Monday, June 28, 2010

Letter Jackets

While cleaning out a spare closet recently I found these letter jackets hanging behind some other things—hadn’t seen them for years. Boy did they bring back the memories. After taking a couple of pictures and looking them over--they went back into storage…my offspring will have to decide what they want to do with them.

For a lot of kids, like me, winning a varsity letter was a real challenge and a keen goal. There were a few who seemed to cruise effortlessly through competitive sports and collected several letters…those were the gifted athletes. Others of us had to spend literally years in the heat, cold, and physical trials in the pursuit of a letter and even then, there was no guarantee of winning one.

Coaches kept the records and made the final choices for awarding the letter jackets. First team players always lettered, but for others on the teams it was a closer call. On reflection, the coaches had a tough job deciding who lettered and who did not. There were a few seniors each year that did not letter even after making the varsity teams and playing the sports all those years. Rules were rules and the lesson learned was that achievement could be an elusive goal.

Football letters were limited to 24 each year, both in high school and junior high. There were 10 basketball lettermen and 14 baseball lettermen; the numbers for those sports seemed to change a bit from one year to another for reasons I don’t understand.

For a 1950s boy, all sports began about the 4th grade, with pick-up games between the neighborhood kids. Little League baseball began about age 10, PeeWee football began about the same time, and the school sponsored flag football was played in the 6th grade. By then you had a pretty good idea of which kids were good at sports. Contact (tackle) football started in the 7th grade and from there on, there was a 6-year run, ending the senior year, for one to earn some letters or just a letter. Individual growth and maturity was extreme and uneven during those years.

Actually, getting a letter jacket was kind of anti-climatic. They were distributed at a school assembly and celebrated at an evening dinner (always cutlets) in the school cafeteria. The end of a season was both a relief and a let down. For a footballer, after 4-months of almost daily after school exertion you abruptly had nothing to do unless you were on the basketball team. However, I clearly recall being pretty worn out at the end of the season and a number of us were injured.

The best thing about those letter jackets was having a girlfriend wear it. That way you could let her show it off while you not-so-subtly signaled your claim to the girl. However, if you didn’t have a girl, they weren’t worn much because usually within a few weeks you were off to high school or college where the jackets were seen as kind of juvenile, so they went into the closets.

The jackets pictured above represent a couple of firsts which should be of interest to an East Side historian. The Meadowbrook jacket has a patch on the sleeve marking the school’s 1959 Ft. Worth city football championship—the first football championship in the school’s history. And the Eastern Hills jacket has a similar patch on the sleeve marking the school’s 1962 Ft. Worth 4A-5 city championship—the first 4A-5 football championship in the school’s history. In those days 4A consisted of Texas’ largest schools…5A wouldn’t appear until some years later.

I’ve always considered having had the privilege of playing Texas High School football as a significant experience…they make movies about Texas Schoolboy football, don’t they?

In fact, there are 3 movies that I can recall, you've probably seen them,

   Varsity Blues - cute, shows the spirit, story a bit fanciful.
   Friday Night Lights - accurate, based on a real story, well done.
   The Junction Boys - Texas schoolboy football as I remember it.


No comments: