Thanks to John for permission to reprint this article!
With schools back in session and fall approaching, many of us become almost preoccupied with thoughts of football. Be it on the professional level or the Pee-Wee level, or for that matter, anything in between, we are literally saturated with the sport at this time of year.
For many in our community, watching the Eagles play has become a Friday night ritual. Today's Eagle squad, with its coaches, equipment and facilities is "big business" compared to the very first team fielded in Westmoreland.
The year was 1931. Westmoreland High School principal, H. H. Howser, had just agreed to add a football program to the school's extracurricular activities. At the time, the school nickname was the "Hilltoppers," since the school was located on top of the hill at the corner of Bledose and Locust Streets. The name would not be changed to the "Eagles" until after 1956 with the opening of the new high school on Old 31-E. The first coaches were Walter Mullins and Ralph Howser.
The school purchased, at a sizable discounted price, the "used" uniforms of a nearby prep school. Nobody seemed to mind that the color of the uniforms, yellow, did not match the school's adopted color. As best as could be done, alterations had to be made for the uniforms to fit and the leather helmets and shoulder pads had to simply be worn whether they fit or not. Shoes were purchased by the players at a local general store owned by T. C. Harrison. Being unable to afford cleated shoes, the players would by a regular pair, then cut small square strips of leather and stack them on the soles. The pieces of leather would be held on by tacks. Occasionally, players were heard to scream out in pain as the tacks pushed up into the bottoms of their feet!
Practices were held in a field just below the old high school. This is the present-day site of the Little League ball field on Oak Street.
Shortly after the first practices had begun, it was announced that Hartsville would be the Hilltoppers first opponent. According to Mr. Harris Brown, a member of that first team and from whom much of this article's information was obtained, our boys eagerly anticipated this first victim. Never mind that even at that early date Hartsville already had a rich tradition of football success. To make matters worse, one of their star players that year was Phil Dickens who would later be listed as All-American. Finally, the game was to be played in Hartsville.
Come game day, our new team made its way to Trousdale County. With nervous excitement, the boys suited up and the coaches went over last minute plans. The crowd began to build with a large following from Westmoreland having made the short trip over. Soon, the whistle was sounded and our boys pitched head-long into the fray. From the beginning, the battle was fierce but one-sided. It appears our boys spent the better part of the day attempting to figure out just what this game called football was really all about. Having just about had his feel of being roughed-upped and man-handled most of the day, on of our players knelt into his stance before the next play and looked across the line square into the eyes of his Hartsville opponent and pleaded, "You don't hit me and I won't hit you!"
Mercifully, the final whistle was blown and Westmoreland High School's first football game came to and end. The final score told the story: Hartsville 126 Westmoreland 0. It was a score that was often bragged about in Hartsville and laughed at in Westmoreland and elsewhere.
Our team never really held much of a home field advantage when playing in Westmoreland. The reason was simple: There was never much of a home field. The first home game was against Lafayette and was played in a then vacant lot behind the present-day Cathy's Country Cupboard restaurant. This field was usually used by the nearby sawmill owned by Clay Law, the forerunner of L&B Lumber Company, to store lumber. Another site for games was the present-day location of Taco Ted's and surrounding houses, which was an open field at the time.
Westmoreland's first football program was short-lived, ending in 1934 with the arrival of a new, less than supportive principal. Regular opponents included Hartsville, Lafayette, Donelson, Gallatin, Adams, Gainsboro, Bell Buckle, and Cedar Hill.
Mr. Brown related several humorous events that took place during some of those games. Against Gallatin, a game was to be played in Westmoreland. Gallatin had a rather large band for that time and it was discovered that they would be coming to the game. Westmoreland had no band but the coach at the time, Leo Boles, enlisted the help of a student and cheerleader known for her practical jokes, Mary Frank Caldwell. Coach Boles told Mary to spread the word for those attending the game to bring pots and pans and anything else that would make noise. The effort was successful for every time Gallatin's band played, the Westmoreland fans would reply with the sounds of pots, pans, chains, cowbells, horns, and so forth. That's a tradition still followed today, with a few air horns thrown in for good measure!
In another game with Gallatin, this time there. Mr. Brown suffered a separated shoulder. The coaches ran onto the field and they, along with the players crowed around to examine the injury. Unknown to Mr. Brown, his father, Squire W. Brown, was in attendance. Not known much about the game, to him it appeared to be little more than a bunch of boys fighting each other. Seeing his son injured in this "fight," he left the stands, ran onto the field and forced his way into the crowd gathered around his son. Upon reaching his son, he grabbed him and shouted, "You get out of there right now!" and promptly took him back home.
In an away game against Bell Buckle, Mr. Brown sustained a blow to the head which left his face feeling numb. Concerned about his injury, the coaches permitted him to ride in the cab of the truck on the return trip home. The other players had to ride back the way they came, sitting on benches in the back of an open truck. However, there was a price to be paid in that Mr. Brown was unable to attend a big supper that evening which had been prepared by some girls in the community.
Perhaps the funniest incident of all for the team involved a game at Gainsboro. Instead of traveling in one truck, the team was taken to the game in a number of separate cars. Unfortunately, some of the players got lost and did not make the game. It was soon realized that Westmoreland did not have enough players to start the game. In desperation, one of the coaches, Harold Leftwich, put on a uniform and played one of the open positions! He was old enough to have had some gray in his hair. This potential problem was hidden from the referees by the application of a thick coat of black shoe polish to his hair. Leftwich played the entire game, unnoticed by either the referees or anyone from the other side.
Some of those who played on those early teams included Harris Brown, Corbit Keen, Forrest Roark, Doug Roark, Paul Fykes, Harris Howser, Edison Doss, Robert Morris, Etheridge Dodson, Clay Jent, Kermit Cornwell, Cary Cornwell, Collins Brown, W. C. Majors, Funston Carr, Elmer Calvert, Robert Mays, Edward Simmons, and Billy "Bully" Bell.