By Jackie Hunt
Special to The Gazette
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment of the When Marion Played Sports series. Click the link to see all the articles in the series.
While still basking in the glory of a state football championship and watching their girls’ basketball `team race out to an 18-0 record and the boys 17-2, Eastside athletes were on top of their own world. After 10 years of blending athletes from across the Eastern portion of the parish, the students had become well bonded with others from once competing towns. Farmerville and Marion were on the same team and doing quite well.
It all ended abruptly when the student body was assembled in the gymnasium/auditorium for an announcement. Few, if any, knew what was happening or what to expect. The announcement was brief, to the point, and devastating. They would not be returning to Eastside after the Christmas break. They would instead be transferred to the school in their local communities where Eastside’s sophomores and freshmen had been sent to start the school year. And just like that, students who had been classmates for 11 plus years parted ways, some to never see each other again. By then it was difficult to distinguish Marion athletes from their teammates. They were one.
Many of the students blended and played baseball or ran track at the new schools but none of the senior girls ever played again. Octavia Mason, Alice Faye Fields, Mary Katherine Andrews, Gloria Crawford and others were left to wonder what could have been. A state championship was a possibility for them as well. They were that good. Fields and Mason were an early version of Curry/Thompson, while Andrews and Crawford were twin towers who blocked shots and snatched rebounds all game.
Eastside running back Bennie Archie became an accomplished sprinter at Farmerville and proceeded to star in the sport at then Northeast Louisiana University.
With Marion High not having a football team, it appeared all their boys were finished on the gridiron. There were a couple of exceptions, however. Bobby Smedley and Ronnie Andrews were juniors who finished the year at Marion but were recruited and transferred to Farmerville High to play their senior year for the Farmers. These two state champs joined a host of their Eastside team-mates on a Farmerville team that was fresh off a 2-8 season, having been shut out five times. The 1969 Demons had averaged 44 points a game, while their new team had posted less than six points a contest.
Since neither of the boys had a car or transportation from Marion to Farmerville, the Farmers’ coaching staff created a rotation to pick up and drop them off daily. This continued throughout the school year until the two graduated.
When Smedley took the field as the Farmers’ first ever black quarterback, he was joined by two of his Demon running backs, Larry Fields and Billie Joe “Hawk” Jackson. While Andrews, Danny Hunt, James Kelly, and others anchored both lines, the skill position players showed what they could do.
The investment in time and fuel to go and get the Marion boys paid off. The team that had been 2-8 and averaged 5.7 points went on to score over 25 points per game and an 8-3 record. Much of this came on the legs of Smedley, Fields and Jackson. Andrews, who for some reason was called “Billie Wolf”, managed to score three touchdowns from the defensive side of the ball. In typical Demon fashion, the squad traveled to the Westside of the parish and handed Bernice a 76-0 shellacking.
Fields spent most of the year as the leading scorer in their district, Jackson found the end-zone over 10 times and Smedley was named the team’s most valuable player.
Andrews anchored a Farmer defense that held four opponents scoreless. The rugged linebacker/offensive lineman recalls the 1970 team as being a good squad but not one that could have competed with the 1969 team. “We (1969) would have blown that team out,” he says, adding “They were just not as tough as Eastside. Eastside was a powerhouse. I would love to have had a few more of the ’69 guys back with us.”
He and Smedley were the only students who had attended Eastside, Marion High (for a semester) and Farmerville High. They were akin to the class of 1970 which was the only class to attend the legacy black schools (Union Training Center, Marion Industrial, etc), Eastside and the legacy white schools…truly a part of Marion sports legacy.