recent photo of Union Grove Elem School
Photo courtesy Sam Lester
|Union Grove Texas
1941 Football Team
Photo courtesy George
I remember that balmy evening in May as I sat nervously
waiting for the principal to call my name signaling my turn to step
up and receive my Union Grove High School diploma. Sitting next to
me was my brother Sam - also waiting his turn. Around the state thousands
of others were experiencing the same thing…young, eager teenagers
embarking on a journey into the future. But with Sam and me it was
different. We were both in our seventies.
Governor Perry, with the help of others, provided the means for those
who interrupted their education to enter the service in World War
Two to receive their belated diplomas.
Here we were, almost 60 years later finally becoming high school graduates.
Earlier that day Sam and I had spent a wonderful afternoon at the
home of Lloyd Pyle, a fellow graduate of Union Grove along with several
other alumni of the school. They had planned a little party in our
honor prior to the graduation ceremony. We were a bit embarrassed
by the attention since almost all the other guests had also been in
the war; some with records that far surpassed ours. The only difference
was, we were the only ones receiving diplomas that night.
The fellowship and the conversation were warm and inviting as we sat
around and swapped stories from over a half-century before. Some of
them I will share with you now.
Grove in Dark Jerseys - East Mountain in Light
courtesy Sam Lester
UG VS EM
Union Grove vs East Mountain - 1941
# 11 Thurman Starkley, #12 J.D. (Kinky) White, #15 Don McAfee, #17
Frank Smith, # 20, Jo Berry Floyd, #22 Earl Tackett, #24 James Coulter,
#40 Morris Kirk (for some reason wearing a white jersey) Player nearer
the camera on the right with his arm around the other player is Bill
This photo was taken after the Union Grove-East Mountain game in 1941.
The game was always played on neutral ground in Gilmer during the
YAMBOREE festival. In those days there was no such thing as a face
mask penalty...since we had no face masks. Our helmets were very thin
and offered minimum protection against shock. That was long before
the days of Spandex so the pants were baggy causing the pads to flop
around our legs, leaving them vulnerable.
(For a brief rundown of 1940s rules - see Helmets
were Optional - Ed)
Union Grove only had 125 in the entire high school so the band director
and the football coach worked out an agreement so we could participate
in both activities. I remember our line averaged 165 pounds and our
backfield averaged only 135. As a third string back I weighed in at
a hefty 118 pounds. I spent most of my high school football career
watching from the bench but I did make a good blocking dummy during
scrimmages. I was even knocked unconscious a couple of times by overly
I was a much better clarinet player.
By the way, we won that game with East Mountain 13-6.
had to run it out or the other team got a safety if you were tackled
in the end zone." - George
Helmets were Optional
Some 1940 Football Rules
There was no two-platoon system. The players were required to play
both offense and defense
In the early 40s there was no touchback rule when you intercepted
a pass in the end zone. You had to run it out or the other team got
a safety if you were tackled in the end zone.
There were no flags for penalties. The referee had two sound-making
devices. A whistle to stop play and a horn to signal a penalty. It
was very confusing The coach drummed it into us "Stop playing when
you hear a whistle, keep on playing when you hear a horn." No wonder
they changed it.
You could play without a helmet if you wanted to. We had a great runner,
Leonard Charles, who was deaf in one ear so he couldn't hear signals.
Five minutes into the game he would throw his helmet to the sidelines
and the crowd would go wild. Usually he'd score a touchdown in the
The silent rule: A player coming into the game was not allowed to
say a word until a play was run. On one occasion, a player entering
the game shouted "OK boys, let's get going!" - and it cost us a 15-yard
Members on tour in Waco
From left, Truitt Smith, George AKA "Eddie" Lester, Gorman Prince
and Earl Tackett
courtesy George Lester
photo is my brother Sam taken at the old Alamo Plaza Tourist Court
(the word "motel" had not been coined yet) in Waco about '41 during
a band contest. - Geroge Lester
The band departing Waco's Alamo Courts
courtesy George Lester
Oil Wells and High School
Revenue sent Band to Waco
Even though the depression was still going on we at Union Grove High
School had it pretty good because the school district owned three
producing oil wells. This allowed the school to supply the students
with a lot of things poorer schools could not afford. When the band
went on trips, transportation, hotel rooms and food were all paid
Therefore, being in the band opened doors to a lifestyle we couldn't
hope to have otherwise. Our band director, Jack Mahan, was a real
taskmaster who stood for no nonsense. You could hear a pin drop during
rehearsals. He drove us and inspired us to rise high above our expectations
and our band soon gained a reputation of excellence that spread far
beyond our area. I remember the many times he would place sheet music
on our music stands facing away from us. Turning the music over on
a signal from him forced us to learn sight reading.
This drill paid off for me when I enlisted in the Marines. When I
got out of boot camp, there were forty-four Marines auditioning for
the base band in San Diego. As I heard some of the musicians warming
up, I thought to myself: "Golly, I don't stand a chance." However,
when the sheet music was placed before them, they faded away one at
a time and I was one of only three that was accepted.
Thank you Jack Mahan.
In which "Eddie" receives a one-way ticket to Palookaville
I remember one summer I had a friend that lived in Gladewater,
Texas just a couple of miles from the Union Grove area. He had won
several amateur boxing matches and was willing to help me learn a
bit about the manly art. We spent many hours sparring behind the house
in the hot summer sun. After a while neighbor kids would come to watch.
Against my wishes, my friend would take his gloves off and invite
one of the spectators to try his luck against his prize student. To
my surprise, I found that I had become a pretty good boxer and my
confidence grew with each newly-defeated opponent.
When school started that fall I learned the school was going to have
a boxing team for the first time and I jumped at the chance to join.
The school divided the boxers into two teams who would later face
each other in an event toward the end of the school year. At practice
each day, I continued to easily beat my sparring partners. My confidence
Finally, the big day came and the two teams were to face each other
- one bout at a time. I learned who my opponent would be and I knew
him to be a soft-spoken, shy fellow that wouldn't harm a flea.
I came out of my corner at the opening bell and that's about all I
While I had been practicing jabs, hooks, upper cuts and dodging, he
totally ignored all rules and boxing logic and came at me like a Tasmanian
devil - with fists flying in every direction. I was totally overwhelmed
and was thankful when the referee stopped the fight.
I didn't come out for boxing the next year.
Photography (before Photoshop)
Left: George Lester
Center: Paul ?
Right: Bill McKean
courtesy George Lester
Saturday Night Fever (Upshur County Version)
Thrills? Maybe. Chills? Yes.
We lived about four miles from Gladewater
on an oil lease that my dad maintained. My brother Sam and I thought
nothing of walking that little jaunt into town to take in a movie.
One Saturday in the fall we did just that. We found out there was
a real good "picture show" playing at the Liberty theatre, the one
where admission was only 25 cents.
As we started the trek into town we noticed dark clouds gathering
above, but that was no deterrent to a couple of adventurous teenagers.
We stubbornly marched on toward town but as we entered the city limits
the skies opened up. Making a mad dash across the street to seek shelter,
I slipped and fell into the gutter - becoming completely submerged
in the muddy water. Sam was soaked as well. The temperature had dropped
into the mid-60s and we were shivering badly. At this point you would
think that we'd turn around and head for home. No way!
We paid our admission and entered the air-conditioned theater soaking
wet. To make the best of a bad situation, we went into the restroom,
took off our clothes and began wringing them out. As luck would have
it, as we stood there in our underwear, the usher walked in. He was
almost ready to call a cop until we did some fast-talking and explained
what was going on. He walked out shaking his head.
We sat in our damp clothes watching the movie for two hours. Our teeth
were chattering so loudly you could hear them several aisles away.
When we left the theatre to face that four-mile walk back home the
temperature had dropped further - into the mid-50s and it was still
raining hard. We made it home, but we were both sick for a week. I
don't remember what the movie was…but must have been a good one.
adventures of George "Eddie" Lester and Brother Sam can be found at
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