This season marks the 76th anniversary of the beginning of my less-than-illustrious athletic career. In the third grade I felt obliged to play baseball on my mixed-gender team. We had a good pitcher, Thomas Strother; a good catcher, Hirsch Wengrow; several good hitters, Mary Johnson, Harris Johnson, and Charles Wills; a good utility player, Lelia Cheney; and some less-than-good players like me. I remember when we challenged the fourth grade to a game - which we won 36 to 21 - and went about town chalking advertisements on the sidewalks. Lelia was good at that. I've recently seen a scoresheet of the game indicating that Mary and Charles scored five runs apiece and that I scored two. Some baseball equipment was hard to come by - balls and catcher's equipment, for example. We brought in Octagon soap coupons to help get Hirsch's mitt and mask. We usually used a 25-cent ball, but once Dr. E. B. Cade, a dentist, brought us a 15-cent ball that lasted less than a game.
High School Football
When high school arrived in 1937 I had decided not to go out for football when Charles and others persuaded me that it was the patriotic, good-citizen thing to do. So I reported to the coach and was issued some uniform items - a sweat shirt, a jersey, and a pair of pants, but no shoes; I had to have leather cleats added to my brogans by the shoemaker. I don't remember anything good about the 1937 season. I remember that I weighed 128, which was too little to do much with. I was in one play - a kickoff in the Lavonia game; Wilson Callaway was seriously injured, which persuaded half the team to quit; and in the last week of practice I chose to go to a movie instead. The next morning the coach saw me and told me that he was removing me from the team and that I must turn in my uniform immediately. The next year, 1938, was better, I played enough to earn a letter, but I sprained my ankle in the Madison game. The third year,1939, was better still, but I drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness (I felt honored) in the Madison game. The last year, 1940, was almost good, I played first-string left tackle, was not injured or thrown off the team, and in ten games we scored 269 points to 0 for our opponents. The only problem was that I never achieved my goal of being the guy who runs with the football. The Lions Club awarded trophies to the best players and gave me one for being the best student. I was not pleased.
Basketball was a no-no for me. I went out for practice one time and could not handle it. However, in the Army I played occasionally outdoors in combat uniform.
Track was something I enjoyed and was eventually pretty good at. I was best in the 220-yard dash and ended in third place in the district meet at the University of Georgia. Their cinder track was great. At home we used a dirt track once used in automobile races and needing frequent scraping.
Golf was unrewarding; I played one afternoon but lost the ball. Tennis I liked and frequently played on Lelia's dirt court. Swimming was not good; I never got the several strokes just right. I played very little softball. I experimented with snow skiing while on outpost duty in Bavaria after the war. My water skiing was not inspiring; I gave up after cartwheeling a few times. I've seen a soccer game but never had the chance to play. Boxing was a disaster; as a freshman I was matched with a larger man and don't remember the last of our match. Bicycle-riding was more transportation than sport for me; I remember one Saturday afternoon 71 years ago that I headed out on my bike with a canteen of water and a light sweater for my girl friend's house near Celeste, nine miles away. When I arrived, as I remember, her hair was in curlers and she was miffed that I had not called. I kept up with the number of trips out there and ended with 40.
I enjoyed the Army's method of training in marching and was particularly pleased when my company at Fort Benning used the Scout pace of walking and trotting to go nine miles in two hours, and I was not winded.
So my athletic career was much less than spectacular.