Bob Mitchell: A few players remain

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The photo accompanying the Through the Years column in the May 3 Cassville Democrat set my mind to a time in 1942 and comparing circumstances with today. The conclusion was, there just are not many of those individuals around these days.

Surprisingly enough, so far as I know, there are only three members of the championship elementary school basketball team living today.

The purpose of the reprint of the photo in 1977 was to recognize the coach, John Quentin Hammons, who began his teaching career in Cassville after attending Monett Junior College. As most today, but not all, realize he put together a dynasty in the Holiday Inn and other accommodation firms throughout the United States.

Hammons also became a distinguished — but not always recognized — benefactor for Springfield and especially Missouri State University. A native of Fairview, he landed in Cassville basically at the whim of his aunt, Mrs. Hardy Kemp, who resided on West Street, across from the one-time Presbyterian Church.

The coach led his team to a pair of county championships, when most of the 100 rural schools were playing on outdoor courts. Only town schools had hardwoods.

Names and histories

In the middle row of the photo was the starting five, who usually ran up sufficient scores against opponents to permit plenty of play for their reserves. This is the story of their lives:

•  Doug Painter, who lived on the back road leading to the old Seventh Street school, lost his life in the Army in the Korean War.

• Bob Russell, an outstanding CHS Wildcat, played college ball at Pittsburg, Kan., and spent his lifetime in Oregon with a food supply firm.

• Doyle Gautney didn’t attend high school and made a career for himself as a Cassville mechanic. He died in an automobile accident.

• Don Edie, graduated from CHS and immediately joined the family business, Edie Appliances, located on Main Street in Cassville.

• Leon (Curley) Howard possibly had more potential as an athlete than any of the group. He worked at odd jobs mostly, and died mysteriously as a homeless person in Springfield.

The third teamers

In the front row of the photo, are seated the third teamers.

• First in line is one of those still living, Ray Rowland, a retired university employee in Minnesota, who is occasionally in attendance at our alumni gatherings.

• Next is J.C. Long, for whom I’ve completely lost any information.

• Leon Edie, Don’s brother, lost his life at middle age in an Arkansas industrial accident.

• Leonard Stansberry could have had the most colorful career of the group. He lived on the same road as the Painters, quarterbacked the football Wildcat return to the sport in 1946, went to college a short time, joined the Air Force and became one of the lead radio personnel aboard the presidential aircraft Air Force One. He passed away in a Cassville motel of a heart attack while back in town for a family emergency. Berry, as he was affectionately known, was a highly popular athlete during his high school career.

The second stringers

Standing in the back row is the second string five players.

• Jack Hutchens spent a career in Oklahoma and later in California with a soft ice cream firm. He lost his life in an auto accident after suffering a heart attack.

• Stanley Payne, was son of a First Christian Church pastor, another of those with no recollection at hand.

• Francis (Hank) Mathis, second of those still around, residing in Butterfield, retired at a fairly young age after an industrial accident.

• Then there is me, right next to the coach, who while I was in college offered me a job with JQH Inc., which was turned down to either stay in college or join the Navy to keep from being drafted before the Korean War. Joining the Navy was no doubt one of the best decisions I ever had because of the military experience I received in journalism.

As a sidebar

After Hammons left the teaching career to further his education at Southwest Missouri State College, as it was known in those days, he also was employed in Alaska before returning to Springfield after World War II, starting in the residential construction business and later going national in the travel accommodation business.

With the ball teams in place, a replacement coach was to come along in the person of the late Eunice Holman Thomas. She took hold of the responsibility like an experienced hand and maintained the same record of achievement through this group’s existence through the eighth grade graduation ceremony.

During this phase, the squad often got to practice with the Olson All American Redheads girls professional team when they were in town. The squad used the only gym, at the time, on the Cassville High School campus as their headquarters.

Now that was some experience battling those gals and their maneuvers!

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat, and a 2017 inductee into Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.