Photo: For The Intelligencer
The history lesson continues for me – and this time, it’s on the sports side.
In July, I wrote “Voices of Change,” a six-part series on the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Kent State University shootings, the student protests at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the riots at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and their connection to the civil unrest and social climate of 2020.
In the final part, I wrote a column about how my interviews for the series gave me a better understanding of the political and civil rights issues of the time.
In late April, I started “Where Are They Now?,” a weekly series for sports about former Edwardsville High School athletes.
Nearly four months later, the series is still running, and I’ve learned enough about the former athletes I interviewed to improve my odds of winning an EHS sports Trivia Night.
But the team and individual championships and all the statistics are only part of the history lesson.
Every one of the men and women I talked to seemed to enjoy a stroll down memory lane and discuss their athletic success at EHS and beyond.
In addition, every one of them talked about how their experiences in Edwardsville – in and out of the athletic arena – helped put them on the path to success later in life.
The first “Where Are They Now?” story ran on April 29 and featured Daren McDonough, a two-time Class AA state champion in the pole vault in 1991 and 1992.
McDonough, whose vault of 17-0.5 as a senior in 1992 set a state record that would last for 18 years, credited former assistant track and field Bill Coleman and his head coach, the late Winston Brown, for helping develop his love for the pole vault.
“The poles are not cheap – I was using unique poles, bigger than normal — and coach Coleman used to sell candy bars after school to help raise funds for me,” said McDonough, who went on to have a solid collegiate career at Illinois and is now the owner of Genesis Tree Service in Ballwin, Missouri. “Back when I was vaulting, we had an asphalt runway and the track was cinder, so that was kind of unique. It was kind of the old farm boy way to do it.”
The memories also came rushing back for Barb Anderson, who was the first EHS girls golfer to earn a medal at the state tournament, placing fifth in 1977, seventh in 1978 and second in 1979.
This spring marked 40 years since Anderson graduated from high school, but she considers herself a Tiger for life.
“I still attend a lot of sporting events at EHS,” Anderson said in a story that ran on May 13. “I bleed orange and black.”
McDonough and Anderson helped set the tone for what has been a fascinating look back at a special group of athletes, and what made them special.
For some, the challenges went beyond the game they were playing.
Mannie Jackson, a 1956 EHS graduate, was a star basketball player for the Tigers and went on to play for the University of Illinois and the Harlem Globetrotters before becoming the Globetrotters’ owner from 1993 to 2006.
For a two-part series on June 24-25, Jackson talked about the racism that he and his EHS and Illinois teammate Govoner Vaughn experienced as African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, including an incident during their playing days at U of I.
“We went to Louisville to play the University of Kentucky and we decided to go to a theater to see an afternoon movie,” Jackson said. “We walked to the ticket booth and the young lady apologetically said ‘You (white players) guys can come inside, but those two (Jackson and Vaughn) can’t come with you.’
“My attitude was that I was raised in Edwardsville with all kinds of silly insensitive prejudice, but our (white) teammates went crazy and they were ready to tear the place down. We told them to let it go and that Gov and I would find something else to do.”
Vaughn, who was featured in a two-part series on Aug. 4-5, also played for the Globetrotters, and like Jackson, he discussed the NBA’s unspoken quota for black players at the time that kept both of them out of the league.
“I was told by the general manager of the St. Louis Hawks that they had their quota and they couldn’t take me,” Vaughn said. “He told me some things I couldn’t believe he would say, like taking a certain player because he had a lighter complexion.”
Jackson and Vaughn no longer live in Edwardsville, but many of the former EHS athletes I talked to still live in or near their hometown.
One of them is former EHS baseball star Chad Opel, who was part of Edwardsville’s Class AA state championship team in 1998.
Opel went on to have a successful baseball career at SIUE and is currently a senior wealth management advisor for Visionary Wealth Advisors in Edwardsville.
Opel told me that his bond to EHS is as strong as ever. He still talks to former Tigers head coach Tom Pile and his longtime assistant coaches, Mike Waldo and Darrell Butler.
“They are amazing human beings and there is still a connection there,” Opel said. “They taught me not just about baseball but about how preparation is key and a strong work ethic to achieve goals is an absolute must. Those key traits luckily carried over into the next phases of my life.”
My history lesson also included stories on Bill Stapleton (May 6), Stephen Pifer (May 27), Amy (Semith) Babington (June 10), Darcy (Gregor) Benway (June 17), Nick Seibert (July 1), Joe Malench (July 8), Heather Haskins (July 15), Marissa (Cook) Myers (July 22), Christina (Perozzi) Taranouchtchenko (July 29) and Morris Bradshaw (Aug. 12-14).
There is more on the way.
Tom Price, a member of Edwardsville’s 1990 Class AA state championship baseball team, is this week’s “Where Are They Now?” subject, and former EHS girls basketball star Kim Jackson will be featured next week.
I’m ready to learn more history – and I’m ready for Trivia Night.
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