As Sam Sees It

The 1964-65 Winslow High School reunion was a great deal of fun for me, almost as much as it was for Coach Emil Nasser and people like Mike Madeo, Mike and Sean Sullivan, Johnny Hysong and others who made it so enjoyable for the rest of us.

At the end of October, I went to my own high school reunion in Casa Grande. We were a small school at that time and our sporadic reunions are usually for classes within a decade. My class of 1954 was joined by classes of the rest of the 50s and we made up a fairly large and formidable crowd.

There were certainly plenty of old acquaintances renewed.

Junior Tate, one of the greatest athletes to come out of any Arizona high school was there. Tate was a force in football, basketball, baseball and track.

Many schools, including Winslow, do not allow an athlete to compete in two sports within the same season. Casa Grande did and reaped the benefits of that decision.

Jimmy Henness, a man whose father was the best friend of my father, was there and we found that we had a lot more than that in common. We had played with or against many of the same excellent softball players and both loved the game of fast pitch softball.

Henness and his family were also friends with the O'Haco family in Winslow. I really appreciated the many nice things he had to say about my father.

Bobby Lopez, another gifted multi-sport athlete was there and a pleasure to visit with as always. Bobby went on to become a professor at Sacramento State.

He was the former Cougar great who started the crowd singing our school song, "CG our Hearts are Loyal." Maybe it dated us as everyone in that crowded auditorium seemed to know the words and be singing them.

There was some sadness, too. My great friend Dave Halbison was not among those gathered and never will be again. Henness gave me the news of his passing: we had lost a mutual friend.

Halbison was one of the best baseball and softball players I ever had the pleasure of playing with and against. He was also a key member of Casa Grande's undefeated, state championship football team of 1951.

Halbison was more than a great athlete; he was a great friend and a wonderful man. He played with the Casa Grande Cotton Kings semi-pro baseball team that was one of the best such teams in the entire United States.

He was a humble man who said that he was just happy to have the opportunity to play with such greats as Bud McBride, Linc Richmond, Gil Trejo, Blondie Robbins, Donnie Lee, Bud Younger and the other fine Cotton King players. He belonged with them and was one of the best.

He was probably the most powerful hitter I ever saw. When we played softball together, there was no fence around the fence at that park in Casa Grande. Outfielders played 300-350 or even 400 feet away for Halbison, willing to give him a single to take away his massive home runs.

I remember seeing an outfielder catch a ball he hit at the edge of the volleyball courts. When a fence was finally installed, you could have built an entire second field between that fence and where his ball was caught.

Larry Prather, my old neighbor and friend was there, but he had bad news to deliver, too. His parents had passed away since the last time I had called them.

There were some excellent female athletes in our class, too, but they had never gotten a chance to prove it. About the only athletic event open to girls in those years was tennis.

The only tennis player I saw there was Sue Nelson Belt, but she reminded me that there had been several better than she. She named Bertha Buzzari, daughter of the man who ran a shoe shop that was a hangout for CG athletes, especially baseball players.

Tony was also deeply involved in American Legion Baseball and one of the world's truly good guys. She also cited Eleanor Cabanellos, another outstanding female athlete. If either of those ladies was there, I did not recognize them.

The world has changed a lot since those days. Casa Grande doesn't have the same fight song and the Cougars are not feared the way they once were. A good change is that the girls of today have their chance to shine, too.

Finally, we were also missing the great Cougar football and track coach Al Van Hazel whom we had planned to honor at the reunion. The coach had died in July. He was honored anyway as we remembered his three football and 10 track state championships.

Van was an avid golfer who played every day possible, usually 36 holes. He recorded an incredible 20 holes in one and was shooting a score lower than his age for the last dozen or so of his 80 plus years on earth.

He was much a man.

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