Hazel Park High School was a Class A Michigan High School of some 600-800 students at that time. It was a half mile ride, or a walk of one block, south of 9-mile road and one block east of Reynolds Street where I lived. As I remember it, I seemed to walk it more than bike it and it was an exciting time of my life moving from a Junior High to a High School. It made you feel like a big shot and finally was growing up and no longer a juvenile or little kid.It’s hard for me to chronologically describe my high school years so I’ll try and put them in reasonable order by listing events under certain topics.
Our Supt. was John Erickson whom I mentioned as a 1903 classmate of my mom. The principal was Howard Beecher, a stern disciplinarian, who no kids enjoyed being hauled into his office if they misbehaved. Thankfully, I never had that pleasure (or displeasure) during my four years of attendance. Among several coaches that I had from freshmen to senior, the one who I remember the most and admired the most was B.N. Grba, whowas Varsity Football and Baseball Coach and J.V. Basketball coach. We didn’t have a golf team, but occasionally during the spring semester of my junior and senior years Coach Grba would pull me out of Miss Schalm’s last period English class and ask me if I wanted to play golf that afternoon. I never turned him down and he would get four or five of my classmates, we’d hop into his car and head out to Port Huron, Mt Clemens, East Detroit or wherever to take on their golf teams in a 9-hole match. I don’t ever remember winning but had a wonderful time and played some of best courses in area. We especially enjoyed going to Port Huron where we got to play The Black River Country Club, an exclusive private course.
English was never one of my favorite courses in school and Miss Schalm was not a particular favorite of mine as I struggled to maintain C’s in her class. HOWEVER, when I enrolled in college after World War II I breezed through freshmen rhetoric with relative ease picking up A Minus and B Plus grades. I saw Miss
Schalm that summer following my freshman college year and told her that I didn’t appreciate her at the time and thought she was quite mean, but despite my attitude she must have ingrained something into that thick skull of mine as I breezed thru freshman rhetoric with amazing ease. She seemed to get quite a kick out of it and thanked me and wished me luck in the rest of my college career. Mr. Harold Richards-social science, Miss Jane Lombard-typing, and Miss Margaret Martin-journalism were three teachers that I enjoyed taking their classes.
I was particularly active in outside activities during my high school days. I was President of the Honor Society my senior year and a member since my sophomore year. I believe you had to maintain a B minus or better average to belong. I graduated with an 88 % average (B-B+). I was President of the HI-Y Club my junior year. The Hi-Y was a Christian Young Men’s Organization formed for the purpose of “creating, maintaining, and extending throughout the school and community high standards of Christian character.” Mr. Richards was our advisor and along with Don McIlvride and Bill McIntyre, two of my buddies, we attended the thirty-ninth Annual Michigan State Y.M.C.A. summer camp at Torch Lake in Bellaire MI between my junior and senior years. It was a week-long camp with many activities in an outdoor setting. The HI-Y put out free programs at all home football games, co-sponsored with the Girl Reserves style show, and sponsored an Annual Sadie Hawkins Dance. Meetings were held twice a month.
Journalism and in particular sports writing played a major part in my high school education. Miss Martin was our advisor, and I had a few conflicts with her I’ll tell you about later, but in general I got along well with her for the most part. I was Sports Editor of the VIKING, our yearbook, and sports editor of our school paper which we published monthly as I remember. At the same time during my junior and senior years I was Sports Editor of the Hazel Park “Palladium”, a weekly town paper and covered all high school sports for the weekly editions. In the spring I was a three-year starter on the baseball team and there were a couple of conflicts that occurred on Saturdays when a journalism conference and a double header baseball game was scheduled at the same time. Miss Martin was upset because I picked playing baseball instead of attending the conference, but she never docked my grade for it, so I was thankful for that. Had I not gone into coaching in college after the War, I probably would have tried to pursue a journalism career specifically sports writing of some kind.
I never played football due mainly to the fact my mother wouldn’t sign papers for me to participate. Not having played the game at any level as we didn’t have youth football like they do today I didn’t put up too much of a fuss. The only time I regretted not playing was in my senior year when we got a new Varsity Basketball Coach and he made anyone that didn’t play football go out for cross country. That was not my idea of a good sport, but I survived, and it proved to be excellent conditioning for basketball which was the Coach’s idea in the first place.
I remember vividly my first cross country meet. It was at Birmingham Seaholm, a powerhouse team that consistently ranked among the best Michigan had to offer in high school cross country. We started out with one lap around the track and then out the gate and followed a winding course around town ending up with one lap around the track at the finish. I wasn’t the last person as we ran around town and when we re-entered the stadium for the final lap, I saw 3 Birmingham runners barely jogging ahead of me and gathered a second wind from somewhere deep down put on a burst of speed passing all three and crossing the finish line with a satisfied smile on my face. It was soon wiped out, however, when I discovered the three opponents, I passed had finished who knows how far ahead of me and were merely warming down as they jogged a few practice laps around the track.
My only other recollection of my cross-country career was in the season ending Regional Meet at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti where 140 runners toed the line to start and staring me in the face was the biggest hill, I think I had ever seen or so I thought at the time. The gun sounded and everyone took off like it was a hundred-yard dash. Let the fools go I thought they’ll surely run themselves into the ground. I survived the hill but to my chagrin had to scale it a second time on the two-mile course. To make a long story short I remember placing 108th out of 140 starters so for me that was a success.
In the ninth grade I played JV basketball as a sixth or seventh man and played JV baseball which was my favorite sport and the first contact up to that time as I had only played softball prior. As a sophomore I continued to play JV basketball without any outstanding memories and made the Varsity as a starting 3rd baseman in baseball. I earned the first of three letters in that sport before graduating. I thoroughly enjoyed my baseball career at Hazel Park. We were in a league with Ferndale, Royal Oak, East Detroit, Mount Clemens, Port Huron, and Berkley among others. Berkley was particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. During football season we always played them the last game of the season and the rivalry was intense. The night before the game students from each town would venture over to the other town which was about five miles apart and try to paint their names on anything they could find in the business district. It got so bad that it was carried over to the game one year in which a fight broke out on the field and school authorities cancelled the game for a couple of years. In basketball Berkley played in their cafeteria which was made into a basketball court on game nights. The first time I played there my first three shots hit the ceiling it was so low. They were used to it and excelled in line drive shots. We lost on their floor 35-33 and later when they came down to our floor, we whipped them 48-24.
My sophomore year in baseball I played 3rd base and always said that if my chest held out, I would be ok because I wasn’t afraid to get in front of the ball and stop it even if I didn’t field it cleanly and still have time to throw the runner out. They didn’t call it the “HOT CORNER” for nothing. I was never a particularly good hitter with averages in the lower 200’s during my career, but always was a heady player that was thinking ahead for the next play and trying to get a jump on the opponents (which put me in good stead later in life when I began my coaching career). I was not fast but could get a good jump on most pitchers and stole some bases when least expected. The most memorable was at Port Huron, one afternoon, when I stole home against the pitcher who had a slow delivery to the batter. I used to love to see a lefthander on the mound for our opponents. I don’t have any stats to back it up, but probably hit in high 300’s against lefties. One of the top high school hurlers my last two years was a black lefthander from Henry Ford Trade school which we played every year. His name was Lillard Cobb, and I believe he had a tryout with some minor league teams but never stuck with them. I used to hit him well, one of a very few high school hitters that did. I met him at Hi-Y summer camp, and he was an outstanding young man. We did not play against many blacks in those days, we only had one black family in Hazel Park, and they had one son who played some JV basketball, but that was about it.
Between my junior and senior years, I played amateur ball in the summer as a starting center fielder. We won our league and got to play in the Class B State tournament at Bailey Field in Battle Creek. This was a big deal for me as we stayed in a hotel for two nights and got to play on a grass infield, the first time I had ever had that opportunity, although as a center fielder it didn’t affect my play that much. It was a two-game knockout tournament, and we lost our first two games so went home early. The competition was so much superior to high school. There were no age limits and through the course of the year in our league and the tournament we came up against several former minor league players including a couple of pitchers who still threw a lot of smoke up the plate.
In my junior year I finally made the Basketball Varsity as the 2nd player off the bench. I got into about half of the 16 regular season games for a couple of minutes at a time and was a little disappointed when at the end of the year I had not acquired enough playing time to get my letter. In those days you had to really earn your letter unlike today where practically anyone who finishes the season on a team is awarded a letter. FINALLY in my senior year I made the varsity and played guard on first team throughout the year. Our center was 6’2” Chuck Eastland who graduated in January. Bill McIntyre and I were 5’10, Bill and Don McIlvride were 5’ 9” and Roy Wallace, our other starter, was about 5’5” if that high. We finished the season with an 8 and 8 record including a first-round defeat in our district tournament to Pontiac 37-34. We averaged 35 points a game to our opponents 34.4 PPG. I averaged in the vicinity of 5-8 PPG. I remember scoring 16 points in one game and thought I was in heaven. I was rather good defensively and usually guarded the opponent’s high scorer. We opened the season at Port Huron and were soundly thumped 35-15. Later in the year when they came to Hazel Park, we were down 18-5 at the half and one of their players scored 12 of them. I asked the coach (Dan Lutkus) if he would let me guard this guy the second half. I did and held him to 2 points, and we ended up winning 32-30 in my most memorable game and the first time to my knowledge that Hazel Park beat Port Huron in basketball.
As you might surmise with my busy schedule, academically and athletically, I didn’t have a lot of time for girls or social life. The one girl that I always had eyes for from 8th grade on was Shirley Hyde and I would talk to her when occasion presented itself, but never actually dated until my junior year when I got up enough courage to ask her to a movie. I dated her on and off and by end of my senior year we were dating steadily. I didn’t know how to dance and wasn’t particularly interested in learning, but I did take her to the prom in our junior and senior years. I guess I got out on the floor and stumbled around a little and imagine she was completely bored with the whole thing. When I was in the service I corresponded with her regularly while in training and I guess you could say I was in love or thought I was. After going overseas, the letters stopped coming and stopped altogether and when I got home, I found out she was going steady, and I never saw her again. Of the three class reunions I attended in later years she never attended, and I understand she was happily married, in the real estate business, and later was in poor health. Another girl I liked a lot and kidded around with quite a bit was Barbara Langnau a member of the yearbook staff and my journalism class. I was told she had the hots for me, and I did go on one date with her to a movie but was not interested in any long-term relationship. After graduation, I never saw her again and she died at a fairly young age, of what, I do not know. Shirley and Barbara were the only two girls I ever dated, but I got along well with the feminine side and had several girls who I was friendly with.
On the male side two boys, who were not athletes, were good friends of mine. John Morrison, I guess in today’s terms would be considered a nerd. Extremely intelligent, he preferred chess and reading to sports. I remember he kept after me to learn chess and after a refresher course he gave me for about an hour we played a game and in about 3 moves I was check-mated or whatever you call it, and the game was over. So was my chess career. (Where did Neil get his expertise in chess?) Well, now you know it was not from his dad. John was another person who died at a young age and I never saw him after I left for the service. Bill Fisher was another good buddy of mine through high school although he too had no interest in sports. We spent time together going to movies and just hanging out. Bill went into service with me, and we served in the same unit in European theater. Bill was taken prisoner by the German forces in the Battle of the Bulge during the war. After the war I saw him once or twice, but lost track of him and like John died at a young age. Whether it was a result of his confinement during the war I can’t say.
My closest friends in high school were the McIlvride boys Don, Bill, Gordie, and Roy Wallace and Bill McIntyre. We especially spent a lot of time together in the summer playing tennis, baseball, and hanging out together at the movies. Don’s mother Birdie was especially revered by all us boys as she liked nothing better than to have us come over to the house and hang around. She would always have some goodies to eat and would entertain us with her piano playing or we could entertain ourselves with her player piano. After the war Gordie McIlvride (Bill’s oldest brother) and I were close and played many rounds of golf together. We even got enough nerve to take dance lessons together from Arthur Murray Studios and then would go over to Mrs. Mac’s house and practice our steps with Birdie. Mr. McIlvride, Don’s dad, was a milkman and a former ball player in Vancouver, British Columbia and liked to spend time telling us about his baseball days and loved to go to the park when he had the time and play baseball with us. He still had an eye for the ball as we tried our mightiest to strike him out, but rarely succeeded as he was a left-handed, punch hitter who could spray the ball to all fields.
When I was a sophomore in 1941, I can remember one Sunday afternoon I was listening to an NFL football game on the radio with the New York Giants playing and they interrupted the game to announce that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. This was December 7, 1941 a “Day in Infamy” as President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated the next day in officially declaring War on Japan and their allies, Germany, and Italy. This of course had a tremendous impact on my future endeavors, which I probably didn’t realize at the time as I was more concerned as a high school sophomore with my schoolwork and extra-curricular activities. On my 18th birthday I registered for the draft and for the first time realized in a short time 4-5 months I would be graduated from High School and headed into service. Like many young men of that era flying seemed to be a glamorous activity and I decided I would like to get into the Air Corp as a pilot. Why I don’t know as I’m not, nor ever was, mechanically inclined, didn’t drive a car nor was particularly inclined to do so as my dad always said when I was old enough to pay for my car, I would be old enough to learn to drive. At any rate I filled out papers to join the Air Corps. In the spring of 1943 (my senior year) after passing the written test with no problem I set out for Selfridge Air Base in Mount Clemens for an exhaustive all day physical exam. I breezed thru the morning tests with no problems, but after lunch my projected Air Corps career came to a shrieking halt as my one eye tested out at 20-30 while the other one was perfectly normal 20-20. BUT that was it. I was sent home. It’s ironical because later in the war they were taking most anyone that could breathe. I will not complain, however, because I’m here today to relate this story and had I gone on to become a pilot who knows what might have happened.
The first week in June 1943 a class of 131 seniors, including myself, graduated from Hazel Park high school. Graduation ceremonies were held at the Presbyterian Church in town because that was the only place large enough to handle it as they housed a beautiful large auditorium. Graduation was on a Thursday night and the next day, Friday, I was bussed to Detroit and sworn in as a private in the Infantry of the United States Army. I was given two weeks furlough at home before reporting for duty at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan. When the furlough ended my brother, Hank drove me to Detroit where I boarded a bus with many other recruits to begin my Army career.
I spent about 4 days at Fort Custer, and it seemed that three and a half of those days were spent doing K-P, which for the uninitiated is commonly known as Kitchen Police but is more like purgatory as I never saw so many pots and pans to be washed and cleaned in my life. Had I known then what I know now I would have wandered off to the army store or taken a hike somewhere as it was so disorganized that they didn’t know where anyone was or probably didn’t care. Thank God this was only for briefing and orientation, shots, etc. and I soon was on a troop train to deep in the heart of Texas to Camp Hood, south of Waco. I was in the North camp, which was basically Infantry, while the south camp was basically armored divisions.