a mental error, that was the path to the doghouse. Like hitting the cutoff man. If you missed doing that (in practice), it wasn't ignored. You were going to do [the throw] again.
    "His philosophy was that if you did it right, you had so much greater chance to win. ... You learned the game of baseball more than most people will ever experience."
    David Worthington was the shortstop and a team leader on the 1963 state champs and said, "One of his best attributes was that Coach Farrar felt things deeply. He felt life. He helped us to value the game, value the experience we had. ... He somehow or another motivated us to be better. He had the most structured, organized practices, used the time so well.
    "He wouldn't insult you or berate you, but if you were slacking off, he'd let you know. With his players, he was in complete coaching mode. He was a guy you wanted to play for; he made it fun, fun to play."
State championship coaches at Fair Park High School, James Farrar
(left) and Clem Henderson, revered by their players and friends.
    "Coach Farrar used to say, "You can't coach a mule to win the Kentucky Derby,' " Giles said. "We had lots of great talent, but he coached the players to the point where you had the experience of having gone over things in practice so many times that it made the games easier."
    Under Coach Farrar and under coach Clem Henderson in basketball -- Fair Park won the state championship in 1963 and was the state runner-up in 1964 -- Turner said, "The biggest thing I learned was character. You stand in the trenches and you perform when you needed to perform. It was a life lesson. It was so invaluable to me. You face those type situations the rest of your life."
     Don Barteet -- Donnie in high school -- was the sparkplug of the 1965 state champs, a terrific (All-State) centerfielder who could hit, hit with some power, run the bases and run to cover some ground in the outfield. He loved playing for Farrar ... except for one day in his junior year.
     Barteet was in left field then because Mike Herron -- also an outstanding player -- was in center. The Indians were playing in an Easter tournament in Baton Rouge, and it was an overcast, windy day.
     "You know how the weather is that time of year, and the wind was really blowing," Barteet remembered. "Batter hits a high fly ball, and I call for it right away, 'I got it, I got it, I got it.' Everyone backed off, and I run in, and I run, run, run ... run. I end up diving for the ball, and I hit the infield dirt, dirt's all over my uniform, up my nose ... and I didn't catch the ball."
      The batter reached base, and Barteet retreated to left field, squatted "and I'm trying to get the dirt off me, out of my nose. I look up and here's James Norman coming out there to take my place in left field. Couldn't believe it. End of the inning, OK, maybe. But in the middle of the inning?
     "I've never let him (Farrar) forget it. I always tell the peckerhead, 'You lost your temper, that's all.' "
    Fred McGaha knew James Farrar longer than any player who played for him because Fred's dad, Mel McGaha, and Coach Farrar were close friends.
    Mel was player-manager of the Shreveport Sports who won a couple of Texas League championships in the mid-1950s, went on to manage in the major leagues and wound up as a coach for the Houston Astros when Farrar first was a scout for the club in the late 1960s. Mel made his home in Shreveport and retired from baseball to become the head of SPAR.
    And young Fred played for Fair Park in the mid-1960s, then went on -- with Farrar's recommendation -- to become an all-conference college player at Louisiana Tech. He is an attorney in Monroe, assistant district attorney at one time.
    "I've known Coach since I was a kid," he said in 2012. "He and Miss Kate were like a second mother and father to me."
     What he remembered about Farrar's coaching style was "he paid great attention to detail, starting with the way you wore your uniform. He always said that you will play like you look. If you want to play good, you've got to look like a ballplayer first.
      "He was very particular about the fundamentals. We spent so much time on those. You knew what to do with the ball before it went into play. You know what to expect in every situation. His teams always won by making the fewest mental mistakes."
      But it was Farrar's human touch that Fred remembered most.
      "The boys who played for him respected him so much; he commanded the respect," he said, "by letting you know that he cared about you. He would spend whatever time was necessary with kids to help them reach their potential, whatever that was."
      Fred was only a so-so player in high school, but went to Tech on a partial scholarship because "Coach Farrar told [Tech coach] Pat Patterson that I was about a year away (from being a player). He knew that I would work hard, that no one would outwork me. I played sparingly in my first year, but the second year, it kicked in. He was right on the money with that.
      "He and Pat were two of the most influential people in my life."
     Farrar's reputation in the game was wide-spread, said Fred: "Everyone in baseball knew who he was, and they still do. They respected him so much as a talent evaluator." 
      MJ Trahan is one of Coach and Ms. Kate Farrar's granddaughters, the daughter of Tammy (Farrar) and Dan Trahan, who met while students at Centenary. MJ is a Georgia Southern graduate who was a media relations coordinator with the Houston Astros -- as you can imagine, a particular point of pride for a man who scouted for the Astros for some 30 years.
      She now is an assistant sports information director at the University of Tennessee in charge of covering baseball and she is married to Mike Burns, who was in the scouting department with the Astros (he's now the South Texas area scout for the Toronto Blue Jays). Mike is from central Pennsylvania, which was a point of emphasis with Coach Farrar.
    "Granddaddy used to kid him about his accent," MJ said in 2012. "He'd say, 'Boy, you ain't from around here, are ya? You understandin' me alright?'
    "They actually have quite a bit in common though, which is fun. ... So they talk baseball and scouting, and also know a lot of the same people. It's a small world."
     The fungo is a long, light, thin-handle bat used especially for outfield and infield practice. James Farrar was a fungo master.
     "Oh, he could handle a fungo bat," Bouknight recalls. "He could really swing that thing."
      "Best I've ever seen; his skills with a fungo bat were incredible," said Greg Bickham, who played first base for Farrar's last Fair Park team in 1967 and whose younger brother Donnie was a star football and baseball player under Farrar at Northwood High a couple of years later. "He could hit the ball through the eye of a needle."
     Talk about working players until they got in shape ...
     "I have seen him wear people out hitting them balls with the fungo," said Bickham. "He brought them to tears chasing after balls. I've seen him wear outfielders out; they'd get to where they dreaded it. They could be running 100 percent, all out, trying to catch balls he'd hit. Every shot he'd hit with it was right where he wanted to put it. I think he enjoyed watching them suffer."
     But if fit into the Farrar reputation, said Bickham, because "his rigorous practices had a lot to do with his success."
     What he remembers most is that he "was just so passionate about coaching, especially baseball. But he was a very good defensive coach in football, too" when he was in charge of the linebackers as a Fair Park assistant.
    When players and coaches talk about James C. Farrar, the words that keep coming up are dedication, discipline, friendship, and mostly respect.
    "It never occured to me not to be respectful toward Coach Farrar," said Giles, pointing out that the early 1960s were a time when most parents and teachers had come through the Depression times and had some military background. "They had paid their dues, and we were mostly respectful toward them. ... Coach knew what he was doing; he got the results, so there was nothing to argue with him about."
      Greg Bickham: "He had a way of enforcing discipline without anger. He taught life lessons and baseball lessons." The players, he added, had "the epitome of respect for him. He wasn't feared, but he was so loved."
    And while he had a Southern gentleman's manner and mostly was an upbeat, encouraging, optimistic coach, don't think James C. didn't have some fire.
    Giles remembers the state championship series in 1965, Game 1 of a possible three, against Redemptorist (New Orleans) at SPAR Stadium. Weather was a factor and in about the fifth inning, the rain came and Fair Park trailed 1-0 when play had to be stopped for that day.
    The Fair Park team took the bus back to the school, retreated to one of the classrooms on the bottom level of the gym, and Coach Farrar proceeded a lengthy diatribe that could be described as a "chewing-out session."
   Giles says two of the team's top players -- seniors Tommy Ford and Larry Ostteen -- began cutting up in the back of the room. A couple of players remember that Ostteen was giggling.
   "Coach was always fair, but at the same time, the scoreboard mattered to him most of all. We were a confident team, but when he was talking, they weren't paying attention, and they were being disruptive," Giles recalls. "He came through those chairs so fast, to the back of that room, and he was going to kill them. He didn't feel like they understand the gravity of the situation."
    The Indians came back the next day and rallied to win Game 1. Ostteen -- the team's No. 2 catcher but also capable of playing first base or in the outfield -- might've been in the doghouse, but in Game 2 of the series in New Orleans, he was called on to pinch-hit late in the game with the bases loaded. Ostteen promptly hit a grand slam, and soon Fair Park had its third state baseball championship in nine years, its second in three years. 
    Ronnie Burns, who played third base on Farrar's last Fair Park team, said it "was an absolute thrill playing for him. He was a bigger-than-life type guy, what a character he was. He's one of the great ones. ... Everyone that played for him had loads of respect for him."
    Burns, now a homebuilder in Fredericksburg, Texas, said, "The biggest thing with him was, 'Don't ever give up, don't quit.' He had the bulldog attitude, he wanted to let you know that you were the best. ... Attitude was the biggest thing he taught. Mental toughness."
   Tom Giles said he spent some 10 years as an usher at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, along with Coach Farrar, and it was a delight.
    "We were handing out church bulletins and greeting people, but we talked about all sorts of things we probably weren't supposed to," he said in 2012, a few months before Coach's death.
    "We always had a great time. He's such a relaxed, easy-going guy. Get him off the field, he was always entertaining. From a personal standpoint, he's just a great person to be around."
    "It's been unique over the years to recall the attitude we had about him when we were in school," David Worthington said in 2012, "and to relate to him now as adults. He was an encourager to all of us, to every young man he coached, and it's a special blessing to continue the relationship, to connect with him through the years."


  1. From Ross Montelbano: Enjoying reading about Coach Farrar. The more I read, I am amazed at all the talent on those teams. It seems every name is an All-Stater.

  2. From Jay Cheatham: Thanks for the memories on Coach Farrar. I was jealous of the Fair Park players as I knew he was the best coach and I would have been better if I’d played for him. I remember the little things; i.e., his shortstop and second baseman would always back up the pitcher when the catcher threw back the ball. Not a big deal, but how often in high school ball would one get away from the pitcher and if there was a man on, he would advance. Our practices [at Byrd] were nothing like described. We had a lot of downtime. And when I was a junior I was in charge of Saturday practices. Coach Lester was not interested to come.

  3. From Welton Brookshire: What a great person and great coach. We talked a lot when I coached in Shreveport in the 1970s.

  4. From Tommy Ford: Wasn't me cutting up. Wasn't that stupid.

  5. From Jan Huffman: We loved Coach Farrar (and his family). Joe played on that '63 championship team. Great memories. We also enjoyed being with Coach and Miss Kate in later years as we would enjoy dinner together at the Fair Park "tired and retired" get-togethers.
    I remember Coach Farrar and Coach Henderson coming to tour the new Parkway High School; Joe was showing them around. They were so proud of Joe and he was thrilled that they both wanted to be there for him. Two great men that we were blessed to have in our lives.

  6. From Dr. Leonard Ponder: Your pieces on James Farrar are priceless. He was everything you described him to be. When you mentioned David Worthington, it reminded me of a discussion Coach Farrar and I had once (between driver education classes) about player leadership. First he described one of his players, probably at Calhoun High, who led by intimidation. According to Coach, this player would get in the face of any teammate who was not giving his best and exclaim that it was a shame that he had to play with someone so gutless and useless. It was an effective leadership style for him.
    David Worthington, according to Coach, simply demanded respect by his demeanor. The locker room could be filled with obscenities (as locker rooms could be) and suddenly grow quiet simply because David walked in. When the opposing team was threatening to score and Coach went to the mound for a pow-wow, all the infielders would gather with him. Coach claimed that when David said, "Come on, guys, we can get out of this," you could see agreement on the faces of everyone. It was as if they were saying, "You bet we are getting out of this, David said so."
    I never met David Worthington, but based on how James C. Farrar described him, he must have been (and hopefully still is) a very special person.

  7. From David Worthington: I still find tears coming to my eyes as I read about James Farrar and Clem Henderson. They
    were truly great coaches, great teachers, great leaders, and great examples of how to treat other people. I miss them. May their memory live on through your articles and in the hearts of those who knew them and loved them.