Going to school at Garfield was altogether different than going to school in the one-room Central School.
We rode John Spiker's school bus from home to the school. We were the last to board the bus in the morning and the last to get off in the evenings. In the afternoon I would get off when the bus turned south to the Providence Community and walk the half mile home. In that way I could get my chores done then catch the bus back to Garfield to practice basketball on the school yard. David and Hugh would ride the bus all the way around the bus route.
I was now in the seventh grade and my teacher was Miss Dorothy Ellis. It was Dorothy's first year of teaching and the seventh and eighth grade class loved her. Our classroom was on the first floor in the northwest room. With the two classes instead of the eight classes at Central, we seemed to have gotten a lot more attention. The boys talked me into playing basketball because with the smaller schools it was hard to find enough players to have a team. The seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade boys played on the junior team and the 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade boys played on the senior team. The school didn't have a gym so we had to play on an outdoor court.
John McNutt managed the senior team and J. Wesley Sampier coached the junior team. J. Wesley was a reserve Army officer and a very strict practitioner. He had a peculiar quirk in his form of practice. He was a believer in the art of duck walking and used it to build the physical conditioning of his players. He would have us duck walk around the basketball court three times before we started practicing. Then the first practice was to run a five-man figure eight up and down the court with a basketball for 15 minutes. If you miscued on the figure eight, it meant some more duck walking.
Because it was my first experience in basketball and his practice routine, I seemed to have been doing a lot of duck walking for about the first two weeks. My neighbor and friend Carl Brown would walk about a quarter mile and catch the bus at our house. I told Carl of my problem and duck walking. He told me that was why he had quit the team after the first week. He said that he wasn't too coordinated and all he was getting done was duck walking and his coordination in duck walking wasn't that good. After the first two weeks, I began to fit into J. Wesley's routine. The teams that were in our conference were Cave Springs, Decatur, Elm Springs, Garfield, Gentry, Pea Ridge, Sulphur Springs and Vaughn. Gentry was the biggest school and Cave Springs was the smallest.
The first game that I got to go to was at Vaughn and they had a gym of sorts. It was an old garage with an asphalt floor. At least it was inside and they didn't have to practice out in the weather. It surprised me when J. Wesley put me in the game. He expected you to scrap for every loose ball and when the ball game was over, my knees were a mess because of the asphalt floor. J. Wesley dressed my knees and told me to get some knee pads.
The worse part of my skinned knees was that they sure were sore when I had to duck walk. The next morning I told Carl Brown what had happened and he said that I could have his knee pads because he never had used them. From then on I wore knee pads in every game.
When we went to my old school at Pea Ridge to play, I had to play against the boys that I had known. Their main scorer was an old friend and J. Wesley told me that it was my job to guard him and keep him from getting his hands on the basketball. I guarded him so close he thought I was picking his pockets. Our old friendship went out the window in the first quarter of the game. He was so mad at me that his face was red.
My second cousin, Hugh (Goose) Price, was the referee and he was getting mad because Garfield was beating his home team. Goose called a foul on me and I said, "Now, Cuzz." Goose told me that this "Cuzz" stuff doesn't go in a basketball game. The boy only scored two points all night and we won the game. J. Wesley was proud of us because he had taught the prior three years at Pea Ridge.
Editor's note: Joe Pitts (1920-2008) was a native of Pea Ridge and regular columnist for the newspaper. He began writing a column for The Times in 2000 initially entitled "Things Happen" by Joe "Pea Patch" Pitts.