Life's Lessons Learned

Paul Oakley graduated from McKinley in 1961 where he played football, freshman basketball, swimming and track. The football teams he played on from ‘58 through ‘60 never lost a conference game, which continues to be the longest undefeated string in the city.

Paul graduated from Northeast Missouri State where he lettered in football and acted in nine college theatrical productions. Attended graduate school at Southwest Missouri State, where he adapted “Hound of the Baskervilles” to the stage and later produced and directed it for PBS. He taught English, coached football, wrestling and baseball at several schools. Paul is currently working to get his first novel published.

During my Junior year at McKinley, I played right tackle on offense, and left tackle on defense for the football team. Coach Blanke never platooned. That meant we played the whole game, and as a result were in very good shape. During the games, at the quarter, when the teams changed ends of the field, we raced to huddle near the new line of scrimmage and lined up to run our next play, many times before the other team arrived, and many of those guys only played defense. If the quarter change was over fifty or sixty yards, we prided ourselves in being ready to run a play before the defense ran up the field, could catch their breath, and line up.

It was during those instances when we could see it in their faces. They knew they were going to take a beating. With only three seniors on that team, it is small wonder we went undefeated the next year when we became seniors. I don't know what Coach Blanke and Coach Glore did to us – but then, maybe I do. They ran our butts off, and we were always ready to play, and we never expected to lose. [Paul Oakley - last row, third from left].

Championship Football Team - 1958

In practice, we ran wind sprints. Lots of wind sprints. We ran five after every practice and sometimes even before. We would line up in three lines and Coach Blanke would send us off with his whistle, one line at a time, for a forty to fifty yard sprint. Coach Glore would turn us around and send us back. Up and back was one wind sprint. It always seemed like two, but they were counted as one. Sometimes we would bear-crawl the width of the field. I truly hated those things. I was envious of guys like John Rappe, who could scamper like a bear cub across that dusty old field we affectionately called, the “Campus.” Recently, I drove by the Campus just to look it over. I was astounded. It actually had grass, and it even needed mowing. I don't believe I've ever seen more than a blade or two growing on it. I never thought grass would grow on cinders and brown dust.

I can remember the sweltering summer practices when we would have to walk barefoot the block from school to our practice field. Coach said it was to toughen our feet to prevent blisters. Everyone used the same jaunty quick-legged step over the gravel-strewn sidewalk from Busbee's Drive In, across from school. I was a sophomore before I realized if I walked in the street, I'd miss all those pebbles and pain. In my entire life, my feet have never had a blister.

Two starters would be named Captain every week before a game. Generally, after school, we would start practice on our own before the coaches arrived. There would be this lone, single line of guys hanging on to the chain link fence, everyone calling out "up" as we raised on our toes with our feet in a ballet pirouette. We followed, still hanging on the fence, with deep knee bends. The coaches usually showed up before we were through. We would spread out on the field with the two Captains, for that week, facing the squad.

Lannie Ranenberg was particularly sadistic about doing leg lifts. I took pride in the fact that I could keep up with anyone. Knees straight, hands under your hip pads, feet six inches off the ground; "up" was the call for the umpteenth time. Many guys would moan, and a few would bitch, but somehow, everyone would get their legs straight up.

We were small in 1959. I was the biggest starter at a rawboned 195 pounds. Big Willy Jones was taller, but he was right at 190. Spiro Athanas was the smallest at five feet seven, and weighted 140 pounds. What he lacked in size he made up for in brass. The quarterback calling signals before each play was always the same; down [We got down in our stance]. Odd or even [Meaning there was either a man over center or not], green 21 [The live color to change the play was usually black], hut one, hut two and so on. Mickey Robinson, our 1960 QB, always went on two, Spiro used more imagination. The tackles had to get to the line in a hurry and get our hands behind our backs before we were given the down call. The straight handoff [46] was the key to success in running a wing T, and on that play, we signaled the fullback with our hands, which way we were going to try to block our guy and he was to run accordingly. When 46 worked, everything worked. We put our hands behind our backs even if it wasn’t a straight handoff. Sometimes, when we were not running 46, I would let my opponent see my inside signal and he would call out and attract a lot of attention. That made it a lot easier getting around the end or off tackle.

My very last play in high school was a 46 against Bishop Dubourg on Turkey Day. We were on their ten-yard line, with a few seconds left, and they bunched us toward the middle and an outside signal would easily put Morris Rideout in the end zone. Morris ran so low and so tough he sometimes made more yards by running into some poor guy. He must of missed it, because he came barreling into my inside and we still made it to the six inch line as the game ended. With Harry Despawau’s kick, the score would have been 34 to zip. Oh well, 28 to 0 wasn’t bad.

When I started my football career at McKinley, I was such a frightened little boy. Thanks to Coach Blanke and Coach Glore, I gained a great deal of confidence by the time I graduated. I've never taken myself too seriously, but even now when things aren't going the best, I never quit. I never throw up my hands and give up. I still feel like a winner. Thanks to that old school and all those wonderful people, I still feel endowed with the McKinley spirit. If I just can keep plugging away, I feel I'll always come out on top.


-- Paul Oakley