Monday, February 13, 2012

Ft. Worth East Side Evolution – 4 – Poly

NOTE: The following is an excerpt from the memoir, Ink in the Blood, by Phil Vinson (Poly ’58), published in 2005 Publishing Co., College Station, Texas.

A friend of mine shared these words recently and graciously agreed to my republishing them here.  A number of our older siblings graduated from Poly and most of the Meadowbrook students attended Poly before EHHS opened in 1959. 

You couldn’t live in Fort Worth’s East Side without being keenly aware of Polytechnic High.  Each section of town in those days had its own high school, and each school seemed... to carry the reputation of that neighborhood on its shoulders.  Of course sports – and especially football – stood at the center of the community’s sense of self-worth. Poly had produced some excellent football and basketball teams over the years; many exes had gone on to prominent college and even professional careers.  But Poly stood for more than just sports; it was at the center of East Side culture, also having produced students who made names for themselves in journalism, politics, business, and the fine arts.

Poly drew from three junior highs: William James, Forest Oak, and Meadowbrook. Students came from virtually every white neighborhood east and south of downtown.  It was a big school, with an enrollment that had swelled to around 2,000 in the postwar years.  After some dreary years at Meadowbrook Junior High, I looked forward to attending Poly with great excitement.  I wouldn’t be disappointed.

ALMOST FROM THE FIRST DAY, there was a special feeling about Poly.  Teachers and students seemed friendlier.  The “hoods” of junior high seemed more in the background and were perhaps intimidated by the crush of older boys who could keep them in check.

Classes crackled with excitement.  Now the course material seemed to have a direction and purpose. The whole school seemed to be brimming with good humor.

Our first day in P.E. class, Coach Dan Campbell announced:

“Boys, there’ll be a towel fee of one dollar.”
“Whoooooo!” came the shout from a boy in back.
“Don’t holler,” said Campbell. “Just bring me a dollar.”
The boys roared with laughter, and Campbell joined in.

I had decided against taking any more wood or metal shop, but I still had an elective to take, and I chose mechanical drawing.  I felt that I could surely learn more about drafting than I had gotten at Meadowbrook.  Mr. Bales, the mechanical drawing teacher, gave us a sense of purpose.

“Boys,” he said. “Our government is in a space race, as you may have heard.  We can’t get a rocket off the ground, and the Russians are getting ahead of us.  We need some sharp, well-trained engineers and scientists.  Drafting is part of that process, so I’m going to hold you to extremely high standards.  Don’t let me catch you goofing off in here.  We’re going to learn to draft, the right way.”

In English, Gertrude Golladay assigned the class Beowulf to read. The students grumbled and moaned about the difficulty of Old English, yet Miss Golladay made the story interesting with her dry sense of humor.  Instead of scolding us for our lack of interest, she seemed to sympathize with our struggles.  You felt she was on your side as she guided you through the thicket.

Kelly B. Adair was about sixty years old and we heard he had retired as a mathematician from the General Dynamics aircraft factory.  Now he taught algebra at Poly, and I’m certain he knew his subject inside out.  But his communication skills left something to be desired.  He mumbled.

Mr. Adair would explain an equation, often with his hand in front of his mouth as he wrote out the problem on the board.

“Now, we see hrr tht the integr is X. The nnmmm sshers frnklm by the ridmmnn is the prdcsh of mmssmm times shrnnnbl. Got that?”

I fell further and further behind in algebra.

Martha Rawdon had been teaching biology at Poly for twenty-five years. Yet she never betrayed a waning interest in the subject.  She attacked biology with a passion and made sure everyone understood what she was saying.

She had a habit of saying everything twice, in fact, in a rapid-fire delivery that made it fun to listen to her. She’d draw out the word the first time, then spit it out emphatically the second.

“This is a pro-o-o-tozoa. A protozoa.”
“The protozoa lives in po-o-o-nd scum. Pond scum.”

Naturally the quirks of our teachers gave my friends and me plenty to talk and laugh about outside class.  We were having a good time but also learning.  How novel.

THOUGH I HAD A CYNICAL SIDE, 0perhaps the result of being around journalists such as my father, I’ve always been something of a sucker for appeals to sentiment. That was certainly so in my first year of high school.

Pep rallies, for example.  We’d had them at Meadowbrook, but they were rather sad affairs.  There was no band; only a teacher plunking out the fight song on a piano.

But Poly was something else.  By any measure, Poly had the best high school band in the city, not only in size, but in playing ability.  The band director, Frank D. Kasko, was legendary for drinking and lechery but also for his hard-driving perfectionism with the band.  Being in the “Marching 100” carried almost as much weight in the community as being on an athletic team.  

Pep rallies began with a scaled-down version of the marching band playing on stage in the auditorium as students filed in.  The music filled the hallways, and your spirits lifted just walking to the auditorium.  The band played classic marches – “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “Washington Post March,” “Entry of the Gladiators,” “Under the Double Eagle,” and “The St. Louis Blues March.”  And they played them well.

Then the cheerleaders took over.  The boys in the crowd mostly sat on their hands through the cheers, but the girls raised the roof with their yells, accompanied by throbbing drums in the band.

We’ve got the coach (clap, clap)
We’ve got the team (clap, clap)
We’ve got the pep (clap, clap)
We’ve got the steam (clap, clap)
Coach (clap), team (clap), pep (clap), steam (clap).
Go-o-o-o-o Poly.

MOST SCHOOL MASCOTS are lions, tigers, bears, eagles, yellow jackets, steers, etc.  Someone early in Poly’s history figured out what naturally went best with Poly – Parrots.  Poly want a cracker?

And our school colors: orange and black. Halloween Parrots.

After a number of cheers came the high point of the pep rally.  The band played “The Poly Blues.”  Frank Kasko knew how to work a crowd.

The tune was a simple blues but featured trumpet, trombone, and clarinet solos, then ended with a “shout chorus” by the whole band.  The cheerleaders did a modified jitterbug to the tune, and the students clapped and swayed with the music.  The tune always ended with a huge roar from the crowd.

After the “Blues,” Coach Campbell took the stage and made a few comments about the upcoming football game. It usually went something like:

“North Side has a real fine football team. I know our boys appreciate all this real fine support.  I think we have a real good football team this year, so y’all come on out and cheer ‘em on.”

THEN THE COACH WOULD CALL a couple of players out of the audience. They would stammer and mumble:

“We got a real tough game tonight, so y’all come on out and support us.”
As they left the stage, the band would break into the fight song, which had been appropriated from the University of Southern California:

Fight on for Poly High
Our team fight on
To victory....

While rock ‘n’ roll now dominated teenage tastes, it wasn’t all there was.  Radio stations played a mix of rock and “pop” music, and the public still bought records by Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Jo Stafford, and Patti Page.  Movie and Broadway show music also found its way into the Top 40, and that fall of 1955, the film “Picnic” produced a No. 1 hit.

The rhythm girls did a dance routine to “Moonglow and the Theme from Picnic” that was among the sexiest things I’d ever seen.  Of course it didn’t take much in those days.  My friends and I never missed a chance to sit in the auditorium as the leggy dancers rehearsed this number over and over.

After football season that fall came the semi-annual production of the Poly Follies.  There were probably as many talented students at other high schools, but I doubted it.  My friends and I marveled at how good the performers were.

There were singers, dancers, comic acts, combos, and the Poly stage band.  Frank Kasko, the band director, and Evelyn Reeves, the dance teacher, produced the show, and they had an excellent eye for talent.  They held tryouts, and the less talented were eliminated.  Only the cream appeared on their stage.

THE STAGE BAND IMPRESSED ME above all.  I could hardly believe high school kids could play this well, but I’d come to realize what a good teacher, not to mention taskmaster, Kasko was.

I’d always been attracted to big-band jazz music, and the band played the classics: Glenn Miller’s “A String of Pearls,” Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine,” plus some more modern arrangements of Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton tunes.

I had entertained some fantasies of being a drummer, and now I carefully watched the stage-band drummer, a boy named Larry Burns.  Might I ever hope to learn to play like that?  Was it too late to consider?

And of course the rhythm girls did their routine of “Moonglow and the Theme from Picnic.”  What a show.

You were exposed to a similar wide variety in everyday life: Top-Forty radio reflected a blend of rock and pop.  And on television variety shows, about all you heard were standards.  Much of the media sneered at rock ‘n’ roll.

In spite of that, it was everywhere, and it truly became the sound track for the lives of teenagers in the fifties.

During the daytime hours you tuned your car radio to KNOK and heard the black DJ’s spinning the best of “doo-wop” and blues.  At night, around nine o’clock, you tuned to KCUL or KXOL for the latest in rock.

But divisions began to surface.  The latest rock ‘n’ roll seemed targeted to a younger audience, and white artists doing “cover” versions of black R&B seemed to dominate.  More and more you heard Pat Boone, Andy Williams, and Georgia Gibbs doing more sanitized versions of tunes by the great black artists.

Now that Colonel Tom Parker had cleaned up Elvis’s image and music, you longed for Elvis’s first recordings on the Sun label and felt sad that he had sold out to crass commercialism.  At least that’s how most boys I knew felt.  Girls couldn’t get enough of Elvis.

You heard the music everywhere – on your car radio, on jukeboxes at drive-ins, in your room while studying, at the swimming pool.  It pervaded your life and set down markers in the memory; it told you where you were when you first heard some of the classics or when you were first keenly aware of them.

For instance: I was riding with Louis Hudson in his ’49 Ford on East Vickery Street, near the intersection with Conner Avenue one night in 1955 when this came through the car speaker:

Oh, Maybelline,
Why can’t you be true?
You done started back doin’
The things you used to do.
Parents of course hated rock ‘n’ roll. Mine, especially. Mother said, “There’s no melody; it’s just a bunch of chanting.  And it’s so smutty.”

WELL, IT WAS.  Much of it was blatantly sexual.  But my thought was: What’s not to like?  It sounded so good.  It seemed to me that parents listened only for what offended them and missed the fun of it all.  Besides, every generation latches onto something different from their parents’ music.  Some attribute this to rebellion, though I never felt very rebellious.  In fact I still listened to a good bit of my parents’ music.  To me, good music was good music.

Whatever its social impact, rock ‘n’ roll was fun. It was audacious and bawdy.  It was simple and infectious.  Some of it was even touching.

I had no illusions that rock-‘n’-roll was high musical art. But it was everywhere, and it was great fun.

George Lucas got it about right in his movie “American Graffitti”: Wherever you went, the music went with you.

1 comment:

Larry Brown said...

when the college changed it's charter from Polytechnic College to Texas Women's College in 1914, all athletic programs were dropped. When the 2nd Polytechnic High School opened in 1923,and to keep the tradition alive, the school adopted the inactive mascot (the Parrot) from Polytechnic College. When TWC became co-ed in 1934, they choose the RAM as a mascot.