Loyalty to two colleges is easy, rewarding

Pulling for two colleges might be construed to be disloyal to one or both. Actually, it’s easy to root for two alma maters and, I suspect, more common than one might think.

My loyalties go to Sam Houston State University and the University of Houston. Since my first choice of alma maters, SHSU, has been in the football headlines of late, this will deal with the Bearkats. The Cougars will get their chance down the line.

Sam Houston played for the NCA A Football Championship Series title last month, trying to defend its No. 1 ranking in that division, which is a notch under 1A, where the nation’s “big colleges” compete. Unfortunately, the Bearkats lost 17- 6, ending a 2011 unbeaten streak of 14 games.

In the mid-1950s, coming from a family with four sons and modest means, my college choice was going to be shaped by economics. So, since Sam Houston State Teachers College (as it was then known) offered me a one-year journalism scholarship, it was an easy selection. I was one of 900 freshmen at a school with a total enrollment of 1,500. “Going off” to school (85 miles from home) was tough for a small town boy, made even harder by the loss of my “wheels” enroute to my college beginning. My 1947 Willys (that’s correct) Jeep pickup conked out halfway to Huntsville. Since I’d spent most of my money enrolling and had a couple of months rent and meal money in my pocket, buying a $50 generator was out of the question. I was afoot at college, but I had a room in a house across the street from the then- small Sam Houston campus. I got a job as a short order cook in a cafe half a block from the house and also across from the school.

Fortune smiled on me again at the end of the first semester when the college sports publicity director job (then a part-time position filled by a student) came open and I quit slinging hash. For $45 a month, I produced news releases, brochures on athletic teams, kept statistics and handled the press box at home sports events. I’d become a professional sports journalist at age 18-and-a-half in January 1956. It was heaven.

Coming in for mid-season in basketball, with baseball and track close behind was fortunate. I learned the job before the fall’s demanding football season.

Sam Houston had its only undefeated season to date in ’56. The Bearkats were 9-0 and got invited to the Refrigerator (yep) Bowl in Evansville, Indiana, the refrigerator manfacturing capitol of the nation. The bowl game was sponsored by the Evansville Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).

This trip produced a couple of firsts for this small-town boy — my first jaunt out of Texas and my first airplane flight. Our chartered plane had enough room for the team, for Sam Houston’s cheerleaders and some school officials with enough space left to sell seats to a few Bearkat fans.

We ar r ived in Evansv ille the day before the game. As we deplaned, I was greeted by a couple of Jaycees who said they were assigned to Sam Houston’s “publicity guy,” and that they’d provide “anything I wanted.” Then, they whisked an assistant coach and me to a TV station. On the ride over, they provided a local newspaper which had a couple of stories about the Refrigerator Bowl featuring Middle Tennessee State University (7-2) and “Texas.” MTSU was favored by 13 points.

In the TV interview, I spewed out our impressive statistics, including the fact that we had six backs that could run the 100- yard dash (no 40s times in those days) in 10 seconds flat or better. The next morning, game day, the newspaper had established “Texas” as a seven-point favorite. Sam Houston coach Paul “Red” Pierce was really ticked at me.

Sam Houston prevailed 27-13 in as hard-hitting a game as I’ve ever seen. I was exonerated.

But, I never got to find out what those two Jaycees meant by “anything I wanted.” Heck, I’d already had my first plane ride, first trip out of Texas and then we got the bowl win. What else could I have possibly wanted.

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2012-02-09 digital edition

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