ABERDEEN - Aberdeen School District Conservator Mac Curlee, a product of the school system in the years leading up to integration, recalls how a friendly touch football game in a sense extended the olive branch for what was soon to come with African Americans and whites to walk the halls in the same learning institutions.
"Several of us Aberdeen High School football team members would gather at a vacant lot in town to play touch football for about an hour or so. Whoever would show up, it was an understood thing," Curlee said.
He couldn't recall who all played on those Sunday afternoon games besides people like Dennis Coleman, Johnny Summers, Bill Hudnall, Dale Pierce and Dennis Herndon. However, Curlee occasionally studies framed composite photos of graduating classes from the early 1970s to figure out others who helped add to the game more and more week-by-week.
"We didn't discourage anyone. One Sunday afternoon, a car pulled up we didn't recognize. A couple of African Americans asked if they could play, and we said, 'Sure, come on.' The next week, a few more came, and we realized we'd outgrown our vacated lot," said Curlee, who recalls one of the new players suggesting a bigger space behind Shivers to play.
On that field, down a ravine, Curlee remembers looking up one Sunday in 1966 and seeing his father, John Curlee; either Preston Belle or J.R. Shivers; and Lester Miley standing together watching the game.
"What struck me with the anniversary of Aberdeen High School [last year] was when people had second thoughts of integration at the schools, there was a group of black and white players having a good time. I just wonder what was going through those three men's minds amidst the times when all of that was about to roll out," Curee said.