The Memorial Chargers
Athletes gather in the Memorial High School locker room during the school’s opening year.
We were the Memorial Patriots.
At least at the end of the 1961-62 school year. “Patriots” because this new school on Tulsa’s far south side was dedicated to the memory of Tulsa teachers and students who served in World Wars I and II and the Korean conflict.
Some 250 10th-grade students at Edison High School — students who lived in the new Memorial High district and who were being transferred to the school as juniors — selected the Patriots nickname in spring 1962.
(No Edison seniors living in the Memorial district were transferred; they were allowed to complete their high school careers at Edison. With no senior class during Memorial’s first year, we were “top dogs” for two years running before becoming the school’s first graduating class in 1964.)
Over the summer we heard rumors that “Patriots” had been taken away. Seems the Hale High School Rangers called their yearbook “The Patriot,” and therefore we were ordered to come up with a new nickname.
Memorial’s football coach, Bob Kauffman, impressed upon us that this was an important order of business. He was tired of seeing headlines about “The Memos” this and “The Memos” that in the newspapers’ sports pages.
Possibly because the San Diego Chargers of the old American Football League were riding high at the time (and their thunderbolt-enhanced helmets and uniforms were the class of the league) and/or because a good portion of the newly minted Memorial Namelesses thought “Chargers” was a reference to horses, not electricity, the student body voted in “Chargers.” (As the first yearbook shows, the two were combined as the school’s emblem.)
We also selected the school colors — red, white and blue, naturally.
The sparkling new building (which we found out was a scaled-down duplicate of the McLain High School exterior and floor plan) opened Sept. 4, 1962. I wore a short-sleeve, blue tab-collar shirt without a tie. I planned on wearing a tie that first day of class — wearing ties was not wholly uncommon; coach Kauffman required all varsity football players to wear ties on game days — but with no air conditioning, the stifling heat persuaded me to go tieless with muted green plaid slacks. I recall my ensemble well because of the vivid memory of walking into Paul Dykes’ second-floor journalism classroom, where I was greeted by a most arresting sight: nine vivacious girls.
I liked my odds.
This was going to be so much better than Edison. Indeed, it was. There was seemingly no socialite/greaser division (the kind Will Rogers High’s S.E. Hinton chronicled so well — in many ways she could have been writing about Edison) at Memorial. We were too small to have cliques. We were a clique. Because it was a small school (the newspaper said our opening enrollment was 565, but there were 462 student pictures in the first yearbook), there were more opportunities. I played B-squad football my junior year, was the P.A. announcer for basketball and wrestling, and was in journalism — usually an activity for seniors — and, as a result (thanks to Mr. Dykes’ recommendation), worked as a sports reporter for the Tulsa Tribune my senior year. Indeed, were it not for Mr. Dykes’ mentoring, I never would have advanced in journalism, been accepted to Northwestern University and written this column.
And now, 50 years later, events seem so near. The perfect football season (zero and nine), the dramatic basketball upset victory over Webster and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The marching band in black slacks and white shirts (uniforms had not yet arrived) and the clarinet player continuing toward the goal line while the rest of the band turned back toward the 50-yard line at Webster Stadium.
And losing Patriots for Chargers.