NORMAN — (Editor’s Note: Joe Claxton is a member of the NHS Class of 1963. He has written sports for the greater part of the past 50 years for the Ada News, Pauls Valley Democrat, The Oklahoman and others as well as teaching journalism at Ada High. The following are his impressions of the reunion. Oh yes, some of you may remember him as Derrell Claxton.)
The Norman High Class of 1963 50th reunion kicked off Friday night at Stepbrothers with the traditional squinting of name tags and trying to visualize what late age 60s faces looked like back in the early ‘60s. It was almost like introducing a new kid to the class.
The gathering featured most of the Class AA state championship basketball team of 1963, hence our story.
Jack Herron was still just as tall and somehow was still recognizable with a full head of white hair instead of the crewcuts of the day.
Herron was a Norman boy several times over as his dad’s career took him in and out of the town, but as a grade schooler he did get to see Denny Price lead Chet Bryan’s team to the first of Bryan’s four state titles.
“I remember thinking, I want to do that when I get to Norman High,” he said.
A later move back to Norman in the early ‘60s reunited him with players and friends he already knew. He fit right back in.
In 1963 they were ranked No. 1 at the start of season.
“I would check the paper each Monday to make sure we were still No. 1,” Herron said. After a 43-42 squeaker over Duncan for the title that capped a 22-1 season they were, of course, still No. 1.
“... And we still are,” said Herron, a career educator who ironically was superintendent at Duncan at one point and recently launched a campaign to become the next state superintendent of schools.
“It is hard to believe it has been 50 years, but it would have been even harder and longer if we had not won that night and had to spend the last 50 years knowing we should have won it,” he said.
Across the way, half of Bryan’s double post offense was reliving the season with former classmates.
“My job was to feed Ricky (6-6 junior Rick Kersey), but when they collapsed on him we were ready for it,” Gene Bauman said. “Rick averaged 22 points (20.4), but we were a team of scorers, someone else would chip in 10, 20.
“Our practices were harder than the games, but Chet Bryan had us ready for anything.”
Bauman continued: “That college back east that fired its coach for being too tough, abusing his players ... heck Chet Bryan did that every day,” Bauman laughed. “But we learned about trust and values and that there was only one reason to do what we did, work as hard as we did, and that was to win.”
Bauman became an Air Force pilot, cargo planes, ferrying supplies into Vietnam (yes, Nam, remember the years we are recalling here. Neverland played a large role in our generation.)
After he left the service he had a highly successful career in air freight in cargo flights in the Los Angeles area and later moved into pet food distribution, growing into the major distributor in Southern Cal.
Now retired, Bauman’s daily view these days is the Pacific Ocean from his home on a half acre near the shore in Laguna Nigel, between San Diego and L.A.
By sports historian Ray Soldan’s count, there were some 2,500 fans there that night for the third evening of championship tournament play on the somewhat rickety portable floor at the Municipal Auditorium in downtown OKC.
Among the Norman supporters was, of course, the Class of ‘63. Many were in attendance 50 years later at the reunion.
Few of my little cadre from back in the day were there — the Grubb brothers, Dan and Don, and Dan’s wife since 1966, Patti Nolan Grubb. There would have been more of the Lions Park All-Stars (our self-named ‘touch’ football team) ... but Jerry Cain, Dan Coughlin, Mike Stapp and Mike Taylor are no longer with us.)
Back in the day we went on road trips with our team. Our parents OK’d the nearby trips. They didn’t know about the distant games. They thought we just stayed in Norman and listened to Big Bob Barry the Original on KNOR.
In the finale shooting guard Steve Taylor did just that — shoot, for 21.
“I had a hot hand and they (baskets) just kept coming until we slowed it down in the fourth quarter,” Taylor said.
It was a different Duncan team than the one the Tigers had pounded twice during the season.
Entering the fourth quarter it was 41-40 Norman. Only four more points would be scored, two by each team for a 43-42 championship win for Norman. Terry Fischer and Les Fertig each hit a free throw for Norman and Duncan gunner Jim Johnson hit the last of his 27 points with 16 seconds left.
The sports guys of the day called in a stall in the fourth quarter. Others do not, just waiting until Duncan came out for the ball, according to Herron.
“Chet did not tell us to stall, just work the ball around, Steve and I, and wait for them to come out. Which they did not do until it was too late,” Herron said.
“Chet wanted Jack and I to just work the ball back and forth. They were collaped on Kersey and we were to pass the ball around until they came out,” Taylor said.
Taylor had a career in medical equipment sales, but now has retreated to a few hours managing a liquor store in Palestine, Texas.
As the Class of 63 lined up to enter Stepbrothers, passersby probably thought it was an outing for the senior citizens home.
But lord we had fun, didn’t we gang?
A special thanks to Darlene Wise Steely and her crew for putting this soiree together. We still had fun, didn’t we gang?
Cathy, my wife of 44 years if we make it to July 17, had perhaps the most astute comment.
“I feel like I’m at one of my parents’ parties.’ said the Putnam City the Original grad.
... But that’s another story.