Why I Love Sports: A son's story from his Papa of a century ago
My friend Ed Frost is a frequent contributor to the blog. His love of college football and OU and sports in general sparks many writings. Frost also has great perspective, having grown up in Hobart, eventually becoming a professor of Russian and spending about three decades at the University of Alabama, before retiring to Norman.
Frost was part of our Why I Love Sports series in The Oklahoman. But he wrote me the other day with another entry, this one about his father, written in first person. Frost said his initial essay was about his love of sports, but this one is about his father’s love for sports.
“I tried to write Papa’s story the way I thought he would have,” Frost said.
I love when Frost refers to his father as “Papa.” Hearing an 80something-year-old man still refer to his father as “Papa” warms my heart every time. So here you go, a tale from long ago, about Oklahoma and sports and the stories a father told a son.
Beating the Other Guy
By Ed Frost
I always loved to compete, to see if I could beat the other guy. Didn’t matter at what. It could be mumblety-peg, Parcheesi or spit-at-the-crack. I’d play anyone for money, marbles, or chalk.
Being named “Clarence” meant I spent a lot of time in my youth proving I wasn’t a sissy, and doing so often involved using my fists. Born in a farmhouse in Greer County a year after Oklahoma statehood, I was used to hard work. When my family moved to Norman and I started the eighth grade, I made the discovery of football and loved it. Playing end, I learned how to catch a pass and take a hit. And on defense, I learned if you hit the other guy harder than he hits you, he will feel it and you won’t. Another valuable lesson learned was that, while the football takes a lot of funny bounces, it is usually recovered by the player who wants it more. And it wasn’t always the case, but I noticed that God is usually on the side that has the biggest tackles.
Football was my favorite game, but I also loved basketball and baseball and was named an All-State end my senior year at Norman High School in 1924. That was on Coach “Snorter” Luster’s all-victorious squad that finished the season by beating Oklahoma City 13-7.
I was all set to play for the Sooners in the fall of 1925, having spoken with Coach Bennie Owen and was really fired up about it. I never got to, though, because in the summer of 1925, I contracted polio and could never run again. I was working construction on part of the OU stadium that summer, and one day I started feeling weak, and my legs wouldn’t work. I went back to Greer County to my grandparents’ home and was so weak I had to be helped to and from the outhouse. The doctors were not sure what I had at first, and I was put in a body cast when I entered the hospital in Mangum. It was a challenge to go from three-sport athlete to a kid lying on his back in the hospital and rethinking his life. For the first time in my life, I started having serious thoughts. Polio could do that to you.
The disease delayed my enrolling at OU from 1925 to 1926. I spent the intervening year rehabbing and regaining my weight, which had gone from 175 pounds to 115. It was a long haul, but sports had equipped me for a fight, and I put my efforts into doing the best I could.
The rehabbing involved a lot of swimming and various exercises. Maybe I couldn’t play football, but I was going to walk, come hell or high water. First, I had to get out of my wheelchair. Since I couldn’t play football any more, I volunteered to coach a kids’ team, which my mom allowed if I would watch my baby sister at the field where we practiced. So I parked the stroller with sister Kate over at the side, and we practiced. Once an end sweep came too wide and knocked my wheelchair and me over, but the kids picked the wheelchair and me up, and practice continued.
As I progressed, I left the wheelchair and used crutches to get around. Then two canes. Then one cane, and I finally threw it away and walked. I had some paralysis in my legs for the rest of my life, and a curved spine, and I walked “with a hitch in my get-along,” but I walked. I would fall often, and when I was walking with friends on the OU campus and fell, there was one on each side of me, and they would bend over and pick me up without interrupting the conversation. I danced and sang and played the ukulele. And swam and played pool and golfed and made a hole-in-one. I drove my car.
But at football, I could only lean on something and watch the OU practices. I got to know all the players and coaches, and one day somebody said since I was always there I should write about it. So I majored in journalism and became sports editor of The Oklahoma Daily. Before I finished my major, it was pointed out to me that there were other pages in the paper than the sports section.
So I learned about them — but football and other sports remained my passions, always.
In the long run, I became the editor and publisher of my own weekly newspaper and raised a family with my wife and kids in Hobart, near my Greer County beginnings. I made it into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and had a great time getting there. If it weren’t for sports, I don’t think I’d have made it.