John Shearer: Random Thoughts About Wild Baylor-McCallie Game, Ralph McGill, PBS Holocaust Special, And Adolph Ochs

  • Saturday, October 1, 2022
  • John Shearer

I have been fortunate to watch every Baylor-McCallie football game starting with the one in 1986, as well as seven in the 1970s, and the game I saw Friday was one of the craziest and most exciting I have ever seen.


Baylor was able to win, 31-27, for its first victory over the powerhouse Big Blue since 2015, but the score alone does not give much of a hint into the full story line.

McCallie appeared to have the slightly better team and had more statistical yardage, but Baylor received two giant gifts in the forms of McCallie turnovers in the fourth quarter.


First, Marceo Collins picked up a fumbled snap and ran 36 yards for a TD to help pull Baylor to three points behind the Blue Tornado. And then a short time later, Cameron Sparks stripped the ball from standout McCallie running back Tario Price deep in Baylor territory and the ball bounced through the end zone for a touchback that gave the ball to Baylor.


Baylor quarterback Whit Muschamp - the son of well-known college coach Will Muschamp and a player who helped Baylor greatly with magician-like scrambling during the game - then threw a scoring pass to Amari Jefferson. Mr. Jefferson, in turn, looked like an Olympic sprinter zooming past defenders into the endzone for the go-ahead touchdown.


Baylor then was able to hold the outstanding McCallie offense twice after that for the win under first-year coach Erik Kimrey, and the Baylor students stormed the field.


For Baylor fans who had suffered through seven losses in the last eight seasons, it was an exciting moment to savor for the ages. For McCallie, it was a rare disappointment against their rivals, knowing miscues were the primary factors in keeping them from enjoying their seventh victory in a row in the series.


The Blue Tornado players, who gathered with coach Ralph Potter and others for an unusually long time in the post-game meeting on the field, are also no doubt hoping they will get a chance to meet Baylor again in the Division II playoffs and possibly redeem themselves.


I believe with the Baylor win, the series record is 45-42-3 in favor of Baylor, if one includes three playoff games and two games McCallie won in 1905 and 1906. Baylor historically has said it did not become serious about interscholastic sports until 1908, so some further digging would be required to see the significance of the 1905 and ’06 wins when McCallie was in its first two years of existence.


I have never actually looked up articles on those games in old newspapers, if they exist, but have been meaning to.


Of course, most people just focus on recent history, and McCallie’s record is 18-8 against the Big Red beginning since the 1998 season, with the highly successful Ralph Potter at the helm for McCallie during most of those years.


Over the years the unique local game has been played at Chamberlain Field, Andrews Field where Engel Stadium is now, Finley Stadium, and each other’s school. And since the rivalry was renewed in 1971 after a 31-year hiatus, it has been played on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night.


Since the schools started playing at each other’s field after several years at Finley Stadium, some creative offerings have been introduced. McCallie has had fireworks shows after the McCallie victories at home to make the July 4th folks at Macy’s and the nation’s capital envious.


Baylor last night had a deejay playing music, but perhaps the most unique new tradition was that the Baylor student body hid in the woods behind one of the end zones and then ran out as one to make their way to the stands before the game. It was a new twist in this ancient rivalry.


A lot of famous athletes and successful people have played in the game. In my off-and-on studying of the history, I realized that in the 1916 game – does anyone remember that one? Ha Ha – future Coca-Cola bottler Cartter Lupton played for Baylor and Ralph McGill played for McCallie.


Mr. McGill went on to become a columnist for the Atlanta Constitution and won a Pulitzer Prize for an angry editorial denouncing the 1958 bombing of The Temple, a large house of worship for members of the Jewish faith in Atlanta.


Coming from a mid-century Southerner -- who also was a white voice in the wilderness calling out for equal rights for blacks -- it was considered quite a transcendent piece. This was a man who had initially also been a sportswriter.


I thought about Mr. McGill last week when watching the excellent Ken Burns’ documentary on PBS about the United States’ dealing with the Holocaust tragedy, in which millions of Jewish people were put to death under the Adolf Hitler Nazi regime in Germany.


The main point of the documentary was that perhaps America did not do as much as it could have early on to aid the Jewish people throughout Europe facing repression and persecution. That included everything from low immigrant quotas allowed for those from certain countries to the anti-Semitism that existed in the U.S. in several circles before World War II. There was even an example of a boat carrying Jews escaping Nazi occupation and being turned away by the U.S. and other countries before being accepted in Scandinavia.


As the atrocities became more apparent, the U.S. and the Franklin Roosevelt administration did do more to help them, and there were one or two heroic actions by the governmental administrators mentioned.


Watching the roughly six-hour documentary over three nights, I as a United Methodist realized perhaps more clearly for the first time how horrible the Holocaust was. I mentioned the show to a Jewish neighbor and friend from our days living in Knoxville, and she said it would have been too sad for her to watch, so she did not see any of it


When I wrote a story on Mr. McGill for the Chattanooga News-Free Press way back in 1991, I had looked at a couple of books about and by him. I realized that not only was he a Soddy or Hamilton County native as he is often referenced when he is mentioned in connection with Chattanooga, but he also moved to Highland Park and went to McCallie as a youth.


It was during that time that he had a couple of experiences that changed his life greatly and helped him become more aware of the world and want to change it. One was a job he had as a young adult working for the Tom Snow roofing company, where a black man in his early 60s, Charlie White, was his boss.


He said they developed such a rapport that Mr. White was at the train station to wish him off to Vanderbilt when he returned to school after the summer job. He said he never forgot Mr. White and it helped give him more insight into the black experience.


He had also become well-acquainted through some local scholastic debate activities with a young Jewish girl about two years his senior, Rebecca Mathis Gershon, who attended Girls Preparatory School. She graduated in 1915 and was the daughter of a German immigrant. Mr. McGill said that the family taught him about the larger world outside of Chattanooga.


They developed a longtime friendship after they both ended up in Atlanta, and in 1959, she called to tell him some great news she had just heard on the radio. He had won the Pulitzer Prize for his editorial about the bombing incident. This man who never drove a car became a driving force for helping bring about civil rights changes in the South, and today a main street in downtown Atlanta and visible from the interstate bears his name.


One of Mrs. Gershon’s sons, Burton Gershon, just died this past May at the age of 101, I learned after trying to find more information on her.


Perhaps the most famous man of Jewish heritage to come out of Chattanooga was Adolph Ochs, who went on to head the Chattanooga Times and the New York Times, building the latter into one of the most prominent newspapers in the world.


While spending much of his time in New York, he died in 1935 in Chattanooga after becoming ill at a restaurant in a still-standing building across Georgia Avenue from the Hamilton County Courthouse.


But before he arrived in Chattanooga, the Cincinnati native spent some of his early years in Knoxville after the Civil War learning the newspaper trade.


It was due to that connection that he was honored this week in Knoxville with the unveiling of a plaque in Market Square near the former location of the Knoxville paper that employed him. It had come about through the efforts of the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.


Since I still also contribute on a freelance basis to a publication in Knoxville connected to the News Sentinel, I attended and covered the unveiling of the plaque at the nice ceremony.


Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon spoke at the event, and she said she did not know until later in her life that Mr. Ochs had connections to Knoxville.


“I am a longtime reader of the New York Times,” she said. “It’s an amazing newspaper and I had no idea at the time that the person who took that newspaper from sort of a small-town edition with many competitors to the paper of record for now for the world was a homegrown talent from right here in Knoxville, Tn.”


While some have scrutinized Mr. Ochs and his family’s support of Confederate memorial causes years ago and the time in which he lived, he has been praised by observers for bringing objectivity to readers other than on the editorial pages or opinion columns. He also was known for bringing more feature-like offerings to newspaper readers.


Mayor Kincannon also called the dedication an homage to the importance of journalism in a democracy.


“Not all heroes wear capes, and I sometimes have my hard times with journalists, but you hold me accountable, and you hold the city of Knoxville accountable, and you keep the city of Knoxville informed,” she said.


The same could likely be said for Mr. Ochs’ positive journalistic influence on the city of Chattanooga as well.


And by the way, two of his great-grandchildren - career New York Times executive Michael Golden and noted author Arthur Golden - attended Baylor. And other Ochs relatives have attended Girls Preparatory School. Whether any of them followed Friday night’s game “without fear or favor,” I am not sure!


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