High school spring practice was tough
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
I drove by the football practice field the other day and it was good to see so many good-looking kids out there in their red and white uniforms during the spring practice drills.
They really looked great, in fact they looked too good in those uniforms with the stripes down the pants leg and the numbers on the jerseys, too good for what I remember as spring practice.
Back in my day you were lucky if you got a pair of pants that didn't have holes in the knees, or sometimes in worst places. Usually, Mama was good enough to patch these holes with whatever material she happened to have around the house. Practice jerseys were just plain football jerseys with no numbers or anything else. They were made of a heavy cotton fabric and long-sleeved, I guess because football was supposed to be a fall or winter sport. The manufacturer of these uniforms must not have realized the weather we have here in the South during April, May and August. Socks and jocks were your own problem. Get them when and wherever you can. Some did and some didn't. Shoes were called "cleats." They were mostly high-tops with 10 or 12 cleats that ranged anywhere from three-quarters to an inch in length and okay for muddy conditions, but made one feel as if he was on ice skates on the hard, beaten down practice field.
Helmets were a different matter altogether. The most modern at the time were the Riddles that consisted of a hard outer shell with a leather headband on a canvas suspension. When you got the helmet it was several years old and the leather headband had been wet with someone else's perspiration and dried so many times that it was hard as a brick and usually caused more damage to one's forehead than if you didn't have a helmet at all. Facemasks were usually the single bar-type and provided ample room for any elbow or fist to make good contact with your nose.
Hygiene was somewhat of a problem back in those days, too, but we seemed to accept it as a fact of life. Yeah, we had showers and most everyone took a shower after each practice session with the bar of soap your mother gave you. There was always the clown that would try to sneak out of the dressing room without showering, but this was usually the guy you hope you didn't have to sit by in class the next day. Cleaning practice uniforms was a different matter. Schools didn't provide clean uniforms and towels everyday like they do now. The cleanliness of the uniform was one's own responsibility, or should I say, Mama's responsibility. This meant that the uniform got cleaned once a week on "wash day," which was usually Saturday. Monday through Friday the uniform was worn over and over in whatever condition it happened to be in, which by Wednesday was not good. I can remember coming into the dressing room and picking up the pants I had worn and soaked with sweat for two or three days and sitting them up on the floor and they were so stiff that they would stand up on their own. The jersey was the same way.
A natural fact of playing the game in those days was the fungal infections that seemed to be a part of the life of anyone who played football. These nasty little organisms thrived in these dressing room environments and made life miserable for their carrier. These infections became known as Athlete's Foot or by some other name, depending on the part of the anatomy that it happened to be found. Warm spring days sitting in a classroom, that was not air conditioned, in the presence of young ladies was simply miserable for a poor guy trying to control the urge to scratch. There just weren't the simple cures for these infections in those days that we have now. Most remedies were an acid-based substance that ate away the raw flesh and hopefully the infections, but not very effective. I remember my dad made up his own concoction one time to attempt to cure the gross infections that was eating away at my brother Richard and me.
He lined us up one night and Richard happened to be in front (I made him go first just because he was older) and my dad took a small paintbrush and swabbed the infected area of Richard's body. The next second he went screaming out into the night as the acid burned its way into his flesh. Seeing this, I ran too. I would spend the rest of my life scratching rather than face that.
Another fact of life for football players in those days was the distinct smell of dressing rooms.
I'm sure you can imagine what I'm talking about after hearing of the sweaty, used uniforms and the haven for fungi. Need I say more?
Anyway, I'm glad that conditions for playing the game of football have improved and I'm glad to see so many young men out there working to be part of the proud tradition of the Hartselle Tigers. One important fact remains, it still takes a lot of hard grueling work to be successful.