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Local Sports

September 26, 2011

Tradition brings alums back to Ada

Ada — The stars — an estimated 600 of them — aligned perfectly during last week’s celebration of the first century of Ada High football.

Players who were responsible for a record 19 state championships between 1951 and 1996 were recognized at halftime of the Cougars’ 49-6 victory over Southeast Friday night at Norris Field in the culmination of a two-day event that exceeded all expectations for organizers and participants alike.

“I’m super surprised,” longtime Ada school board member Charlie Mayhue — a halfback on the first of Craig McBroom’s six state championship teams in 1959 — said before Friday’s game. “I knew we were going to have a lot of people, but the turnout surpassed anything we anticipated. I think we had 600 to 700 people last night (at a meet-and-greet at the Cougar Activity Center), but there could have been more.”

Ada athletic director Mike Anderson, who joined Mayhue and superintendent Pat Harrison in directing a massive undertaking that, in the end, went off with a hitch, said he was pleased but not terribly surprised by the attendance for Friday’s game and the events leading up to it.

“I’m not sure any other place in America could have pulled this off,” Anderson said during halftime. “There is a lot of tradition here, and these guys are proud of what they’ve accomplished. This proves that.

“The turnout exceeded expections,” he added, “but I knew these guys would turn out for something as important as the celebration of 100 years of Ada football.”

Mayhue, who played three years for legendary coach Elvan George before McBroom took over the program in the fall of 1959 and later went on to play three years in Bud Wilkinson’s secondary at the University of Oklahoma, said the Ada football program was the gold standard in Oklahoma from the 1950s through the 1990s,  largely because of the innovations introduced by George, who went on to a successful career at East Central University.

“In the 50s and 60s, we had an advantage because we lifted weights and had offseason workouts,” he recalled. “Other schools weren’t doing that back then.

“We had a lot of good athletes, but we had a big advantage because of our offseason work,” Mayhue added. “When I got to OU, we didn’t work as hard in the offseason as I did in high school.”

Although Ada hasn’t won a state title in 15 years, Mayhue said other things have remained the same where the football program is concerned.

“Ada has always been strong-spirited in support of its athletic programs,” he said. “But back in the 50s, we were EXPECTED to win. If you didn’t win a state championship, you were a failure. I was on state championship teams in 1956, 1957 and 1959. We lost to Cushing in the championship game in 1958, and to this day dat that team is known as ‘The Failures of ‘58’.”

Mayhue, who has been a member of the Ada school board for almost 40 years, said that during his college career he was on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” twice, and each time he helped add to the legend of a future Hall of Famer.

“I helped make Joe Namath and Gale Sayers famous,” Mayhue said with a smile. “Namath was on the cover of ‘Sports Illustrated’ throwing a touchdown pass over me in the Orange Bowl, and Sayers was on the cover faking me out of my jock strap. I played against him for three years (Sayers was an All-American at the University of Kansas), and he did that to me a lot.”

Mayhue said he was fortunate to play for three of the best coaches in Oklahoma football history at any level.

“I played for Elvan George, Craig McBroom and Bud Wilkinson,” he said. “You can’t get any better than that.”

Wayne Lee, who played with Mayhue at Ada High and was his roomate at OU, said he wasn’t surprised at all by the response to last week’s reunion.

“Football in Ada is the culture of Ada,” said Lee, who traveled from his home in Boulder, Colo., to take part in last week’s festivities. “People here define themselves by how the football team does.”

Lee said the failure of the 1958 Cougars to win a state title created a camaraderie among the players on that team that is still strong today, and he said the 100-year reunion gave him a chance to talk to players who were his heroes before he got to high school.

“Being branded as failures bonded us,” he said. “We’re a close bunch. Our reunions are a lot of fun.

“This is a terrific opportunity,” Lee noted. “Guys that I watched as a kid that were my heroes are here. We might be has-beens on the field, but we are part of something special and will be all of our lives. We fought wars together.”

Like almost everyone involved with the celebration, Lee said he was impressed with the turnout.

“It’s phenomenal ... but’s it Ada,” he noted. “There’s a lot of tradition, and these kids on the field now need to understand that.”

Hicks Smith, a member of the 1970 state championship team, moved back to Ada three years ago after spending two decades in Tucson, AZ. Smith, who owns AAA Insurance, was another of the organizers of the 100th Anniversary event and said he was amazed at the response.

“It exceeded our expectations,” he admitted. “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in Ada.”

Smith and his teammates ended a four-year “drought” for Ada football when they captured the 1970 title behind quarterback Larry McBroom, who would win seven championships as coach of the Cougars — the first in 1980 and the last in 1995.

“He never surprised me (with his success as a coach),” Smith said of McBroom. “He was a great quarterback, and he had a great football mind. He had a great head as far as a field general.”

Smith said the things he learned as a high school football player helped him become a success later in life.

“Football is a life lesson,” he said. “You set a goal and put your heart in it and keep your focus, and you’ll get what you want.”

Joe Lee Walker was a halfback on teams that lost just two games and captured three state titles under George between 1955 and 1957, then he returned as an assistant coach during Larry McBroom’s first championship season in 1980. After moving away for a second time, Walker moved back to Ada in 1990 and saw the end of the McBroom dynasty later in that decade.

“This is fantastic,” he said Friday among the crowd on the field during pre-game ceremonies. “It’s an unbelievable turnout. A lot of good ol’ boys I played with came back for this.”

Walker said football in the 1950s was a far cry from what fans and players are used to these days.

“It’s changed a lot — now you can’t hit people with your helmet,” he said with a wide grin. “People here still have the same spirt, it’s just a different brand of football with different rules.

“The city still supports the team, but it’s not the same because there are so many other distractions,” Walker added. “Back then there was nothing else to do on Friday night but go to the football game.”

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