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From the Feb, 2007 Register Newsletter
Sometimes you come across a story that starts out about one thing and winds up in places you never imagined. This was the case with the story of the first state championship team from RHS: the 1941 Varsity Boys Golf Team.
Former Athletic Director Chris Rodal asked me if would be possible to locate a photograph of the team. His mission was to find the photo, have it enlarged, and present it to the school for display in the Tiernan Center.
I told him that the coach, Charles McNaughton, lived in Muncie and was 101 years-old. Eventually, I received the photo from Charles and when I needed to return it, he agreed to a talk and through our conversation revealed an incredible life.
His story starts in Connersville and continues to Richmond by way of Berlin, Germany. A bit out of the way, but that was where the Olympics were held in 1936. Charles’s story includes Jack Dempsey, Hoagy Carmichael, Al Capone and others.
A boy with flair and a creative nature growing up in Connersville, Indiana had to find trouble.
Charles was the son of a post office manager. He sometimes hid in the attic of the post office and watched through surveillance holes as workers sorted mail, making sure they did not remove checks and cash from the letters.
This may have inspired an event later in high school. Charles once again climbed to an attic, however this one was in the assembly hall during a chapel. A janitor helped him. There was a companion with him as well: a skeleton from the science department.
“The preacher was particularly dull that day,” relates Charles, almost 85 years later. “He was preaching as the skeleton appeared through a skylight in the roof above. The 350 or so students became excited. As the bones came closer to the preacher’s head, he preached on, getting louder and seemingly unaware the apparition was the cause of the commotion, not his preaching or the Holy Spirit.
The principal was not amused. He headed for the hall and the stairs to capture the culprit.
Charles planned for this and yanked the bones back into the crawl space. He closed the skylight and grabbed a piece of carpet brought with him. The carpet became a makeshift sled as he slid down the furnace shaft, getting to the door to the stairs just as the principal arrived.
He asked the principal, “Would you like me to run up the stairs and catch the fiend for you?” The principal was none the wiser and Charles escaped being found out.
A Car Can Take You Places
Charles worked for McFarlan Auto in Connersville while in high school. He was part of a team that worked on customized orders. At a time when a Ford Model “T” or a Chevy would cost $500 to $1,200, a McFarlan sold for $8,000 or more, depending on the buyer’s specifications. In 1923, Al Capone ordered a luxury car from McFarlan. The car cost $18,000 with bulletproof windows.
“He requested a well in the back seat to hold nails and tacks,” remembered Charles. “The tacks and nails were thrown out the window while being chased by the police around Chicago. He also asked for a special engine that would reach 75 miles per hour. Normal built McFarlans reached only 45 mph with 120 horsepower.”
Charles could not remember whether it was after car number three or four that a call came from Washington, D.C. to stop selling cars to Capone. “They couldn’t catch him,” Charles explained.
He also recalled driving a McFarlan to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station Depot in Richmond to pick up Capone when one of the cars was ready. This is where he also met Jack Dempsey, Fatty Arbuckle, and Paul Whiteman.
Music and “The Manassa Mauler”
Jack Dempsey held the World Heavyweight Championship from 1919 to 1926. His successful career, including 62 wins (50 knockouts) in 83 bouts earned him more than $1 million. He lost the title to Gene Tunney in 1926, a match that drew a crowd of 120,557. And, of course, along the way, “The Manassa Mauler” ordered a custom auto from McFarlan which Charles McNaughton delivered.
Paul Whiteman, the “King of Jazz”, also ordered a car. His orchestra accompanied the likes of Hoagy Carmichael on “Washboard Blues” in 1927. Earlier that same year Carmichael recorded “Stardust” at Gennett Records in Richmond.
Hoagy Carmichael grew up in Bloomington, Indiana and went to college there. He often returned for impromptu concerts and Charles McNaughton was a frequent attendee, along with a group of friends from the University of Illinois, where Charles studied architecture.
Charles finished his studies in 1928 whereupon a professor told students not to look for work as architects. Though many know The Great Crash of 1929, there was a significant recession and crash in 1927. There would be no new buildings of any importance built for a time so Charles and his classmates were encouraged to seek other employment.
Charles did. Morton High School in Richmond needed a drafting teacher and so Charles returned to East-Central Indiana.
McNaughton, Morton, and Golf
E. C. Cline, Principal of Morton, befriended young Charles, who became part of the Vocational Department. Students trained in a three-year program and often were placed at local factories such as Alcoa and Natco as draftsmen.
Morton High School was growing fast in 1928. Charles liked to golf and soon took over the club. It was not considered a team sport until 1934.
He also attended the basketball games, but found they were not that good. To boost attendance, Charles had the idea of stunts performed at half-time. Students showcased various talents and it became popular with the crowds.
Charles and other teachers went to community leaders with the idea of a vaudevillian show. What evolved was “Mortonite” held at the Tivoli Theater for as many as five nights. Local merchants sponsored the show and attendance was wonderful, with lines forming around the block.
One particular student, Duane Snodgrass, Class of 1929, had a gift for the piano. He could draw a crowd wherever he went. He became a local celebrity and was part of a radio show in Cincinnati. McNaughton convinced Duane to perform and built the first show around him.
More than a showcase, the shows raised funds for Morton High School. In 1930, with the Great Depression, there was no money for the Pierian yearbook. Proceeds from two performances covered the needed budget.
“Mortonite” continued until the new high school opened. No longer called Morton High School, Richmond High School students, starting in 1940, showcased their talent in “Stunt Night”. Later, in the 50’s, the event became “Footlights”.
More than just an employee or academic teacher, McNaughton became involved in student life. He served as the sponsor of the Aviation Club, Hi-Y, the Golf Club and later the Golf Team as well as a new group called Block M.
First High School Cheer Block in the Midwest – 1935
The high school had a problem. After the ball games, Richmond boys threw eggs at the other team. Charles and Principal Cline decided that some activity other than egg-throwing was needed. They came up with idea of a cheer block.
A call out was held after school. To everyone’s surprise only three boys showed, but 150 girls were there. Well, Charles reasoned, if they could get the girls all in one place, perhaps the boys would follow.
It worked. The cheer block performed at home games and became an important draw for basketball games. The early blocks were made up of 60-100 girls sitting with red and white cards to hold in different configurations.
Charles had another brilliant idea: he wanted to “Raise the Devil”. With the help of a science student (whose name he could no longer recall), the made a Red Devil come alive. Plywood was cut in drafting class to make a devil head when assembled. Red lights were attached to two batteries to make the eyes shine. The masterstroke was the smoke. A concoction of chemicals was mixed and smoke rose from the bleachers.
But this was when basketball games were played in the old Coliseum downtown. It was well-known by the fire marshal as a firetrap.
When the fire marshal saw all the smoke, he promptly arrested Charles and the student, taking them both to jail.
Cline and Superintendent W. G. Bate bailed them out. It was only chemicals, after all, not a real fire!
Block M, as the cheer block was known, went on the road in 1935 with the team winning Semi-State that year. After that, they attended all games. Every week “Mac” drew new routines for the girls. Their gloved hands shifted cards and the routines were practiced twice a week. Block M became Block R in 1940 and continued until it was disbanded in the 1970’s.
Father of Golf at RHS
The first high school golf team in Richmond was also an accomplishment of Charles McNaughton. The formation of the team wasn’t the only “first” during his tenure as coach.
Each year his golf team became more skilled, coming second in the state in 1938. In 1940, the team added the first girl to the team. The next year, the team won a state championship. Charles seemed to be a winner at everything he attempted, as did his students. He kept them busy, even during the summertime.
Traveling Abroad in 1936
The summer of 1936 found Charles hosting twelve boys from Morton High School on a trip to Europe. He had taken class trips to Washington, D.C. since 1928 with the help of World Y Tours. This trip would be summer-long, leaving by ship from New York harbor. A 35mm film of the trip was given to the Alumni Association by McNaughton.
They traveled from London through France, Belgium, and Germany, arriving in Nuremburg on July 28th. The Eleventh Summer Olympic Games began just days later in Berlin.
It was the month after the first boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Schmeling, a German, knocked Louis out. Prior to this, German leader Adolf Hitler considered boxing a coarse sport, but he embraced Schmeling’s win as proof of German superiority. Schmeling and Louis met again in the ring two years later, with Louis knocking the German out in the first round.
German propaganda tied in the ancient Greek theme. Most glaring was the Olympic statue featuring a raised arm that echoed the “führer’s” own salute. Though the Nazi regime could script the ceremony, the events were something different. Hitler was said to be furious when American Jesse Owens won four gold medals.
Charles took pictures of Hitler and even a photo of Jesse Owens as he was escorted by an SS guard from the stadium while watching other events.
Forty-nine nations gathered for the Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, with twelve boys from Richmond in attendance. The group from Richmond included David Porterfield ‘36, John E. (Jack) Crane ‘36, William Reller ’36, Carl Kleinknecht ’35, Harry Chenoweith ’35, James Romey ’35, and Julian Vigran ’37. Others included Jim Lemon, Tom Long, and Bill Heet.
McNaughton commented that it was quite a trip. Though their accommodations on the ship were 3rd class, they enjoyed tourist hotels and private homes while in Europe. They saw sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the Rhine River, a number of castles in Germany, the Black Forest, and palaces near Berlin. The group returned to the U.S. aboard the S.S. Columbia on August 15th.
Charles said he was impressed with the city of Berlin and how the regime was prepared for the world with precision performances evoking the military training of both the soldiers and the youth.
He remembered the German fans chanted Jesse Owens’ name as he entered the stadium after winning his four gold medals. Along with eighteen other black athletes from the U.S., Owens, from Ohio State University, changed history that summer.
Little did Charles or any of the boys know this would be the last Olympic Games for twelve years. The 1940 Olympics were scheduled for Japan, but World War Two intervened and the games did not resume until 1948.
World War Two
On December 7, 1941, the new McGuire Hall was dedicated. That evening the program was interrupted with the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
Charles McNaughton, at age 36, was drafted into the Navy. One week later he proposed to Suzanne Wallace. Her brother John Wallace, Class of 1941, commuted from Lynn to attend high school at Richmond and play basketball. John introduced Charles to Suzanne. “I was smitten,” Charles said.
The couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in 2007. They have one son, John, of Evansville, Indiana who is an artist.
When Charles returned after the war, he and Suzanne settled in Chicago. He spent fourteen years in Richmond and 40 months in the Navy. In Chicago, Charles served as chief of the Vocational Rehabilitation Division for the Veterans Administration. Interestingly, E. C. Cline, Principal of Morton High School and RHS from 1920 to 1941, also served in the Navy from 1942-45 and later replaced Charles at the VA in 1950.
Ball State University
Charles and his family came to Ball State University where he served as Chairman of Student Advisors. In 1956 he became Ball State’s second Director of Placement. He also served many years as golf coach. The online archives of the university feature old film footage of Charles.
At the time of writing, Charles lived in Muncie with Suzanne. The 1936 Pierian, which he was instrumental in funding, is dedicated to “Mac” and states “his fresh and original ideas have made him popular with the student body.” His spirit of adventure, willingness to try new things, and desire to be more than just an educator made him a favorite for years in Richmond.
In December of 2006, the RHS Athletic Department honored the Golf Team of 1941 by presenting a picture of the team to the school. The photo includes Johnny Juhasz ’41, Leo W. Bruck, Jr. ’41 (deceased), John Surveges ’41 (deceased), and Mike Portanova ’42. Juhasz and Portanova made it to the dedication along with Joe Moehring, Head Coach of the RHS state championship teams of 1993, 1996, and 1997.
Charles was invited to come that evening but declined. The long trip and the late hour did not work well for the 101 year-old fan of RHS.
He says “my best memories are while I was teaching at Richmond. It will always have a special place in my heart. I loved it and I loved the kids.” I think the kids loved “Mac” too!
(Post note- Charles McNaughton died in 2009. His wife moved to Evansville to be near their son.)