The first issue of The Tin Whistle could not have been more explosive and the first two articles in that first issue actually set the stage for a lot of what would happen for the rest of the year. “Jock is Beautiful,” was written by Charlie Geron, and made reference to a beating inflicted on a prominent member of the U-Club.
The blacks, it seems, had finally taken sides in the jock-longhair conflict Smitty had been fomenting, and decided to side against Smitty and with the longhairs. Charlie also took a swipe at the U-Club Parent’s Association, run by Smitty and the fathers of his white stars.
The other (unsigned) letter to the editor was titled “Racism and Discontent” and mostly concerned the systemic racism in the athletic department, and the fact black parents were never invited to the meetings, most of which were held at Smitty’s house.
“An impending crisis hangs over Urbana High School and no one really realizes the seriousness of the matter,” wrote the anonymous author. “The White racism and Black discontent that are so prevalent in our nation and community is manifested in the actions and attitudes which make Urbana High a potential area for racial disturbances.” These words would soon prove very prophetic.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but those two articles were extremely offensive to Smitty and he immediately called a meeting of the entire U-Club. After they were all assembled, he entered the room and exploded: “I put more niggers through college than any coach in this state!!” was just one of many inflammatory comments made during his emotional tirade. It’s only recently that I’ve come to realize these meltdowns were likely the result of PTSD from his years as a tail-gunner.
During most of the speech, Smitty was staring straight at Jim Wilson, who was the starting end at the time, and Harvey Treat’s favorite receiver. In fact, Harvey’s favorite play was a bomb he threw to Jim. So far they’d run the play three times and it had scored a touchdown on all three tries.
It was clear Smitty felt sure Jim had written that letter as he had taken on a rather erudite style recently, likely a result of his being influenced by the oratory of Fred Hampton.
“And if you see some kid with his shirttail hanging out, smoking a cigarette on school property, you have my permission to punch them out,” concluded Smitty.
Although Smitty didn’t actually say “longhair,” I think those final comments were aimed at me and my cigarette-smoking crew. Smitty had watched me grow up because we went to the same Lutheran Church for many years, until I defected, something that would have certainly not gone unnoticed by him. The U-Club meeting was Smitty’s way of declaring war on the counterculture and especially on me and The Tin Whistle; and the first casualty was Jim Wilson, who’d continue suiting up for games for the rest of the year, but would never play football again in his life. Such was the punishment for writing a letter to The Tin Whistle that Jim actually didn’t write! Many years later, John Reinhardt (who was white) confessed that the prophetic letter was his and he left it unsigned because he suspected what Smitty’s reaction to any sort of criticism might be.
The tragedy was that Jim was talented enough to get a football scholarship. He placed third in the State in the high-jump that year and could basically out-jump just about anybody, a great asset for an end. He was around 6′ 4″ and had blazing speed. His dad, a track coach at the University, had been grooming Jim for a possible professional career, but then Jim’s dad died unexpectedly, and then Smitty silently blacklisted Jim off the football team for a crime he didn’t commit. Jim could have folded his cards and given up on life. Instead, he decided to run for senior class president. And you know what? Not a single member of the U-Club ran against him. I think it was an amazing display of their respect and affection for Jim. As well as their realization that maybe Smitty was wrong. But Smitty had been right about one thing: Jim was the alpha male on the civil rights movement in our class. And if he could get a chance, he intended to confront the racism so prevalent in our school at the time.