Thursday, September 2, 2010
Upcoming reunion highlights legacy of local school
By CLAUDE VINSON
This week beginning on Friday, the third of September, the planning which has been going on for months will culminate in the eighth Grand Reunion for the St. Mary’s/CADET/ Holy Family School on West Street.
The principal, Clara Isom, has been working with the reunion committee, headed by Willie Mallory, to make the event classically welcoming to the former students, teachers, family and friends on the return to “their school.”
In the ’60s there was a very popular TV show called “The Naked City.” It was about the New York City police, and probably the real progenitor of the many popular “crime and cop shows” which we enjoy together. At the end of each episode, a narrator would say, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.”
St. Mary’s was a new school and each year of its existence, something new was added; that’s called progress, folks. Anyway, being new, there were no established athletics or sports programs and students spent their recesses playing “pick up” intramurals such as baseball, football and basketball. Of course, “jacks, top spinning, marbles and “Greenie” were also very popular.
With the advent of the ninth grade, some enterprising students convinced the principal that St. Mary’s had to field a competitive basketball team. These enterprising students even recruited the first coach, one Freeman “Fish” Evans, a football player at M.I. and the Scoutmaster of local Troop 58 of the Boy Scouts of America.
And so, during the school year ’51-’52, the St. Marys’ Indians were born. The uniform selected was a gold jersey with blue shorts. Players were allowed to pick their own numbers. One of the Sisters had a stencil set and a team member (who had never lost a spelling contest at St. Mary’s) imprinted the number, school name on the front and number and mascot on the back. However, the “n” was omitted from the name and the first games were played by the St. Mary’s “Idians!”
The members of that first team were Curtiss Talley, Stanley “Hot Rod” Edgerton, Johhny Jones, Claude Vinson, Arthur and Lieutenant Harvey, John Freeman, Linwood Frazier, JohnnyRayford, Jimmy and Johnny Scales and Shelby Gordon. Curtiss Talley was a seventh grader and started as center. He wasn’t that good; he was just the tallest kid on the team. I played small forward because I had to look out for Curtiss. He often forgot which goal we were using.
Fish Evans was an outstanding coach and the team was successful from its very beginning. Our first “road game” was in Marion, Ark. The gym had no bleacher seats and all the spectators were lined against the walls along the court. They would try to trip our players, even grabbed our jerseys as we passed. At half time and noticing the climate in the gym, coach Evans stated, “We are going to win this game. When that last whistle sounds, don’t worry about changing clothes, shaking hands or anything, head straight for the cars!” It was a long time before we went on another road trip.
St. Mary’s greatest rivalries were with Rosenwald/ Sims, Antioch of New Albany (which had students on the team playing under the Korean War G.I. Bill) and Geeter’s Green Dragons of Whitehaven, Tenn.
A girls’ team was formed a couple of years later and the first members of that team were Odiemae Lucas (whose son, Shawn Elliott went on to play pro ball for the Spurs), Grace Sanderson, Elaine Warren, Holmesetta Wilson (the only grade school player on the team), Lillian Wilson, Doris Faulkner, Cornelia Leggs, Velma Ealey, Vivian Brunt, Ezell Young.
The Lady Indians also enjoyed a lasting rivalry with Rosenwald/Sims. Their greatest challenge was the team from Brookhaven.
The Indians, who would later become the Braves, never lost more than three games in a season and had their perfect season in 1963 when they went 21-0 and won both the All Catholic High School Championship and the Athletic Conference of Mississippi Championship. The members of that team were Jimmy and Johnny Edgerton, James Walls, James Stephenson, Percy Caldwell, Cecil Pegues, George Owens, Billie Robinson, Earnest Lucas, Levi Smith, Gray Mansfield, Oliver Peyton, Leroy Greer, trainer; Bernard Freeman, trainer; and coach Fish Evans.
The school also did well in other sports such as football, baseball and track. Coach Evans was drafted into the army in 1954 and sent to Europe where was an assistant coach on the semi-pro SHAPE team which won the European championship. He returned to coach again at St. Mary’s.
The other part of the school’s legacy has to do with the number of students who served their country as members of the armed forces.
In reciting this litany, it is a foregone conclusion that someone will be left out. I apologize for that.
The Freeman family probably leads the way for service commitment, having sent five sons, John, Leroy, Henry, Bernard, and Herbert. From the Vinsons there were Claude, James, Patrick, Chris and Mark.
Others were Richard Smith, Richard House (veteran), J.T. Harvey, Willie Greer, Genevieve Clark, Linwood Turner, Antwone McNeil, Charlotte Mitchell, James M. Faulkner, Christopher Faulkner, Robert Davis, Willie Greer, Jimmie Pegues, Odiemae Lucas, Otis Russell, and Thelma Wells.
Father Mike Ortiz, the school’s first athletic director, joined the Green Berets and retired as a colonel a few years back.
We are proud of all of these persons and those not named here.
So, while you are participating in this glorious weekend, remember the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The only things which keep their youth are trees and truth.”
And think of the beautiful legacy which you were a part of.
There are hundreds of stories associated with the St. Mary’s/CADET/Holy Family experience. This has been one of them.
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