I guess it was the broom drive, more than anything else, that really was responsible for the creation of Freshman Night at the Fort. This was back in the days right after the Korean war when I was playing football at John Tarleton Junior College in Stephenville, Texas. The Fort was an old, dilapidated former Army barracks that was used as the athletic dormitory. Tarleton State University is a four-year university now, but it is still part of the Texas A&M system, just as it was in 1952. The sort of hazing that had long been standard fare at A&M was practiced at Tarleton, too. Because we football players were supposedly tougher than the average students, hazing in the Fort was serious stuff.
Take the broom drive for example. When I checked into the dorm for preseason practice, the first thing I noticed was. a big sign in the hall that said each freshman must keep a broom in his room at all times. "Oh, good," I thought, "Mom'll be so pleased. I'll be keeping my room neat and all that." Well, it wasn't until the afternoon that I found out the real purpose of that broom—and why Coach Sandy Sanford eventually would have to ask the seniors to hold off on us till the season was over. When a senior said, "Freshman, get your broom," you went to your room, collected your broom and took it down the hall to the bathroom and soaked it in the toilet until it felt like it weighed 20 or 30 pounds. Then you reported to the senior who was waiting for you in the hall. There was a line marked off across the hall, and you'd be told to "assume the position," which meant you toed the mark, bent down and grasped both your ankles. Then the senior would see how far he could drive you with one swat.
That was bad enough, but before long the seniors began competing to see who could drive a freshman the farthest. To even things up, they began giving out handicaps. I mean you wouldn't expect a little senior quarterback to be able to drive a big freshman tackle very far, and it wouldn't have been very fair for some big old tackle to have a small freshman halfback to flail away at, so the seniors carefully paired up the drivers and the drivees. Unfortunately, I was kind of caught in the middle. I was a 190-pound receiver and defensive back, and I'd also caught the attention of a very large offensive tackle, Jim Bomar, from Paragould, Ark. Bomar was pretty much the ringleader of the hazing and had decided he had dibs on me. "Boy, I like your height," he said. "And them long arms. So when I bust you I want you to reach out and get me all the distance you can. What I'm trying to tell you, boy, is I think you got the goods to make me the world broom-driving record holder." Well, there just ain't no disputing that kind of logic.
But I guess the worst part of it was when the seniors would have disputes over the measuring. You'd be lying there, stretched full out on the hall floor, your bottom ringing, and you'd hear the arguing begin. One driver would say, "I measured him at an even 8'11"." Then another would say, "Damned if that's so! Look where his fingers are curled back to now. Just take that tape measure. It ain't no more than 8'6"." You knew what was coming next: "Freshman, get back up here and assume the position." Bomar would say in an injured tone of voice, "By damn, I'll just show you guys. I'll stretch him out to an even nine foot this time! And you measure him quick, before his fingers start to curl. Let's keep in mind that the rules of the competition say to where his outstretched fingers reach!"
But one day Coach Sanford called all the upperclassmen together and told them that there were more freshmen getting hurt in the dorm than there were on the playing field. "Gentlemen," he said, "I'm going to make a deal with you. We're in the running for the conference championship and a bid to the Little Rose Bowl, but we can't make it if we get too many more injuries. So I want you guys to agree to lay off them freshmen until after the last game."
Well, we didn't make it to the Little Rose Bowl, and a week after our last game, Bomar got up during dinner, banged on an ice-tea pitcher to get our attention and said, "Well, boys, the night you've been waiting for is finally here. Right after you get through with your supper, go on back to the Fort and wait in your rooms. Don't rush, because we're going to give you time to digest your dinner. And you might try and catch a little nap. Might not get too much sleep tonight. But be sure and stay in your rooms until we get you out. If you come out before you're told to, you'll just be calling attention to yourself and that wouldn't be real smart."
Well, they left us waiting in the Fort for hours. Building up the suspense, I guess. Then, at about one in the morning, the freshmen were divided into small groups and loaded into cars. Dick Castleberry, a freshman running back, and I were with four seniors, one of whom was Bomar. We took off down the highway. For a while we stuck to the main road, but pretty soon we started turning off on tiny side roads. Neither Castleberry nor I had the slightest idea what was coming, and the seniors weren't saying. Castleberry and I just kept giving each other apprehensive looks. After about an hour we pulled up on the side of a deserted road.
"Little late for a picnic, ain't it?" I asked.
Bomar said, "Well, I guess you two better get your clothes off."
"Say what?" Castleberry said.