Victorious in the Past and Present by Rick Cleveland

January 6, 2014

Article courtesy of Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Museum Executive Director, written for Palmer Home Magazine Fall 2013.It’s a little known but amazing fact about the Palmer Home: 87 years ago, several Palmer Home boys helped win one the greatest football championships in Mississippi history.

The proof is right there in your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson, where a story from the front page of the Dec. 20, 1936 New York Times is on display: “MEMPHIS — The Lee High Generals of Columbus, Miss. turned back powerful Austin High of Chicago 7 to 6 in an intersectional football battle and claimed the mythical national prep school title.”

Here in Mississippi’s sports shrine, we’ve got the football from the game, a team picture and a pennant. It’s on display on our second floor high school exhibit.

Fifteen years ago, 78-year-old Louie Campbell (now deceased) told me the whole story. Campbell was a sophomore back for Lee High.

“What do I remember?” Campbell, asked rhetorically. “I remember how cold it was. And I remember how big those Chicago boys were. They were the biggest boys we ever saw. I remember it started out like they were going to whip us bad, but we came back, made some adjustments and beat them.”

High school football, 74 years ago, was different, especially in Columbus, where the team was made up mostly of boys from two orphanages, the Palmer Home and the Masonic Home. Some were orphans, but most were from single-parent homes where their mother just couldn’t feed and take care of them.

“They were raised rough and tough, but they were good boys raised right,” Campbell said.

Leslie Dodson, the team’s star halfback and his two brothers, were from the Palmer Home. Country Holliman — “as good a linebacker as you ever saw,” Campbell said — was from the Masonic Home. Leslie Dodson kicked the winning point and went on to star for Ole Miss and for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.

“Leslie was as good a high school player as I ever saw, but we had a lot of good players,” Campbell said.

“I remember there was a lot of jawing going on during the game,” Campbell told me. “Back then we didn’t have much use for a Yankee.”

The national championship game was proposed by a Memphis sports editor who had witnessed Lee High’s victory over a Blytheville, Ark., team that hadn’t lost a game in three seasons. Undefeated Chicago Austin had won the city championship before a crowd of 82,000 at Soldier Field and was thought to be the best team in the country. Billy DeCorrevant, a future All American at Northwestern, was the star for Austin.

As you might expect, the game was huge deal in Columbus.

“They chartered two trains to take our fans up to Memphis,” Campbell said. “We stayed at the Peabody. They fed us like kings. We were in the Great Depression back then. We had never eaten so well.”

Campbell, 15 years ago, held up the team photo and told me the names and what had happened to each player. Many died serving their country in World War II. The national championship trophy, he said, burned in a fire many years ago.

“You can see, we weren’t very big, but we were pretty doggone good,” he said, grinning through teared-up eyes.