Edward S Bumgarner ©2008
Everyone called him Curly. His real name was Alfred Eugene Deatherage, pound for pound, the best high school football player I ever saw. There have been a lot of good athletes who played football at Davis High in Davis, Oklahoma; but, none that I ever saw was as good as Curly or Gene, as most of us called him.
When he entered school at Davis in the first grade, Gene had a mass of the curliest hair one ever saw. Somewhere around the sixth or seventh grade, Gene starting having his hair cut into a flat-top, and the curly hair was gone.
Gene was special.
Coming from a very, very modest family background, Gene was always upbeat and funny; and, an honors student in school. We didn’t know how special Gene’s sports abilities really were until seventh or eighth grade. Back in those days, speed was measured in yards and not meters, such as 100 yard dash, and not 100 meters.
When we were eighth-graders, Gene won the Washita Valley Conference Junior High Track meet 100 yard dash in a very, very swift 10.3 seconds. Back then that was considered “fast” in anybody’s books. Being an eighth-grader besides, made it all the more special.
All of us played Junior High Football, and when we were eighth-graders, we won the Washita Valley Conference in football. Coach Alton Roberts was our coach.
When our freshman year came along, Gene and I decided to “go out” for the high school football team. Gene “started” at left end on that team. We made the Oklahoma High school Football playoffs, and Curly had a pretty good year.
Our sophomore year, Gene started at left halfback on another State Semi-Finalist team. Gene carried this football team on his shoulders almost all the way through the playoffs, but our State Championship year was again denied by the team from Beaver, Oklahoma that would win 3 out of 4 State Championships in that time period.
Curly made All-District, All Area, and garnered other honors. Seniors only, made All-State back in those years, and that may still be the norm in Oklahoma.
Our Junior year in high school was probably one of the best years of young Curly’s life in regards to football; but, not in other ways. Curly switched to fullback that year, and won honors as All District, All Area, Area Back of the Year, and other honors as well. It has been reputed that the Air Force Academy was showing signs of wanting Curly. We will never know for sure how Curly would have fared in that venue.
Just before Christmas of 1961, Curly was involved in a vehicular accident north of Davis that resulted in the death of another person. This completely changed Gene Deatherage’s young life.
Gene’s football career was over, forever. Gene was unconscious for fifteen days, had a broken left arm, a broken left leg, and both jaws were broken. Doctors said that if Gene hadn’t been in top physical condition, that this accident would have taken his life.
This accident did take his life, in a matter of speaking, and a new life began for him. Gene was quite an inspiration to all of us. His Mother, bless her heart, never gave up on him as well as the rest of us. She fed him his meals through a straw utilizing a food blender to fix his meals. His teachers sent his lessons home to him. Gene was away from the classroom; but, not away from school.
I happen to be visiting him in the hospital in Oklahoma City on Christmas Eve morning when he came out of unconsciousness, and he called me by name. Later, he told me that he had recognized my voice and that was how he knew who I was.
When our Senior football season began, Gene wanted so badly to play, that against all doctors orders and of course his parents wishes and all of us, he tried to play football again. Our first day in pads, Gene got knocked out, and that was that. His dream was gone.
Gene married his high school sweetheart, Kathy Ryland of Pauls Valley in September of 1963, the same year we all graduated high school. Gene and Kathy settled in Edmond Oklahoma where Gene attended and graduated from Central State University with a college degree. Gene worked many years in the food industry out of Oklahoma City.
He played golf, and got big and fat like the rest of us. Gene was funny, smart, and continued to be an upbeat guy all his life. He is and will always be the “best damn football player I ever saw”. Like most of us, he was a big fan of OU football.
Gene passed away in March of 1985 after a bout of colon cancer. I last saw him at my Mother’s funeral on 18 August, 1984, and he told me then that he was sick and was going to see a doctor. I never saw Curly again, but, I talked to him constantly over the phone up until just before the end.
I have since, many many times regretted not going to see him before he passed away. I had just been through two years of losing my dear Mother, and couldn’t face seeing another friend leaving.
I am sure Gene has been starring for God’s football team in the sky. Curly, I will always love you.
Gene’s wife Kathy has joined him in the last few years, and they left a legacy of two daughters who are now married and have children of their own.