By RUTH MORGAN
For Starkville Daily News
It is football season. The air is cooler. The fans are starting to bet on the winners and losers. The players are strapping on their pads. The band members are attired in their pressed uniforms holding their shining instruments. The fields are freshly lined. The crowd is talking and waiting anxiously. Suddenly the announcement is heard, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the playing of our National Anthem.” And then a loud shout is heard from the crowd and the game begins.
The first football team photo I could find was in 1919 and there were no numbers showing on the jerseys. The team consisted of the following: Joe James Sulzby, Walter “Red” Cox, Johnny Almond, Frank Martin, Jimmy McReynolds, Harris Maxwell, Howard Cameron, Ed Richey, Curtis Cameron, Lawrence Arnold, Andrew Waddell, Carl Sikes, and Marshall “Mike” McKell.
In 1941, the Starkville High School won the Little Ten Championship. Numbers are shown on the jerseys. Many of you will recognize the names of this team because most are well known Starkvillians. They are Coach W. B. Lassiter, Henry Reynolds, Boland Overstreet, Joe Ed Robinson, Mickey Walker, George “Teaberry” McIngvale, Jim Richey, Thomas Kennard, Aven Templeton, Sarles Corhern, Willis Bell, Clyde Wade, John Castles, Hugh Kinard, Ronald Mingee, Jack Bryan, John Rutherford, James Parker, John Robert Arnold, Junior Bishop, Carl “Chicken” Howard, Jimmy Lloyd, Ray Bock, Gus Hogan, George Ramsey, Billy Oakes, Stennis Wax, Howard Williford, Jimmie Wilson, Jimmy Sipe, Ed Keene, and Johnny “Red Crews, Coach Doss Fulton, and Morris “Snake Watson” Adams, Manager
Many championship teams have followed since 1941 with excellent coaches like “Juicy” Scales, Jack Nix, and others who had consecutive championship teams. Some of the other early coaches whom I found in annuals at the Starkville Public Library include D. W. Aiken, Coach Hopper, and D. G. Fulton. I was unable to document all the coaches but these were the ones found in the library. In one of the annuals the players had a letter to Coach D. W. Aiken which read: “To our coach, we extend our appreciation and thanks for the invaluable service he has given us this year. It is to him that we owe all the success that is ours.”
The pride and glory years of the Starkville High School band is a highlight in the life of every band member and their parents who attended the football games to see and hear the marching band at halftime. A marching band is a lot of work mentally and physically. Remembering drill, proper technique for moving, playing musically, and adjusting to the movement of those around you. Getting air through a horn or carrying percussion equipment while marching a 7-9 minute show is a workout. It takes hours of practice to do this. It takes dedication to do it well.
When the announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I now proudly present to you The Band of The Blue and Gray (now The Starkville High School Marching Band),” the entire crowd stands in admiration of the band. The experience cannot be described in words—it is a feeling that you have to be there to experience. The band is entertainment and spirit. The band used to have a tradition of playing “This is My Country” which would bring the crowd to their feet once again.
Just as the Mississippi A&M (now Mississippi State University) band started with forty members in 1902, the Starkville High School Band (SHS) started in 1934 with forty members from grades 5 through 12 and has reached a peak of over 500 members in grades 6-12. Today, Shawn Sullivan is the director with assistants Kathy Baker, Karen Dieckman, Phillip Martin, and Doug Thomas.
And, it is not surprising that the first SHS band director, Frank Randle, was recruited from the college in 1934. The first employed band director was Perry Dennis in 1935. Nor is it surprising that Elva Kaye Lance, a band director from the Starkville School District is now the Director of Bands at Mississippi State University which today has 330 members.
This old sepia tone photo of the SHS band was taken in 1934 when the band was first formed and before they had uniforms. The band was in those days composed of youngsters in grades 5-12. Ralph Katz who was a member of the band that year and helped identify the forty band members. His mother was a key person in the formation of the band as well as in obtaining the first uniforms for the band since they owned Katz Department Store, they were very helpful.
The band has had 43 consecutive years of all superior ratings at state contests.
Band directors until the present include: Frank Randle (a MSU student), Perry Dennis, D. W. Barton, Kelly Love, Bill Clark. John Thomas McArthur, David Lance, Greg Paige, Web Rowan, Linda Gail Davis, and Shawn Sullivan.
Five of the Starkville School District band directors (Perry Dennis, D. W. Barton, John Thomas McArthur, Edythe McArthur, and Kelly Love) are in the Phi Beta Mu, Bandmasters Hall of Fame. Denise Rowan, a former band director, was the first woman to hold office in the Mississippi Bandmasters.
The band has made two trips to Europe, played at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, played at the christening of the John C. Stennis ship in Norfolk, Va. where they played “The John C. Stennis March.”
Originally the band was a military band known as the Band of the Blue and Gray, but in 2003 uniforms were changed and in 2004, the band style was changed to the corps style.
D. W. Barton and his wife, Mary, wrote the Alma Mater which reads:
Dear Starkville High School
We will cherish you from day to day;
Our love and friendship linger,
Tho the time may part our way;
We pledge our loyalty forever,
Fondest memories too;
We hail to thee, our Alma Mater,
Hail to thee.
John Robert Arnold and Fred Blocker have sponsored class reunions for classes from 1930 to 1940 for many years and this year I was an invited guest. Additional tables had to be set up to accommodate former alumni. Several people there suggested that I write a story on the first football teams and the band and majorettes.
If you have followed the Starkville High School football and band programs, you know they have excelled through the years, and there is no way one article could do them justice. In fact a football player in the 1950s sent me an email saying that I should do a story on Jack Nix who was his coach in high school. The impact these programs have had on its members is measureless. Most band students score higher than 27 on the ACT.
Fred Blocker has made a concerted effort for many years to collect photos of every class from the very beginning. He kindly loaned me his collection to select the photos used in this article. Former football players, band members and majorettes were present at this class reunion. Mrs. Starchy (Martha Hartness) Wade and Mrs. A. L. (Grace Henry), the majorettes, were there. John Robert Arnold, host for the event, was a member of the first football Little Ten Championship team while Fred Blocker, another host, was a member of the first band in 1934. These men have given tirelessly of themselves in seeking to maintain a history of the activities of the schools and its graduates from the very beginning and keep class members up to date on what is going on in the schools today. Larry Box, retired superintendent of the Starkville School District, gave a presentation on technology being used in the school today, which has changed drastically since he retired. Some changes include immediate emergency notices to all schools, bus drivers, and parents/guardians, using computers, GPS, telephones, etc.
The people of these classes are the people who plowed the way to the many advantages we enjoy today. The Class of 1938 survey forms collected at their fiftieth class reunion shows, this class having gone into the following occupations: teaching, insurance, accounting, U. S. Naval Academy, telephone company, music teacher, farmer and legislator, Travelers Aid and Youth Court, artist, modeler, executive secretary, bookkeeper, associate editor of newspaper, auditor for state tax commission, hot air balloon excursions, First Federal Savings and Loan, mechanical engineer, banker, psychiatrist, and nutritionist. What a diversity of occupations. Starkville educators and alumni have a proud heritage.