Editor's Note: Jim Hitt's book, It Never Rains After Three O'Clock was used as a reference for quotes throughout this article.
At the annual football banquet in 1938, Jimmy Rike announced that he was stepping down as head football coach. The news brought tears to the eyes of several men present that evening. Ed Finlay presented Rike with a silver service set on behalf of the trustees, and a few days later the Chattanooga News Free Press praised the veteran coach in an editorial entitled "Jimmie Rike, Man-Maker." Rike would stay on as athletic director and coach of the junior varsity "Midgets," and he would exert a great deal of influence over the selection of a new head coach.
The process of choosing a successor to Rike involved the most exhaustive search that had ever been conducted to fill a position at Baylor School. Some 100 applications were received and considered by Rike and the trustees, before the field narrowed to a prospect in Ohio, Rike's native state. The new coach, hired in the spring of 1938, was Harold B. "Cookie" Cunningham, assistant football coach at Ohio State University. Cunningham was a big name in athletics. As an undergraduate at Ohio State, he had won All-American status in both football and basketball and after graduation had played professional basketball for the Boston Celtics. Coach Cunningham led the Baylor Red Raiders to a 6-2-2 record in the fall of 1938; unfortunately, on Sept. 11, 1939, four days before the opening game of the season, Cunningham resigned for personal reasons. Rike took his place temporarily, directing the team through a 9-1-1 season.
The second search for a varsity coach was less extensive than the first. At the football banquet in January 1940, Headmaster Herbert Barks told the gathering that Humpy Heywood had been chosen as the new head coach. Although Heywood's coaching experience was limited to a few seasons with the Midget team, he took to varsity football as quickly and successfully as he had to soliciting. Under Heywood's tutelage, a great many players learned to redefine the limits of the possible. In addition to his motivational skills, Heywood possessed a keen eye for talent. On moving from the Midget team to the varsity, he brought along his assistant, A. G. "Whitey" Urban, one of the best line coaches in the South. Later in his career Urban would coach the line at Georgia Tech. At Baylor, Urban had started the boxing team and developed wrestling into a major sport in the 1930s. At this point, there is no doubt that Heywood had an uncanny way of spotting and attracting stellar material, not only for his coaching staff but especially for his teams. Through years of soliciting for Baylor, he had pieced together a network of contacts that supplied him with the latest intelligence on athletic prospects. That network paid off handsomely during his first coaching season; between 1939 and 1940, he signed up not one or two but three future All-Americans at Baylor. Two of them were Bill Healy and Joe Steffy, and the name of the third had popped up in the summer of 1940, while Heywood was on a combination soliciting-scouting trip in Ohio. It was there that a college coach told him that the best high school football player in the nation was a senior at a parochial school in Cleveland and that his name was Eddie Prokop.
Prokop was the son of Lithuanian immigrants who operated a corner grocery in Cleveland. His good looks had earned him the nickname "Handsome Eddie." A diligent pupil in classrooms, Prokop was also a distinguished athlete who weighed 195 pounds and could do the 100-yard-dash in ten seconds flat. His brother had gone to Notre Dame on a football scholarship, and it was assumed that he would follow him in the fall of 1940. However, Heywood was determined to sell Prokop and his parents on the advantages of spending a postgraduate year at Baylor. As it happened, Whitey Urban was also the son of immigrants. "He could do a Cossack dance," said Heywood. When Heywood returned to Chattanooga, he told Urban, "you know about these people. You've got to go up there and talk to them." Unsurprisingly, Urban went to Cleveland and convinced the Prokops that their son and Baylor were meant for each other. From the opening game of the 1940 season, Prokop's performance as left half-back astounded local sportswriters. One of them, Allan Morris, later said that Prokop was the greatest high school football player he had ever seen. Indeed, once Number 46 got going, hardly anyone could stop him. Such was his breakaway speed that during the 1944 Sugar Bowl game he set a rushing record of 199 yards, which stood until Tony Dorsett finally broke it in 1977.
By mid-season at Baylor, Prokop was well on his way to leading the team to an undefeated season and setting the local scoring record of 119 points. The Raiders had scored a total of 280 points compared to 32 scored by their opponents. Few if any of Baylor's rivals in football could hope to field a team with the likes of an Eddie Prokop on it. Officials at some of those schools started to ask themselves whether there was any point in competing with Baylor in football. At the McCallie School, Headmasters Park and Spencer McCallie renewed their request for Baylor to join them in agreeing to discontinue the football game between the two schools. Their proposal came in the form of a letter, dated Nov. 11, 1940, 12 days before the scheduled game between the schools. In the letter, addressed to Headmaster Barks, the McCallies wrote: “We believe that the time has come when it is best for the interests of both schools that Baylor and McCallie should not, after this season, continue to schedule a football game with each other. … Over-emphasis on football, too great pressure on students and teachers, disruption of scholarship and good school spirit, which is considerably demoralized in case of defeats, and greatly exaggerated in case of victories, apparent compulsion to secure outstanding players, and the additional fact that we serve exactly the same local patronage, all make it advisable to discontinue at least these varsity football matches (after this season, regardless of the score). We sincerely hope you can give your acquiescence in this decision, so that any publicity (which must inevitably follow) may be given out as from both schools, and not unfavorably reflect on either school.”
As Headmaster Barks referred the letter to the executive committee of the board, composed of Chairman Cartter Lupton, Ed Finlay, and Summerfield Johnston, the three-member committee responded in a letter on Nov. 14, under the signature of Barks, which read: “As stated by you, many years ago when Dr. Baylor and Dr. Guerry headed Baylor School, Dr. Baylor vigorously objected to the suggestion that you now make. He felt, and we feel now, that the friendly rivalry between the two schools should be continued. We believe that the annual game is a part of the tradition of both schools and that this tradition of more than 30 years should not be broken. We do not share your views that the rivalry between McCallie and Baylor is detrimental to either school, at least it does not apply here. Candidly, we do not think that football is over-emphasized at any of our local schools. On the contrary, we feel that the more than one hundred thirty-five Baylor boys who are members of our various teams — from the Mites to the Varsity — are materially benefited in mind and body. Feeling as we do, we cannot acquiesce in your views and must necessarily decline to issue a joint statement to the press. If it becomes necessary, you may publish this exchange of letters. We will feel at liberty to do the same. This entire organization joins me in wishing continued success to The McCallie School.”
Baylor's insistence on continuing the games sent the board at McCallie into a late night meeting on the eve of the game, Nov. 22. The result of that meeting was communicated to Barks in the final off-the-record letter between the two schools. It reads: “We regret your inability to acquiesce in the discontinuance of the Baylor-McCallie football game after this year. McCallie's relationship with Baylor is so good and has been for so many years that we do not want anything so relatively unimportant as a football game to interfere with it in the future. … McCallie's trustees approve of this decision to discontinue the Baylor-McCallie game after this year as best for the McCallie School. We are sorry that you cannot agree to a joint statement to the press. All at McCallie School join us in best wishes for the continued success and prosperity of Baylor School.”
The next afternoon Baylor met McCallie in what would be their last varsity football game for 31 years. Prokop scored two touchdowns and an extra point, giving the Raiders a 15-0 lead at halftime. In the second half, McCallie scored one touchdown and had the ball on the Baylor 7-yard line with less than a minute to go before giving it up on downs. Then, on the last play of the game, Prokop called a play that Baylor had not run all year and, even as the gun sounded, he ran 93 yards for a touchdown. At that moment he entered the mythic dimension. Time froze and Prokop, like a figure on a Grecian urn, kept running in the minds of Baylor loyalists — their single most powerful memory of the competition between the two schools. Following the game, McCallie issued a press release that said: “We are not playing Baylor in football, temporarily, at least. We will continue to meet Baylor in other sports. Schools naturally seek their own athletic level. However, we might play Baylor were it not for the fact that the schools are in such proximity. There is too much stress on one game. There has been an increasing strain on McCallie to get athletes. McCallie felt it unwise to continue a contest with a school of similar standards in the same town when the strain is what it is. In order to lessen the strain among students and faculty, the game is canceled, for a time at least. … We want to be sure to keep our main stress on scholastic work. We have been discussing and thinking over this action at McCallie for four or five years. There is no bitterness between the schools. Just an effort to lessen the undue importance attached to one game, unfortunately, a game in the same city.”
Baylor's trustees held meetings for two consecutive days to devise a public reply. Judging from the board minutes, no other issue had ever engaged them so intensely. On Nov. 25, they appointed a committee composed of Ed Finlay, Summerfield Johnston, and Charles Coffey to draft a response to McCallie's press release. The next day, "several letters as suggested by other members of the board of trustees were read, and after a very lengthy discussion, one of the letters, with deletions and additions, was unanimously ratified and approved." That letter, released by Barks, said: “It is with great regret that we must accept McCallie's decision to discontinue the Baylor-McCallie game. This traditional rivalry has been very satisfactory to us. Though naturally, the game has always been a most important one, we do not feel that one game makes a season. In the past 35 years, Baylor has experienced 20 victories and 12 defeats in this traditional game. During much of that time as teacher and now as headmaster, I have had the opportunity to observe the reactions of many of our student bodies. Victory over a fine rival has been pleasant. Defeat has been sad but always taken with a smile and in the spirit of determination to do better next time. Regardless of the outcome of this important game, it has been our good fortune to have the spirit of the student body remain reasonably normal, and our regular program of work continues at its usual high standard. Since its founding in 1893 Baylor has had a program which stressed the development of character, training in scholarship and leadership, supervision of health activities and sports for all. We shall continue this program, which we consider sound and conducive to a broad and thorough education.”
In 1941 a new set of issues claimed the board's attention as America entered the war against Japan and Germany. During this time frame, more than a thousand graduates of Baylor joined the armed forces; 39 of them would die in the war. Mobilization also made deep inroads in the faculty. During 1942, six teachers were enlisted, including Roy Ashley, Bryce Harris, Tom Harris, and William Masterson, later president of the University of Chattanooga. Another of those claimed by the war effort was Major John Fisher. To replace him as commandant, Barks hired Colonel R. B. Gayle. Though Colonel Gayle was a bit too high-strung and too easily baited for the job, he nonetheless remained long enough to oversee a stepped-up military program. The wartime regimen differed from that of the past insofar as the cadet corps drilled four days a week instead of three, and on the fifth day, the boys attended classes prescribed by the War Department, in military science and tactics, meteorology, aviation and radio. An obstacle course was erected to "toughen up the boys," and they marched to drill, chapel, and meals. As the war effort claimed nearly half the teaching staff of fourteen in 1942, Barks and Heywood sought ways to prevent shortages in other vital areas. They stockpiled supplies: canned goods, a two-year inventory of uniforms, five carloads of coal, and "sundry other needed commodities." With rationing in effect and food prices subject to fluctuate, they decided that the school would grow its own food. Besides the practical advantages to the school, the farming project was also a response to the government's request for civilian contributions to the war effort. Under Humpy Heywood's direction, a large portion of the campus was turned into farmland. Fifty white-faced cattle and a herd of sheep grazed on the nine-hole golf course, just north of the confluence of the lake and river. In the barn area, under the great oaks at the southeastern corner of the campus, turkeys and chickens were raised on wire flooring off the ground. A herd of hogs waxed fat on the grounds across the lake. Lespedeza, soybeans, corn, and vegetables were planted in every available space. The Baylor farm grew into a large-scale operation during its peak years, 1943 and 1944.
The school's interest in farming did not extend beyond the war much longer than it took to dispose of the livestock and farm equipment. Another outgrowth of that era, however, proved more enduring. In June 1943, Baylor began its summer camp, a six-week program of recreation for children between the ages of five and fourteen. The camp was organized around the motif of an "Indian village," with rival groups of campers vying to make their "tribe" number one in the village. Activities included swimming, canoeing, horseback riding, handicrafts, rifle marksmanship, ball games, hiking, and overnight camping trips. The summer camp started as an "experiment," as its immediate aims being twofold. First, it was intended to serve as "a feeder for the school in lieu of intensive summer solicitation which," Barks told the board, "would be impossible during the war on account of gasoline and tire rationing." Also, Barks hoped that the camp, by employing most of the school's teachers year-round, "would better hold the faculty together." The camp not only served those two purposes but also turned out to be highly profitable. Its financial success owed much to Humpy Heywood, who brought in campers "by the trainload" each summer. He usually overbooked the camp, housing excess boarders in odd nooks and crannies and even in his own apartment. "Almost singlehandedly he recruited 130 boarding campers" in the spring of 1948, according to Herbert Barks. Time and again his skill at "selling tuition" made Heywood the man of the hour at Baylor School.
At the same time, Heywood’s performance as football coach added luster to his name at Baylor. Completing the 1944 season with ten straight victories, he had an overall five-year record of only one loss in forty-nine games. He filled the stadiums, the classrooms, and the camp. His official title, business manager, merely hinted at the extent of his influence. He reported to the trustees, not to the headmaster. As the school's chief solicitor, he functioned in all but name as director of admissions, largely determining the make-up of the student body. His many and varied responsibilities could not be reduced to a meaningful job title. As George Bradford quipped, "Humpy Heywood... is a football coach, business manager, laundryman, head solicitor, industrialist, poultryman, stockman, merchant, and banker. He can sell anything at cost and still make a profit.” On top of all that, Heywood took on other duties. In 1944 requests were streaming in for information about the more than one thousand Baylor graduates in uniform around the globe. The volume of mail swamped normal channels and pointed up the inadequacy of existing alumni records. To redress this problem, Heywood organized an alumni office, which systematically kept track of graduates and answered their inquiries. Soon after its creation, the alumni office coordinated the first extensive appeal for funds undertaken since the drive in the 1920 s that had raised money for the chapel. The goal now was to build a "new and modern gymnasium," a memorial to Baylor graduates who had served in World War II, which would be situated on the field down from Locust Hill.
Earlier campaigns of this kind had been launched with revelations of staggeringly substantial contributions just received from a single benefactor or a tiny group of "friends." That approach had an unintended but predictable effect: it turned off a great many donors of lesser means, who questioned whether Baylor actually needed or would even appreciate fifty or a hundred dollars from them. The alumni office, attempting to alter that attitude, now highlighted the importance of modest contributions, kicking off the drive by announcing that the class of 1944 had contributed $2,250 towards the new gymnasium's estimated cost of $250,000. In presenting the contribution, Glenn Ireland, class president, expressed the hope that through it "friends of Baylor [would] be taught to realize that small gifts are most welcome."
By 1946 the Memorial Gymnasium Fund showed a balance of $200,000, representing gifts from about one thousand individuals. A broad base of support had developed, or so it seemed. The executive committee, after considering several designs for the new gym, approved plans for a one-story structure with features including two basketball courts and seats for 1,500 spectators, an entrance lobby doubling as a trophy hall, various exercise and dressing rooms, and an elegantly appointed lounge designed for receptions. Construction work began in the spring of 1948, and when completed that December, the new gymnasium would, said school officials, "give Baylor a million dollar plant providing full facilities for a well-rounded development of its 350 students."
The football season at Baylor began with a victory as usual in 1948; on Sept. 10, the Red Raiders, led by Pat Brooks and Captain Tom Smoot, defeated Rossville High School at 32 - 20. The next day Coach Heywood took his team to watch the Redskins play the Packers in Birmingham. It was suffocatingly hot that afternoon, and several of the boys shared iced drinks at the game. On the trip back, one of the boys started to feel unwell, apparently coming down with a cold or the flu. There was no cause for alarm until two days later, Sept. 13, when a member of the team, Jack Wright, had to be rushed from the Baylor infirmary to Erlanger Hospital, where his high fever, difficulty in swallowing, and loss of control over certain muscle groups were diagnosed as polio. Poliomyelitis is an acute infectious disease of the central nervous system, akin to encephalitis and often, in its less virulent forms, clinically indistinguishable from meningitis.
During the early decades of the century, polio became known as infantile paralysis because it primarily affected children under the age of ten. However, in the mid-1940s, the threat to children receded as the polioviruses found a new host population: teenagers. The viruses commonly attacked teenagers who seemed to be in the best of health — athletes, for example. Over-exertion and fatigue increased their vulnerability to infection. Further compounding the danger at Baylor, the polio season, which ran from late summer to early fall, overlapped the football season. The same day that Jack Wright was hospitalized, school officials arranged to postpone the next football game, set for Sept. 18, with Darlington. Then, on Sept. 19, two other members of the team were admitted to Erlanger: Hugh Chapman, with "mild polio," and Tom Smoot, with what doctors first thought was meningitis but later diagnosed as "meningitis with polio complications." That Smoot had fallen ill was particularly disturbing news to the Baylor community, for Smoot embodied just about everything that mattered most at the school. His fellow students had elected him their class president four years in a row. He held the rank of major in the cadet corps, captained the football team, and was president of the senior class. His illness seemed like a tragic mistake, inexplicable and unsettling. If polio could happen to Smoot, what then? "Everybody was scared," recalled Larry Fogo. "I was. I had sat next to Tom [in class], and you didn't know how many more were going to come down with it.”
The morning after Smoot and Chapman were hospitalized, the executive committee met with Headmaster Barks in Cartter Lupton's office on the twelfth floor of the Volunteer Building. They recognized the potential for an explosive chain of transmissions, with cases among the football players becoming the vector for a school-wide epidemic. Given the "urgency of the situation," they quickly agreed that "the only safe course was to close the school for an indefinite period of time."
Therefore, the students were dismissed to their homes on Sept. 20. They were sent away with such haste that most of them had already gone before school officials could notify parents of the closing; but, explained Barks, "We felt that the need for immediate action was urgent and that we had to do the best we could.” In the boys' absence, workers used strong disinfectants to scrub dormitory rooms, locker rooms, and other areas. The faculty taught by correspondence, mailing assignments to students regularly. In a letter to parents, Barks wrote: "I have tried to impress upon each boy the importance of keeping up these assignments and do this work. If the work is properly done, we should be able to catch up and avoid having to extend the school year very much, if any. May I recommend that you watch your boy carefully and see that he gets plenty of sleep." In a letter sent the next day, Barks extended additional hygienic suggestions to the parents, as school officials stayed in close touch with several doctors in an effort to gauge the scope and duration of the threat. How could the school know when the infection had burned itself out? About that it was "impossible to prognosticate accurately," wrote one of the doctors. Pressed for an opinion, the doctors conferred and stated for the record that when no fresh cases had occurred for fourteen days — which was twice the "apparent incubation period" of the virus — then it would probably be safe to reopen.
On Sept. 24, another member of the football squad, Pat Brooks of Valdosta, Georgia, was stricken with polio at his home and moved to a hospital in Atlanta. Within the week there was even more distressing news: Smoot had died in a Knoxville hospital on Sept. 30. No fresh cases, however, occurred in the week following Brooks' hospitalization. Encouraged by that fact, the executive committee met on Oct. 4 and decided to resume school on Oct. 12, provided that "no new cases developed in the interim." The committeemen then turned their attention to Baylor's interrupted football schedule. Some members of the committee wanted to resume the competition as soon as school reopened. However, Dr. Paul Golley, of the county health department, counseled moderation; in a letter included in the committee minutes, Dr. Golley wrote: "I feel that only light football practice should be engaged in for the first few weeks of school. It will probably be a safe procedure to resume the football schedule on or about Nov. 1, 1948." The committeemen "thoroughly discussed" the issue, "but no decision was reached." Two days later the full board considered the issue, and a resolution to discontinue football for the balance of the season passed easily. Headmaster Barks, in a public statement about the decision, stated: "The Board of Trustees, school authorities, and football coaches unanimously decided to discontinue all football at Baylor for the 1948 season out of respect for the family of Tom Smoot and the other boys who are ill. This also permitted the students additional time to catch up on all class work. The school has received hundreds of fine compliments for having taken this action and showing that Baylor always puts first things first." The finest compliment of all came on Oct.12, when Baylor School reconvened. The enrollment of about 350 students had held together remarkably well through the polio outbreak, cancellation of school, and dispersal of students for "an indefinite period of time." Although parents were given the option of withdrawing their sons and receiving a tuition refund, very few of them chose to do so. All but seven students returned to the school. Baylor obviously was a powerfully attractive place.