Compiled by Tom Dameron

The Advertiser Editorial September 2008


1936 - The Abe McLaughlin Era Begins
Tom Dameron

Last week I had the honor and privilege to sit down with Bill Simmons for a one-on-one conversation about the 1936 Alderson football team. Bill is known to most of you, and it goes without saying - he is a true Aldersonian. Bill's love for Alderson, the school, town and its history is evident. His knowledge of town and school history with almost perfect recall of names, dates and events is remarkable. I hope to visit with Bill again in the near future (after he recovers from the W VU tragic loss to East Carolina last week) in order to develop a complete story about the 1936-1938 teams. Bill was a sophomore for the 1936 football season as a running back following in the footsteps of his older brother Hubert, an outstanding ball carrier for Alderson and later Greenbrier Military School, and finally as a back for West Virginia University. We spent a couple of hours discussing the 1936 team and other related stories in the "Advertiser" about that time. Bill's personal recollection of events in the news presents a real view of the circumstances behind the stories and adds the personal touch to these historic events.

A previous article in the "Advertiser" discussed the hiring of Abe McLaughlin as Alderson's new football coach ("Alderson Advertiser May 29, 1936). Alderson had been known as a football power under a former coach and principal of the school. Coach H. A. Yeager came to Alderson in 1926 as Football coach and Principal. The "Alderson Advertiser" in its September 13, 1929 edition relates that "With the coming of H. A. Yeager to A. H. S. as coach of athletics, football was again revived and last year saw Alderson High School enter upon a new era of athletics. He turned out a football team that won state wide recognition, mainly through their far famed aerial attack or forward passing game."

After the departure of Yeager in 1933 Alderson's football program fell into an abyss. Bill Simmons recalls that "I think that we lost every game in 1935, and I was afraid that we might not have enough boys report for football for the 1936 season." It was not until the arrival of McLaughlin that Alderson would again become a "force" to be feared in the valley. Bill relates "when Abe arrived he called the boys together on the lower lawn of the high school." "I remember it as if it were yesterday." That lower lawn of the school (between the rear entrance of the school and the athletic field for those who may need a reminder) was a spot where some memorable events took place - the May Day celebration- noontime pick up football games-a place for peer conversations (remember when groups of girls would form a circle on the lawn and sit and talk among themselves)? I am fairly certain that it was this activity that prompted the pick-up football games among the boys nearby. Band practice for marching was conducted there when the football field was occupied. Bill recalls that "I was scared to death. I did not know what Coach was going to say or do, but we were all determined to listen and be a part of this new beginning." That day we "hung on every word." The next day the team of about 22 boys began practice, and the McLaughlin era was under way.

Most of the sports articles in the "Advertiser" during the 1930's were penned by "Dodie Vaughn." Not being familiar with that name, I asked Bill about "Dodie." Bill related that he worked at the drug store, and was a devoted, if not a fanatic sports fan." "Dodie" wrote articles about sports for the "Advertiser" for several years. There was a lot of coverage in anticipation of this "new beginning." (See my article entitled "May 29 - September 4, 1936, Abe McLaughlin & AHS Football). The schedule for 1936 was September 19, 1936 Rainelle (away), followed by Ansted, Greenbank, Hillsboro, Lewisburg, White Sulphur, Hinton, Talcott and Ronveverte.

Preliminary coverage of the Rainelle game was broad. In the September 18, 1936 edition of the Advertiser "Dodie Vaughn's article read as follows:

Indians Play At Rainelle Tomorrow In Opening Tilt

"Large crowd of Alderson fans plan to follow Team To Opening Game." "Surprise in store for Rangers, Coach says."

"Led by their new coach A. A. (Abe) McLaughlin Alderson's rejuvenated Indian football warriors leave the home port tomorrow at eleven o'clock for Rainelle to open the season with a much improved Rainelle eleven on the Ranger's field. The kickoff is to be at 2:30. The local boys under McLaughlin have spent a hard week in preparation for the game tomorrow, working all week under a melting sun. The new coach has already succeeded in instilling a fighting spirit into the '36 eleven and the boys have all assumed the old attitude of do or die that has made other Alderson elevens famous in the years gone by.

The game tomorrow, the first of major importance, has all the followers of Alderson and the Greenbrier Valley's attention on Rainelle. The Rangers have a team that is rated now as one of the big three in the conference, and Alderson's '36 combine may prove the dark horse in the Valley for the conference championship.

The popular Alderson coach had the following to say concerning the game after a two weeks workout with his squad. 'It will be a battle and if my team shows the same determination they have displayed in practice, the highly touted Rangers are in for a surprise.' There is more interest in Alderson than there has been for a number of years and a large crowd is expected to follow the locals tomorrow. Junior Hedrick, Bill Simmons and Bob Copeland and Melvin Honaker will form the starting backfield in the opener and all four have been working hard and will probably be heard from tomorrow. Honaker playing his first year of football is fast, elusive, a good runner, an excellent blocker, a good passer and kicker, but his first game against real opposition will be watched closely Alderson fans.

Probable Alderson starting line-up tomorrow: L. E. Boyd, L. T. McClung, L. G. W. Fawcett, C. A. Jones, R. G. Ayers. R. T. B. Jones, R. E. Reed, F. B. Hedrick, H. B. Honaker, H. B. Copeland, Q. B. Simmons. A surprise to this writer about the line-up is that it appears that Alderson was running a balanced line. Maybe we will see the introduction of the famed "single-wing" in the near future for the Indians.

The Alderson Team may have enjoyed the ride to Rainelle on the newly opened Alta Road. The Advertiser in its September 25, 1936 reports:

Alta Road Completed

"The Southern Stone Corporation this week completed the surfacing of the Alderson-Alta road, route 54, from Alderson to the Midland Trail. A small amount of work remains to be done on the shoulders but the job of completing the surface for the road has been finished.

Within the corporation limits of Alderson a prepared mixture of asphalt and stone was laid as a top dressing on the road and this gives Alderson an excellent street up the river from the Alderson National bank corner. The remainder of the highway is one of the best types of macadam the state uses and the grade for the entire road is just about the best in the state. There are no hills of any consequence on the entire road, and this affords traffic to Alderson from the Midland trail a superior route.

Among the improvements also made by the contractors is the widening of the north approach on route 3 to the bridge over the Greenbrier here. This work makes the curve leading to the bridge much safer and easier to negotiate.

The contract for the paving of route 54 was let last autumn for over $100,000 and work was started on it last winter. The Southern Stone Corporation has accomplished an excellent job, which gives Alderson and vicinity one of the finest pieces of road within the state."

Although Alderson entered the season with high hopes the expectations were dampened a bit after the first game. In true partisan fashion there was no article in the "Advertiser" about the Rainelle game - only a mention contained in an article about the upcoming Ansted battle. On September 25, 1936 the paper reported "The local coach is trying hard to put the local school back on the football map. He has sent his charges through strenuous drills all week and the team that represents Alderson tomorrow will be lots stronger than the combination that dropped a close 6 - 0 to Rainelle last Saturday, a game that could have gone either way. Undaunted by his first defeat as Alderson's coach, McLaughlin had the following to say, 'My team, young and inexperienced, made lots of mistakes in the first quarter. However, the final three quarters we played the Rangers on even terms, and should have tied the score.'

"Pete Pugh, the outstanding ball carrier in the Rainelle game, will start tomorrow's game at a regular half-back position and this is good news to the fans as this lad's stellar play last week has been the talk of the town. Other changes in the lineup make the Indians a more formidable team." Bill Simmons relived that game in our conversation, and as is an Alderson tradition accepted much of the responsibility for the loss. As Bill described the game and the loss I was reminded that when playing under Coach it was very difficult to distinguish which was worse - losing the game or having to face Coach for the next week while preparing for the next game. It seems as though some of this was present even in 1936 when the article said "he sent his charges through strenuous drills all week….." Now that’s an understatement!

Over the years everyone has a "Coach" story or two to tell. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction in some of these stories; however one in particular that I remember hearing concerned the purchase of equipment and uniforms. It was often rumored that Coach has purchased uniforms with his own money in order to get some decent equipment for the boys. The article in the Advertiser that spoke of the Ansted game reports as follows: "….season tickets are offered for the small sum of ninety cents. Alderson fans should take advantage of this rare offer as it will help the local coach pay for some new equipment that was badly needed this year. McLaughlin came to Alderson, a stranger to the majority of the people and has personally stood for the new equipment bought." I asked Bill about this and he related that the equipment and uniforms were very old, outdated, and mostly in shambles. Nothing new had been purchased for the team in years. He said that coach purchased the uniforms from Lowen-Campbell a well respected provider of the day. The accompanying photograph of the team (see below) looks as if the uniforms may have been new; however look at the socks. They look anything but new. I say this because Bill related a story about socks, and it goes something like this: Coach purchased new knee socks for the team. They had maroon and grey stripes around them and had the toes and heels out so regular athletic socks could be worn underneath. Quite fancy for the day. Bill relates that right after they were purchased (he was unsure whether it was in 1936 or 1937) they went to Hillsboro to play, and were heavily favored.

At half time the teams were either tied or Hillsboro was leading in the score. Coach would not let the team go to the dressing room. Instead he took them to the end of the field-made them sit down under the goal post, and began one of his "famous" half-time "chats." After he had finished with his admonitions to all assembled he finished by saying to the entire team - AND TAKE OFF THOSE SOCKS!

Next week the remainder of the 1936 season.