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Monday, March 18, 2013

THE GLORY FIELDS OF HIGHWAY 83




The Glory Fields of Highway 83
 
      While spending the fall of 2011 cruising up and down Highway 83, America's 50 yard line, I photographed every high school football stadium, large and small, 58 active in total, and one "ghost field."
       Starting in Westhope, ND - in the shadows of the Canadian border; travel south for 1487 miles to the Mexican border town of Laredo, TX; as you wander through the idyllic High Plains, you will celebrate the unique American phenomena of small town high school football. Along the trail, explore the trivia found on America's 50 yard line; discover the best town to throw down a beer with the local good old boys - and much, much more.
     
NORTH DAKOTA

Westhope, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 6
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1481
School Colors Maroon/Gold
2012 Record 8-5
Mascot Sioux
Enrollment 61


Glenburn, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 37
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1450
School Colors Purple/Gold
2012 Record 8-5
Mascot Panthers
Enrollment 37

Minot, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 56
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1431
School Colors Maroon/Gold
2012 Record 7-3
Mascot Magicians
Enrollment 927

Garrison, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 93
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1394
School Colors Red/White/Blue
2012 Record 1-8
Mascot Troopers
Enrollment 185
Underwood, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 110
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1377
School Colors Purple/White
2012 Record 7-3
Mascot Cougars
Enrollment 109

Washburn, ND







Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 116
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1371
School Colors Cardinal/White
2012 Record 3-5
Mascot Cardinals
Enrollment 164

Wilton, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 130
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1358
School Colors Purple/White/Gold
2012 Record 3-5
Mascot Miners
Enrollment 130

Mandan, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 161
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1327
School Colors Black/White
2012 Record 3-6
Mascot Braves
Enrollment 1069

Bismarck, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 165
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1331
School Colors Maroon/White/Blue
2012 Record 12-0
Mascot Demons
Enrollment 1442

Linton, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 198
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1298
School Colors Maroon/Gold
2012 Record 5-4
Mascot Lions
Enrollment 121


Strasburg, ND
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 216
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1280
School Colors Purple/Gold
2012 Record 1-8
Mascot Clippers
Enrollment 92



A Glory Field
       It was the most poignant moment in an adventure full of poignant moments. On a fall evening, close to dusk, following on the heels of an Indian summer perfect weather day, I stopped at a small cross roads town in South Dakota. It could have been in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska or North Dakota; didn’t really matter; as I found many such towns in those states as well, but, for the record it was South Dakota. It was a depressed looking little hamlet, holding on by an economical thread; similar to hundreds of other dying little towns on the High Plains I had driven through.
      It was the middle of October, 2011 and I was two months into a three month journey. I called my adventure the “ultimate road trip for a high school football junkie.” I spent the fall roaming up and down US Highway 83, from Antler, North Dakota to Laredo, TX – the Canadian border to the Mexican border – documenting the unique role high school football plays in small town America. As a part of my project, I was photographing every high school football field along Route 83 –the last non-interstate highway to run unimpeded from our southern border to our northern. My timing, as I almost always inexplicitly found it to be on this trip, was perfect.
      The man approached me as I stood in the west end zone of the poorly cared for field, trying to get just the right camera angle with the setting sun at my back. He looked no more prosperous than the town we were in. After his inquire as to my task, I gave him the standard rendition of my project goals. As always, it was a great ice breaker and he, as most all did on this trip, willingly told me his story from his grid iron glory days of long ago.
       “Right where you are standing, right here, well it was over 40 years ago, but I scored a touchdown,” he drug out the last syllable of“touchdoooowwwnnnn,” for dramatic effect. “How about you,” he asked me, “did you ever score a touchdown?” A couple, I said. “You know,” he continued, “my life ain’t been much, married and divorced three times. I can hold a job; always work around here to be had, but none (that) ever pays much. Even the Army wouldn’t take me after high school, and back then, they took everyone,” he showed a small grin, missing several key teeth, and shook his head in tired resignation of his failed life.
       “Lived here all my life and will probably die here, but one night, much like this night, right here on this spot, I scored a touchdown and the whole town stood and cheered for me. Never scored another, I wasn’t very good. Matter of fact, the pass I caught for my touchdown wasn’t even thrown to me, it bounced off a couple of other people’s hands and landed in mine, and I was standing right here. TOUCHDOWN. One of the few lucky breaks I ever have had.” I smiled, for as I could see in his eyes, it was 40 years ago again, and my new friend was suspended Peter Pan like, celebrating in the end zone of eternal youth. If only the real world was so clear cut.
      “A lot of people make more out of themselves than I have, but you know, they ain’t in the club, like you and me. The Banker here, over the years, has taken back a couple of my cars, my house and once my john boat. I know he looks down on me and I got no one to blame but myself; and I am sure you can see, I am not much to look at. Still, I grew up with that Banker and every time I see him on the street, I think, I scored a touchdown and you never did.”
      The wind had started to pick up, as it often did at dusk on the arid high prairie. I needed to get back to my picture taking task.
      “You know where you are standing,” he asked me, waving his arms spread wide?
       I looked around and took it all in: goal posts that were badly leaning; trash – probably from the last game- blowing around a dirt track long ago abandoned from any serious attempt at running; weeds everywhere, choking out what little turf fescue this badly worn field once held; drooping and unsteady wooden bleachers on each sideline, peeling what little paint was left on their surface; and a scoreboard, I would bet, that was old enough to have witnessed my new friend’s touchdown of over 40 years ago.
       “No,” I answered, “where am I standing?”
       “This” he said, in a voice suddenly swollen with pride, “is a Glory Field.”



SOUTH DAKOTA/NEBRASKA


Selby, SD
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 253
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1234
School Colors Purple/Gold
2012 Record 10-1
Mascot Lions
Enrollment 76


Pierre, SD
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 326
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1161
School Colors Kelly/Green/White
2012 Record 8-4
Mascot Govenors
Enrollment 837


Stanley County, SD
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 331
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1156
School Colors Purple/Gold
2012 Record 1-7
Mascot Buffalo
Enrollment 171


White River, SD
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 407
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1080
School Colors Purple/Gold
2012 Record 8-2
Mascot Tigers
Enrollment 113


Mission, SD
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 427
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1060
School Colors Royal Blue/Gold
2012 Record 8-2
Mascot Falcons
Enrollment 481


Valentine, NE
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 454
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 1033
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 5-4
Mascot Badgers
Enrollment 269

Thedford, NE
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 493
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 994
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 5-4
Mascot Trojans
Enrollment 46


Stapleton, NE
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 969
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 518
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 6-3
Mascot Cyclones
Enrollment 84

North Platte, NE
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 547
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 940
School Colors Royal/Blue/Gold
2012 Record 2-7
Mascot Bulldogs
Enrollment 1244

Wellfleet, NE/Maywood, NE
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 570
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 917
School Colors Orange/Black
2012 Record 0-8
Mascot Tigers
Enrollment 74

McCook, NE
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 876
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 611
School Colors Black/Red
2012 Record 7-3
Mascot Bison
Enrollment  502


The Less Traveled Road
      When an American speaks of driving “cross country,” we almost always are indicating an east to west path. From Chicago to Los Angeles or Philadelphia to San Francisco would be common routes driven. Seldom when we talk of a cross county trip, are we discussing a north to south route.
     For the first 125 years of its existence, the United States cast its growth gaze to the west. Horace Greeley never suggested “go south young man” when providing advice for the procurement of future riches. The St. Louis Arch does not represent a “gateway to the south.”
     A trip itinerary that includes a trip across Kansas is universally met with a groan. The reaction is due to past experiences of a torturous and monotonous seven hour trip on Interstate 70 from Lawrence in the east to Goodland in the west. As every Midwest child knows, it is a chore to be endured if you want to see the Rockies.
     With Highway 83 being a north/south route, I for the first time experienced the drive across Kansas from a different view. Following a longitudinal line as opposed to a latitudinal one, the perspective is totally different and far less boring.
     From Oakley in the north to Liberal in the south, the landscape along Highway 83 is, in reality, more similar, more barren and less populated than the Lawrence to Goodland route. Traveling the I-70 east to west route, the altitude will rise almost 2,000 feet. It is a steady climb, so gradual that you don’t notice. The east to west traveler will also cross a time zone, from Central to Mountain Time, picking up an hour in the always futile race with the western setting sun.
     The route 83 north/south path will maintain almost the same altitude from Oakley to Liberal. This holds true all the way from the Canadian border to the border with Mexico. The one change I did notice was the length of the hours of sunlight. In North Dakota in the summer, daylight will be about one hour more per day than in South Texas. If I remember my 6th grade geography correctly, this will reverse in the winter time.
     I found the drive on Highway 83 through Kansas, for I made it numerous times when traveling between McCook, NE and Canadian, TX, to be therapeutically relaxing with its tediousness. I did some of my best planning for this book while on this route. I learned the landmarks, the towns and when to anticipate the lonely stretches of openness so grand it left me with a calmness that I grew to enjoy. The land is stark but the repetition of the landscape as one traversed it was reassuring. The simplicity of this north to south route required developing a taste for its remoteness, but when acquired, the trip became for me quite scenic.
     I was often tempted by curiosity when I passed over a Highway 83 intersecting crossroad, especially if that east/west road was not paved, as to what I would find if I were to journey down it. For example, if I followed the arrow on the sign post and drove the four miles down the dirt road to Akaska, South Dakota, what would I discover? Normally, my schedule would not allow for such dallying, but just so often, to keep the vagabonding karma in balance, I would throw planning to the wind and follow my curiosity to see if there might be an interesting story at the end of the dirt road. Those jaunts down often rut filled unpaved trails are some of my favorite memories of a fall spent on US Highway 83.


 
KANSAS/OKLAHOMA

Rexford, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 668
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 819
School Colors Black/White
2012 Record 2-7
Mascot Bulldogs
Enrollment 75

Colby, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 668
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 819
School Colors Black/Orange
2012 Record 2-7
Mascot Eagles
Enrollment 373

Oberlin, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 637
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 851
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 4-6
Mascot Red Devils
Enrollment 241

Oakley, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 699
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 788
School Colors Purple/White/Gold
2012 Record 7-3
Mascot Plainsman
Enrollment 151


Scott City, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 720
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 758
School Colors Blue/White
2012 Record 14-0
Mascot Beavers
Enrollment 298


Garden City, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 763
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 724
School Colors Gold/White
2012 Record 5-4
Mascot Buffaols
Enrollment 2001


Sublette, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 792
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 695
School Colors Scarlet/Gray
2012 Record 2-7
Mascot Larks
Enrollment 175

Satanta, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 800
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 687
School Colors Green/Gold
2012 Record 2-7
Mascot Indians
Enrollment 174


Liberal, KS
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 824
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 663
School Colors Red/Black
2012 Record 2-7
Mascot Redskins
Enrollment 1190


Turpin, OK
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 839
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 648
School Colors Black/Red
2012 Record 0-10
Mascot Cardinals
Enrollment 148



The Rebels
       They are not hard to find. They form a distinctive part of the student body in schools both small and large. Attend a high school pep assembly and you will have no problem locating them. They sit on the top row, usually isolated, off in one corner. They will not stand for the school song and through their nonchalant and non-attentive behavior, it is clear the distain they feel for their school mates who are the guests of honor at this party, one that requires their mandatory attendance. They dress different and are outspoken when describing their lack of interest in main stream high school social life.
     “Football players are pussies,” states the young man dressed all in black. He is small in stature and seems to have several nervous habits, such as constantly tapping his foot as he sits and talks. “They run the whole school and think they should get anything they want. F*#k this place. I am sick of everything about this place. Soon as I get out of school I am gone from here. The best thing to happen to this place would be if someone would blow the whole fu#$ing town up.”
     The makeshift gathering took place down a dead end gravel road, nothing more than an abandoned farm road. “Here is where we come to party,” said a young lady, sporting multi colored hair, featuring pink highlights. Her makeup was chalky, her lipstick a deep black. “Everybody knows we come here. So if you are a narc, telling them will do you no good. They know we come out here. I think they leave us alone because it keeps us out of town and out of sight. As you can see, we dress a little different. They all call us ‘Goths’, and I guess that is cool, that is who we are. We do dress different and we are not hard to pick out.”
      The group numbered seven. I had asked to be brought along for this after school “social.”A marijuana cigarette was soon passed amongst the group. “You sure you are not a narc,” a young man confronted me with the same question I had answered in town shortly before we began our caravan out into the country. My interrogator who had multiple facial piercings and was also dressed all in black, was questioning my deferring on the community joint when it reached me. Rest easy, I assured him, the cops don’t normally send 54 year olds to infiltrate high school drug parties. My presence, I told the group, was for educational purposes, only.
      “I can’t say the jocks bother us,” offered another young man. “They just ignore us. That is what most of the town does. The same at school with the teachers, they just ignore us, hoping we will go away. They use to try and make us cut our hair, wear our clothes different. They even took away our chains.” He was interrupted by the second young lady of the group who complained, “they threatened to kick me out and take me to court, put me in a home if I didn’t stop wearing my dog collar to school. Now what kind of sh*t is that?”
      The group appeared to be intelligent, their ability to discuss issues and argue values impressive. “I don’t really care about all the attention this school and town gives the jocks. But it gets old. Sometimes I just want to scream,” complained the girl with multi-colored hair. “It is so stupid. Who cares who wins a dumb game?” She admitted that to her knowledge, neither she nor her friends had ever suffered from a major confrontation with the more main stream students of the local school. She even admitted, to at one time, entertaining thoughts of joining the jock culture. “When I was little, I played on the softball teams in the summer. It was fun and I was pretty good. I am still pretty good at the games in PE, when I want to be,” she offered. “But as we got older, it got so much more intense. And I didn’t have parents who were going to haul me around to all the different towns where the games were to be played. It just was not worth it, so I quit playing. When that happened, it wasn’t like the other girls kicked me out of their group; we just didn’t have anything in common anymore. It wasn’t a big deal. So I started hanging with the other kids who didn’t play sports. We just all kind of found each other. I don’t dislike the other girls at school, we just don’t have anything in common, but it’s cool.”
       A tall young man with a mature build for his age of 16 was the group’s vocal leader and the most outspoken. “I could have been pretty good at sports. Up until about the last year, the coaches were always trying to get me to come out, come over to their side. I will admit that I liked the attention and thought about it; maybe going over to the other side. But it just was not going to work for me. I just didn’t want to change, you know what I mean? If I wanted to be in football I had to change my hair, my clothes and my friends, so I said ‘forget it.’ I think they have finally given up on me. I guess I am past saving,” he said with a sarcastic giggle. “I live with my mom. She does not care about sports and if your parents don’t get interested, it’s tough, when you are too young to drive, to start playing.”
        He took another long drag on the rolled up weed cigarette and passed it to his girlfriend (I assumed), seated on his right. “Hey, after school, we just come out here and get high. How else are we supposed to tolerate this f#*cking hick town? I just want out. I don’t need anyone here saving me. I am just putting in my time, not bothering anyone, until I can get out of here and get someplace where nobody gives a damn who won some silly f#*king game.”
       The weed cigarette exhausted, a cheap bottle of wine was now passed back and forth among the group. The sun was starting to set, the wind picking up and the temperature dropping steadily, as it always did on a late fall afternoon on the idyllic plains of the American heartland. As the bottle reached the tall leader, he tipped his head back to take a long swallow. He then raised the half empty wine bottle in his right hand, a symbolic salute to his friends, and perhaps to his life. He stated loudly, “f#*k football.” The group cheered.


TEXAS PANHANDLE
Perryton, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 880
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 607
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 7-5
Mascot Rangers
Enrollment 556
Canadian, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 913
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 574
School Colors Black/Gold
2012 Record 10-3
Mascot Wildcats
Enrollment 217
Wheeler, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 873
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 542
School Colors Black/Gold
2012 Record 4-8
Mascot Mustangs
Enrollment 230
Shamrock, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 953
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 534
School Colors Kelly Green/White
2012 Record 3-6
Mascot Irish
Enrollment 3-6
 
Wellington, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 973
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 514
School Colors Black/Gold
2012 Record 13-1
Mascot Sky Rockets
Enrollment 155
Childress, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1010
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 477
School Colors Blue/White
2012 Record 5-5
Mascot Bobcats
Enrollment 335
Paducah, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1035
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 452
School Colors Orange/White
2012 Record 3-7
Mascot Dragons
Enrollment 239
Guthrie, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1066
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 421
School Colors Green/Gold
2012 Record 2-8
Mascot Jaquars
Enrollment 96

 Isaac Run
      John Updike in 1960 wrote a novel destined to become and American Classic, titled Rabbit Run. Updike recorded the unfulfilled life of a 26 year old former high school basketball star turned reluctant salesman, desperately seeking a role in adult life that would recapture the fleeting fame he briefly knew as a 16 year old local athletic hero. Rabbit Run  is a dark, brooding and sad story, often boarding on the macabre, but one commonly true in a society that makes a hero of a mere child who can out run, out jump and out throw the best rival towns can offer. It is a sad story played out time and time again in small towns across the land: the fleeting fame of a school boy star that, at 18 years of age, is slapped with the reality that the final whistle has blown and your best days are now behind you. You become yesterday's hero, booted into adulthood and replaced by a new star of the local high school team. You drift to the bleachers, a few rows higher up each year, until you finally stop going at all because it hurts too much.
     To provide him the promised anonymity, I will call him Isaac. "Hey man, I got to live here," he told me. In exchange for his candor, I promised to protect his identity. For that reason, we will give the town the fictional name of "Wilson," the school mascot will be the "Panthers."
       Short, and of average build, it was hard to see Isaac in the role he had so well played only a few years before; small town football hero. Fulfilling his now adult role as cashier, he gave me my change from a purchase of gas and sunflower seeds I had made at a non- descript convenience store in a sleepy town I was passing through late one fall night. Adulthood had mandated that he trade in his bright red Panther game jersey for a baby blue smock with a button attached to the right breast pocket promising service with a smile. I would never have pegged him as a local legend.
     Had business not been slow on that late evening, perhaps neither he nor I would have had the inclination to progress in our conversation past the normal niceties one exchanges with the locals as a faceless stranger in a nameless town. But being as no other customer or employee was in the store as closing time approached, Isaac with no pressing job responsibilities, asked, "where you heading?" Not having any impending place to be that evening myself, I had the time to respond in detail. "Cool," he told me, after I explained my wandering travels of the back roads of the nation's Heartland in search of the social meaning of high school football. Isaac, I was to learn, was one of only a handful of African Americans in the town of 5,000. "I used to play football," he told me.            
       Accepting an offer to join me for a beer after work, Isaac readily agreed to fill me in on the local high school football fortunes. "I lock the doors in ten minutes," he said. "Take me ten more minutes to clean up and close out." I waited in the car as he finished his duties.
       By ten minutes past 10 pm, we were both seated in a cozy corner booth of an establishment on the town square that served as the local pub, turned sports bar. In a building as old as the town itself, pushing a century of use, the watering hole served as a haven for the loafers and the local sports experts, who were often in this town, Isaac told me, one and the same. It was pure small town America, both inviting and boring, but the hot stove chatter, for a high school sports fan such as myself, was fun to listen to. The pool table was in use, the one TV above the bar broadcast 24 hour sports news and the waitress who took our order had nicotine breath and called me "Hon." 
      The local team wasn't doing so good, one of the pool playing patrons told me. Even though early in the season, he blamed it on coaching.  His 8-ball partner disagreed, diagnosing the problem as one of "a bunch of lazy ass seniors. We need Isaac back out there," he said loudly as he threw his right arm around my new friend. Even as a stranger, in the company of a local legend, I felt at ease.        
       Our waitress arrived with our first round of beers. She also was  pleased to see Isaac, as were the half  dozen other locals bellied up to the well-stocked bar, bottles of beer systematically tilted back at least twice a minute. Isaac, I was to learn in the course of the evening's conversation, had carried the local squad to within "one bad half" of post state regional play, hollowed turf never before or since traversed by the local team. The defeat of six years prior was still, I could tell, a bitter pill for the local populous to swallow.
      "I came here the summer before my senior year," Isaac said as he began to spin his story of gridiron glory. "I grew up in KC with my mom and step dad. Never played many sports. I quit football my freshman year. Didn't like the coach. The team was terrible. Everything about playing football there was bad. No equipment. Crappy fields. We played our games on Saturday mornings and nobody came to watch us. Coaches didn't care. Half the time the officials wouldn't even show up. It was a waste of time."
       Unoccupied time, though, for an unsupervised street kid such as Isaac had become, was a problem. "Too much freedom. I hit the streets and ran with the wrong crowd. I was on my way to the state penitentiary, for sure. We did dumb stuff. Break out car windows and do $600 of damages to steal a pack of cigarettes we could see on the dash." He was caught by the police twice stealing his sophomore year of high school, and twice taken to juvenile court. "I called myself a sophomore because I wasn't old enough yet to drop out, but I had pretty much, by that time, quit going to school. If it was real cold out or I was hungry and wanted a hot breakfast I might go, but I wouldn't stay. No one ever came looking for me. Just one less dead end nigger they didn't have to worry about, I guess."
       Isaac's second brush with the juvenile court system landed him a thirty day stay in a county youth lock up facility. "They called it a school, but wasn't nothing more than a jail. Bad, bad, bad. I was in with two fifteen year old dudes that had shot and killed a kid right in the front of my high school in broad daylight. They knew (because of their age) they was only going to be locked up till they turned 21, but man they had the rep now on the street, know what I'm saying? Dudes didn't care. If you weren't strong and wouldn't fight, well come night time, they would make a punk out of you. Wasn't going to happen to me. I'd fight, so most were cool with me."
      The month long incarceration was an eye opener for the sixteen year old. "Set me straight and it wasn't anything the system did, either. The school in there was a joke, worse than my public high school. But man, I could see myself as a future con, in and out of the system, if I didn't get it together, know what I mean?"
      Upon his release, Isaac had a heart to heart talk with his mother. "She was only fifteen when I was born. She had been in and out of foster care herself. She was more like a big sister to me. I never gave her the respect one should to their mother, know what I am saying? She never talked about my dad much. I never met him. I heard he was a very good athlete himself in the kid programs, but couldn't stay out of trouble when he got to high school, so he never played, just ran the streets and got into the whole gang thing deeper and deeper. The same road I was going down my momma pointed out. I think my dad is in prison now, but I really don't know for sure."
      Hon, you need a refill?" I bought a round for the whole house, including our waitress. Four at the pool table, four at the bar, me and Isaac. Eleven beers, $26.75, total.
      "My mom had a cousin who had married a white girl from Wilson and moved here with her. I came to live with them after Christmas my junior year. We thought a small town and a fresh start was what I needed. We never even thought about football. It didn't work out (with his first host family), but by then I was pretty well known in town and one of the teachers let me move in with her and her family for my senior year."
       It didn't take long for Isaac to show his new hometown that he possessed the one ingredient that had for years been lacking with the Panthers: speed." I ran track my junior year," said Isaac. "I did it for something to do, to get out of school early and to flirt with the girls, both ours and at the other schools. Only time I really saw many sisters," he said with a laugh.
      "It took a while to get me eligible with all the paperwork that had to be done because of my transfer. It was almost the end of the (track) season before I could run in a meet, but I remember I broke the school record in the 200 (meter dash) and that opened some eyes, including mine. To be honest, I don't know how they (local school officials) got me eligible, what with me having basically no grades for about a year and a half, because I was not going to school on a regular basis. But somehow they did and I am glad of it." Glad also would soon would be local sports enthusiasts as it took only the first carry of the first football game the following fall for Isaac to find his true athletic calling, running a football.
     "I didn't start the first game (of the season)," he recalled. "But I went in the second time we got the ball.”
     "The plan was for me and another back to share time as the main running back.” Isaac said. That plan was soon forgotten as Isaac scored a touchdown the first time he touched the ball. Later, when I talked to the man who was, and still is, the head coach of the Wilson Panthers, he spoke with a sense of awe of how quickly Isaac grabbed the role of savior of the local team. "We threw him a pitch out around the right end," the coach told me. "We (coaches) had questioned some the willingness of Isaac to get hit. He never was much of a practice player, but that first time he touched the ball in a live game, we knew we had something special."
       According to the coach, that first carry has become a part of local lore. "We counted on the film; he got hit 14 times and never did go down. He had two on his back he was carrying when he crossed the goal line. We still show that tape several times a month. He went 70 yards for a touchdown, but I swear he ran 150 yards, back and forth across the field, on that one carry. I still get chills thinking of it."
      The town had a new hero, and the recipient of the adulation was more than willing to play the part. "I still can't believe how lucky I was," said Isaac. "None of this was planned. I just wanted a new start where I could get my education and stay out of the penitentiary. And then, wow, I am the star. Overnight. Talk about being in the right place at the right time."
       Isaac's rookie game showing was no fluke. He went on to break the school rushing record. More accurately, he demolished the school record by over 500 yards, finishing the season as one of a handful of backs in the state to gain over 2,000 yards rushing that season.
       Just as quickly as it began, it was over. "We lost a couple of games during the year, but we got into the playoffs and were really on a roll, and all of a sudden, the season was over." One bad half in the third round of the playoffs burst the bubble. "We were up two touchdowns at the half," recalled Isaac, "and then everything went wrong. Fumbles, penalties, you name it, if it was bad it happened to us that night." The locals fell by two touchdowns. "I was just in shock after the game," Isaac reminisced six years afterwards. "I remember after the game, just sitting alone in the locker room not wanting to take off my uniform, not believing it was all over."
       For Isaac it was the end of a dream. "I remember how I couldn't wait to go to school each day. Man, would my teachers back in KC been amazed. Me wanting to be in school," he said with a chuckle. "Girls, girls and more girls. I ended up in the back seat of many a white girls’ daddy's ride. Know what I am saying? I was in heaven. You know what is funny; I still see a lot of those same girls today, white girls with money. See em when they come home from college. They wave, but don't really have time for me. But I remember, and I know they do too."
       His eye popping stats had put Isaac on the recruiting radar screen of many smaller colleges. His high school coach tried to keep his expectations reasonable. "People around here have such tunnel vision. They see a local star and think he is on his way to the NFL. They don't realize how many good players are out there. In some of the better big (high) school programs, Isaac might have never even made the team. Isaac was a very good small (high) school player and I wish we could have had him all four years. But his size and speed said he should be playing at the D II or D III level (smaller school classifications of the NCAA) in college. But Isaac kept waiting for Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma to come calling, and that just was not going to happen. But you know what, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that for one magical run of a couple of months, Isaac was 'The Man.' He owned this town. How many people can say that?"
       As it turned out, the point of what level he could play on was mute. Isaac's lack of academic achievement came back to bite him. He could not muster the tests scores needed to qualify for an athletic grant in aid. Both his ACT national test scores and his local grade point average were insufficient for him to play at an NCAA school.  Junior college was an option that was explored by Isaac and his coach, but eventually they settled on an NAIA school whose admission standards were not as stringent as what the NCAA held. It was a bad fit from the start. Isaac remembers, "Coaches there were crazy. I mean it, they were nuts. Some of the stuff they did in practice was just stupid and dangerous."
      Isaac's lackadaisical attitude toward practice, coupled with the higher level of competition on the college level, was a combination that doomed the young man who had not been raised in a football culture, not programmed to accept competition as a challenge to improve, to fight through adversity and show the coaches he had the desire to pay the price to play college football.
      "I remember my position coach called me in and told me 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going,'” recalled Isaac, “and that is just what I did, got going right back to Wilson," he recalled with a chuckle.
       Returning to the only town where he had ever been told he mattered, even if it was just because of football, Isaac was back in Wilson before the end of September. "I found a few odd jobs to keep me going and I loved going up to the school every afternoon to watch practice. And I just couldn't wait until 7 pm each Friday and game time. People (at the game) knew me and spoke to me with respect."
      Torn between leaving the only support system he had ever known, but still wanting to follow his college football dream, Isaac once again tore himself away from Wilson and for the second semester of his freshman year, enrolled in an out of state community college. "I liked it all right. Since it was winter, the football was not as intense yet. We lifted and had off season workouts, but it wasn't hard core and I liked my teammates. I was at a school in a small town without many blacks, a lot like I had experienced here and that was cool with me. Tell you the truth, in that environment and being black, I felt kind of special."
       The problem with this stop in Isaac's pursuit of a football home was academic. "I just couldn't get the book work done. I tried, I really did, and I didn't do badly, I just didn't do well enough. At the end of the semester, the coach called me in and said that my grades were good enough to stay in school and good enough to be on the team. But since I was from out of state, I had to have a higher grade point average to keep my scholarship, and I didn't have it. If I was to come back to play in the fall, I would have to pay my own way, and I just didn't have the cash to do that.As a two time loser in the college placement game, Isaac's choices were now limited. He and his high school coach finally found an NCAA Division III school in the north that could parlay a combination of loans, grants and local scholarships to help Isaac generate the $40,000 plus it was going to cost him to attend this private institution with a great academic reputation.
       "It was the chance of a lifetime, I know that now," he says as he looks back with five years of hindsight. "It was an environment that I had never been in before. Money, money and more money. I think I was the only one who didn't have much. Even the other brothers on the team came from families with money. My (black) roommate's parents were both lawyers. But people were cool with me and I was treated goodIsaac still has a hard time explaining why he left. "I blew it. I could have stayed. I had a good year, not a star, but a good sophomore year of playing ball. But I just couldn't make myself go back for another year. It just was not the same as in high school. The coaches wanted to win, but not like we wanted to win here. If we lost in college, that year it was no big deal. By the next day we were over it. Academics were more important (than football). You could miss practice with no penalty, if you needed extra time for a class. That would have never happened here (Wilson). And nobody came to our games. People around school didn't treat me special because I had a good game on Saturday. By Monday, I was just another kid in history class. That whole summer leading up to the next year, back in Wilson, I just couldn't get myself motivated to work out. I keep telling myself, 'tomorrow I will get started.' But I never did. By the first of August, I finally was honest with myself and told people I wasn't coming back. I know I let a lot of people down."
        Isaac returned to his adopted hometown knowing that, for all practical purposes, his football career was over. "I continued to work out, continued to dream, but deep down inside I knew it was over. And I knew that without football, my life didn't mean much
       Isaac continues to help the local team in a peripheral way. He has considered coaching, but knows that without a college degree and a teaching certificate, all he can do is volunteer work with younger players. "I still go to high school practice a couple of times a week. And I help out with the little league program on weekends, but it just isn't the same. All I want to do is play. You know what is funny about football? When your school career ends, that's it. You are done. With baseball or basketball you can still continue to play; slow pitch softball or city league basketball. The outlet is still there. But with football, it is gone in a flash. I was at the top of my game in that regional, and then bam! We get beat and no more. I know I will never play again. I have accepted that, but it still hurts. What I wouldn't give for just one more week of practice.  It doesn't have to be a game. I just want to feel special again. But that ain't going to happen”.
        "The worst time for me is when that first cool front comes in about the end of September, when you need a jacket at night. It just takes me back, back to that fall. It was magic and I know I will never feel so needed, so purposeful again. On Friday game nights, about 6 pm, the lights go on at the stadium. I can stand outside the store, look across town and see the glow. I close my eyes and remember. It is like I am back there, padded up and ready for war, but in control, because my life has meaning again. Everyone in town is there, young and old, -the whole town - at the game, coming to see me perform. It is my time and my world. It is the best feeling and the worst feeling, all at the same time, all wrapped into one."
        Our waitress returned. "It’s getting late guys. Ten minutes to closing time. One last round?" she asked as she cleared from the table our night's work of empties.
       The pool game concluded and one of its' four players, an overweight middle aged white gentleman with an ample paunch, approached our table. "Let me tell you something," the intoxicated man slurred, as he reached down to hug Isaac. "You should have seen this boy run that football. That is what is a matter with 'em boys up at that school house this year. No speed. What we need is another little monkey like Isaac."
       Amongst this backdrop of dead end drunken dreamers, the greatest running back in the history of the Wilson Panthers, whose brief career had rocketed him to local star status - a hero and the toast of the town- sadly shook his head side to side in quiet resignation to his fate. After a long swig to empty the final bottle of beer for the evening, the only 2,000 yard rusher in the history of Wilson High stood and headed for the door. It was closing time.

Texas Hill Country
 

Aspermont, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1100
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 387
School Colors Black/Crimson/White
2012 Record 11-1
Mascot Hornets
Enrollment 106

Hamlin, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1119
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 368
School Colors Green/White
2012 Record 8-4
Mascot Pied Pipers
Enrollment 134
Anson, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1128
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 359
School Colors Red/Black
2012 Record 10-3
Mascot Tigers
Enrollment 203

Hawley, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1139
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 348
School Colors Maroon/White
2012 Record 4-6
Mascot Bearcats
Enrollment 237

Abilene, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1151
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 336
School Colors
Cooper High Red/Blue
Abilene High Black/Gold
2012 Record
Cooper High 9-3
Abilene High 12-1
Mascot
Cooper High Cougars
Abilene High Eagles
Enrollment
Cooper High 1898
Abilene High 2280

Tuscola, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1166
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 321
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 1-9
Mascot Indians
Enrollment 331
Winters, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1182
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 305
School Colors Royal Blue/White
2012 Record 2-8
Mascot Blizzards
Enrollment 191
Ballinger, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1196
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 291
School Colors Red/Black
2012 Record 7-4
Mascot Bearcats
Enrollment 291
Paint Rock, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1214
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 273
School Colors Maroon/White
2012 Record 4-6
Mascot Indians
Enrollment 122


Junction Boys
“If you quit here, you will quit on the goal line.”
Paul“Bear” Bryant, Junction, TX, August 1954
      It is striking how barren this place is, even by West Texas standards. I have driven 350 miles south on US Highway 83 from Canadian, TX, burning a tank full of $3.57 a gallon gas in the process, just to reach this particular patch of arid Texas rangeland.
      I am here to pay homage.
      I am in the small town of Junction, TX, standing on ground that, 57 years ago, was witness to perhaps footballs’ most legendary ever two weeks of summer practice. Coach Paul ”Bear” Bryant brought his 1954 Texas A&M team, his first at the College Station school, to this 400 acre“campus” to conduct for his Aggies a pre-season training camp. The Bear intended to find out quickly who of the 114 prospects he brought west to Junction wanted to play football, and who didn’t.
      The facilities for the camp, as Bryant had demanded, were Spartan. In 1954, this area of West Texas was in the midst of the worst draught anyone could remember, in a summer that had seen the thermometer climb over 100 every day for six straight weeks. In 2002, when the movie The Junction Boyswas made, to reconstruct the environment of the camp, the filming was done in the Australian Outback.
      Bryant’s methods were brutal, maybe even inhumane. By today’s standards, they would be considered criminal.
      Practices started before dawn and, with only a few breaks throughout the day in barracks lacking air conditioning, lasted until dark. Water breaks were not allowed during practice and it was not unusual, due to the sweltering heat and humidity, for a player to lose 10% of his body weight in one day. Bryant’s methods were not for the meek. According to sportsjones.com, during the camp, Bryant head-butted tackle Henry Clark after a blown assignment, leaving the player on the ground, dazed and holding a broken nose.
      Dr. Arnold LeUnes is today an A&M professor of sports psychology. He was an A&M undergrad during the years the Bear ran the Aggies football program and has studied Bryant’s methods. According to LeUnes, Bryant’s word was the law in a time, especially at a military school like A&M, that authority was not questioned by subordinates. "He was strict, enforcing iron discipline," LeUnes said. "At the time, a coach could get away with pretty much anything. You wouldn't find something like that today."
       LeUnes is correct. The sport will never again see the days of the Bear Bryants. The lawyers will see to that. Legend has it that of the 114 players who went to Junction in August of 1954, by the end of the two week camp, the roster had melted away in the West Texas desert sun to only 27. The hand full of survivors became the legendary “Junction Boys.”
our buses took the squad to Junction. Only one was needed to transport those left, back to College Station. Those who did persevere through the two weeks of pure torture at Junction, two years later, formed the core of A&M’s only national championship football team.
      The 1950’s was a time when the legendary football coach, especially in the South, was a symbol of unquestioning and unbending discipline. He was often larger than life. His word was the law. This strong jawed, no nonsense coach was often viewed as unapproachable by parents, players, boosters, and in extreme cases, even the college president. The 1950’s were the peak decade for the limitless power of coaches like the Bear. As the nation rode the wave of the radical 60’s into the “me generation” of the 70’s and 80’s, the likes of these giants disappeared like dinosaurs from the college and high school football landscape, many, like Bryant, riding off into legendary status.
      It is surprising that Junction’s local chamber of commerce has not attempted to cash in on the famous events of over 50 years ago that occurred in their back yard. The civic boosters of Junction are not exactly working with the Garden of Eden when attempting to convince outsiders to spend their tourists’ dollars in this barren land. Yet the county tourism web site does not even mention the Junction Boys. It does promote the area’s hunting, fishing, canoing and other outdoor activities; and plugs the area museums that depict early life in the west Texas desert; but not a hint of the Bear and his legendary two weeks spent in Junction. There is not even a small marker at the site to recognize what took place here.
      In 1979, the survivors of this football style death camp held a 25 year reunion. Bryant was invited back as a special guest of honor. Some of these men - his boys- Bryant had not seen since his coaching days at A&M. He was not sure as to what kind of reception he would receive. He need not have worried. The reaction of the players to their demanding old coach was one of, if not love, then of genuine respect. A commemorative ring had been minted for each of the players and Bryant. It was a memento that linked these men and their coach together in a special bond. As a group, they had endured a living hell that would forever bind them as one. No matter what else these, just over two dozen men had accomplished in life, they would forever be known as “The Junction Boys.”
      Bryant went on to win three national championships. Yet when he died in 1983, his wishes were that the only piece of jewelry commemorating his great career that he would wear into the here-after would be his Junction Boys ring.
      After asking directions, I locate, what I am confident, is the site of the camp. A few out buildings still stand, a former mess hut and several barracks are upright, but crumbling. The open area is over grown with weeds and littered with trash. It takes some liberal use of my imagination to picture in my mind how this neglected piece of desert could possibly have been the setting for the legendary events of the summer of 1954.
      As a nation that loves our heritage, it is startling that this important part of football lore has been left with no care taker. Along Highway 83 alone, for commercial purposes, we have immortalized the world’s biggest prairie dog, largest buffalo, largest ball of string and Lawrence Welk’s birth place; but we have forgotten the Junction Boys.
      It is not near as hot today as it was that drought summer of 1954. The four hour drive down required the use of the rental car air conditioner, but right now, it is comfortable outside. The sun is setting, the dry desert wind from the south beginning to pick up. If I close my eyes and use my imagination, I can hear the shrill whistle from almost 60 years ago, blown by a no nonsense and focused coach determined to build champions under a relentless West Texas desert sun, no matter what the cost; calling a dwindling group of exhausted but determined non-quitters to the next descending level of hell.

83 Trivia on 83
1. Best Restaurant on Highway 83 for a “I don’t care about cholesterol” Down Home Cooked Meal: Canadian Restaurant, Canadian, TX
2. Best Steak Dinner on Highway 83: Beehive Steakhouse, Abilene, TX
3. Best Mexican Food on Highway 83: Taco Palenque, Bismarck, ND
4. Motel With the Best Free Breakfast on Highway 83: Super 8; Valentine, NE
5. Best Home Made Pizza on Highway 83: Hot Stuff Pizza, Larkin, KS (a few miles off the path, but worth it)
6. Best Small Town Newspaper on Highway 83: Emmons County, ND Record
7. Best High School Sports Writer on Highway 83: Steve Kodad, McCook, NE
8. Best High School Football Rivalry on Highway 83: Abilene, TX Cooper vs. Abeline,TX High
9. Best High School Football Tradition on Highway 83: The McCook, NE Pre Game Motorcycle Escort
10. Best Small Town Tradition on Highway 83: The Green Flag announcing the arrival of the weekly paper, Canadian, TX
11. Most Affluent Area on Highway 83: Good Question didn’t see any.
12. Most Poverty Ridden Area on Highway 83: Rosebud, SD Indian Reservation
13. Best Tourist Attraction on Highway 83: North Dakota State Fair, Minot, ND
14. Best Historical Museum on Highway 83: Lewis and Clark Winter Fort, Mandan, ND
15. Runner-up Best Historical Museum on Highway 83: Museum of the High Plains, McCook, NE
16. A Town on Highway 83 I Would Most Consider Relocating to: McCook, NE
17. A Town on Highway 83 I Would Least Consider Relocating to: Crystal City, TX
18. Best School Mascot on Highway 83: The Blizzards of Winters, TX
19. Runner-up Best Mascot on Highway 83: The Pied Pipers of Hamlin, TX
20. Most Out of Place School Mascot on Highway 83: The Clippers of Strasburg, ND
21. Most Common School Mascot on Highway 83: tie: Bulldogs and Wildcats
22. Runner-Up Most Common School Mascot on Highway 83: Eagles
23. Most Common School Color on Highway 83: Maroon
24. Runner-Up Most Common School Color on Highway 83: Gold
25. Least Imagination for Choosing School Colors on Highway 83: Black and White, Rexford, KS
26. Best Local Reason for Choosing School Mascot and Colors on Highway 83: Kelly/White, of the Shamrock, TX Irish
27. Best High School Football Record in 2012 on Highway 83: Scott City, KS 14-0
28. Worse High School Football Record in 2012 on Highway 83: Crystal City, TX 0-10
29. Best Road Tripping Oldies Radio Station on Highway 83: KBYZ 96.5 FM Bismarck, ND
30. Runner-up Best Road Tripping Oldies Radio Station on Highway 83: 100.7 KOOL FM Abilene, TX
31. Best Road Tripping Oldies AM Radio Station on Highway 83: KRRZ 1390 AM Minot, ND (there are still a few out there)
32. Stretch of Highway 83 a Traveler is Most Likely To Experience a Radio Inspired Evangelistic Religious Conversation: The South Texas Hill Country
33. Stretch of Highway 83 a Traveler is Least Likely to Find a English Speaking Radio Station: The Texas Rio Grande Valley
34. Stretch of Highway 83 Least Likely to Find a Decent Oldies Station: Valentine, NE to Pierre, SD
35. Loneliest Stretch of Highway 83: North Platte, NE to Valentine, NE
36. Friendliest Motel Proprietor on Highway 83: Don of Don’s Motel in Linton, ND. I stayed those so many times he became like family and he always laughed at my jokes
37. Least Friendly Motel Proprietor on Highway 83: A Lady who will remain nameless at a Texas Panhandle Bed and Breakfast (woke me up and wanted to know “what my damn problem was” for not checking out when I had already paid for another day. She never did apologize.)
38. Fastest Growing Boom Town on Highway 83: Minot, ND
39. Miles of Unpaved Surface on Highway 83: 33, along the northern stretch of South Dakota
40. Stretch of Highway 83 a Traveler will most likely be forced to listen to Hungarian Peasant Folk Dance Music on NPR: Valentine, NE to Pierre, SD
41. Area on Highway 83 Most Likely to Take Your Breath Away: Sand Hills, NE
42. Cheapest Gas on Highway 83: Mission, SD
43. Most Expensive Gas on Highway 83: Minot, ND
44. Number of State Troopers Patrolling Highway 83 Who Prefer a Free Well Written Book on High School Football to Writing Speeding Tickets: Three and counting.
45. Town on Highway 83 Most Likely to Enforce No U-Turn Ordinances: Ballinger, TX
46. Best Bar Town on Highway 83 to Slam Back a Few With the Local Good Old Boys: Childress, TX
47. Worst Bar Town on Highway 83 to Slam Back a Few With the Local Good Old Boys: Pierre, SD
48. Most Convenient Airport on Highway 83: Bismarck, ND
49. Least Convenient Airport on Highway 83: Abilene, TX
50. Most Picturesque High School Football Stadium Setting on Highway 83: Hamlin, TX
51. Most Picturesque Sunsets on Highway 83: Lake Oahe, SD
52. Best Motel Rates for the Value of Your Dollar on Highway 83: Linton, ND
53. Worst Motel Rates for the Value of Your Dollar on Highway 83: Canadian, TX and Minot, ND
54. Windiest Stretch of Highway 83: Texas Panhandle in the Perryton, TX region
55. Most Dangerous Area for a Traveler on Highway 83: Laredo, TX
56. Best Motel Name on Highway 83: The Elephant Fart
57. Cheesiest Motel Name on Highway 83: Nights in White Satin
58. State Activity Association on Highway 83 Most Likely to Hassle a Poor but Hardworking Writer: North Dakota State High School Activates Association (After spending the whole season at the elbow of Linton Coach Dan Imdieke, when the Lions made it to the state championship game, I was told by the head bureaucrat from the NSSHSAA that I would not be allowed on the sideline and to make sure my mere presence did not disrupt this solemn occasion, he left one of his neo-Nazi workers to make sure I didn’t violate his edict.)
59. State Activity Association on Highway 83 with the worst “let them eat cake” Attitude: Once again, the NDSHSAA. (When I opinioned to one of the group's directors that $15 for admission and $5 to park seemed high for a high school game, I was told that if schools didn’t like it, they didn’t have to play. When I asked how much it cost him and his family to attend the game, he smuggly commented that as directors he and all of his family’s admissions were free. Ok, I guess it is a good deal.
60. Dumbest rule on Highway 83: In North Dakota, you can only dress 50 players for the state championship game. If you dress 53, like Linton did one year, the NDSHSAA will levy a fine and threaten you with expulsion from the next year’s playoffs. It is all about the kids; yeah, right.
61. Coolest Small Town Name on Highway 83: Satanta, KS
62. Worse Small Town Name on Highway 83: Porcupine, ND
63. Least Likely Looking Town on Highway 83 to Produce an Accomplished Professional Athlete: Turpin, OK; hometown of Dallas Cowboy All-Pro Lynn Scott
64. Cheapest Town on Highway 83 to Buy a New Buddy a Beer: Childress, TX
65. Most Expensive Town on Highway 83 to Buy a New Buddy a Beer: Minot, ND
66. Friendliest Town on Highway 83 to a non-Descript Traveler: Uvalde, TX
67. Least Friendly Town on Highway 83 to a Non-Descript Traveler: Pierre, SD
68. Most Conservative State on Highway 83: A six way tie: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
69. Most Liberal State on Highway 83: No qualifiers
70. Best Developed Down Town on Highway 83: Canadian, TX
71. Hilliest Stretch of Highway 83: North of Pierre, SD
72. Longest Flat Stretch of Highway 83: anywhere in Kansas
73. Best Strip Club on Highway 83: Didn’t see one, but there was a wet tee shirt contest advertised for a Bismarck Bar
74. Least Picturesque College Campus on Highway 83: Liberal, KS
75. Most Picaresque College Campus on Highway 83: Minot State, ND
76. Worst Stretch of Highway 83 to Run Out of Gas: The Sandhills of southern NE
77. Town on Highway 83 with the Most Fast Food Franchise Per Capita: Garden City, KS
78. State on Highway 83 With the Most Heavy Metal Radio Stations per Capita: North Dakota
79. Most Overhyped Tourist Trap on Highway 83: Lawrence Welk Homestead, Strasburg, ND
80. Least Developed Historical Site on Highway 83: Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys Practice Field, Junction, TX
81. Town on Highway 83 With the Largest Concentration of Political Power: Pierre, SD; state capital and home to two US Senators, population 15,000, the same representation as the state of California, population 12,000,000.
82. Best Town Name on Highway 83 to Have Produced a Famous Football Coach: Winner, SD; hometown of legendary Notre Dame Coach Frank Lahey.
83. Best 24 Hour Casino on Highway 83: Rosebud, SD

Texas Rio Grande Valley
Eden, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1233
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 254
School Colors Blue/White
2012 Record 2-8
Mascot Bulldogs
Enrollment 138
Menard, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1256
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 231
School Colors Black/Gold
2012 Record 1-9
Mascot Yellowjackets
Enrollment 119

Junction, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1291
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 196
School Colors Black/Gold
2012 Record 3-7
Mascot Eagles
Enrollment 216
Leakey, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1327
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 160
School Colors Red/White
2012 Record 1-9
Mascot Eagles
Enrollment 197

Uvalde, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1367
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 120
School Colors Maroon/White
2012 Record 3-8
Mascot Coyotes
Enrollment 1413
La Pryor, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1384
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 103
School Colors Maroon/White
2012 Record 5-6
Mascot Bulldogs
Enrollment 225
Crystal City, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1402
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 85
School Colors Green/White
2012 Record 0-10
Mascot Javelinas
Enrollment 593

Carrizo Springs, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1470
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 70
School Colors Purple/Gold
2012 Record 4-7
Mascot Wildcats
Enrollment 704

Asherton, TX (Inactive)
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1427
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 60
School Colors Gold/Maroon/White
1997 Record 2-8
Mascot Trojans
Enrollment 1927 - 1997 (RIP)

Laredo, TX
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Canadian Border 1487
Miles on Hwy 83 to the Mexican Border 0
School Colors
Alexander Navy/Gold
United High Orange/White
United South Black/Silver
Johnson Purple/Gold/Blak
2012 Record
Alexander 8-5
United High 3-8
United South 4-6
Johnson 2-8
Mascot
Alexander Bulldogs
United High Longhorns
United South Panthers
Johnson Wolves
Enrollment
Alexander 2242
United High 2700
United South 2010
Johnson 1781

“But Not Too Far to Come to Kick McCook Ass”
      I get to the stadium early –“If you aren’t an hour early, you will have no place to park;” I was told numerous times. I arrive at 5:45 for a 7:00 kickoff. I only have to walk a few blocks from my car to the stadium gates, but I don’t make it as far as the gates. A Booster Club member, manning the truck entrance gate, recognizes me. “You are the writer guy,” she says. “I saw your picture in the paper today.” As she waives me in, she must also be reading my mind, “Here get in line, I bet you haven’t ate yet.” For $4.75 I am treated to a Bison Dog, a cup of baked beans. two (gloved) hands full of chips and an ice cold Pepsi in a plastic bottle.
     I take my supper on a nearby park bench behind the west end zone. The weather has taken an unexpected turn for improvement. The showers have stopped, the sky has cleared and the temperature has dropped over 30 degrees in the last 24 hours to a now very comfortable 81. The football gods are once again smiling on Bison football.
     As I eat my dinner, which is made to order perfect, for this made to order perfect moment –the only improvement might have been a glass bottle for my Pepsi, like when I was a kid – I stop for a moment to take it all in. The weather, the cozy and rapidly filling stadium, the coaches of both staffs milling together on the grass eye blinding green field, renewing old friendships – these are two stable and long-time staffs who truly respect each other - the Bison band marching into the stadium to take their seats in the south bleachers, the players, out of sight in their respective locker rooms, dressed in battle gear, adorned in the colors of their home town; nervously awaiting the agonizingly slow count-down to kick off.
      The bench where I sit will accommodate three. A well-dressed couple whom I judge to be in their 70’s appears. The gentleman asked in a polite voice if the two seats next to me are taken. I wave for them to join me. It is nice to have company at such a time, someone to share in this pristine, middle of America special moment.
      I ask where they are from and the man informs me “Aurora.”He appears to be someone who at one time worked a white collar job. He does not have a farmer’s hands and his complexion is fair, hints of a man who spent his working years inside an office. He speaks quietly, but his diction is clear. I imagine this man a success in whatever he did. He has that air of quiet confidence that successful people exude, and the ability to make a stranger feel comfortable upon a first meeting.
     The couple has a grandson playing for Aurora, I am told. “We never miss a game. We will also be in Lincoln for the game tomorrow. We do like football,” he says. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers open their season tomorrow at home. The University of Nebraska football team is a state wide treasure, even in the western portions of the state, four hours from Lincoln. The stadium, in Lincoln, which holds just less than 90,000, has been sold out for every home game since the 1960’s, making Memorial Stadium, on game days, the third largest city in Nebraska. “But,” my new friend informs me, “I like the high school games better. If I had to choose between one and the other, I would be here.” I nod in agreement
      After several minutes of idle chatter about the merits of the university’s recent move from the Big 12 Conference to the Big 10, I ask how far Aurora from McCook is. “About 90 minutes,” he says. Before I can respond, the nicely dressed wife seated to her husband’s left, who has not yet spoken and who reminds me somewhat in her neat dress and stately manner given off by her lady like and feminine body language, of my own sainted mother, finally joins the conversation, “But not too far to come to kick McCook ass,” she says. The man laughs nervously, the wife says no more.

The Ghosts of the Asherton Trojans
"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise."
William Blake
      As a society, we hold self-responsibility as a base rock for our nation’s strength. Hopefully tempered still with compassion, we treasure a culture of self-sufficiency forged through a cause and effect dynamic that we pass down to each succeeding generation. Sounds noble, but deep down inside, we know it is hogwash. In reality, we live in a random world; our destiny dependent upon a hopeful fortuitous draw of life’s cards.
      For example, take the structure of our DNA; that personal genetic code pumping through each of our veins, making us the unique individual who we are. It is all achieved by a random genetic lottery we have no control over, much like a crap shoot. We each have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so, doubling each generation as we trace through time our roots. Think about it, if Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa Nikolay had not ventured to the village peat fire back in the old country 200 years ago, at just the right time; he would not have caught the eye of Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandma Izolda. Maybe an hour later, it would have been the Blacksmith’s daughter Lidiya. If so, then our entire genetic makeup, our DNA, would have been severely altered, rendering our path through life much different than the one we now travel. The happenstance occurrences in each of our family histories that make us who we are today, depending how far back you choose to search, are in the millions. (Note of caution: if you live in the Ozarks, like I do, make sure you have an equal number of Greats for each couple. We do not want to record any family incest).
       The same holds true with the hollowed grounds that we treasure as crown jewels of our national heritage. Let’s use battlegrounds for an example. We have been fortunate that most military engagements in the history of our nation have been fought in foreign lands, but we do have the Civil War to hammer home in first person the horrors of war. What if General Meade had decided to take his army 20 miles farther north for that decisive engagement in the summer of 1863? Would school children today study the Shippensburg Address? Or what if General Lee had camped 20 miles to the south? The Thurmont Address? Neither rings with the respectful tone of Gettysburg. Maybe history has a way of making matters of national heritage work out the way they should.
      I spent the fall of 2011 traveling US Highway 83, from the Canadian border town of West Hope, ND to the Mexican border town of Laredo, TX. My intent was to look into what it is like to live on the High Plains of our heartland, one of the least populated areas of our nation. I chose high school football as the thread that would tie the story together, but the exercise was much more sociological in nature than it ever was about high school football. The experience was gratifying to the extreme; the fruits of my labor became the book Prairie Blitz: High School Football on America’s 50 Yard Line (Barnes and Noble or www.davealmany.com).
       On this journey I took up the side task of photographing each small town football field that lie along Highway 83. I found there were 61 active fields and one inactive. The inactive gridiron, located in the south Texas town of Asherton, unexpectedly became part of my busy itinerary more by accident than be design. Finding the trash strewn lot more eerie than ominous, I spent three afternoon hours that I really didn’t have simply walking back and forth from one over grown scrub brush end zone to the other. On a day that the 3 pm temperature reached 107 degrees, I could only wonder the assessment being drawn by the half a dozen occupants of a public housing complex across the street were compiling about this strange gringo with the out of state license plates. What could I have possibly found so fascinating about this 120 yard by 55 yard eyesore?
       My stopping in the small south Texas town of Asherton, population 386, on that hot, late summer afternoon in 2011, can be filed as another of those random acts that determine the path our lives follow. I was an hour north of the southern-most stop on my Highway 83 journey, Laredo, TX. The gas gauge said you will not make it to the trail’s head without one more pit stop. My middle aged bladder agreed. Having no high school listed in the State of Texas Public Educational Directory, Asherton was not on my itinerary for that day's stops. I wanted to get to Laredo, snap a quick photo of the Public School Football Stadium, then get back on the road north and make San Antonio before night fall.
       The area of south Texas I was traveling through that day, from the Hill Country in the land of Lyndon Johnson to the boarder territory of the Rio Grande, is steeped in romantic sounding names that conjure up images in the mind’s eye of the classic Old West. I had started the day in Menard, crossed the West Brazos, the Rio Grande, the Colorado, had lunch in Rim Rock and bought gas in Sweetwater. In reality, the landscape is as barren and as unattractive as any I have ever traveled through. The level of poverty is striking, the small towns in the area riddled with trash and populated by many structures, although inhabited, in various stages of collapse. It is an area that appears to the traveler to be overcome with despair. The farther south I drove the day, the worse it got. Asherton, as I pulled off or Highway 83, looked like a village from a third world nation, with no obvious redemptive values or civic reason for its survival. And it was just plain hot that day. I was in no mood to spend any more time than was needed to fill the car’s tank and to empty my bladder.
       As I exited the metal building that housed both the station’s attendant and a public restroom fitting in its lack of cleanliness to blend nicely with the rest of the community, I came face to face with a stooped old man entering the same door I was attempting to exit through. We were not going to both fit. “Too damn hot to be in such a big hurry,” he said. We stood with his nose level to my sternum. The man’s appearance also blended nicely with the local scenery. The only noteworthy trait I picked up on was his skin; white. He was the only non-Hispanic I saw in the store or gathered around pickup trucks in the parking lot. I stepped back into the store to let him pass, although he really didn’t give me an option.
       “Always this hot,” I asked, avoiding that awkward silence that settles in when dealing with someone, no matter how slight or short the duration of contact; that you would rather avoid. “Shit no,” he said. I waited for a qualification, such as “worse last week,” but none was forth coming. I moved towards the gas pump and my refueled vehicle. “I got a brother in Missouri,” he called after me. He must have noticed my license plates. I turned back to face him. “But I can’t stand the bastard. Hell, he might be dead for all I know. Married to a bitch and I can’t stand her either.”

      I have a real weakness for the belligerent and the profane. Their “kiss my ass” attitude and lack of pretense to genuflect to any type of acceptable social norms, stokes my rebellious furnace and raises my inquisitive antenna. Janis sang all those years ago that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, and this gentleman was as free as the hot South Texas wind that whipped through his disheveled mane of thick white hair. I had a new friend.
       Elmer was his name. I would guess his longevity to be somewhere around his 8th decade. I leaned against the car and he joined me. “Where do kids here go to school,” I asked. “ Bus em up to Carrizo Springs,” a town I had just passed through 10 miles north on Highway 83. “Closed the high school here about 10 years ago,” he continued, “and this place been going down the shitter ever since.”
     Elmer had my attention, any thoughts of making San Antonio by night fall, forgotten.
     He may have not known it, but from my sociological based analysis of the rural High Plains, Elmer was right on. It was not long into my journey on Highway 83 that I had learned a truism that my new friend in his own crude way had reaffirmed: American communities, urban, suburban and rural, are defined by their local public schools. Let the school die and the town will follow. Bus the communities’ young to a nearby bigger school and soon the town square will be empty of all but the weeds of neglect, store front windows boarded up and doors locked.
      Gather as many educational, societal and economical school consolidation experts as you can fit in your hat of demigods, then let them spout their expert findings, plan their innovative strategies for rural renewal and disaggregate their data to their little bureaucratic heart’s desire; bottom line is: lose the school, lose the town. Drive Highway 83 back and forth between Mexico and Canada, as I have multiple times, and your eyes will hammer home to your brain a simple truth of the economic reality of dying High Plains communities: every dead town I passed through contained a dead school.
     Many other small towns along Highway 83 are even worse off, having not survived, fallen into the state of a ghost town. Despite that most are no longer even listed on a map, I still on my travels passed through their decayed remains, municipal road kill, a rotting carcass on the side of the road. The crumbling buildings tell the story of a community that for whatever reason, did not adjust its sails to the changing economical winds. Now mere memories -deserted and forgotten - boarded up buildings that once housed a living community. It is sad even to a stranger like me, passing through at 65 miles per hour. The demise of each town and the broken dreams that accompany any failed community, I am sure, would make a good book in itself. However, is anyone left to tell the tale?
      In almost every one of these deserted hamlets I encountered, I could identify the building that once was the community school. I would speculate that the section of the “school house” that is two stories tall was the gymnasium. I imagined years of basketball games played on frigid January Friday nights when two small prairie towns packed it to the rafters, necessitating the opening of the windows, just to cool the place down. From the banker to the town drunk, everyone was there to witness the drama and the heroics of the local team, a respite for one night a week to the drudgery of life in a lonely prairie town. And I wonder what happened to the trophies, earned by sweat and blood and once displayed with such pride, won on those long ago cold winter nights?
      I asked Elmer to tell me about the days of public education in Asherton, Texas.
     Surprisingly, to me at least, Elmer proved to be an excellent civic spokesman for the town of Asherton, TX. He was knowledgeable and passionately proud of “the only damn place I have ever lived, only damn place I have ever wanted to call home and damn proud this is where they are going to bury my poor ass, someday, and that someday is probably pretty soon.”
      Doomsday humor aside, he was, he stated proudly, an Asherton lifer.
     “Dad did what he could,” Elmer said, after we had retreated from the boiling afternoon sun of the parking lot, and relocated to a wooden bench on the side of the store, where we could rest our backs against a shady east wall of the metal building. “It was hard back in those days,” said. “It has always been hard around here. I was the youngest of six, three girls and three boys, when Mother died. I was four years old, but I have good memories of my mother. I remember her being sick, but not much else about her death. In those days, out here in the poor lands, people just died. Nobody really questioned why. We just buried ‘em and life went on. Probably, if I had to guess, it was the cancer, but who knows for sure. She here one day, gone forever the next. She just got sick and died.”
     Still a young man, Elmer’s father remarried and sired a second family, once again there boys and three girls.” I guess six was his lucky number,” Elmer said. “I had six sisters and five brothers, all born right here in Asherton. Two - a brother and a sister from my mom -died before I was even born. I couldn’t even tell you their names. Once again, back in those days, death was pretty common and often happened real quick, especially with little kids. I am sure mom and dad mourned for them. But what are you going to do? There were lots of others to feed and money scarce around here so you had to get up and go on. People now days are always complaining about this or that; the government, the weather, bills to pay. All I knew growing up was hard times. We were the poorest of the poor; the Depression then the War; that was my childhood. Still, I remember those days with good memories. We didn’t know any better, I guess.”
      “The other nine (siblings),” Elmer continued with the litany of his family history, “Are scattered to the wind. Some of them I couldn’t tell you if they (are) alive or not. Everybody just went their own way. Dad died back in 1978 and my step mom passed within a year of that, right here in Asherton,” enunciating the name of his hometown with a prideful emphasis. My new friend, I was to learn, had a sharp memory for dates and historical sequences.
       I set off on my journey with the knowledge that challenges for 21st century small towns along US Highway 83 are numerous and enormous. The national media has hammered home that point to our national conscious. I found the problem to be not overstated. Many rural hamlets along America’s 50 yard line could be labeled as still functional, but barely. Asherton fit this perception like a glove. A faint pulse was still present, pumping a minimum amount of oxygen into the few operating businesses that were still open. But it was obvious that a slow and irreversible death was occurring. Government social service programs in the dying rural towns on Highway 83 can at times appear to be nothing more than a hospice for terminally ill communities, making those left behind as comfortable as possible, as they wait for the inevitable end. Asherton, TX belongs on this civic terminal list, hanging on, barely, in critical condition.
       When I would take the time, as I sometimes did, to stop and talk to the few old timers still hanging out in these depressed towns, my simple inquiry as to local history will almost always unleash a stream of community pride, based on “how things used to be.” Tales of famous sons who moved away and made good or the undefeated 1948 high school football team- “line outweighed Kansas State’s line that year” – or the town doctor who worked until the day he died at 93 years of age, or how many troop trains use to pass through and stop each day during the war; all told with a pride that defies the downtrodden current state of a once thriving community.
      I asked Elmer about the history of public education in Asherton.“Graduated here myself,” he said. “Class of 1948, I was a Trojan.” Why did the school close, I asked. “Not enough kids, not enough money, too many damn Mexicans, it was a lot of things. Young families don’t want to live here. No work. The ones that are here ain’t worth squat. Mostly get by on unemployment and whatever they can steal. But as you can see,” he motioned in a wide circle with his right hand, “ain’t much around here worth stealing.”
        So what did they do with the old school, I asked. “It is still standing. Up that street,” he pointed to a gravel road that ran up a slight hill to the east. And the football field, I pushed on with my nosiness? “Still there, but what a mess. Some guy bought it right after the school closed and was going to put government housing in, but somehow that didn’t work and now it just sits there.”
       "Jump in,” I said, motioning toward my now fully fueled car.
      “Did you follow the football team,” I inquired as we drove the half mile to the eastern edge of town and what had been for 71 years -from 1927 to 1998 - the home field of the Asherton Trojans. I was soon to learn, what a dumb question I had just asked.
       The Light poles still stood erect and straight, although it had been almost 15 years since they had illuminated any games. Other than the wooden poles, which upon close inspection were visible form the downhill path of Highway 83, the rest of the former stadium had the sad look of civic abandonment. If not for the necessary amenities of the sport that still stood: the scarred goal posts, the rusting scoreboard, the collapsing grandstand which supported a rotting press box, and at the former stadium’s entrance, a combination concession stand and public restroom with one wall already collapsed and a second not far behind; I would have never guessed that the sagebrush covered lot we now stood on had for over 70 years been the sacred battle ground for the Friday night warriors of Asherton High Schools. Above the iron wrought passage that spectators would pass through upon entering the stadium was a weathered but still readable sign: Trojan Pride.
       Highway 83, as a north-south passage, has none of the up and down topography one finds as they travel the nations’ cross country east/west routes. The elevation from the Canadian border to the Mexican border remains constant – flat as a pancake. As I would travel Highway 83 I could always spot the next community on the horizon by two common landmarks rising above the level land line; the town grain elevator and the lights on the high school football field.
      When passing through towns that had lost their public schools; normally swallowed up by a consolidation with a larger neighboring district, the former school buildings still stood and was easy to recognize. Sometimes abandoned, but most often they had been sold and converted to private use. It became my habit to stop and pay my respects to the former anchor of a once thriving community. I compiled a list; often accompanied by a photo I would take with my digital camera, a sort of morbid death mask tribute to commemorate the soul of ghost town public education. I found former schools filling roles of antique shops, senior center apartments, community centers, private homes; and in one sad case, a shelter for hogs.
       But nowhere, until Asherton, did I find an abandoned football field that stood exactly as it had been left after the final whistle of the last game, now subjected to neglect and the elements of time. It was a sad sight, even for a stranger like me, as if a loved one had died 15 years prior, left to lie where they had fallen, never given a respectful and proper burial. Trojan Stadium was a field lost in time, as if the lights were simply turned off after the last game ever played on this now rotting gridiron, a 33-28 Trojan triumph over Medina. Elmer told me as we stood in the west end zone under the goal posts looking out to the scoreboard, “It was like everyone just went home after the last game (in November, 1998), expecting to be back next year.” But next year never came.
      “We really didn’t see it coming,” he told me of the school’s closing. “I am really kind of glad we didn’t. I never had to go through coming up here and knowing this was the end. I loved this team. Most years we were bad, a lot of those years, worse than bad. But I never gave up. I always knew there would be another day and every once in a while we would reach up and surprise everyone. That is what we lived for. It gave us hope and not winning much all those years made when we did win really sweet. But it is like I told you about how poor we were growing up. We never had much, but we didn’t know any better, so we never expected much. No we never knew it was the end of the school, and that is the way it should be. I would rather go out hit by a truck than lying around knowing I was dying and nothing I could do but watch myself wither away.”
       Elmer was an encyclopedia of local lore. The Trojans were first organized into a football team back in 1927, then proceeded to lose every game played that first season. The total number of contests that inaugural year has been subject for debate over the years, Elmer told me, but he put the tally at somewhere between two and five. The winless year proved to be a beam of light illuminating what the future held for the Trojans of Asherton High. 
       The first official football win for the Trojans came the next season, 1928, a 28-0 whitewash of Carrizo Spring, the neighboring bully 10 miles to the north, who, ironically, at the turn of the millennium would cannibalized through forced consolidation the Asherton Public Schools.
       The football teams of Asherton had never been very successful, Elmer said, “but people got use to it. But when we did win, knowing how much we had to overcome, it made the wins just that much sweeter. I never gave up on the team until the very end. From the time I could get myself to the field, on fall Friday night’s, I was here. We had lots of disappointments (from the best my research could gather, over the 70 plus years Asherton fielded a football team, the Trojans were victorious less than 1/3 of the time), but we also had our moments, for sure.”
       As Elmer had been pointed out, Asherton was never known for winning football. Between 1967 and 1972, Elmer remembered clearly, the team had a 40 plus game winless streak. “At the time it might have been a state record. But we never gave up and I was here for every game. Then we finally got a coach in here that would stay for a while, who believed in the poor kids from this poor little school. That is all we needed, someone to work and say we can. As I said, my daddy raised 10 kids on starvation wages through a depression and a war, but he always found a way because he had no choice, he had nowhere else to go. That is the attitude we had here in the 70’s and we stood proud, the Trojans did, they surely did. For years neighbors beat on us like a step child, but for one good run, in the 70’s, we did the beating.”
      Between 1974 and 1979, the Asherton Trojans struck pay dirt, six consecutive winning seasons; with two seven game back to back finishes, in 1974 and 1975. Records, although sketchy at best, document only two other seasons with winning records over a seventy year stretch, a 4-3-2 mark in 1934 and one last surge of accomplishment, a 7-2 record in 1992. The football well then ran terminally dry as the Trojans won only 6 games over the next seven years, until the plug was pulled for good after the 1998 season.
       Why was it so difficult to win here, I asked?
      "We don’t win often in Asherton cause we don’t have the tools to win. Look around, would you want to live here? Bet you would not have even stopped if you hadn’t needed gas, now would you,” Elmer said with a mocking twitch of his head? I silently noted that, when discussing the Trojans, he had changed the tense from the past to the present.
      But what about that good run in the 70”s, I asked, steering the conversation away from the general condition of the town and back to the specifics of Asherton Trojan football. “Fool’s gold,” was his response. “We caught lightening in the bottle, we finally got some breaks and everything fell into place. We got a good coach, we had a few kids with some ability coming through, whose moms and dads had the goods to give, that always helps, and wanted to see their sons do well and they put their money where their mouths were. It was a good time. There was pride around here those years. Place wasn’t so gloomy and the kids started achieving, not just in football, but in all kinds of things up at the school. But it wasn’t going to last. I knew it when we were going through it, but I didn’t let that distract me, I just enjoyed the hell out of it cause it was a long time coming.”
        I asked how he felt about his personal current status. “Am I happy? Am I sad? Who knows,” Elmer confessed. “I just live the best I can. I don’t need much. Never been married, have no kids that I know of. Do I wish I had kids? It’s dumb to think that way. How would I know? I never had any. You can’t miss what you don’t have and that’s a pretty good way to survive in a shit hole like this place.”
       Why, I asked, would he defend his hometown with such passion and eloquence just prior to labeling Asherton a “shit hole?” “Look around,” he countered. “It is a shit hole. Look, I didn’t ask to be put here. It just happened. It was like when we still had the football team, if I wanted to go to the games, I had to go to Asherton games, crappy team or not, I had no choice.”
       Elmer had adopted a philosophy of survival; you simply play the cards life deals you, don’t expect too much and you will never be disappointed; just hang in there and take life as it comes. Perhaps necessary for survival in an environment as harsh as the South Texas Plains, but certainly not romantic, certainly not the sentiment we like to consider as the lore of our culture; for sure Elmer was certainly not the feel good type character I like to write about .
       “This is not a sentimental place,” Elmer told me. “If you are a dreamer, you don’t live here. I play the Power Ball (which on this day was up to record 274 million dollars), but if I ever win, what would l do with all the money? It would be a full time job just trying to spend it all. I would buy a couple of bottles and couple of women and just sit in the shade. I got a Mex buddy here in town and I kid him all the time that (when I win) I am going to buy him a classic El Camino, a low rider,” he said with a soft laugh. “After that, I don’t know what I would do with the rest. Wouldn’t be worth the hassle of hearing from all my long lost brothers and sisters,” he said, with not a hint of sarcasm.
      I asked about his mode of transportation. “Don’t have a car,” he said matter-of-factly. “Don’t need one; I just walk wherever I need to go. Use to have a license and that Judge over in Carrizo keep taking it from me, so finally I said, ‘why don’t you just keep it.’ You see, I have been known over the years to drink a bit.”
     We were now back in my car, headed west down the hill and back to the Highway 83 convenience store where we had met. I asked if he had ever thought of leaving Asherton, as all nine of his surviving siblings had done.“And go where? I have lived other places for short periods on account of work,”Elmer shared. “I have driven a truck and I have done a lot of construction work. I have a way with mechanics, fixen cars and stuff, but I don’t like being shut up in a garage all the time. I did live in the Dakota’s one winter. Let me tell you it took me two years to get the chill out of my bones. Dakota winter, no thank you. This body was not made for the cold. For some reason, I have always been drawn back to Asherton.”   
      How do you survive, what do you live on, I asked? “Don’t need much,” Elmer said. “Life would be a lot easier (for some) if they ever figured that out. Two fifty pound bags of potatoes, 10 pounds of bacon and a couple of big cans of coffee will get me through the winter. I get a check each month and it really is more than I need.”
      “I live back across the highway on the first farm-to-market road on the right,” he offered, without my prompting. “Go back about a mile and a half and you will see a shack on the left. (That has) been my home going on over 35 years now. First, I did some work for the old lady that owned the farm out there in return for the house. She died way back and I just stayed. Not a farm anymore and legally I don’t own one square inch of the place. I don’t know who pays the taxes. I guess her kids? Nobody has told me to leave and until they do, it is where I intend to stay. Figure squatter’s rights are worth something. Besides, if you ever saw the place you’d understand ain’t a whole lot of developers lining up to evict me.”
       On the surface and evaluated against the American dream, Elmer’s lot in life - and perhaps analogised to Asherton as well - would be judged by most as a failure. He has not a legal claim or right to even one square inch of the worn out old building he has called home for over three decades.
      The philosopher in him had been unleashed and was now rolling.“Think about this, how much money is spent by people today trying to lose weight? Back when I was growing up we would have thought that was the craziest thing we had ever heard of. Our worry was getting enough to eat just to stay alive. The thought of getting fat was only a dream. Want to lose weight, don’t make so much money.”
      “I like to read, lots of different types of stories. I don’t watch TV. On a cold winter night, no one on the planet, not the richest man in the biggest of mansions, sleeps as warm, as dry or as safe as I do, cozy in the wood burning warmth of my wooden shack. It is the one place on this earth that I feel connected, content in a life that many do not understand. But I do.”
      There is wisdom and a sense of inter peace in giving one’s life a complete self-evaluation. “When I am true to myself,” he continued, “I must admit, I feel blessed to have my ‘home,’ even as only a squatter, It is not much, most would call it at best, a shack.”
     Often, happiness can sneak in through a door you didn't know you left open. It was clear that Elmer viewed his hometown like a well-worn but time proven lover; the years having not diminished his true loyalty or connection to this crumbling community. In many ways the Asherton Trojans still lived in the body and soul of this broken old man, a self proclaimed Asherton “lifer.”
      We were parked in the convenience store lot. “Laredo not getting any closer,” he said, reminding me of my original destination.
      “Can I take you home,” I asked.
      “Nope.”
       Elmer was out of my car and headed back to the coolness of the store’s AC.
      The chance potential encounters along Highway 83 are mind boggling, lending credence to my hypothesis, as I said in the beginning, that we live in a much more random world than we like to acknowledge. Life is really nothing more than one big crap shoot. If I would have had that piece of pie that day in Sweetwater at lunch, as I had contemplated, then I would have been 10 minutes later stopping in Asherton for gas, thus never exposed to the“Ghost” of the Asherton Trojans.
      I made a right out of the gravel lot and headed again south on Highway 83, my estimated time of arrival in Laredo now pushed back by three hours of time well spent; with a full tank of gas far from the only accrued value of my Asherton lay over.


Dave Almany
636-232-4688
dave@davealmany.com



























































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