‘It was wonderful to be remembered in ongoing athlete feature’

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Editor’s note: Robert Boland’s name was included in the “observer’s” list of great Opelika athletes.

 

Dear editor,

I was a member of the class of 1952. Jane Haynie who lives there sent me a copy of the “Opelika Observer.” I can understand the byline of the paper, “by local people, for local people.” What a great article (“Blood, sweat, tears,” part 1) and a great first part about a wonderful citizen, Dewey Still.

I will never forget he and his wife Mary. When I was around 8 years old, I was in an accident and almost lost my arm. My family did not have a car, and Mary drove my mother and myself to the hospital and gave us comfort. Later, while I was in the service, my wife lived in Opelika by herself and worked at API (Auburn). Dewey took care of her car and looked after her as she was his daughter. His kindness sure made my life less stressful.

Dewey made mention of the leadership of Coach Hatfield, and I wish to make mention of Coach Sam Mason and one of his assistant coaches Bill Washington and how their leadership made a difference in my life.

My father owned a large business in New York and lost everything in the Great Depression. He was a merchant Seaman and had met my mother in England, and she became a WWI Bride. Instead of giving up, he went back to the only way he knew to make a living, and that was a merchant seaman.

What you read about all the problems of children growing up with an absent father is true.

I started playing football on a 9-man team in junior high. We would play all the teams in the valley on Thursday, and if one of us played great, we would be able to dress out and sit on the bench with the varsity for the big game Friday night.

During the excitement of the game when the opposing team made a big play though the line, Coach Mason would substitute a player in a critical position. Lucky for me, he had forgotten I was a junior high player and would send me in. Due to all this experience, my first year in HS I played on the varsity.

Coach Mason was a man of leadership, and I looked up to him. Due to his coaching, I was picked All State at the Guard position and invited to play in the 1952 All Star game.

Bart Starr was the quarterback on our South team and a great leader. Coach Bill Washington was a leader of men – he always led us in physical activity drills.

Since I was just a kid, Bill looked like an old man. However, his great body build impressed me so much that at 79 years of age I still follow in his foot steps. I  joined  YMCA in 1962 and try to make it to the gym every day.

Bill also did one more thing for me. He knew the coach at West Alabama and told him he should give Charles Leverett and myself a try out. We both received scholarships, and it changed both our lives forever.

Charles became an outstanding player at West Alabama, and after he was drafted in the Army, he played football with many former NFL players in the US and Germany who, like him, were drafted in the Army and who later became great football players when they returned to the NFL. Charles became a successful football coach.

P.S. – It was wonderful to be remembered after 60 years by someone from my hometown as a great from ANOTHER ERA.

Robert Boland

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