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Old-School Football and FaithPlayed Out on the Flats
By Frank Sexton
CROSSBOOKSCopyright © 2013 Frank Sexton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the Beginning
Before you were in the womb, I knew you. Jeremiah 1:5
I was very fortunate to have grown up at a time and place where college football was an important part in the daily lives of my parents, relatives, and neighbors.
During the late 1940,s and early 1950,s the residents of Knoxville, Tennessee were involved in a delightful love affair with the University of Tennessee Volunteers football team. General Bob Neyland and his Tennessee football team were enjoying great success during that period and the entire city was caught up in the euphoria.
From 1946 to 1952 General Neyland had a record at Tennessee of 54-17-4. Tennessee won the Southeastern Conference titles in 1946 and 1951 and the Associated Press National Title in 1951. Tailback Hank Lauricella was the 1951 Heisman Trophy runner up. The 1950 team defeated #2 ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl and was declared National Champions by some publications. As a young boy of nine and ten years of age, I was an avid follower of Tennessee football then and listened to all the games on the radio.
I was also very blessed to be born into the family God gave me. I had a father and mother who were sport participants and enthusiasts, and I had a brother who shared the same passion for sports, especially baseball and football, as I did. My brother Buddy proved to be a faithful partner and willing participant through all sandlot and organized sports endeavors from grammar school through high school. I owe a great deal of my success in high school and collegiate athletics to my faithful companion and friend – my younger brother Buddy.
In addition to being sports enthusiasts, my parents were also committed Christians. They were both committed to the principles of Christianity as revealed in the New Testament. They were truthful, honest, diligent, caring parents who taught mostly with their actions but also with their words. Both were loving disciplinarians and handed out judgment and punishment when necessary. The discipline that I was taught at an early age served me well as I advanced through my journey and adventures in high school and college athletics.
Madalon Stahl was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1921 and grew up in the area of East Knoxville known as Park City. As a teenager she lived with her mother and father, Mae and Frank Stahl, and her sisters Eleanor and Patricia on East Fifth Avenue. Their home was a six room, two- story brick duplex on the corner of East Fifth Avenue and Cruze Street.
Madalon's father, Frank Stahl, worked as an engineer for the Southern Railway in Knoxville. Frank had grown up in Knoxville where he attended and graduated from Knoxville High School. Madalon's mother, Mae Harmon, grew up in Lonsdale which was a blue collar area of Knox County on the outskirts of Knoxville. Mae Harmon attended and graduated from Knox County Central High School.
Madalon was the middle child and was the athlete of the family. She excelled as a fast-pitch softball pitcher and was a very good tennis player as well. She was nicknamed "Babe" by her father because of her athletic skills and is still called by that name today. Babe Stahl was a five foot- two inch, dark-skinned brunette with a very competitive spirit. She still enjoys sports today at age 91 and is an avid University of Tennessee women's basketball and softball fan. Babe attended Park City Junior High which was one city block from her home and later attended and graduated from Knoxville High School.
Marvin Sexton was also born in Knoxville and grew up on the same side of the street on East Fifth Avenue a few doors down from Babe. Marvin was the son of John Thomas Sexton and Mary Emma Hancock. He had six brothers; Roy, Guy, Orin, Robert, J.T., and Kenneth and one sister, Georgia. Georgia was the first-born of the family while Marvin was next to the youngest.
John Thomas Sexton was a carpenter and had built the house that the family lived in on East Fifth Avenue. The house was also a duplex with upstairs bedrooms. John Thomas was a big, tall man and all of his sons were six feet tall or over except Marvin who was the shortest at five feet eleven. Although the smallest, Marvin was the best athlete of the family and was a sports enthusiast. Marvin's favorite sport was baseball where he excelled at his primary position as a second-baseman.
Marvin and Babe both attended Park City Junior High School and they later attended and graduated from Knoxville High School. Marvin was about two years older than Babe. The athletic field for Knox High was located on East Fifth Avenue just a few blocks down the street from where Marvin and Babe lived. Evans-Collins Stadium was the home field for the Knoxville High Trojans. Adjacent to the football field at Evans-Collins was Winona Park which had several baseball and softball diamonds where Babe Stahl and Marvin Sexton played organized softball and baseball.
Babe Stahl's younger sister Pat also attended Knoxville High School where she was a majorette in the Knox High marching band. High school football was a big venue in those days and East Tennessee was regarded as prime recruiting ground for several schools in the Southeastern Conference. East Tennessee was the primary recruiting area for the University of Tennessee located there in Knoxville. Several years later Knoxville High was closed and replaced with four new schools – East, West, South, and Fulton. These schools along with Bearden and Rule became known as the City Schools while Central, Young, Karns, Powell, Farragut and Holston were the County Schools.
After Knox High was closed, Evans-Collins Stadium continued to be used as the playing field for many local high school football games and track meets. It also became the venue for the Knoxville Optimist Bowl and the Knoxville City-County All-Star Game. The many baseball and softball diamonds adjacent to the football stadium at Winona Field were used by several baseball and softball leagues to play their inter-league games.
After graduation from Knox High, Marvin began working as a delivery boy for a local grocery delivering groceries to customers on his bicycle. He later worked as a sales clerk for a clothing store on Gay Street uptown in Knoxville. A year after Babe graduated from high school the couple eloped to Sevierville where they were married by the Justice of the Peace on September 23, 1940. After the wedding they moved in with the Stahl's at the duplex on East Fifth Avenue. A short time later Marvin was employed by The Knoxville News-Sentinel as an apprentice printer. His older brother Guy worked there as a printer and Guy helped Marvin gain employment there.
On Sunday night November 16, 1941, Babe Sexton gave birth to her first-born son at Fort Sanders Hospital in Knoxville. The event was a natural birth without serious complications and the healthy seven pound boy was named Frank Martin after his grandfather Frank Stahl and great grandfather Martin Harmon. Three weeks later on December 7, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States declared war on Japan.
Eighteen months later on May 14, 1943, a second son was born to Marvin and Babe Sexton. The boy was named Marvin Etheridge Sexton Jr. after his father. He was nicknamed "Buddy" and became a constant companion and buddy to his older brother Frank who was called "Frankie". The two brothers would spend many hours together over the next several years throwing, catching, batting, and playing ball - every kind of ball – together.
Having a brother with similar interests and abilities was a real blessing to me and I am grateful that God gave me a brother like Buddy to grow up with and to share the experiences that we were able to enjoy together. My development as a young athlete was greatly enhanced because of Buddy and his enthusiasm for playing ball.
Chapter TwoScreaming Eagle
He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge. Psalm 91:4
Shortly after Buddy was born, Marvin received his draft notice for the US Army. Because of his job at the newspaper he could have been exempted from the draft had he chosen to do so. He refused to accept the exemption because he had four brothers who had also been drafted, and he said that he could not accept the exemption while his older brothers were serving in the armed forces. Uncles Bob, J.T., and Kenneth served in the U.S. Army while Uncle Guy served on a ship in the U.S. Navy. Uncle Roy was not drafted and did not serve in the military.
During the entire period of World War II our family lived with Grandma and Grandpa Stahl in the duplex on East Fifth Avenue. Mom's older sister Eleanor had married Charles McElyea of Knoxville and had moved to Chattanooga where Charles worked for the L&N Railroad. After Charles was drafted, Eleanor and her son Eddie moved back to Knoxville and into the duplex. Pat was still in school at Knoxville High and lived at home there. Thus the household consisted of Grandpa and Grandma Stahl, Aunt Pat, Aunt Eleanor and Eddie, Mom and Buddy and me.
The first faint remembrance I have of my father was the day he left home to report to his Army unit prior to being shipped to Europe. I remember standing on the sidewalk outside the duplex and waving and shouting good-bye to him for as long as I could see him.
The first vibrant memory I have of him was the morning he arrived back home from Germany around Christmas of 1945. Private First Class Marvin Sexton had completed his service as a paratrooper in a glider unit of the 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles". It was the first time that I had seen him in well over a year. I can still remember his paratrooper uniform with the bloused trousers, spit-shined boots, and Eisenhower cap with the airborne glider insignia.
Daddy had been a machine-gunner operating the Browning .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun. While serving in Italy he had volunteered for glider duty to receive the extra pay to send home to the family. He was in combat in Italy, Holland and Germany. Years later, I remember him saying that he had been in Bertchesgarten at Hitler's Eagles Nest near the end of the war. I remember him saying that he was glad that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan because he had no desire to go to Japan to fight the war. His infantry unit, the 101st Airborne Division, would have been one of the first to be deployed had there been an invasion of Japan.
Daddy brought home several items of memorabilia and souvenirs from Germany. Buddy and I enjoyed viewing and holding the various items that he had. I remember specifically the German coins, the small Swastika flags, and the German Luger pistol which was especially interesting and menacing to a young boy. It was also a good time to ask a lot of questions about his experiences in the Army and during the war but he talked very little about it.
One item of special significance was a small New Testament with a brass plate over the front cover. The New Testament had been issued to the soldiers as a standard part of their military equipment. Daddy said that he always carried it in the top left pocket of his field jacket. The brass cover plate was too thin to afford any real protection from a bullet but the words on the pages behind it had provided a great deal of mental comfort and protection during his European tour of combat duty.
Aunt Eleanor's husband, Charles McElyea was drafted into the Army about the same time as Daddy and was sent to Europe as well. With Charles and Daddy both in the Army away from home, Eleanor and her son Eddie moved back to Knoxville and in with the Stahl's. Charles was later killed in action in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.
Charles was missing-in-action for several years before his dog tags and remains were eventfully found during a road building project in Belgium several years after the war.
While Marvin and Charles were in Europe, the Stahl household consisted of three daughters and three grandsons. After Daddy returned home he went back to work at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Grandpa Stahl was diagnosed with leukemia and died in January 1946. Shortly thereafter, Mama and Daddy moved a few doors down the street to the duplex where Daddy grew up and where Grandma Sexton lived with Aunt Georgia and Uncle Bob. Grandpa Sexton had died before I was born. Buddy and I shared an upstairs bedroom across the hall from Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob was an Army veteran and suffered with some type of mental disability resulting from his service.
Grandma Sexton's house had a side yard with two large cherry trees and a back yard with apple trees. A small creek ran through the back yard. A large field was adjacent to the property and provided a great playground for Buddy, cousin Eddie, and myself. Grandma Sexton and Georgia were faithful church-goers and regularly attended the Bell Avenue Baptist Church on McCalla Avenue. Uncle Bob drove the church bus on Sunday and Buddy and I would ride with him to Sunday School and Church. The adults of the family would walk the several blocks to church as no one in the family owned a car.
Several months later Daddy bought a four room project house in the northern part of Knox County known as Inskip. Inskip was a community that had expanded during the war as it provided homes for the many government workers that were employed at Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan Project. The mission of the Manhattan Project was to develop a nuclear bomb during WWII. Inskip was a blue collar area located just north of the Costner Shops railroad yard operated by the Southern Railroad. The shrill blare of the locomotive steam engine whistle regularly punctuated the quietness of the surroundings. The project house was purchased with the aid of a VA loan which was authorized for returning veterans under legislation known as the G.I. Bill.
The four room house, which was located on Broadview Drive, had a living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. The house sat on a small lot that was very close to the street with most of the land in the backyard. The level layout of the backyard was perfect for a softball diamond and it soon became the sandlot ball field for the neighborhood. The back yard eventually had well-defined base paths and a pitcher's mound worn into the contour of the yard.
Daddy bought a used car to drive to work as Inskip was several miles from the Knoxville business district where the Knoxville News-Sentinel was located. Our first family car was a black 1939 Chevrolet which was later traded for a medium blue 1941 Ford coupe. The Ford provided the transportation for the first family vacation to Daytona Beach, Florida. A few years later Daddy would buy his first new car, a dark green 1949 Ford V-8 which he purchased from Hull-Dobbs Ford in Knoxville.
In September 1947, I was enrolled in the Inskip Elementary School. I was five years of age, soon to be six in November. As I was one of the youngest in my class I was also one of the smaller boys. Broadview Drive was about one-half mile from the school and thus within easy walking distance, even for a first grader. We had only one family car and it was not available for school transportation as Dad left for work each morning around 5:30 am. I suppose a school bus might have been an option but walking became the preferred method of transportation.
After the family moved to Inskip, we began attending Inskip Baptist Church where Luther C. Rule was the pastor. The Marvin Sexton Family supported the church with their time, talent, and treasure. We attended Sunday School and Church nearly every Sunday morning and Training Union on most Sunday evenings. We contributed our offerings weekly. Daddy would put dollar bills in the offering envelopes and give Buddy and me coins for the offering plate that was passed during the morning service.
On January 1, 1948, Jerry Lynn Sexton was born to complete the family. Because of the difference in ages, I did not have very many common activities with my younger sister. I was away at college and in the Army during her years in high school.
Dad's job at the Sentinel as a printer was an hourly paying union job with a payday every Friday. It became the custom at our house for Mom to drive Dad to work every Friday morning and to drive to town with the family to pick him up in the afternoon. The family would then drive to the A&P store on Broadway Avenue to do the weekly grocery shopping. After grocery shopping we would go home and Mom would make hamburgers for supper. Everyone loved Mom's hamburgers and Buddy and I loved going to the grocery store as we were allowed to buy the comic book of our choice along with an occasional box of animal crackers. I remember eating supper on one Friday evening when Dad announced that he had received a pay raise at the News-Sentinel and that his take home pay had reached $100 per week. I remember thinking that was a lot of money and that we were very rich.
The following Sunday morning as we were dressing and preparing for church, I happened to be in Mom and Dad's bedroom as Dad was preparing his offering envelope for church. I observed him take a ten dollar bill from his wallet and quietly place it in the envelope. He then gave Buddy and me coins for our offering, inspected our shoes to see if they were polished (airborne style)and we were off to Sunday School and Church. I did not think much about it at the time but I had just observed one of the great lessons of life. And the foundation had been laid for a hundred- fold return on that tithe that would come several years later.
Excerpted from Old-School Football and Faith by Frank Sexton Copyright © 2013 by Frank Sexton. Excerpted by permission of CROSSBOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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