There are no halls of ivy at Panhandle A&M College in Goodwell, Okla. But the tumbleweeds tumble along through the campus and the wind comes whistling down the plain, rustling the leaves of the Chinese elms that stand in rows and soften the stark outlines of the red brick buildings. On still nights the howling of coyotes may be heard across the prairie: on clear nights the lights of a town in Texas may be seen 18 miles away. When the moon rides high across the wide Panhandle sky and the stars come down within arm's reach, the scene that seems rather grim and forbidding by daylight takes on a very special kind of Panhandle enchantment.
There is not much enchantment, by day or night, about the town of Goodwell (pop. 700), which is the post-office address of Panhandle A&M. Goodwell, founded in 1901 as a water stop for the Rock Island Railroad, looks like a ghost town that has given up the ghost. There is one unpaved street, which has the post office, a grocery store and a small hotel.
Happily for Panhandle's 1,200 students (about 400 are coeds), the town of Guymon is only 10 miles away. Most Panhandle students have cars; some have horses as well. At least one student has two cars and a quarter horse. The students are free to go to Guymon anytime they please, as long as the social evenings there do not interfere with their studies. Guymon has a population of 7,000 and. in its way, is as up-to-date as Amarillo, Texas, 100 miles to the south. There is a movie house on Main Street and a drive-in just outside of town. There are motels that keep their restaurants open all night. There is a bowling alley. There are supermarkets, all kinds of shops, drugstores and chili parlors. The Dale Hotel, in the heart of town, has a coffee shop where the big ranchers drop in and a private club (of which all hotel guests automatically become members) where a man can park his own liquor purchased from the state liquor store across the street. Only 3.2 beer is served in public places.
The Oklahoma Panhandle takes a bit of getting used to. But it grows on a stranger and there is a saying that if a visitor will stay long enough to wear out a pair of shoes, he will never want to leave. If this is true it is because the natives make up for what they lack in trees and other greenery with extraordinary courtesy and friendliness to people passing through. There is a class in courtesy at Guymon High School. President Marvin McKee of Panhandle A&M (a state school, by the way) devotes his entire message of welcome in the students' handbook to the subject. The Lions Club posts notices in all hotel and motel rooms inviting the guests to their supper meetings. Presumably, any itinerant burglar with a clean shirt would be made welcome by the Lions and perhaps be asked to get up and say a few words. About the only way a man could deprive himself of all-out courtesy and friendliness would be to refer to Panhandle College athletic teams as "the Panhandlers." Panhandle teams like to be called the "Aggies" or the "Plainsmen."
February 1, 1965
Panhandle has a full sports schedule. The football, basketball, baseball and golf teams are members of the Oklahoma Collegiate Conference. There are also an archery team and a rodeo club, which brings in broncos and roping stock from the ranches in the area. All sports have their loyal followers. The football team fills its 6,000-seat stadium for almost every game and the basketball team usually plays to capacity crowds in the 2,000-seat field house.
All this is not surprising in an area where public entertainments are not too numerous. What is surprising is the intensive recruiting activity of Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Oscar Williams, Basketball Coach Jerry Anderson and Otis Sanders, line coach in football who also finds time to coach (but not recruit) the Panhandle golfers. The subject of recruiting was taken up with Coach Anderson at a basketball practice session after he had set his players to work on defensive tactics. When he joined an observer in a front-row seat, Anderson was handed a roster of the 15 players on his squad.
Coach Anderson, a quiet-spoken, mild-mannered young man who can raise his voice to a bellow on occasion, looked at the roster and said, "What about it?"
"How come," he was asked, "that roster has four boys from Connecticut on it, four from Texas, one from Louisiana, one from Pennsylvania and one from Indiana? Where are the Panhandle boys?"
Coach Anderson studied the roster. "Why, right here," he said, "two boys from Hooker and one from Felt. Both Panhandle towns."
"But how can a school away out here in Oklahoma get boys from Connecticut, Indiana and Pennsylvania?"
"Well," said Coach Anderson, "we recruit pretty hard. Coach Williams and I know quite a few high school coaches around the country and we've got some Panhandle graduates bird-dogging for us. We've got a pretty liberal scholarship policy. We're allowed 40 full scholarships—board, room, books and tuition—-by the conference. We're a small school and we can take boys who can't get into some of the overcrowded eastern colleges. I think our name probably has a certain appeal. It's colorful and the country is colorful, too. Eastern boys take to it. They like dressing in western gear and learning to ride quarter horses. I'll give you an idea of how our recruiting works sometimes. You see No. 10 out there?"
"The little fellow? He's not on that team of 6-footers-plus, is he?"
"One of our best men," said Coach Anderson. "Leading scorer so far this season. His name is Lenny Lee. He went to high school in Bridgeport, Conn. Now, here's how I found out about him. I got a telephone call one night from a former Panhandle football player named Roger Petrino. He lives in Bridgeport.
"Roger started out by saying, 'Coach, I've got a great boy for you. I've talked Panhandle up to him and I've got him all pepped up. He's ready to go if you can give him the full treatment on a scholarship.'
"I asked Roger, 'How tall is the boy?' Roger said, 'Why, he's fast as lightning, Coach. Great ball handler, a real playmaker.' I repeated my question.
"Roger came back with, 'Coach, we seem to have a bad connection on this end. Can you hear me out there?' I said, 'I can hear you perfectly. How tall is the boy?'
"Well, Bird Dog Petrino ignored the question again. He went on to say that this boy, Lenny Lee, had attended Bob Cousy's summer camp and had been named most valuable player. Roger asked me if I would like a personal letter from Bob Cousy.
"I said, 'Yes, but first tell me how tall the boy is.' "
Coach Anderson interrupted his story to yell out a criticism across the court. Then he resumed:
"Roger said Lenny Lee would need all the help he could get—books, room, board, tuition and a campus job. I told Roger that could be arranged if the boy measured up. Then I yelled as loud as I could into the phone. 'But tell me this, Roger. How tall is Lenny Lee? Never mind Bob Cousy now. I know how tall he is. How tall is Lenny Lee?'
Coach Anderson laughed at the memory of the incident.
"Roger Petrino finally gave me an answer. He said, 'Why, I would put him in the 6-footer class, Coach.' Then he hung up."
Coach Anderson got up from his seat and prepared to step over the rail onto the court.
"Well, there he is out there," he said. "Lenny Lee. No. 10."
"How tall is Lenny Lee?"
"Five feet eight," said Coach Anderson, "smallest regular in the conference. See that Cousy dribble of his? The crowds love him. And he's a fine boy."
A little later, across the hall from the basketball court, Head Football Coach Oscar Williams sat at his desk and listened to a slender, attractive widow, who looked about 38 or so, as she described the football talents of her son, a young man with the thick neck of a lineman, who sat in a chair placed a few feet behind her own.
It was clear that Mother was going to conduct all the negotiations in behalf of her son.
"Coach Williams," she began, "I want to say first of all that I am most favorably impressed with Panhandle College."
"Thank you," said Coach Williams, "we feel—"
"I kid you not, Coach. I've never met more courteous or more friendly people at any school I've visited."
"We pride ourselves—"
"I was most impressed," the widow broke in again, "with the high caliber of your faculty members. They are perfect ladies and gentlemen and most refined in every sense of the word."
"I think credit for that should go to President McKee. He is responsible for most of the—"
"I know," continued the widow. "I am convinced that my son would be very happy here. And let me say that the dinner we sat down to this noon in the cafeteria was positively delicious. Stuffed green peppers, mashed potatoes, carrots, navy beans, salad, dessert, choice of milk, tea or coffee. It was as fine a meal as you could get in Oklahoma City. I kid you not, Coach."
"Our students eat well. We've never had any complaints on that score."
"Now then," said the widow, turning to her son. "The boy here likes everything about Panhandle."
"We'd like to have him here," said Williams.
The widow leaned back in her chair.
"All right, Coach. What would be the arrangements, so to speak?"
"Well," said Coach Williams. "I've gone into the matter of arrangements pretty thoroughly. Now, I understand he wants to go to medical school. We can arrange a course that will give him a B.S. degree and qualify him for any medical school anywhere. On top of that I've arranged with one of our finest doctors in Guymon to act as the boy's adviser. Dr. Bailey Dietrich is his name and he's interested in helping Panhandle boys in every way he can."
The widow made a small gesture of impatience.
"That's the future. What about right now, Coach? Can you take him as a transfer student from junior college and make a deal on a scholarship?"
Coach Williams drummed his fingers on the desk.
The widow pressed on. "This is an unusual boy, Coach. I kid you not. He's got that old desire."
"Oh, there's no doubt about his abilities," said Coach Williams. "Now here's the situation in a nutshell. I've been in touch with Ken Gallagher, the commissioner of our conference. I explained the case, and Ken's advice was that your son go back to junior college and finish out his year. Then report here August 31. He'll come in as a junior, he'll be eligible to play in 1965, and I am authorized to offer him a full scholarship—books, board, room and tuition, plus a campus job to keep him in pocket money."
The young lineman blurted: "Sure sounds fine to me. With the doctor advising me and—"
The widow silenced him with a wave of her hand. She rose slowly from her chair. "Coach," she said, with feeling, "that's as fair a deal as I could ask for. You won't regret it. I kid you not. This boy will give you everything in the way of desire and motivation. And I'll be down here for every home game. I told my boss—I'm a secretary—I told my boss, no summer vacation for me, I'll take my time off in long football weekends. And I promise you, Coach, that this lad will really put out for you. He—"
"I'll hit those books hard, too," the son said.
The widow waved him down. "Coach, you've been just grand. You're a perfect gentleman in every sense of the word and I'm proud to have my son playing under you. He won't disappoint you. If he does, let me know. I'll jump in my car and get down here and let him have the heel of my riding boot where it will do the most good." She looked around. "I kid you not, son."
"So everything is settled," Coach Williams said. "And now I'm sure that you want to look around a little more—"
"One thing gripes me," the widow interrupted. "Linemen never get any publicity. You read the papers and you'd think there was nobody on the field but the running backs, the passers and receivers. What's the situation with the Panhandlers, publicity-wise?"
A look of pain crossed Coach Williams' face. "We don't say Panhandlers, ma'am. We're called the Aggies."
The widow nodded. "Good. I like that. Now about publicity?"
"Well, in the ordinary course of events," said Coach Williams, "we get good space in the Guymon Daily Herald, and we phone in our scores to the Oklahoma City and Amarillo papers."
The widow nodded sagely.
"Of course," said Coach Williams, "if lightning strikes, there's no telling. In 1961 we went to the All Sports Bowl in Oklahoma City and scored a big 28-14 upset over the Langston Lions. There was an eight-column headline in the Oklahoma City Oklahoman and a story that ran a full column."
"Terrific," breathed the widow.
"Maybe sometime we'll get in the small-college bowl game. That means the works. National publicity, AP, UPI and maybe television. We've put three men on the NAIA All-America over the past four years."
The widow grasped her son's arm. "We may be on to something big here, boy."
"Yes'm," the boy said. "With the doctor advising me—"
"Never mind the doctor," said the widow through clenched teeth. "That will come later. Anything else, Coach?"
Coach Williams pondered a moment. "No," he said, "that's about it, I guess."
The widow smiled, took her son by the arm and walked to the door.
"Oh," exclaimed Coach Williams, "one other thing. On the subject of publicity."
The widow turned. "Yes?"
"Forgot to mention," said Coach Williams, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is sending a man here to take pictures next week."
The widow's eyes widened. She grasped the door knob for support. She stared at her son, the doctor-to-be. She looked at Coach Williams incredulously.
"Ma'am," smiled Coach Williams, "I kid you not."
The widow gestured helplessly. Then mother and son walked through the door and slowly down the hall.
Meanwhile, in the gymnasium across from Coach Williams' office, there had been a minor catastrophe. Henry Caldwell, 6-foot 6-inch center (just recovered from an illness), had taken a fall in a game scrimmage and sprained his ankle. This meant that the Aggies, who had been in high spirits after their 92-74 defeat of Wayland the week before, would not be at their best for their games with Southeastern State and Oklahoma Baptist, both rated as strong contenders for the conference championship. As it turned out, Panhandle lost both games the following weekend. But little Lenny Lee gave the crowd something to cheer about (and once again vindicated the faith of Bird Dog Roger Petrino back in Bridgeport, Conn.) by putting on a dazzling display of his Bob Cousy dribble and scoring 22 points against Southeastern and 31 against the Baptists.
Coach Jerry Anderson wore a long face after losing the two games, but he was cheerful again by Monday morning and so were the players and so were all the students and faculty members on the Panhandle campus. All the big ranchers were in high good humor at the Dale Hotel coffee shop in the mornings and in the Dale's private bottle club after sundown.
Panhandle students were too busy to fret about anything. Many of the athletes were busy with campus jobs. Others had jobs in Guymon. Quite a few worked as cowhands when the ranchers needed extra help and others rode herd on the cattle that were trucked into the weekly sales at Guymon and Texhoma. Some did a little dealing in horseflesh. One Panhandle boy, Bryce Waugh, took a creature that was somewhere in between a pony and a horse to the Guymon sales and was allowed to parade it around between the bidding on calves and year-lings. When young Waugh appeared in the ring with his offering, there was loud laughter from the assembled ranchers. Somebody asked Joe McGrew of the Hitch Ranch what kind of critter the Waugh boy was trying to sell. Joe McGrew (who knows every kind of horseflesh there is) said that he was durned if he knew what it was.
Bryce Waugh tried to prod his property into some small display of spirit, but the animal just stood there with a woebegone look, staring up at the cattlemen, who couldn't stop laughing.
Finally the auctioneer called for order. "Gentlemen," he said, "don't laugh. This offering is being shown by Bryce Waugh, a student at Panhandle College. Now:, gentlemen, this is a pony here, for your information. Young Mr. Waugh tells me the pony hasn't been feeling well lately, but he's responding to treatment, and Mr. Waugh is willing to get him a haircut. On top of that, Mr. Waugh says that he has papers for this creature. Or rather he did have. But driving out here, the papers flew out the window of the pickup truck. Now, we'll have no bidding on this offering. Mr. Waugh will take $65 cash and furthermore he will take any buyer out and show him the very spot where the papers flew out of the window. Who'll take Mr. Waugh's offering for $65?"
As it turned out, nobody did. The gate leading from the ring was opened, and Bryce Waugh prodded his pony toward it. The cattlemen laughed louder than ever. The pony—looking like an overgrown great Dane with long hair—turned at the gate and gave the cattle buyers a long look that was not as reproachful as it was apologetic. It seemed to say quite plainly, "Go ahead and laugh. I'm a mess and I know it." He looked so sad that the ranchers stopped laughing and gave the pony and his owner a big round of applause. It was the friendly, courteous, Panhandle thing to do.
Later, when a snow and ice storm hit the area, an Easterner found himself hotelbound in a room at the Dale. He flipped on a transistor radio and soon heard one of the Mississippi evangelists who tape-record gospel services and ship the tapes to Mexico for broadcast over the high-powered transmitters there. The broadcasts come booming into the Oklahoma Panhandle and, indeed, all through the Southwest. The evangelist of the moment was shouting the news that the end of the world was at hand. Only one hope remained: a personal tour by the evangelist himself, during which he would confront world leaders and deliver his final warning. This would take money, naturally, and to all donors of $5 the evangelist promised to send a special gift package containing five ballpoint pens guaranteed to write for six months, 12 sheets of stationery and matching envelopes, an automatic needle threader and three books. Two were written by the preacher himself and were titled How I Was Saved from Dope Addiction and a Life of Crime and Dancing: Satan's Booby Trap. The third book was a volume of poems by the reverend's associate, Sister Sunshine, who promptly recited a sample of her work to organ accompaniment. Sister's poem began:
Oh, the joy that's come to oar house,
Since we harkened to the Word
There's peace and understanding',
And miracles have occurred.
Poor Mama was baldheaded,
But she's growin' hair today,
Dear Brother's changed his habits,
Now he, too, kneels to pray.
And Daddy is a new man,
No more does Daddy drink,
There are no whiskey bottles,
A-smellin' up the sink.
The Easterner examined the soles of his shoes. There was the beginning of a hole in one of them. The Easterner remembered the saying that if you wear out a pair of shoes in the Panhandle, you'll never leave.
He picked up the phone and called the railroad station. He asked the station agent if he would be good enough to flag down the Rock Island Railroad's Golden State Limited at 3:30 a.m. The agent said, in the most courteous and friendly way, that he would be glad to oblige. But he added that he just couldn't help wondering why anybody would be so anxious to leave the Panhandle that he would catch a train in the middle of the night. There seemed to be no point in telling him about a pair of shoes that were wearing thin.