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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

LEONARD

by George Lester
George Lester
He was probably the best all around athlete I ever knew personally. It just simply never occurred to Leonard that he couldn't do something. Fate dealt him a cruel blow early in his life when he lost the sight in one eye. If I ever knew how it happened I don't recall at the moment. This handicap never slowed him down. I felt as if he were almost oblivious to it. In fact, many of his friends weren't even aware of it. Leonard was the star running back for the Union Grove High School Lions the first year I attended the facility. I was a member of the band, sitting safely in the stadium while the players participated in this rugged sport. Come to think of it, this was probably the first football game I had seen. We had no such luxury back in Spunky Flat and Eureka School. As I watched the athletes butting skulls in this brutal contest I wondered how anyone could survive such an experience. The game had been going on for only a few minutes when I saw a football helmet come flying to the sidelines. A deafening cheer arose from the crowd. A band member excitedly informed me that this was Leonard getting rid of the cumbersome headwear because it hindered his vision out of his one good eye. The consensus was that only great and wonderful things would occur on the field of battle after this gesture. Just as predicted on the next play or two a lone figure emerged from a mass of humanity and ran unfettered to the end zone. Leonard had lived up to the crowd's expectations again! I saw this same thing happen many more times that football season and it never failed to send the spectators into hysterics. Me included.

Football wasn't Leonard's only talent. He was by far the best boxer in the area, bar none. He won every amateur contest he entered when I knew him. The fame he gained was sort of like the old western gun fighter's. There was always someone who thought he could beat him. A lot of them tried. None succeeded. I was nearer the age of Leonard's brother Celby and we palled around often. One day Celby looked a little concerned and I asked him why. He said that there was a boxer from Gladewater High School who wanted a match with Leonard and his challenge was accepted. Celby had seen this young fighter in action and he was vicious. He didn't just win fights. He left several of his opponents with injuries. Ordinarily this wouldn't have concerned Celby but he knew that his brother had just gotten out of bed with the flu and he was in a weakened condition. Finally the two met in the high school gym after school. I didn't get to see the match myself but Celby told me about it later. The young contestant came out at the opening bell with a blur of flying fists. However, he was hitting only air. Leonard patiently waited for his chance. Without the slightest warning a loud thud echoed through the gymnasium and the gallant young fighter fell to his knees while still hugging Leonard's waist. The bell saved him and he tried to get back in the contest but all he could do was hang on trying not to get pummeled any more. It didn't work. Mercifully, the fight was stopped.
The 1941 Union Grove Football Team

Photo courtesy George Lester
After graduation Leonard returned to Union Grove to coach junior varsity football as an unpaid volunteer. That's when I decided to go out for the JV team. Under his coaching we went undefeated. He also continued to follow football as a spectator. He saw all the Union Grove varsity games and as many others in the area as he could. Leonard was as dedicated as a fan as he was as a player. I remember once when he was at a Friday night game rooting the Lions on. The next morning our band was to march in a parade in Gladewater. Playing JV football still allowed my participation in all band activities. While we were waiting for the show to get started someone walked up to the band director and spoke softly to him. As the man walked away the band director's face was ashen. He called us all up close and told us what had happened. On the way home from the game the car in which Leonard was riding was forced into a ditch by a careless driver. When the window glass shattered Leonard received a large cut under his arm. An artery was severed and he bled to death before help arrived.

We received a signal that the parade was about to start so we all fell in place. Just before the drum major gave the down beat to start playing I heard someone say "I always thought Leonard was too tough to die".
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir
- February 15, 2006 column

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This page last modified: February 15, 2006