Sunday, July 1, 2012

A War-Born 'Association' Is Still In The Ol' Ballgame

(From today's Times and News-Star)
No one is certain when it was named or who named it.

“Like most things, it just sort of happened,” said Bobby Aillet, a member in good standing of The National Association for the Advancement of Grandstand Quarterbacks (NAAGC), a “club” now more than 60 years old. “You’ve got to understand that nobody set out to say that we were ever going to meet annually, or that we’d even have a name. This is just friends who got together one year -- and kept going.”

As we begin this Fourth of July week, it’s interesting to note that the “association” began when football and World War II collided. Friendships forged in both arenas continue today in annual get-togethers through what might be the only club of its kind.

In the spring of 1943, Louisiana Tech football coach Joe Aillet told his players, almost all of whom he recruited, that since most of them would be leaving to serve in the war – there would be no Tech football in the autumn of 1943 -- he wanted them to serve with assurance that their college scholarships would be honored when they returned from service, regardless of war injuries or other circumstances.

Each returned safely and was able to play again except for Vince Madonna, who couldn’t maneuver as well as before but still played baseball, earning a letter in ’47.

In 1949, when the servicemen/student-athletes had completed their athletic eligibility and graduated, they decided to return to Ruston for a specific game to see each other each autumn. They adopted the whimsical name of the National Association for the Advancement of Grandstand Quarterbacks and invited others who’d played in the late ’40s and early ’50s, guys like future Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum of Champions inductee Bobby Aillet and future Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Leo Sanford, both now of Shreveport, to join, as well as that era’s retired Tech coaches. Tech Sports Hall of Fame member Jimmy Mize, a former football assistant, head track and field coach and World War II pilot, is in his 90s and the group’s oldest member today. His son drove Mize and wife Minnie up from their current home in Baton Rouge for last month’s annual NAAGQ meeting, this time in Bossier City at the Courtyard Mariott/Louisiana Boardwalk.

In the ’50s, the group – spouses have always been included – expanded their football game meetings to annual Saturday fishing trips. This evolved into family days, then couples-only three-day weekends at different venues around the state and the South. The group, “formed” from teens going off to war in 1943, has played golf and shopped, danced and dined from Lafayette to Vicksburg, from Biloxi to Hot Springs.

Age has restricted travel now. At last month’s meeting, about 25 attended, including widows and widowers. Many members have passed away and no new ones have joined a club exclusive for all the right reasons.

Sanford, serving as unofficial chair of the group, keeps sending out  information, organizing the annual “meeting,” keeping the group in touch, something Coach Aillet never imagined would happen years ago but would surely be happy about today.

“It’s a great group of people to be around,” Sanford said.

“He followed us from a distance as he got older,” Bobby Aillet said of his dad. “He was proud we stayed together. But he was always proud of that group, of all those boys. He’d be happy that we’ve maintained these friendships all these years. This is just a group of guys who really became close, and they still are.”