A Football Story by Shirley Palmer

This story takes place around the end of November,1970 in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. Our son was playing in a Pop Warner Football League for boys up to the age of 16 (as I remember it). His team, the North Hollywood Trojans (wearing the same colors as the USC Trojans) had an outstanding season. My husband and I attended all the games, which were always played on Saturdays.
I remember one game was played in Goleta, which was the furthest we had to travel. When we got there (early in the morning) our son Gary was 1 lb over the weight limit, which meant he couldn’t play. Being one of their best players the Coach quickly went into action: had Gary strip off his uniform, wrapped his entire body in Saran Wrap, bundled him up with several jackets and wind breakers and sent him off running around the track. He had to do at least 5 laps!

I was sitting in the stands and couldn’t figure out what was going on. My husband was one of the linesmen, so he was down on the field watching Gary run prior to game time. They finally brought him in, unwrapped him, and he had lost 2 ½ lbs. So he was eligible to play! Those were exciting days.
But the story I want to tell about was what happened on that November weekend in 1970. Our team, the State Champion after a wonderful season of not losing a single game, was to play a team from Utah (who was its State Champion) for the final trophy! At a meeting of the parents we were told that each of us should volunteer to take one or two of the Utah boys into our home for the weekend of the game, as our house guests. We had a big den in our home, so I volunteered to take two boys. I figured we’d put Gary out there with them in sleeping bags, and they wouldn’t feel strange if they had a friend with them. The plan was to drive down to North Hollywood Park by 3 p.m. on Friday and pick up “our boys”! This meant I had to leave work early, which was a bit of a hassle for me – working for a Bank and Friday night was our night to stay open until 6 p.m. With all the plans in place I took off from San Fernando to North Hollywood Park. When I got there several other parents had already been there and picked up their “charges”. I got out of the car and saw five boys sitting on the grass. I looked at our Coach, wondering which two were mine and he said, “Mrs. Palmer, we have a problem; a couple of the parents have backed out on their commitment, so would you possibly take all five home with you?” Well, here sat the poor kids with long faces. What could I do? I said: “Sure! Come on boys hop in.” En route home my son got to know them all by name and they were talking up a storm by the time we reached the house.

Now I had to go into action fast: Which neighbor had sleeping bags I could borrow? How was I going to “enlarge” the dinner from what I had planned to feed six to now nine. My mind was going a mile a minute. It all worked out: two borrowed sleeping bags (we had 4), some extra bed pillows, and a dinner they all seemed to enjoy. Amazing how you can stretch spaghetti, salad & bread! So by 10 p.m. we had the boys all bedded down in our den and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Then, in the middle of the night I heard the rain starting. We got up to a real downpour. I fed the group breakfast and we packed up the station wagon with football players (in uniform), plus our daughter, my husband, me and several umbrellas. This was, I might add, long before the days of seat belts and the kids just jammed into the station wagon.
The game was played at Monroe High School football field in Sepulveda, the area now known as North Hills. The field was a sloppy mess and once the game began the players would tackle one another and slide 20 yards in the mud. Such a mess! My husband was on the field as a linesman, holding one of the chains that mark the yardage gained or lost on the Utah side of the field.

One of the boys that stayed with us was the quarterback for Utah. Our team was romping all over Utah as they couldn’t do anything right it seemed. When their quarterback made a bad play their coach went out and grabbed him off the field, dragged him to the sidelines and started swearing at him. He was about to hit him, when my husband dropped the chains he was holding, ran over and told the coach to back off. In fact I think my husband would have engaged the coach in a little pushing and shoving, had other men not intervened!! The boy was in tears and he said, “Thank you, Mr. Palmer”.

Whenl the game finally ended we had won by a landslide, but everyone from California was furious with the Utah coach and said he should be banned from ever coaching again,since he did hit a couple of the players. That was a league problem! But, now we had our problem with six absolutely filthy mud-soaked boys to get home, feed, have their uniforms washed and get them back down to North Hollywood Park by 9 a.m. Sunday morning.

On the way home the car was silent – the Utah boys felt terrible and most of them had suffered some wrath from their Coach. Our son just kept his mouth shut, so as not to embarrass them. My husband formulated a plan. He told the boys to get out of the car when we got home and go out on our back patio (it was a private area) and take off their uniforms; then one by one hop into the shower. My husband had the great idea of washing the uniforms off on our fence with the garden hose, thus saving all that mud from getting in the washing machine. After he hosed them off I’d bring them in and wash them. I didn’t have a dryer in those days, but a neighbor down the street agreed I could bring them down to her dryer. What a night! We were running back and forth up and down the street with baskets of laundry (either wet or dry) and trying to feed the kids. The Quarterback was in the bathroom vomiting consistently. Finally I asked one of the boys if they could drink tea, as I knew they were all Mormon and didn’t want to give him something he wasn’t supposed to have. I’ll never forget his reply: “Mrs. Palmer, if it will help his gut – he can have it!” So with the help of some Lipton’s tea and a few soda crackers, his stomach settled down; thank goodness!
We made it back to North Hollywood Park on time Sunday with all five boys and their CLEAN uniforms I might add we were up VERY late that night running laundry up and down the block! (Lucky it was a friendly neighborhood!!) That Christmas I received little gifts from all five boys who had stayed with us, together with really cute hand written thankyou notes. The one boy told me he wasn’t in any trouble for drinking tea, since he explained how much better it made him feel!! A memorable weekend at the Palmer house and never to be forgotten!

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2 Comments on “A Football Story by Shirley Palmer”

  1. Viv Ray Says:

    What a story. Really enjoyed it. You are multi talented. Viv.

  2. Marlene Palmer Says:

    You are the hero that saved the game!!! Great story, well written, Bravo!

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