By John R. Schirmer
“It’s always good to be home,” Dr. Tom DeBlack told an appreciative crowd Saturday night, Feb. 2, during the annual Scrapper Showdown at the Nashville High School cafeteria.
DeBlack looked back on his playing days as a Scrapper and told what being a member of the “brotherhood” had meant to him since graduating from NHS.
His presentation was part of an evening which also included a live auction, silent auction, the Heads or Tails game, and a barbecue dinner. The Showdown was a fund-raiser for the Scrapper Booster Club and took in about $9,500 for Scrapper and Scrapperette athletics.
“How many remember the 1968 Scrapper season?” DeBlack asked the audience. When few hands went up, DeBlack seemed pleased and noted that there wouldn’t be many who would question his account.
“I was one of the greatest football players ever at Nashville High School and a great all-around athlete,” he said in jest, and the crowd responded with laughter throughout his presentation.
To prepare for the Showdown, DeBlack visited the State Archives in Little Rock and looked at the Nashville News on microfilm.
The Scrappers had won state in 1967, DeBlack said, but there were questions going into the 1968 season. Quarterback was one of the vacancies on the roster.
“Coach Joe Goodrum liked to run the ball down the other team’s throat,” DeBlack said. “He never quite appreciated my quickness and elusiveness. Passing was the problem and would depend on how well one of four quarterbacks produced.”
In a season preview, Goodrum told the News
that “DeBlack has the brains and arm to make a fine quarterback, but he’s shy of speed.”
In a later issue, Goodrum said that DeBlack was “an excellent passer and real smart. He’s lacking in speed.”
During the Scrappers’ intra-squad scrimmage Aug. 30, 1968, “A star emerged,” DeBlack said. “I threw four touchdown passes to Bubba Walis and the Black team won 30-18. My starting role was short lived, though, and lasted the first two series against Dierks” in the season opener.
Allan Ray went in as QB and “threw five touchdowns,” DeBlack said.
Both players saw quarterback duty as the season progressed. One day at practice, “Joe [Goodrum] gave me one chance to show my running prowess. He called a quarterback sweep accidentally for me. I sprinted to my left and planted my left foot to cut upfield. The result was a two-hard loss.”
DeBlack demonstrated the stance Goodrum took as he leaned over with his hands on his legs. “He never raised his head. He just said, ‘DeBlack, if you’re ever in a game and I call that play, you change it.’”
In the ninth week of the season, Nashville defeated Mena 31-0. “The late ‘Swampy’ Graves was always good to me” in the Nashville News game stories, DeBlack said. “On Nov. 5 he wrote, ‘Tommy DeBlack had his finest night in a season of improvement. The key pass went to the Mena 26. Nashville had 383 total yards. DeBlack was 5 of 15 passes for 85 yards.’ That meant that we got almost 300 yards on the ground,” DeBlack said.
“I didn’t have a lot of help,” DeBlack said as he held up a large picture of himself throwing the football against the Bearcats. “It was me and three guys from Mena bearing down. Our linemen told me later, ‘We couldn’t hold them back forever.’”
DeBlack also saw duty at free safety. “The highlight was during a 6-0 win over Hot Springs Lakeside. Swampy wrote that it was ‘Tommy DeBlack whose interception put the game away, an interception he returned to the Lakeside 28.’”
Looking back on his playing days, “Maybe I wasn’t quite as good as I thought,” DeBlack said. “I picked off four passes at free safety, but I threw seven interceptions at quarterback. I wasn’t great. I wasn’t even good, but I was part of the brotherhood. That never left me. I still go to high school games every Friday night. I check the Scrapper score every Friday night.”
DeBlack attended the Scrappers’ season opener last fall against Watson Chapel at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. “I was in the second level of the press box and saw six former Scrappers who drove up from Texarkana to see the Scrappers play. Wherever I go, I still see people who are part of that brotherhood.”
As member of the brotherhood, “I’m a former Scrapper player, not a former Scrapper. We’re Scrappers for life,” DeBlack said.
After graduating from NHS in 1969, DeBlack received a B.A. from Southern Methodist University, his M.S.E. from Ouachita Baptist University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas.
He was a history teacher, coach and administrator at Nashville before becoming a history professor at Arkansas Tech, where he recently retired after 23 years. As part of his career, “I came back and coached some other Scrapper players. I’m proud of that.”
DeBlack said that “52 years ago this summer, I had a summer job helping complete this high school. I can say I helped build this school. My junior year, we still played on the old field [where the housing authority is located today]. We had the greatest road races on the way to practice. The first African-American athletes played then. I think of how heroic they were.”
With all the positive aspects of his days at Nashville, “School is so much better now. That’s a tribute to the administration and faculty. I’m glad it continues to get better,” DeBlack said.
“When I went to SMU, I was concerned that I wouldn’t measure up to students from larger schools, but I was better prepared. The important thing is not that I helped build this school, but this school helped build me.”
DeBlack concluded his remarks with another story about Goodrum. The Scrappers were playing at Hope and dressed in the gym before the game. As the players getting ready, they heard the NHS “Alma Mater” from the band and fans.
“Coach Goodrum just stopped and listened. After that, he told the team, ‘I don’t know about y’all, but that does something to me.’ It still does today,” DeBlack said.
Goodrum wasn’t at the Showdown. His daughter, Booster Club president Gaye Graham, told DeBlack after the presentation that “Daddy would have loved this. Thank you.”
The remainder of the Showdown included the auctions and Heads or Tails. Tessa Jamison won the game and received a 50-inch flatscreen TV donated by Architecture Plus and Howard Construction.
Fans spent much of the evening checking their bids on the silent auction items.
The live auction was conducted by Todd Morris and featured everything from a parking spot next to the gate at Scrapper Stadium ($280 from Dr. Glenn Lance) to a generator donated by Rodney Jacques (bought for $750 by Terry Ray).
Nashville Junior High and High School student-athletes sold game tickets and tickets on raffle items.
Morris won a mini bike donated by Robbie Stavely.