From his lookout on the Huntington Park California High School bleachers, Fred Winter’s eyes followed the cagers up and down the basketball court. “Come on. Rotate,” Coach Jimmy Needles called to his 1937 Loyola University lineup. “You’re a team. Somebody will be there, so pass the ball quick.”
Lines crisscrossed every which way on Fred’s clipboard pages, tracing the movement of the basketball, an X identifying each offensive player and an O for each defensive player. “When I call reverse action,” Coach Needles continued, “I want to see you spread out across the floor.”
Fred traced the Xs as they spun into triangles according to Coach Needles’s instructions. More images of ways to move the ball in and out of the three-sided shape popped into Fred’s head in the middle of classes during the day and sneaked into his dreams at night. He recorded them on clipboard pages, piled high, carefully filed away. Even though Fred had two more years of high school, he took a deep breath, grabbed the biggest market he could find, and poster-printed across the page, “I’m going to be a coach.”
Fred, clipboard in hand, stayed every evening after his own basketball practices to watch the Loyola team. He listed plays called, shots attempted, and baskets made under pre-labeled headings in orderly columns.
“Lookin’ good,” Coach Needles encouraged his team. “Keep it movin.’ No standing around. I want to see you positioned around the court and moving the ball. Stay spaced and reverse the ball with sharply-aimed pin-point passes.”
Fred noticed how Needles’s triangle-shaped plans outwitted the defense players time and time. He took more notes. Keep the basketball moving. Pass instead of dribble. All players move with purpose.
Each page included a checklist of warm-up exercises and small group drills and code words for plays that sent Fred’s mind soaring. He would teach his players about the game. He would insist that they give their best. He would have his own world-class team.
Fred and his family had moved from Lubbock, Texas to Huntington Park, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. All the Los Angeles schools ranked athletes according to height, weight, and age. Fred tried out for basketball right way. At five-foot-six, 106 pounds, Fred made the “D” team and was elected captain. For the spring semester, Fred wanted to join the track team. But when he went for his school physical exam, the doctor said, “You can’t run distances.”
Fred’s shoulders drooped, and he let out a big sigh. Although he wasn’t surprised to learn that his heart muscle measured larger from hard workouts, he still wanted to be part of a team. If he didn’t run distances, he would try something else. He high-jumped, long-jumped, and ran hurdles. He won his first athletic letter.
As a junior, he picked up a pole. He soon became one of the top vaulters in the city. Although a difficult and somewhat risky sport, Fred showed the bravery and desire to master it.
Fred continued to play basketball. He joined the C team his junior year and the B team his senior year. Both teams elected him captain. Fred’s teammates liked his quickness on the floor and the way he could follow each player’s position. They also noticed the accent in his speech, his Texas drawl. They started calling him Tex, a nickname Fred wished had stayed in Texas. But he was stuck with it for life.
“You’ve got the knack for this,” basketball coaches Neander and Squire told him.
Fred’s chest puffed out a little farther as he pictured himself contributing to a great basketball team, hustling around the defense, finding and making the best shots. He remained after practice each evening, inventing plays with those who would stay and scrimmage with him.
Fred’s plan became clearer. Pay attention to what worked for his coaches, and remember their encouragement of him. Teach fundamental moves and strategies as Coach Needles did with his Loyola team. Give players encouraging but honest feedback as Coaches Neander and Squire did. Analyze why some ideas worked better than others.
Tex would build on the combination of others’ ideas blended with his own. He would become a great teacher and a great coach.
When Fred was born in 1922, he and his family lived in a small house on the Winter family farm near Wellington, Texas. Fred’s father helped with farming, but preferred to make a living as a mechanic.
The family moved to Lubbock when Fred was six or seven. His dad became the master mechanic at a Chevrolet dealership. Mr. Winter made good money at his new job, Fred hung out with his friends up and down the street, and the family enjoyed their larger home in town. But the Winters’ new life lasted only a short time.
In December 1932 when Fred was ten, a crowd of family and friends had gathered in the Wellington Presbyterian Church. Usually Texans getting together meant a party with hay bales and music and square dancing, but when Fred looked at people’s eyes, they glanced away. Conversations turned to whispers. This was no party. It was a funeral for Fred’s father.
Dad had died of a bad infection in his leg, and no one seemed to know what to do. The Winter family, already suffering the effects of the Great Depression, had lost their breadwinner. They faced an unwelcome future.
After the funeral, nothing seemed real, yet time passed. Ernest, Fred’s 13-year-old brother, started taking charge of Fred. With their mother gone all day working at a women’s clothing store, Fred’s sixteen-year-old sister, Elizabeth, began directing Fred’s twin sister, Mona. Fred and Mona tried to do what both Ernest and Elizabeth told them. Without Dad, they had to learn how to be a family all over again.
Each week, Ernest handed Fred a stack of advertising flyers to distribute around the neighborhood. The store owner paid them a penny for each one delivered.
Next they searched alleys, looking for stray cardboard boxes. The local baker gave them day-old bread in exchange for the boxes used to pack baked goods for delivery. Fred also sold Sunday newspapers in front of Pinson’s Drug Store where he worked as a part-time soda jerk.
Occasionally Fred and Ernest walked to the grain bins down the road to get a bucket of wheat. Mrs. Winter would cook the wheat at night for two or three hours. They would eat it for breakfast with condensed milk, one can of milk diluted with four cans of water. The family did not have extras, but they had each other.
Fred joined the Lubbock, Texas Junior High School track team. The 1935 seventh-grade county meet was ready to begin.
“Freddie Winter to lane nine,” the announcer shouted.
Fred stuck his toe to the starting line.
Earlier, Ernest had won the ninth-grade 880-yard race. Poised like a watchdog, he kept a straight-ahead gaze on the track.
“Go get em,’ Freck,” he said, using his nickname for Fred.
Fred charged out of the starting line. He caught Ernest’s eye as he came around the first lap, then the second. Fred was running the 880-yard event only because Ernest said he’d beat Fred up if he didn’t run. Fred gasped what felt like his last breath and slid into the pack next to last.
“Come on Fred. Come on. Turn it on,” Ernest shouted as he moved to the inside curb.
“I’m going to drop out,” Fred wheezed back.
“You do, and you’ll answer to me.”
Fred found a second wind and passed runners down the backstretch. He continued around the last turn and into the straight-away. He hit the tape just ahead of the first runner and fell flat on his face on the cinder track. He had beaten Ernest’s best time by two-tenths of a second and won his first-ever athletic event.
Ernest jumped over the barrier to scrape Fred off the track.
“Proud of you, man,” he yelled as he thumped him on the back, his eyes wide.
Fred could tell that Ernest was surprised that his little brother had shattered his own record. Ernest punched Fred in the shoulder and grinned.
“Well, you never would have done it without me.”
Fred believed him.
As a newspaper reporter’s camera flashed in Fred’s face, he stumbled around and blinked. He had not expected to do so well. Winning the race caught him up short and showered him with recognition he wasn’t sure how to handle. He couldn’t figure out if he was a star or what.
Fred raised a hand to his cheering teammates and limped off the track. His eyesight was cloudy. His lungs hurt, and his feet burned like fire. But the more his head cleared, the more he realized that pushing to win gave the team more points, and he had pushed himself. He could see that a team won when all its runners did their best. He had done his best.
By the time Fred attended high school, his big sister Elizabeth had married and moved to California.
“Come on out here,” she urged her mother. “There are better job opportunities.”
Mrs. Winter thought the move might be a good idea.
Ernest wanted to stay with his football team at Lubbock High School and did not take well to the idea of moving. Neither did Fred.
“But this is where we are a family,” Fred told his mother.
Mona, an easy-going sort, said California or Texas, made no difference to her.
At last, Mrs. Winter made her decision. The twins, Fred and Mona, would go with her to California. Ernest would stay in Texas to play football, live at a boarding house where he would work to pay his way, and spend summers in California with the family.
Fred did not like the idea of the family being apart, but at least they would be together some of the time.
In those days – the mid 1930s – car owners in the dust bowl states of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas hired drivers and sold seats to California. For five dollars each, Fred, his mother, and Mona climbed into the next car and headed west on Route 66.
Even though Fred’s family continued to struggle for money, they were a family again. Mrs. Winter worked her way to sales manager at a women’s clothing store. Ernest joined them in the summers and found a job at Grand Central Market in Huntington Park and one for Fred too. Whenever customers called, “Box Boy,” Fred and Ernest filled their big, white aprons with vegetables and fruits and carried them to the cars, earning a tip of a nickel or a dime.
“They ought to call us Apron Boys,” Fred told Ernest.
Fred pocketed his tips and took home his pay in day-old vegetables and fruits, a healthy addition to the family’s meals.
At the end of each summer, Ernest returned to Texas where he earned All-State in football and a scholarship to Texas Tech University. Fred, now known as Tex, resumed daily basketball practices at Huntington Park High School. Eager to improve and encouraged by each coach, Fred moved from the “D” team as a sophomore, to the “C” team as a junior, and to the “B” team as a senior. He did not play the “A” team because of his size. He worked hard and became a dedicated student of the game, determined to make a college team.
Following high school, Fred enrolled at Compton Junior College in the fall of 1940 where he played basketball and pole vaulted. He had grown four inches to five-foot-eleven and weighed 140 pounds. The University of Southern California offered him a pole vaulting scholarship, but he did not qualify academically. USC’s basketball coach, Sam Barry, told him to stay at Compton and improve his grades.
Tex stayed two years at Compton where he played basketball for Coach Tay Brown, a student of Sam Barry. A hard-nosed, no-nonsense type coach, Coach Brown taught Coach Barry’s principles of “Center Opposite” offense. Tex appreciated the chance to learn Barry’s offense. The Compton team could beat all but Long Beach Junior College, the team that won the state championship. In his second year, he made the All-State Junior College basketball team. Pole-vaulting at 13’ 11”, he set the college’s record that held until fiber glass poles replaced bamboo poles. He tied for second place in the National Junior College Championships in Gunnison, Colorado.
“Hey, come with us,” Don Cecil and Bob Howard from Long Beach Junior College called to Tex.
They were on a train headed for Oregon State University where they had basketball scholarships. Tex was on his way to San Jose State University to work with his cousin Bud Winter, a famous track coach.
“We’ll call Coach “Slats” Gill at Oregon State and tell him about your All-State honors at Compton,” his fellow passengers said.
Tex excelled in sports at Compton, but he still did not do well in his studies. He failed some classes; his grades were bad. When he applied at Oregon State, he had to go before a board.
After looking at Tex’s grades, one interviewer said, “Winter, how long do you expect to get by on your looks and personality?”
The board said he could be accepted on probation into the Agronomy Department because the requirements were lower. This acceptance also granted Tex an educational deferment from military service in World War II until the end of the school year.
Tex was offered an Oregon State scholarship. Joining his new friends, Bob Howard and Don Cecil, Tex worked hard to help the team and to gain a starting position, but the others players were better. He continued to notice how good each player had to be for the overall team’s success.
Tex wondered if his status as a nationally-ranked pole vaulter would mean something. When basketball season ended, he approached the track coach.
“What about me on your team?” he asked.
“We’ve got a couple of good vaulters here at Oregon State,” the coach replied.
“How high?” Tex asked.
“Oh, they’re thirteen-footers,” the coach said.
“I did 13’ 10” in junior college.”
The coach’s mouth dropped open as he grabbed the junior college records. He didn’t hesitate a second.
“We’ll take you,” he said.
By the end of the first track meet, Tex had made a mark at Oregon State in pole vaulting. He won the Pacific Coach Conference Championship and placed third in the National Championships by vaulting 14’ with a bamboo pole into a sawdust pit.
A couple of weeks before the spring semester ended, a teammate brought a message to Tex.
“There’s this cute little Kappa that wants to meet you.”
The Kappa’s name was Nancy Bohnenkamp from LeGrande, Oregon. Tex walked over to the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority house where she lived with her sorority sisters. She asked him about basketball. They drank sodas. They went for long walks because Tex had no money for dates.
“I’ve signed up for the Navy V-5 pilot program,” Tex told her.
He had completed the required two years of college, passed the stringent physical fitness and vision tests and qualified for the United State V-5 Navy Flight Training.
“I’m going as soon as school is out.”
“And I’m going to Whitman College,” Nancy replied.
Ann Parr has been acquainted with Tex Winter and his team ideas – on and off the court – for more than 25 years. Her husband Jack, one of Tex’s former players at Kansas State University, supplied details about running the triangle
Copyright Ann Parr. All rights reserved.
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