We were driving from Houston to Kansas City for the Anderson Christmas which is always interesting in its own right, let alone encountering bad weather. Because of snow and ice, we rerouted through numerous small towns in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma and ended up our first night in Ft. Smith, Ark.
As we were driving, I proposed the idea to my son, Brett, of him growing up in a small town like Poteau, Okla., which we had gone through, or let’s say, Grant, Neb., where I had graduated from a few decades past. Not that every town he had grown up in was a metropolis, but Austin and Lubbock, Texas were fairly large.
True, he had never experienced anything the size of Grant. He thought for a very short period of time. I thought he might have at least given it a little more time to think about it. He concluded that it would have been terrible—and that’s being nice! Ha-ha!
Which brings me to the point of my letter, which is how great it is to grow up in a small town! And probably not even realize it at the time.
Now keep in mind that I was in Grant from the mid-to-late 1970s. No cable and the TV was from North Platte in a central time zone. Johnny Carson and Saturday Night Live, I believe, started at 9:30 p.m. Now I could get on a soap box and talk about how I think cable TV has been the ruination of small towns, but that’s for another time.
Now for someone like me who liked sports, it was a great existence—football, basketball, golf, until Coach Gaston informed that I was going out for spring football (I mean track) and baseball in the summer.
As I think about things that went on, different things come to mind. Remember, I was actually in Grant for about three years.
1. Our coaches were some of the very best at any level that I have encountered—whether it be Eddie Sutton or Mack Brown, Mike Gundy or any of the numerous coaches I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know.
2. Coaches Gaston and Lawson could have coached at any level. Coach Thurin put up with me being a smart aleck. And now he’s a YouTube sensation.
3. The town support was phenomenal, both on the road and at home. I remember during the state playoffs I fumbled a punt right before halftime, fortunately the other team missed a field goal. As I was running off the field I saw this lady (who will remain nameless) making a B-line towards me as we went to the locker room. I’m seeing this happen thinking she was going to give me some words of encouragement, and she came with, “Pull your head out of your (—) Anderson.” Now that’s passionate fans! Ha-ha!
Fortunately, we won the state football championship, something I will never forget. I was part of a NCAA National Championship, and it still doesn’t compare to that high school championship.
I will say this, Joel Long probably should have started ahead of me at quarterback as a freshman when I was a senior. Probably one of the few mistakes Coach Gaston ever made.
Basketball—As a sophomore, I had just moved to town in the middle of the year and I played for Coach Lawson’s varsity. I was used mainly in late games to run out the clock, etc. He put me in the regional finals to go to state and as I got up out of my seat Joe Carlson and John Keuten stopped me to tell me, “If you screw this up we are going to beat your (—).” Probably the most pressure that I ever played under at any level—ha-ha! They wanted to go to state pretty bad!
During my senior year, the people of Grant basically adopted me, they were special! We had a Hoosiers moment as my dad tried to come out of the stands onto the floor at Benkelman to fight one of the officials, as I had picked up my fourth foul in the second quarter. Obviously, my disdain of officials was passed down to me genetically. Thank God he didn’t make it, as about three or four dads stopped him before he got too far out on the floor. I never forgot that! And never will.
Lastly, I’m blaming my lack of success in the state basketball tournament to not being used to shooting at a goal that wasn’t attached to a wall.
The school was good academically. Most of the teachers had been there for a while and cared about the students. I remember Mrs. Kleist’s English class one day had two guys arguing over something and it got pretty heated. She told them to take it outside and settle it and when they were done to come back in to class.
I think it was Bill Gartner and Rick Martinez, who happened to be pretty good friends. They came back after about five minutes, a little dirtier and a little worse for wear, beat up and scratched up, and our class did not miss a beat. Can you imagine what would happen today if a teacher did that? Mrs. Kleist was a great teacher—too bad I was not smart enough to pay better attention back then.
Coming back full circle to what my original process was—growing up in a small town is a great place to be raised. Fortunately for myself, the town of Grant helped me when I needed an extended family, particularly the Weymeyers and Burnhams.
My son’s argument is usually that he couldn’t be doing what he is doing for a career if he had been raised in a town the size of Grant. That’s where I know he’s wrong! I’ve coached 31 years, 30 at the college level, and had a lot more highs than lows. I’ve won National Championships and had major disagreements with people on the board of regents of universities. By the way, you’re not going to win that battle most of the time, whether it’s the person on your local school board who’s mad because you’re not playing his kid or a regent who made you mad! Ha-ha!
I love where I graduated from high school, and people who I work with probably get tired of my stories. I just didn’t realize what a great place it was at the time.
I do follow the Plainsmen on the internet and wear out Russ Pankonin and Mike Barry about once a month or so. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter. I don’t trust myself to not say something that I shouldn’t! But I do get on and check out Kevin Poppe’s Facebook page when my wife or kids are on it. He has a lot of pictures.
Thanks again, Grant, after 30-something years, for being there for a smart aleck move-in who you took in!
P.S. I thought I was done.
1. I hate the thought of us going to eight-man football and I don’t know exactly why.
2. If you get down to a Rockies game this year, yell at my son, Brett, and let him know you’re from Grant. He better be courteous to you! He just got traded to the Rockies from the A’s.