Flaget Retrospect Brother Kirby
AS I REMEMBER FLAGET
by Brother Kirby Boone, C.F.X.
Last Principal, 1968-74
Recently, I received an issue of Smoke Signals that contained part of Brother Clarence’s memoirs. Shortly thereafter, Bob Ullrich, President-Elect of the Flaget Alumni Association, asked me to write and submit my recollections. So, here goes… in a climate, Alaska’s, where smoke signals sometimes become ice fog.
My Flaget recollections date from the early forties when I attended St. Xavier, and saw the Flaget Brothers who stood on the corner of First and Broadway for their bus ride to the West End. Furthermore, I have lived with Xaverians who graduated from Flaget and were also on its staff. My brother, Louis, taught there from 1949 until 1960. Thus, my thoughts embrace Flaget’s history.
With this perspective and no yearbook or factual information at hand, these recollections will be my impressions of fourteen wonderful years that I served with the students, teachers, and community of Flaget. I was animated by the Xaverian order’s twin goals: sanctification of its members; and the Catholic education of male youth.
Brother Nilus, C.F.X., Provincial, assigned me to Flaget for the 1960-61 school year as a teacher and Athletic Director. That lasted for eight years and then, for six years, I was Principal. In 1960, about twenty Xaverians and ample numbers of lay teachers staffed Flaget. Diocesan priests came weekly to teach Religious Education. Nearly seven hundred students were enrolled. Some of the best academic classes that I tried to teach in my thirty-five years of secondary school association were at Flaget. One geometry class was tops.
My four years as Athletic Director at St. Joseph Prep School, Bardstown, KY, educated me in working with the KHSAA and coaches in Central Kentucky, Louisville, and Jefferson County. Mr. Ted Sanford, Commissioner, and his assistant, Billy Joe Mansfield, understood the value of athletics. Yet, they were not blinded by the dark side of the human condition that could creep into athletics: ineligible players; balls over-inflated; eleven pound shot puts; crackback blocks on defenseless ends; unruly crowds; unprincipled administrators and coaches gone berserk. During my eight years as Flaget’s Athletic Director, we had many excellent coaches who sincerely cared about the well-being of their players. Several of them, to name only a few, were Shirley Campbell, Brother Dan Conoghan, Pete Compise, Brother Charles Culley, Brother Owen Donohue, Brother Eliot, Gipe Fehring, Charlotte Hahn, David Hammer, Jim Kennedy, Paulie Miller, Jim Morris, Denny Nash, Ed Robbins, Phil Rollins, Gene Sartini, and Vince Semary.
Among the many talented athletes I knew were the Ansert brothers, Boone brothers, Brohm brothers, Deeken brothers, Doutaz brothers, King brothers, McGrath brothers, Norris brothers, Pearl brothers, Purcell brothers, Russ brothers, Sellinger brothers, Schmidt brothers, Schmitt brothers, and Vaughn brothers. Other standouts were Sonny Alexander, Bob Bargatze, John Bass, Richard Board, Bill Bouchard, Jim Brown, Joe Buecker, Marty Carraro, Jim Cordery, Bruce Cunningham, Chick DeSensi, Dan Dusch, Dave Heughlin, Mel Hobbs, Bill Jansen, George Jansing, Roddy McNerney, Chester Massie, Tom Miller, Jim Mitchell, Mike Pike, Mike Sills, Floyd Smith, Cornell Starks, Kevin Thompson, Joe Washington… The list goes on, in all sports.
We had adequate facilities, including Shawnee Park and Chickasaw Park with their baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and football fields. We were instrumental in getting the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Department to pave some basketball courts in Shawnee Park. Lights were installed later. The Shawnee Golf Course was accessible and its Pros were helpful. We enlarged the field house at 45th and Greenwood by adding the varsity locker room; fenced the seven acres (Tony Dicello’s project) and leveled the back acre into a practice field; and built a “hi-tech” track. (Jack Allgeier provided a bulldozer, Mr. Brodfuehrer hauled the cinders to mix with top soil, and our crew laid the drainage tile). The Diocese built a long-awaited gym/auditorium that permitted an organized physical education program, home basketball practice and some home games, a wrestling room, a laundry facility, and a dance floor. The S.A.C. hosted Billy Joe Royal and his “Boondockers:” 1,200 were admitted through the door; some came in through the shower room windows.
A new bus, van, and used panel truck eased our transportation problems. The Xaverians were not permitted to have an automobile until Brother Aubin became Principal in 1960. We Xaverian Brothers, and school activities, depended on the good will of parents, teachers, friends, and the Louisville Transit System.
According to Mr. Idle Rumor, the three-story building and Brothers’ residence were constructed with a projected need for twenty-five to thirty years. To me, the quality of the building represented the thinking of one hundred twenty-five years, give or take a decade or two.
History has illuminated the damnable evils in the United States – centuries of racial segregation and prejudice. Kentucky’s Day law of 1904 was a blatant injustice that the courts upheld until 1954. The West End, with its sixties and seventies turmoil, had suffered through the ancestral and religious persecutions of the mid-nineteenth century. In 1855, Xaverians were sheltered in Portland homes while the “Know Nothing” marauders were on the move. The “Know Nothings” even rolled their cannon to Fifth Street to blow up the Cathedral of the Assumption. Bishop Martin Spalding wisely gave the keys to Mayor John Barbee with the words, “It’s yours to protect, I suggest.”
I was first introduced to the absurdity of racial segregation when I was a part-time cook at the Blue Boar on Fourth Street, my Junior year at St. Xavier. Two of the talented chefs were black, likewise the baker. Their families, by law, could not eat the food that they prepared. One day, the baker and I were walking along Fourth Street on our two-hour afternoon break when she glanced in a store’s display window. I suggested we go in for a closer look. She said, “No, I am not permitted in.”
During the integration struggles of the early sixties, Flaget scheduled a basketball game in Central Kentucky. Many teams wanted to play the state champs. We stopped at the town’s restaurant-motel for a meal. Unknown to me, we were integrating the restaurant. The manager’s words to my request for admission to the dining room were, “If you can eat with ‘em, I can feed ‘em.”
Mr. Lyman Johnson, the Athletic Director at Central, was a man of integrity who knew no fear worth giving into, when injustice was the core issue. He once told me, “Let us try to swim in the pool; if we can’t after twenty years, forget it.” Our students were fortunate to have Mr. Johnson as a teacher and Assistant Principal. I was one of his students. Flaget and St. Xavier, I was told, played Central High School in sports before the Louisville Public Schools did.
As Athletic Director, I was well pleased with the medical and dental care provided our athletes, with one exception which worked out for the good of all involved. In the early sixties, one of our black athletes needed medical attention. The recommended West End dentist would not see him until after supper. I talked to Dr. Roy Combs, whom I knew from his and Kenny Reeve’s officiating in Bardstown. Roy said, “Bring him out to Shively. I will take care of him.” Later, I talked to Roy about teeth protectors and mouth pieces before they were required. He said, “Bring them out, a car load at a time.” He fitted all who would go at a minimal charge. Some of his colleagues complained about unfair competition. Dr. Combs was a man of integrity and good will.
Doom rumors about Flaget’s future were in the air when I took up residency in 1960. The Catholic migration out of the West End left partially-filled elementary schools, then mergers and closures. When Loretto High School closed, Flaget went co-ed and added a Junior High. All noble gestures by the Catholic School Office. The Catholic School personnel gave us a chance to stay open.
Flaget had many loyal parents from Kentucky and Indiana who entrusted their youngsters to us during those troubled days. They realized that we cared and that our lives were dedicated to their children. We did have excellent teachers, coaches, and support staff – some were characters, but a school would have been a sad learning experience if all the personnel were cloned to a single ideal.
During my years, we had gracious and generous support from two Diocesan Superintendents, Father Tom Casper and Father Joe McGee. Another, Msgr. Steinhouser, before he died, apologized to me at the Nazareth Retirement Home for the mischief he had caused the Brothers.
The apology was willingly accepted.
The clergy in the West End were very supportive and went out of their way to be helpful. Several who come to mind were Fathers Lally, Keifer, Young, Rapp, Robertson, Hardesty, Hartlage, Fowler, Mills, Delahanty, Fischer, and Morgan, and the Resurrectionists of St. Cecilia.
Flaget’s office staff of Milan, Casey, Sandman, Hurley, Dorsey, and Mahoney were pleasant, efficient, and wonderful models for our students and faculty.Burks, Eckenfels, Hardesty and Hortenbury fed us well. One day, Dr. Harvey Sloane dropped in when he was running (or better, walking) for election to be Mayor. He drank a bowl of soup in our cafeteria. One of our students noticed and said, “I’ll vote for Harvey. That’s how I like my soup.”
Some outstanding alumni and friends who could be counted on for advice and a helping hand included Tom Becker, Paul Schmitt, Jack Finnigan and his dad, Bill Roby, Ray Doyle, Cornie Hubbuch, Mrs. London, Chris Lander’s dad, Dr. Donald Diebold, Dr. Norvin Casper, Dr. William Mitchell, Dr. Roy Combs, Jim McGinty, Tom Noonan, Karl Schmitt, Sr., Ron Holzknecht, Jimmy Malone, Jim Miller, Buck Kurtz, Charles Ullrich, Jr., Charlie Carraro, Paul Lipps, Ed Hasenour, PTS officers, and many others. May Jesus reward them all with an open gate. Sister Anne Francis, S.L., of Loretto High School and Sister Prisca, R.S.M., of Assumption High School were first-class educators with sound advice. Brother Edward Daniel (Phil Dougherty) of St. Xavier High School brought wisdom and “walking around” sense to athletic and educational meetings. Bellarmine College served us well with their available facilities and staff. Dr. Walsh and others of Nazareth College helped us educationally.
City School athletic directors were gracious in granting us the use of well-prepared facilities at a reasonable cost. Miles Park let us use the old arena for track practice (Mason-Dixon Games) and for football practice during unusual weather conditions.
Our football players’ trip to see Green Bay play Cleveland for the NFL Championship has been recently reexamined. Let me set the record straight: The players and parents (probably coaches too) paid for the trip by selling oranges. The only disappointment for me on the trip, other than not being there for the kick-off (thousands were backed up on the icy roads), was that our graduate who played had to catch his plane and didn’t have time to say hello to the Flaget players in the chartered bus that cold day. Blanton Collier, coach of Cleveland, spent time with me after the game while we waited for our graduate.
For your perusal, here are a few incidents: Some are humorous, some sad, but all were everyday happenings in a school with adolescents who were free to choose their behavior with only the fear of jug and the possibility of another school in which to continue their education.
When Brother Casmir walked the hallways, between classes, singing, his students followed with thumbs up and humming. Brother Patrick Dougherty was charged by his homeroom class, pinned to the chalkboard and asked, “Will you go on a picnic with us?” Students, led by Harold Joyce, gave a “Rookie Teacher of the Year” trophy, jointly, to Brother Carlos and Brother Dan who had taught for many years.
Escape from jug: One of the Pruitt twins went out the window when the prefect wasn’t watching. Another student won a 79-cent bet that he could escape. He broke his ankle dropping from the second floor.
No teacher was allowed to leave the classroom at the end of class until the next teacher arrived. All the teachers stood in the doorway waiting for someone to come. A joyful ten minutes.
Four students had permission to leave for lunch but came back an hour late. The excuse – a flat tire. They were put in separate classrooms and asked which tire went flat. It turned out they had four flat tires!
Harvey Sloane met a student and asked him if he had a car. When Harvey tried to give him a bumper sticker, the student refused, explaining that he didn’t have bumpers.
One day, at the end of classes, some students were going down the front steps, turned left to the park instead of down the alley to the Vermont Avenue bus turn-around. A student ahead of me stopped and said, “Give us fifteen minutes in the park.” A “red neck” had been harassing a black student-athlete (much smaller); it was settled before I got there, ten minutes later – one on one, no jumping-in; respect was learned, no more harassment out of that person.
A very scary incident soon after Bob Ullrich’s dad, Charles, Jr., was shot, near-fatally, in his Michigan Drive garage: In the summertime a drifter entered our building and on the front steps placed a gun against a secretary’s head; a click, a misfire, a scream, a vanishment.
One night, we upset Shawnee’s basketball team in its gym. They claimed the referee had done them in. We left through a back door under police protection, returned to Flaget in our van with its broken windows. Within a couple of weeks, we met the same team with the same complaining coach in Manual’s new gym in the District playoffs and beat them by twenty to thirty points as Floyd Smith and Cornell Starks combined for more than fifty points.
Our equipment manager was protective of his student managers. A player continually bothered his personnel. Soon, “angel-hair” showed up in the harasser’s uniform doing its own irritating.
Sonny Alexander, who had difficulty catching a lateral, kept requesting a TD pass. So, Rick Norton sent him long at Manual Stadium and hit him on the helmet in the end zone; the ball bounced off toward the score board.
Paulie Miller, to me, was one of the best offensive coaches in Kentucky. He never stopped learning; stagnation didn’t have a chance. He attended clinics and Cleveland Brown practices. He would talk football with anyone, anywhere, and sketched plays on any tablecloth. His practices were oriented to scoring. His burning desire was ingrained in his players, associates and fans. At one practice, prior to a St. Xavier game, an assistant coach was trying to animate a lineman; finally, the coach wrestled the lineman to the ground. Paulie yelled, “Get up from there, we are playing St. Xavier in football, not wrestling!” From my observations, he never wanted his quarterback tackled in practice or a game. He remarked that each hit took a little finesse away. Paulie didn’t waste time harassing or nagging, he taught execution. If a player missed a pass, he took a lap and another jumped into the slot for an opportunity. Paulie was a man, strong enough of character, to apologize if he had wronged someone. One night at Manual Stadium, before the second half, he told me I was going to hell for sending the Braves back to the locker room as they came out for the second half. The referees had failed to tell us that the coronation of the “Bowl Queen” was about to begin and play would be delayed fifteen minutes or more. We won easy. He apologized on Monday in my office without being asked to, not in response to any prior mention of the incident. A tough decision for the school to make was to allow Paulie to coach the Louisville Raiders, a professional football team, while remaining as the Braves’ coach. After much discussion of the serious possible ramifications for our program and Paulie’s agreement with our safeguards, we sanctioned his wish. Paulie fulfilled his promises to us. The Sunday both teams lost, probably, gave Paulie a nightmare or a headache – one of the teams was St. Xavier. Paulie was upset when we built the track around the football field. In our planning, we kept adequate space with a design of four straightaways and four curves of ninety degrees each. Moreover, the practice field used mostly by the freshmen was added on the back acre. After some players were groomed by the track coach and ran with more authority and poise, he asked the track coach to work with more of his players in developing their speed and balance.
Our students were well prepared for higher educational pursuits. Yet, we innovated with the blessings of accrediting agencies. Basically, we acknowledged that some students learn faster than others; some subjects needed more time than others; and, interested students learned more than the non-curious.
Since funds were limited, Brother Hilaire (Al Johnson) inaugurated dual enrollment with Shawnee High School, wherein Shawnee rented our science classrooms and provided some excellent teachers. The students reacted well; the public wondered and questioned the diluting of Catholic education.
We went to module scheduling and became a model school. A public school faculty representative from out in the state spent a day with us observing our program with innovative class size (large and small groupings), resource centers (labeled media centers today), and independent study (in the building). Creative teaching was encouraged and student initiative ensured. Yet, jug (“justice under God”) was retained. The “mod” scheduling permitted some students to take college courses in the afternoon or evenings; likewise, trade classes at Louisville’s “new” vocational school were used.
Our Junior High School had one hundred students. This brought in a different mind-set and program. We saw it as fulfilling a need that resulted from the loss of classrooms in the West End parochial system. Hopefully, it would be a feeder school for us.
Going co-ed brought changes in the facilities and the faculty. Some excellent teachers joined us from the former staff of Loretto High School and Rosalie Carso (Frame) took on the Assistant Principal title and ably assisted Brother Robert Arrowsmith – They split the day.
Yet, the changes kept us answering questions from the press, the parents, the faculty and others. Could we justify our claim that we were still a quality Catholic School with a sound academic program and satisfactory extra-curricular activities. At times, we were misquoted or misunderstood, but we were on a “mission” to serve youth educationally in many facets of their adolescent development. This had to be done without losing our valued Catholic heritage and principles.
During this questioning period, our religion texts came under the scrutiny of the Chancery, and rightly so. All of our texts, but one, were found to have acceptable imprimaturs. The text without an imprimatur was written by the Catholic School’s Religious Director. Our religion chairperson had her religion teaching certificate from the Diocese.
Many plans were discussed to maintain the enrollment that justified our existence. A “Save Flaget” walk from Bellarmine to Flaget and return to Bellarmine on a rainy Sunday brought hundreds to walk with us, and raised some money and enthusiasm, besides the blistered feet and swollen ankles. Two fund-raising dinners in our gym, with alumni class chairpersons, were brief spurts of hope but lacked enduring subsistence.
The final decision by the Diocese to close Flaget as a school came down to facing the realistic developments of the seventies. The closure and locking of the doors were the Amens to the fact that the agreed-upon preregistration number did not happen. The defining goal had been carefully chosen and published. The Amen was hard to say as was the Amen to St. Joseph Prep in 1968, and as had been the previous Amen to the Jesuit College in Bardstown (that became the Prep after the Jesuit facility left and opened Fordham University in New York). Our days and efforts are specks of time to eternity, infinity programmed by the Infinite with humans as free will participants.
So plans were devised to complete the year with grace, purpose, and empowering the students, faculty and support personnel to have the opportunities for quality schooling and satisfactory employment elsewhere. We sponsored an “open house” for Catholic Schools to meet and chat with prospective transfers of both students and teachers.
Transfers became wholesome leaven for these “foreign” schools. In my estimation, we completed the 1973-74 school year as a positive experience without trashing minds, equipment and plant. We attempted to move materials to other Catholic institutions. Some films and trophies were made available to former coaches and players. Geronimo was neither put on an Ohio River ice floe nor interred in Portland Cemetery – It went to the highest sealed bid. None of the closure actions were done in secret or with malice. No one appeared who showed any interest in some homeroom trophies or throw-away used objects; even ravens or buzzards didn’t show when house cleaning was being done. Thanks to staff and people like Brother Borgia and Brother Edward Schneider, the building was left clean and debt free.
We took the student records, checkbook, and keys to the Superintendent’s office on June 30, 1974. I thank God for the good done during the thirty-two grace-filled years, and ask pardon for any wrong that didn’t further Jesus’ Kingdom. Amen.
A brief footnote that sums up for me the Xaverians’ service at Flaget. While I was Principal in Baltimore, 1980-86, I had a note from a former Flaget drafting student who frequently had to redo his “plates.” Prior to the note, he had won a national photography honor in New England. He wrote, “I don’t know whether you were mean or…, but thanks for helping to put order in my life.”
A few notable wins during my fourteen years:
The 880-yard relay team, composed of Joe Schuler, Joe Washington, Bill Bouchard, and Sonny Alexander, winning the final event in Lexington to take the state track championship. The entire stands rose as Sonny took the baton to run the anchor leg. Cross-country’s winning of the Southern Interscholastic championship in Knoxville the day after President Kennedy was assassinated. The team members were Dan Dusch, Bob Ullrich, Joe Lee, Dan Clark, Tim McDonald, Bert Stocker, Pat Finegan, and Tom Kallay. Dan Dusch winning the half-mile run in the State track meet in 1964. Pat Finegan winning the first two-mile run in a State track meet in 1966. A basketball win in the LIT over Allen County with its seven-foot Jim McDaniel. Upsetting Male in football the night they mauled Dave Heughlin. Owensboro was ranked #1 in the football Litkenhaus Ratings, we were ranked #2. We beat them on a Saturday afternoon at Manual Stadium. Quarterback Chick DeSensi took the snap and walked around left end as twenty-one players stayed motionless, to score and beat Jim Kennedy’s Trinity Shamrocks in football. The baseball team beating St. Xavier in Shawnee Park which left coach Joe “Red” Hagan benched like an Icon for many minutes before he overcame his bewilderment and returned to Tiger camp. Tying Thomas Jefferson for the state football championship in 1971 with an enrollment of about 300 students. Flaget’s final basketball triumph, an upset over highly-favored Valley in the Regionals at the Fairgrounds.