Pride of the paternal sort
Sometimes, history comes out of the past, smacks you with a jolt and marches you back to a time you thought was forgotten. Such was triggered from a terse e-mail sent by one of my old cow-punchin’ buddies, Bill Blakeslee, saying something about the 1936 state football champions, the Grand Junction Tigers. Who? The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel was looking for people connected to the team as they were writing a story about it (I missed the deadline). My dad, Clifford, was on that team and in the ’36 season, they beat their opponents a total of 506 to zero. It’s probably still a national record.But, speaking of stories, how did my dad, a Woody Creek rancher’s kid, end up going to school in Grand Junction? Simply, his mother and her sister, Aunt Babe, who lived in GJ, conspired to send him there with the prevailing thought that a larger school than Aspen’s must surely be better. My grandmother Grace, who was a roving reporter for The Aspen Times and for a while served as 9th Judicial Court clerk under John T. Shumate, should be forgiven for her interest in furthering my father’s education out of town, simply because such a notion was not that foreign back then. There was no Colorado Rocky Mountain School or other private school nearby to take up the slack, so residents were left to their own devices as to education in those days, provided they were unhappy with the Aspen schools. My dad later ended up serving 13 years on the Aspen school board. Ironic, perhaps.When I was in the seventh or eighth grade, my dad told me during a routine physical for the 1936 team, he was diagnosed with a “heart murmur,” a slight irregularity, the doctors thought, but not significant enough to keep him from playing. Unfortunately at the time, no one had the knowledge to ascertain that such an “insignificant” medical malady might kill him 45 years later. A leaking mitral heart valve, the bane of more than a few of his generation, was his Achilles.Several years ago, I wrote a story about spending the day at Lincoln Park in Grand Junction, watching my daughter participate in an all-league track meet at Stocker Stadium, and throughout the narration, wove in the fact my dad had watched me run track there, back when I was in high school. Dad, who died in 1981, was a huge presence with me that day in 2001, and I am totally perplexed I did not remember he had played championship football in the same location.Of course, he never seemed to talk much about that gridiron phenomenon, other than what I’ve mentioned, simply because to do so would have violated his conviction that self-aggrandizement was distasteful. But I have to believe that somewhere, in the unseeable dark of night, chasing elusive consciousness as he unsuccessfully fought to recover from heart surgery, he was back on that gridiron in his school colors, running the ball up the middle, past his tacklers and down the field as the cheers and yells of a frenzied crowd echoed in his ears.Now, his ashes are gone and there are very few men left from that championship team, but there still remain the material remnants of a Woody Creek boy’s high school life in Grand Junction. On my bookshelf sit the leather-bound law books of Judge Shumate, given to my grandmother as an unrealized incentive for my dad to study law in college. In the bottom of a chest of drawers, nestled next to my mother’s four-year Basalt high school basketball accolade, rests a big varsity letter “G” (for Grand Junction), in orange and black, and emblazoned across the front – “State Champs 1936.” It’s good, Dad.Tony Vagneur hasn’t been on a championship football team, yet. Read him here every Saturday and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.
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