RAMBLINGS • The Preface To The Preface


This "Ramblings" began in May, when a donut and a compliment from Patti (White) Fuller began a train of remembrances of my experience as a would-be farmer, teacher, coach, and high school newspaper sponsor. The last three are closely related; one ought not coach nor sponsor any away-from-school activity if he or she isn't teaching concurrently. Coaching is certainly 90 percent teaching if it is done well, however, for me, worrying with and about the Preface was 70 percent teaching and 30 percent learning.

After I resigned as baseball coach in 1972 (spring), I had a year to concentrate on teaching English, which I truly enjoyed–more than coaching even–and family before then principal Jack Zimmerman and counselor Jan Young double-teamed me. I think the conversation began with "Now that you're no longer coaching, we need you in another place." I should have run from the room; now, years later, I'm glad I didn't.

The societal revolution that had swept the United States beginning in the late 60s was touching the 'Boro. Washington, D.C. had President Nixon, Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and the Washington Post; Hillsboro High had an underground newspaper, The Grizzly Gazette. Investigative reporting was in the news, thanks to Bob Woodward; HHS had a literary society, the Quill and Scroll; and a publication of some sort, though I truthfully don't remember it. Mrs. Allen (now Mrs. Moody) and newbie Gene Daniels were pictured in the '72 and '73 yearbooks as sponsors, but I honestly don't remember the publications. (If Mrs. Moody hasn't lost her old fire, I'm sure I'll receive a phone call to refresh my memory if she reads this column).

We didn't have a journalism class, though, and the Gazette was vitriolic enough to raise the ire of the powers that were. I didn't mind it. When I would be referred to, it was as Mr. Deep-in-Reefer (they were not suggesting I drove a refrigerated semi), but I was so anti-drugs of any kind that those who knew me know that type of generalization was far off the mark.

I had a bit of journalistic training (three weeks of a general English class that covered many bases at Blackburn taught by Harriett Stoddard, who was nearing the end of her storied career while I was there) and a bit of experience. I'd covered the WWC basketball team for the college paper (The Echo) as a sophomore and the Coffeen Cubs when I coached them. Both The Journal and The News would print articles about junior high teams if the writer wasn't paid. Other county high schools weren't covered, at least not in the depth they are today, and there were fewer sports to cover, so there was space to fill. HHS football and basketball stories were submitted by high school students, 10 cents a column inch. As I recall, John Galer covered Hillsboro High as a junior and senior for The Journal.

I started submitting stories about the Coffeen Cubs because I felt it would give incentive to kids to perform well (I hear the purist, old school coaches scoff at that); it could increase attendance (people in small towns were fanatic and would support school teams if they knew when and where they were to play); most grandparents like to clip articles for scrapbook purposes; and finally I enjoyed it.

Those articles were received so well that Phil and Nancy Galer (both of whom had attended Blackburn and kept in touch with Miss Stoddard) asked if I'd cover the football games for The Journal beginning with the 1970 season. That began a chain of events that is still intact today. Coach Dave Ball was looking for a stats man that fall; I knew I'd need statistics to do credible stories, so I took that task on. The first two years or so Larry Hewitt helped (Barb was cheerleading sponsor). After that Houston Satterlee was my spotter/wing man; then it became Ralph Ward after he returned to the area. Those were interesting evenings.

I almost lost the reporting job; at 10 cents a column inch it took lengthy stories to make the trips worthwhile. I can write at great length about most anything, but Phil objected mid-season; the varsity stories used more space than he could spare. Once he said, "Okay we have the reader's attention, so rein it in." We had a dilemma; readership was up, we were friends, and I really didn't want to quit. Finally we compromised; I'd receive a flat amount for each story and mileage for out of town games. The job has put groceries on the table for nearly 50 years now; just teaching would have meant fried Cheetos for dinner for Dawn and Jenni as they grew. Little did they know of how tight our budget was.

Another link in the chain? The News hired Steve Oliver, an English teacher/assistant basketball coach at HHS, to cover the local sports scene for them. He and I became good friends as we competed; I think both of us became better journalists because of the friendly competition until he left to become boys head coach at Highland. I suspect there is another "Ramblings" there; education is such a mobile, grass-is-greener-elsewhere profession, that I lost too many good friends to mobility and their search for a better life.

Anyway, the administration knew that I knew more than most of the staff about journalism. I also would like to think they thought I'd do a good job while not allowing slander to appear in pages under what should have been their control.

The only request I made was for no censorship beyond what I provided. I needed that blank check, a dangerous one then for a principal to sign, because I knew the reward for the class would be to see other students reading what they had written–as avidly as they read the Grizzley Gazette. That wouldn't happen if the articles were a list of rules to be followed or any type of "This school is great, with no faults" baloney.

Mr. Young said he really wanted the class to succeed, so he recruited the top 20 seniors of the class of 1974 to be in the class. I don't believe he had recruited before, and to limit an English class to 20 students was certainly not common. Vickie Jenkins was the first editor, Kathy Joyce the business manager (she handled the money), Bob Millice the advertising manager (and one of the photographers) and Roger Stokes the circulation manager. Everyone pitched in to do every task, however, because much had to be done.

Hoping to specialize in sports reporting were Jeff Benson and Jim Dickerson. Listed as typesetter on the masthead were Debbie Huber, Karen McBroom, and Mary Myers. The rest of the staff, some with titles in the '74 yearbook and others without, were Nancy Cox (now PhD), Ray Dorf, Carol Elliott, Dave Ernst, Julie Garrett, Penny Lynn (now a Northwestern and law school grad), June Morgan, Marsha Myers, Debby Reeves, Tracy Russell, Pam Worden, and Cathy Zucco.

The Journal offered to let us use their production facilities–light tables for layouts, darkroom, etc., all but the press, though Stokes even helped with that. That meant production work had to be done at their uptown, away-from-the-classroom, facility after school hours when the building wasn't used for Journal purposes. I'll always be grateful to Phil, Nancy, and John Galer for their patience and help, and to Ken Meade for his help in the darkroom, whose workings were a mystery to me.

The kids sold ads to finance the entire production; even the newsprint and aluminum plates (a part of the printing process) weren't cheap. The students felt it was worthwhile, though, because they were able to put their ideas into print and have those ideas taken seriously.

The no-administration censorship had a big test after the varsity basketball season ended. One of the staff members, a cheerleader, came to class spitting nails out of her eyes. She'd uncovered an injustice and wanted to write about it, but it was an injustice with legal implications if we couldn't prove what she wanted to write.

The basketball team had a relatively successful season under a new-to-Hillsboro but experienced coach. The coach had a 6'5" son who was a good guard as a junior; at the team banquet the coach said his son had been chosen as the team's captain (by team vote) for the next season.

Nancy had polled most of the players who voted, and the tally showed a different result. To a smart, idealistic high school senior it was "exposé it" time. To the administration (and to the Preface advisor) it had the makings of Excedrin Headache #1.

The young lady prevailed, wrote the editorial, and the coach resigned, taking his son back to Champaign Central where he had a successful senior season. (I felt sorry for the young man, who seemed more ethical than his father).

I almost expected that would be the end of the Preface. One of the school board members had chosen the coach in question and had a personal friendship with him; I know he was displeased. In that era most boards and administrators would have swept the issue under the rug, but no broom was big enough for that chore once the well-written, well-documented charges were made. Some of the administrators (and I'd bet the deed to my house that at least three board members) would have liked to have come after the advisor who allowed the article to be printed, but cooler heads prevailed. That would have created an even deeper public relations swamp. I was on tenure, freedom of the press was revered (more then than now); I survived with nary a word of reproach said to me, and Facebook didn't exist, so if anything was written about me, I never knew about it.

The Preface lived on, and so will this Ramblings–next month.


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