Friday, November 15, 2013

The John Symank Story — Part I

Johnny Symank (#27, above) makes a tackle with teammates Jesse Whittenton (#47) and Dave “Hawg” Hanner (#79).

We are going to present a two-part reader-submitted entry about Packers DB John “Johnny” Symank from Dick Bowers, one of our readers, who happens to have been his brother-in-law. Here is Part I:

John “Johnny” Symank was born on August 31, 1935 in La Grange, Texas to Oswald “Curly” and Ann Perica Symmank (later changed to Symank). “Curly” Symmank passed away when Johnny was six years old and I am sure that losing his father at that young age had a lot to do with the man that Johnny Symank became. Ann and Johnny then lived in a little rock house located on the fairgrounds on the edge of the town of Caldwell, Texas. Ann became owner of a feed store and Johnny was there to help her in the summer and after school.  During that time Johnny had some interesting tackling matches with an African-American kid named Charlie McNeil out in the sticker burr patch at the fairgrounds. Charlie lived at Freemantown on the south end of Caldwell across from the fairgrounds. Charlie's family moved to California when he was young and he went on to play defensive back for the San Diego Chargers that ended up winning the AFL championship. How about that? Two young kids tackling one another and one ends up starting for an AFL champion and the other ends up starting as a defensive back on an NFL World Champion (oddly enough, these two both played defensive back and both wore the number 27). Another interesting fact is Charlie's daughter Lori was a world class tennis player. In a small town like Caldwell, and Ann having the feed store, there were a lot of farmers (old and young) coming and going at the store. I have had a couple of these men tell me that when Johnny's dad passed away they felt a need to be kind of a father figure. Leroy Calvin, a big, stout man for his age, told me that when he saw Johnny sitting on a feed bag looking sad, he would go over and "horse" around with him. Leroy said that most of the time that was a big mistake, because Johnny would then fight back and things would get pretty rough. Are you getting the picture here (rough and tough)?

Johnny went on to play Junior High and High School football and ran track. I have to rely on clippings and stories from this period as I was born in 1950 and Johnny graduated from High School in 1953. From what I know about this era is the Junior High teams were pretty good, but the Caldwell High Hornets struggled, but guess who was rough and tough, yeah, you know who I'm talking about. It was during those High school years that Johnny Symank dated my sister Sariann Bowers, who if I must say was a stunning majorette. Sariann was a year older than Johnny so she graduated in 1952 and then went on to Baylor and became a majorette there. While Sariann was twirling at Baylor, Johnny was having his high school football come to a close with another losing season. Johnny had shown that he was one of the toughest players that had played at Caldwell, but his stats were just not good enough to garner a scholarship. This is when my dad, Richard Bowers, who played football and ran track at Arlington in 1928-29 when they were called the Junior Aggies, took matters into his own hands. My dad and Johnny drove up to Arlington State Junior College to meet with Coach Claude “Chena” Gilstrap.

Coach Gilstrap told this story years later at a banquet held at Caldwell when they honored Johnny with “John Symank Day” after Green Bay had won the World Championship game. Gilstrap said that Mr. Bowers called and wanted to set up a meeting with a young man that had a lot of potential as a running back/defensive back. Gilstrap told the pair when to arrive for the meeting and the Coach said he would see what he could do. Gilstrap said on the day of the meeting, in walks Mr. Bowers and he has this kid with him that was 5' 10" and weighed about 170 lbs.  Coach asked them to sit down and immediately Mr. Bowers started in about how tough this kid was and what a tremendous player he would make, so if Coach would just give him a scholarship… and this is where Gilstrap interupted. Coach said, “Now Mr. Bowers, as you may know our policy is we can find a player a job to maybe pay for his tuition the first year and if he makes the team we can talk about a scholarship for the next year.”  Gilstrap said Mr. Bowers rose out of his chair and told Johnny, “C’mon we'll go over to Tarleton State (Arlinton's big rival at the time) and you can come back here and beat their ass,” and then the pair headed for the door. Coach Gilstrap recalled saying, “Hold on now Mr. Bowers, come on back and sit down.” Coach gave Johnny a full scholarship. Gilstrap said after the pair left, he wondered “what in the world have I done, I just gave a scholarship to a kid that I have never seen play or ever heard of.”

In August, the first day of two-a-day practices came and Gilstrap was anxious to see this player that Mr. Bowers was so high on. The players came out that morning in shoulder pads and shorts and Gilstrap saw that Johnny was one of the smaller players. They began to scrimmage and Johnny was back there playing safety. The quarterback dropped back and threw a pass to an end and Johnny Symank made a diving effort to intercept it. At that time Arlington had an old sandstone rock wall that circled the practice field. Johnny flew through the air and hit head on into the rock wall and was lying there motionless. Gilstrap thought, “Mr. Bowers talked me into giving Symank a scholarship and now he's hurt and may not play anymore.” The ambulance came and transported Johnny to the hospital and the practice continued. That afternoon when the evening practice started, Gilstrap looked up and here was Johnny Symank running across the field with a bandage wrapped around his head that looked like the one on the drummer from the Revolutionary War. Johnny played the entire practice and Gilstrap said he knew right then and there, he had a player.”

Next: Part II

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff - thanks for sharing. Looking forward to Part 2!

Anonymous said...

As a grade schooler I watched Johnny (a close friend of my late B-I-L Edward Matus) field a punt against the LaGrange Leapords on Hornet Field. He returned the punt for a touchdown. His return was a twisting runback, right up the middle of the field. Not a single Leapord player was able to touch him.
I don't remember who won the game, but for a kid hoping to grow up and play HS football, the image of that run has never left my now 73 YO brain. Great player and the subject of some fun stories from my late B-I-L!

adham said...


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شركات نقل عفش ونظافة ومكافحة حشرات
شركات تنظيف بالطائف
شركة تنظيف بالطائف
شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة

adham said...

شركات تنظيف بالطائف
نقل عفش بالرياض
شركات نقل العفش بالرياض

adham said...

شركة نقل اثاث بجدة
شركة نقل عفش بالرياض
شركة نقل عفش بالمدينة المنورة
شركة نقل عفش بالدمام
شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة