Sunday, April 5, 2009

Camelot Revisited

John when this started out it was to be a comment on the fine piece you wrote about your friendship with Larry Wisdom, I envy you the time you got to be Larry's friend. I am not sure what the etiquette is concerning a published piece but since Heavener On Line is defunct, and also since I wrote this piece my choice is to repeat it here.

When I arrived in Heavener some years ago it was to assume the duties of the head football coach for the Wolves during the football season of 1959. I could tell right off that these were special young men. They were hard working, eager to learn young football players. At first they were just faces, then a name was learned that went along with the face, and finally they had personalities and mannerisms. A football coach can recognize a fully suited up player in a crowd fifty yards away just by the way he stands, moves, and runs.

One young player did not at first stand out from the crowd. He was just about average size for a Heavener lineman, with average speed. Larry, like his teammates, was easy to coach because he wanted to learn how to play football. He practiced hard and it soon became apparent that he was very tough, and not tough in a dirty way. It would have been difficult for Larry to do something illegal even if I had told him it was alright.

One fall before the regular season began we were set to scrimmage another team that was not on our regular schedule. Watching the other team warm up I could see that they were in an unbalanced line single wing always unbalanced to our left. This necessitated very little modification of our regular defense. One difference was that Larry would be playing on the other team’s center instead of one of their guards.

I called Larry over and we watched the other team run a play, I told him to play head up on the center. “How do you want me to play the center?” He asked.

“You see how the center must look between his legs to snap the ball?” I asked.

“Yes sir.”

"Well, hit the center with a forearm shiver while his head is down, get your head up, find the ball and go make the tackle.”

In present day football offensive linemen can use their hands in ways that would have resulted in a fifteen yard penalty when I coached. The forearm shiver was a legal football move that when used correctly could stop an offensive lineman’s attempt to block.

During the scrimmage Larry was doing exactly that. He stopped the center’s attempt to block by a well placed shiver, found the ball, and made many tackles. He actually did more than that, the center in his haste to get his head up to defend himself against Larry’s shiver forgot about who was to receive the ball. On most plays the ball was rolling around in the offensive backfield.

After one more blown play in a steady succession of blown plays the other coach, who was a friend of mine, came over to me and said: “Bob, get that man off my center right now or we are going to get on our bus and go home.”

I moved Larry to another spot on the defense and the scrimmage went on.

Larry raised Boxers. He told me one day that he was going to give me one of his pups. He said the dog had his tail docked and his ears clipped. When the bandages were off he would bring him by.

“Let me buy him, Larry.”

“I don’t want to sell him to you; I want to give him to you.”

In a day or so Larry brought the beautiful, male, Boxer pup to our house. The pup’s name was Toby. My three kids fell in love instantly with Toby, as Toby did with them. Forget television, the kids wanted to romp with Toby.

We lived directly across the street from the old gym’s front door. Cars went up the hill and down the hill all day, some turned North in front of our house. One day a young man was driving down the hill and turned North in front of our house, Toby was crossing the street and was killed instantly

Maybe the hardest thing I ever did was to tell Larry that Toby was dead. Larry and I were both near tears, then when the two older kids got home from school there were many tears shed.

I know this is late, Larry Wisdom, but thanks for everything and goodbye.

Those three years in Heavener were like an enchanted time. We were young then and probably thought that this is the way life would always be, it wasn’t. This was my Camelot, and when it was over, it was over; never to come back in this life time. My biggest regret is that I never told the other inhabitants of my enchanted time that I loved them, loved then individually and collectively. It is too late to tell Larry, Buster, Freddy, Grace, and others; but maybe they know, I hope so. But it is not too late to tell the ones still here, I love you guys.


At April 5, 2009 at 9:25 PM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

I hesitated to be the first to comment on your last post, Coach. I figured it would mean more to you to hear from your 'first-teamers' first. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I speak for all of us who participated on any those teams, or supported them, when I say that the feelings you shared in that last paragraph, were mutual.

At the risk of sounding corny, I'm going to tell you that one of my favorite movies is "Hoosiers". And for anyone that's been living on another planet and hasn't seen that film, it's a movie about basketball. I've watched that movie at least a dozen times and the Gene Hackman character (the coach of that basketball team) always reminds me of you. He takes a team of kids, inspires them to work hard, and makes winners out of them. That's what you did at Heavener.

We love you, too.

At April 5, 2009 at 11:47 PM , Blogger John Inman said...

Coach, it wasn't me that wrote about Larry, but thank you for such an inspirational piece. My wife Cynthia was Larry's sister. I'm sure she thanks you, too. The blog was written by Paul Riggins, who lives right behind the Wisdom's.


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