Class of his own: Why John Prichard was a hero long before becoming an OKCPS hall of famer
His given name was John Lee Prichard.
Family and friends called him Johnny while Navy buddies went with Prich.
Tuesday night, the Oklahoma City Public Schools will dub him a hall of famer.
We should all consider him a hero.
As the OKCPS prepares to induct its latest sports hall of fame class during a sold-out event Tuesday, each honoree has a worthy resume. There's a world-record holder and an Olympic golf medalist, a football coach who was an offensive innovator and a basketball coach who won eight state titles, and a former football player who's done as much for his alma mater as any alum around.
But Prichard is in a class all his own — he died serving his country.
Prichard grew up in Oklahoma City, then went to Southeast High School, playing football and basketball and running track. Several colleges wanted him to play football. Offered him scholarships, too, which wasn't always a given in the 1950s.
Prichard said no to them and yes to the U.S. Naval Academy.
He played three years of varsity football and track, though as in high school, he became known for his prowess on the gridiron. He played halfback, catching passes, returning punts and kicks, too. In 1960, when he was a senior, he had the second-most receptions on the team.
The guy who led the offense?
Joe Bellino, who won the Heisman Trophy.
That Navy team finished 9-2 and went to the Orange Bowl.
Even though Prichard graduated from the academy the next summer, he played the next two years for the football team at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia. Then he was an assistant football coach at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Maryland.
But in the fall of 1967, Prichard left the football field for the battle field.
He was sent to Vietnam.
Four months into his tour of duty, he was commanding an infantry company of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines along the Demilitarized Zone. Early one January morning, the company was on a search-and-clear operation when it was attacked by a large and well-concealed group of Viet Cong soldiers.
The North Vietnamese forces were so close Prichard couldn't call in air strikes or long-range assistance. Such reinforcements might put his own company in danger.
After taking several casualties, Prichard moved to the front to direct his men and try to gain a foothold in the assault.
"With complete disregard for his own safety, he moved across the fire-swept terrain firing his rifle and throwing hand grenades until he was mortally wounded," wrote The Hall of Valor Project, an ongoing effort by The Military Times detailing valor award citations. "By his bold initiative, gallant fighting spirit and superior leadership, Captain Prichard inspired his men to successfully continue their attack and defeat a numerically superior enemy force, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and the Marine Corps and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
"He gallantly gave his life for his country."
Prichard died on January 27, 1968.
Only 29 when he was killed, he would receive the Silver Star Medal, the third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat, and would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Johnny Prichard graduated from a high school that has produced some of the greatest athletes our city has known. Clendon Thomas. Bobby Murcer. Don Trull. Darrell Porter. Gerald McCoy. Mickey Tettleton. Matt Clark. Rusty Hilger. Southeast will be well-represented in the OKCPS Sports Hall of Fame inductions for many years to come.
But with deepest respect to those great athletes, none is greater than Prichard.
You can't get better than hero.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
2019 OKCPS SPORTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTION
Here's a look at the six members of this year's induction class for the Oklahoma City Public Schools Sports Hall of Fame:
A two-time NCAA hurdle champ while at Oklahoma State, the U.S. Grant graduate set the world record in the 440-yard hurdles in 1974.
An offensive innovator who coached football at Southeast, Northwest Classen and U.S. Grant. His 1968 NW Classen team made the playoffs, the last time the Knights did.
Played football, basketball and swam at Douglass. Became one of the state’s most successful basketball coaches, winning eight state titles.
Capitol Hill graduate became a four-time track All-American at Oklahoma State, then won gold in the 4x400 relay at the 1956 Olympics.
Multi-sport star at Southeast before playing football and competing in track at Navy. Was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968.
The 1956 Big All-City Player of the Year went on to play at Tulsa. He’s a long-time patron of his high school alma mater, John Marshall.
*Will be inducted posthumously.