- Associated Press - Saturday, August 30, 2014

LIBERTY, Miss. (AP) - Among the many side effects of World War II was shutting down high school football programs as boys left to join the military, some even lying about their age to get in.

When the war ended in 1946, football rebounded with a vengeance - especially at Liberty High School.

“Those were some of the best days of my life,” said Charles T. Dixon, 83, of Liberty. “I really wouldn’t take nothing for it - not just because I played football but from all that I learned.”

In 1946 the school didn’t have much to work with. The football field - located at the present site of the old Kellwood Building on Main Street - was low and boggy, sometimes mucky with overflow from the school’s large septic tank.

The school hired Coach Harold Dickerson to resurrect the program, and one of the first orders of business was building up the field.

“We’d bring shovels with us from home,” Dixon said.

Dump trucks would haul dirt to the site, and boys would do much of the work with shovels.

“I remember when that old field was just a field, and they graded that off and it became a football field, and that was when the boys came back from service,” said the Rev. Ernest Whittington, 83, of Liberty.

There were no age restrictions, and Whittington said “boys” even in their 20s who had suspended their schooling returned from the war to play ball.

“There were some real powerhouses,” said Whittington, whose small size landed him the job of manager. “Coach Dickerson asked me to be the water boy. Of course, they gave me the title of manager.”

One of his duties was to pour merthiolate on wounds inflicted during games, and Whittington said he used the stinging red antiseptic liberally.

Equipment was hand-me-down.

“Some boys did not have correctly sized shoes or even two shoes the same size and they used fishing line for shoelaces,” according to “History of the Rebels,” an article quoted in “Amite County & Liberty, Mississippi, Celebrating 200 Years.”

“The shoulder pads were not much more than a croaker sack around their shoulders. Some of the helmets could be folded up and put into a pocket. Jerseys - there were no jerseys. They bought some old sweatshirts, and the ones they wore for the games had numbers out of old felt hats and sewed them only on the backs of the sweatshirts.”

Dixon played fullback and was a hard-hitter, ramming head-first in his tackles. The old leather helmets didn’t offer much protection.

“I’d bust those straps and cave them in going and coming,” Dixon said, suggesting that was a factor in his subsequent neck and back surgeries.

Dixon was appointed team captain in 1947 and was known as a “bruiser,” said Kenneth Gordon, 89.

“He was the best player on the team,” Gordon said. “Every team has a star player, and he was it.”

Dickerson trained his players to be tough.

According to the Amite County bicentennial book, “A native of Johnston Station, a World War II veteran, and a graduate of Mississippi Southern College (University of Southern Mississippi), Dickerson fielded his first squad of tough country boys, some war veterans themselves, in the fall of 1946. The name Rebels was chosen and black and gold were their colors.”

“I loved him,” Dixon said. “He was a disciplinarian from the word go.”

Dixon remembered one day when the boys refused to practice. Dickerson told them, “Ever how many it is that don’t hit the field this evening will never play football while I’m at this school.”

They relented, but after practice, Dickerson ordered the slackers to run nine laps - hard.

Meanwhile, the new principal, Emmett Whatley, was raising support for the program. He developed what became known as “Whatley’s list” - a list of local merchants and how much he expected them to donate, Gordon said.

Among improvements was construction of a press box to go along with the new field.

“The people began to come then,” said Gordon.

“On game night, if you were in Gloster trying to go to McComb, you had to wait two hours,” Dixon said. “You could not go through Liberty.”

“You would think the population of Liberty may have been in the thousands, the way they turned out for ballgames,” said Whittington.

Older men adopted the team and saw to it that players had rides home after practice and meals after games.

“We’d practice way after school hours and the men would gather up and take us home,” Dixon said.

After games, men would tell the local cafe owner to open up, no matter how late.

“It was no end to what they’d do,” said Dixon.

Dickerson stayed 12 years at the school, amassing a record of 99 wins, 20 losses and five ties.

“His teams won Tangipahoa Conference Championships five of the seven years the conference had been in existence,” said the bicentennial book. “They played in four bowls and won three. Sports writers dubbed Dickerson Mississippi’s ‘winningest’ high school coach for the years 1946-1958.”

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution in 1962 commending the school’s football program.

After the war, Gordon went to law school and eventually opened Liberty Insurance Co., which he ran until he retired. When Coach Dickerson bought a movie camera in 1952, Gordon was picked for the job.

“For 12 years every game I saw Liberty in was through a peephole of a camera,” he said.

After school, Dixon went to work for the phone company in Baton Rouge, eventually retiring in Amite County.

Whittington spent 20 years in the Air Force before becoming a Baptist minister, moving back to Liberty in 1994. One day he was at a funeral when he saw Dixon.

“He didn’t recognize me,” Whittington said.

“I said, ‘Do you remember that little old boy that used to pour the merthiolate on you?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’ and that’s when he grabbed me and hugged me.”

___

Information from: Enterprise-Journal, http://www.enterprise-journal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

blog comments powered by Disqus

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide