In 1945, I was the only student manager for Henryetta's football Hens. Most years, there were two or three that our long-time public address announcer, Jack Gibson, called “Check Room Johnnies.” The other student manager in spring practice decided to give it up that fall, which was okay with our great coach, Marion Anglin, and when nobody acceptable to him stepped forward, I was stuck as the only one.
The Hens were in the Sooner Star Conference, which was also our playoff district in that, the second year Oklahoma had a playoff. It included the Ada Cougars, Holdenville Wolverines, McAlester Buffaloes, Seminole Chieftans, Wewoka Tigers and we Hens.cameron field
We had an outstanding team that year, but I’ll pass on describing its details, except to mention that going into the final regular season game, we were one of just three undefeated teams in the state’s top class. But we lost the regular final season game 13-12 to defending state champion Oklahoma City Classen, in what was surely Cameron Field's largest all-time crowd, perhaps even through today.
The Hens then lost to Tulsa Will Rogers in a playoff game at Tulsa's Skelly (now Chapman) Stadium. I could write a lot about the last two games, but the losing them hurt too much, so I'll pass on that, too.
All year, players stole practice sweatshirts like it was their mission in life – many even before I could stencil “Property of HHS" on them. HHS Principal E. A. Williamson was quite upset because he’d see sweatshirts, both stenciled and not stenciled, at the Blaine Theater on Sunday afternoons, and repeatedly told me we’d been through more sweatshirts than in any previous year. But with only one student manager keep the players from snatching them when I wasn’t looking, I never knew how he could expect it to be different unless I had eyes in the back of my head. Then he got more upset with me after the Tulsa playoff loss when I forgot to load our seven warm-up footballs onto our bus. But even with his lectures, being student manger that year was the best time I had at HHS.
With the season over, Mr. Williamson to me to sort the equipment into "okay to use next year", "need repair", and "throw away." He had to approve the last two groups.
marion anglinI started sorting at 3 p.m. each day at the Cameron Field locker room and players were to come to get their personal items as I sorted.
Coach Anglin was also the basketball coach, so he was always at basketball practice.
I knew the sweatshirt stealing problem we’d had so far was mild compared to what we would experience when guys coming to get their personal items realized the sweatshirts were protected by just 120 pound me. So I hid them behind a supply cabinet. None were stolen, but in the end, that didn't matter.
When I unlocked the Cameron Field gate Tuesday, December 5, 1945, I noticed the masonry walls above the locker room windows showing black above them. While unlocking the steel door to the equipment checkroom adjoining the home locker room, I could tell the door’s wooden inner lining was missing. Upon opening the door, it was clear there had been a fire. The supply cabinet was gone, the sweat shirts I’d hidden were gone, and every other item of equipment was gone.
Through the season, players had hung their pads, shoes, shirts and helmets on the pant belts, which had metal loop buckles. I'd then hang the loop buckles on checkroom wall hangers so all of each person’s gear was together.
When I opened the door that day, all that was left in the checkroom was a floor of ashes that included the metal wall hangers, metal loop buckles, and metal shoe inserts with screws to tighten cleats.
I’d hidden the sweatshirts behind the supply cabinet, around and over the heater for the water boiler. They’d caught fire by combustion and no one had seen the fire since Cameron Field is at the edge of town.
I reached for the wall phone to call Mr. Williamson, but it was a melted glob on the floor, so I ran to a house on east Main to use a phone. When Mr. Williamson answered, I told him the locker room had burned and he said “I’ll get Coach Anglin from basketball practice and we’ll be right there.”
When they arrived, both stood looking in from just outside the door for what seemed to me to be ages. Then Mr. Williamson said, “There’s been a fire,” and Coach Anglin said “Yes.” I was amazed as a mere sophomore can be at these sage comments by HHS faculty members.
Mr. Williamson then said the two dressing/check room/store room buildings (home and visitor) were the only buildings in the school system that were fireproof and the only ones without fire insurance -- and this was the only one that had ever had a fire. Being fireproof, it didn’t burn down. It was just gutted of flammable contents. It’s still there, though expanded.
I told them I’d caused the fire by hiding sweatshirts behind the cabinet and over the heater, but both wanted to know if anyone had been there smoking. I told them it wasn’t caused by smokers and that I caused it.
They kept asking about smokers, and I finally told them Lindy Sandlin and Jackie Dan Simmons were there smoking the evening before, but they didn’t get inside, and I’d caused the fire by piling sweatshirts on the heater.
I’ll never know why, but when I mentioned Lindy and Jackie Dan, Mr. Williamson and Coach Anglin both decided they caused it.football game
Lindy and Jackie Dan were seniors and I was a 120 pound sophomore. While I could run fairly fast for my size, I knew I needed to get much faster before Mr. Williamson talked with them. He gave them grief for some time, but never really imposed a penalty on them.
While he never told me he’d come to believe my explanation, I think he did. Over the next few weeks, Lindy, Jackie Dan and I enjoyed our notoriety – they for being blamed and letting me survive, and me because everyone knew I’d actually caused it.
Since the school had to buy new game uniforms and other football equipment, some senior girls, including Janet Abrams, Natalie Henkes and Norma June Swartz, got up a student vote to change the school colors from black and gold to red and white. With Okmulgee wearing red, their suggestion never had a chance.
I lost track of Lindy and Jackie Dan when they graduated in 1946. Then, as a young Tulsa CPA I made my first visit to a new client company in Sand Springs in 1956, and Jackie Dan was in its accounting department. He later changed jobs and I lost track of him again. At some point in the following years, I learned he’d become a minister and eventually returned to Henryetta or Dewar. I also learned Lindy had prospered in the construction business and lived beside the Columbia River in Washington state.
On December 5, 1995, it hit me while living in Minneapolis, Minnesota that it was the fire’s 50th anniversary, so I called the Free-Lance and told the person who answered that if they’d look in their archives, they’d find that exactly 50 years ago, there’d been a fire that destroyed all the locker room equipment at Cameron field.
The person then asked how I knew that, so I said I had caused the fire and if they’d look in their archives, they’d learn all about it. The person then told me they didn’t have archives back that far because they were lost in a fire at the Free-Lance offices in the 50s. Then he asked my name and, I decided there’d been enough discussion of fires, said "never mind,” and put the receiver down to close the line.cleats
During the 2000 all-year school reunion, I was at the Henryetta Inn and Dome for breakfast and noticed that two couples sitting together in a booth appeared to be my age. Thinking they were there for the reunion, I went over to introduce myself. As I approached, one of the men said, “There he is, and he still hasn’t apologized.” It was Lindy, and the other man was Jackie Dan. We had fun remembering the event, but I didn't apologize. I think they were still sort of tickled to be the ones who were blamed for, and had robbed me of, my only claim to HHS fame.
The fire eliminated Mr. Williamson's need to approve my sorting of the equipment, and while we had all new equipment in 1946, the uniforms didn't look nearly as good as those I'd burned. Instead of being all black and gold in accordance with “the black and gold on high for evermore” words of the school song back when they were Hens, (“the black and gold on high for evermore”) the game shirts were primarily white. Janet Abrams, Natalie Henkes and Norma June Swartz did a lot of good things for the school, but choosing school colors wasn’t one of them. Could that trait have extended to choosing game uniforms?
shoulder padsNow, I must tell of something that season that is not related to sweat shirts but did involve Mr. Williamson and me. Our seventh game was at Ada, and the winner of that game would clearly be the district and conference champion. It might be hard to believe today, but the highways from Henryetta to Ada were crammed with chartered busses – they and the team bus took turns passing each other. And more than that, some Hen fans had even chartered a car on an afternoon Frisco train to Ada. (I think they had to wait all night for a train back to Henryetta.) The thing that involved Mr. Williamson and me was about the meal money for the players. For away games, we were each given 75 cents after the game so we eat somewhere. Mr. Williamson was always with us on the football bus, as was our dear old home P. A. announcer, Jack Gibson, and gave each of us a little envelope with 75 cents in it after the game. (It’s been a long time now, but they might have done that at home, too, since the players didn’t eat before the games.) Anyway, before the Ada game, he told us, before warm-ups, that if we won, we’d get $1.50. (Could paying players extra to win be a rule breaker?) We won 20-14, but when he gave us our meal envelopes, he said he didn’t have the extra 75 cents that week, but we would get it the next week at Holdenville. (Talk about a difference in costs of things over the years, there were only about 30 of us on the team bus, so the whole amount Mr. Williamson apparently didn’t have with him was only about $22.50.) Well, the next week at Holdenville, after the team was dressed and ready to go out for warm-ups, some players asked for the $1.50 he had promised us for meal money. He said he had it with him, but the team was in their uniforms and they didn’t have pockets, so he’d give it to them after the game. The players became insistent and rigid about wanting some way to be sure they would get the $1.50, so it was finally agreed that if Mr. Williamson would give me all the money in the little envelopes with the player’s names on them, they would go out for warm-ups. So I drug all the extremely heavy coats we had for players on the sideline to wear in the rain and cold – it was both – and watched the Hens beat the Wolverines 26-0 with all that money in my pockets. After the playoff loss, under state rules, we were given $2.50, which we used to eat at a very good restaurant that stood long ago at 15th and Peoria.
With the less than complimentary comments I’ve included about Mr. Williamson, I think I should say more about him. He had at one time (in the late 20s or very early 30s) been the coach of the Hens, and I think he became principal right after that. Regardless of the trouble I thought he gave me, he was a good principal. He left Henryetta in 1955 to become the principal at Ada, and I think he later the president of East Central State College, the college from which my mother graduated in 1918. While I gave him some hard times, he deserved my respect back then and though he must be deceased by now, he does have my respect in my memories. I hope to see him and tell him that some time in the great beyond.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
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