Pops y Los Tres Hermanos
“There are far more lessons to be learned while pulling oneself up by the bootstraps with grace and dignity off the ground…..wiping oneself off and readying oneself to get back into the fray of a new competition…..than there is to be learned from winning any competition. The lessons of winning are at best only than half of what there is to be learned….for the most useful of the lessons of life come from competing to the best of one’s ability and reveling in the joy of having played the game and competed on the fields of sport.
The Sage known as Pops
In 2011, Los Tres Hermanos (Little W, Bone Daddy and Runt) were faced with a request from their then 85 year old Mother prior to heading home to Ft Worth from her Thanksgiving Holiday trip to Austin. Granny’s (Los Tres Hermanos Mom had ascended to Granny some 20 years back) requested of her three sons that they together take her to see “The Wall of Fame” at the University of Texas Rec Center….where her three boys, Los Tres Hermanos, had multiple pictures appearing.
Ironically, her “fourth boy” didn’t qualify to be memorialized in those old black and white pictures even though his influence drove Los Tres Hermanos toward a life long love affair with sports. Pictures of Granny’s boys, Little W, Bone Daddy and Runt appeared on The Wall for 9 years running from 1963 to 1971…as her sons pursued college degrees on the side while majoring in Intramurals as members of their fraternity. Each played and participated in 6-10 sports a year….winning multiple all university championships.
basketball, softball, volleyball, handball, tennis
Their fraternity finished 1st or 2nd in the All Intramural Championship in multiple years during their span at UT. While functioning as their fraternity’s Intramural Chairmen during 4 of the 9 years, they also officiated intramural sports as part time jobs during their years on campus.
Little W was chosen Best Intramural Athlete in 1966/67 and Los Tres Hermanos won a total of 17 Intramural Championships in football, and bowling….visa vie Los Tres Hermanos pictures being seen multiple times on the University of Texas Rec Sports Wall of Fame….and Granny wanted to see The Wall and the pictures of her sons whom had been significantly influenced by her 4th boy, Pops.
After graduation from UT, the boys formed the infamous Over the Hill Gang….playing Austin City League football, basketball, softball and volleyball until they were in their early 40’s while winning multiple City Championships. What I like most about this story is that while playing City League, they also coached youth sports for many of the years that they played. Additionally, a substantial portion of their working lives was spent in sports related businesses. Little W and Runt owned Ski International (international snow ski tour operators) for over 16 years. Bone Daddy owned Madison Square Garden….a legendary 6th Street sports bar for 17 years. And Runt was a founding partner in Pleasant Valley Sportsplex (adult softball and recreation complex) for 18 years.
However, this story is really about the “4th Boy” who never played a minute of UT Rec Sports or City League Sports. Big W was Dad to Los Tres Hermanos….but was known by almost everyone else as Pops. Pops grew up in the mountains of Colorado and Utah, endured the Great Depression, played multiple sports in high school and joined the Navy at age 17 to ease the load on his widowed mother only to be thrust into a World War at 18 as a participant in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Pops was stationed at Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station, the first point of attack by the Japanese on this Day of Imfame After the war and a brief stint at TCU as a 165 lb guard for Coach Abe Martin’s Horned Frogs….family economics forced him to quit college and start a career as a Corporate Pilot.
The first thing you saw walking in the back door of the family house in Midland, TX was a sports rack full of bats, balls, gloves, and sports paraphernalia. These were the teaching tools Pops used to teach life lessons….but also to introduce his boys to all kinds of sports to include basketball, baseball, football, golf, snow skiing, handball, tennis, fly fishing during vacations in Colorado….and so much more.
With the Midland High School sports complex including football and baseball stadiums across the street from the family home….and Sam Houston Elementary playground to include a basketball court and goals in between the house and the stadiums translated into many pick up games which were played on a regular basis….with Pops as the only non-kid invited to play. As Los Tres Hermanos moved into high school, no distance was too great to drive to see one of his boy’s games. And later, when his three boys came home from college for holidays, pick up basketball games were formed at the High School gym with Pops darting around with a bunch of flat bellies letting the kids shoot while infrequently launching his patented 2 handed set shot with dead-eye accuracy.
In honor of Pops and his gift of the love of sports that he gave to my Bone Daddy and his two brothers….I have chosen pieces of BD’s collection to display in this story that are examples of some of Pops’s favorite athletes from the world of professional sports….as these were people who held special places in Pops heart throughout his younger years of growing up.
Pops preferred coaching and playing with his boys versus participating in adult leagues. As his boys went off to college he developed a love affair with tennis where he would make friends and playing partners out of strangers on courts at home or wherever he flew as a corporate pilot. Ask him if he won or lost a match and his response was always the same, “I don’t know….but we got in 3 great sets”. The racquet or fly rod accompanied him to Alaska’s North Shore, the Queen’s Jubilee in England, Brazil and countless other destinations while flying for Shell Oil and Atlantic Richfield throughout his professional career. After an invigorating match in his late 60’s…..Pops told his playing partner after an aggressive set….”you know, I think I may be having a heart attack”, whereupon he drove himself to the hospital to have his diagnosis confirmed. Pops played tennis and walked 5 miles a day until he was 78….when one of his tennis buddies performed the knee surgery that ended his tennis career. Los Tres Hermanos and Granny lost Pops February 20, 2008, at 84 after he lost a tie-breaker to an insidious opponent, Alzheimer’s. The words in the song “My Old Man” sung by Austin Singer / Songwriter Steve Goodman is my musical tribute to all those sons who no longer have their Pops around.
This story does not presume your interest in Los Tres Hermanos lives….but to those of you who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, I know you will have a smile on your face when remembering experiences with your Dad or a friend’s Dad from those days.
You see, the boys of this time in history, grew up in the heyday of sports when the kids still played with their arms & legs….not their thumbs. It was a time when sports were only on TV once a week….there wasn’t an internet….and there weren’t any cell phones or video games. The kids made due in the hot sun, on cold blustery days and under backyard flood lights playing whiffle ball…flies and skinners…horse & 21….tag up work-up games….homerun derby….2-below or tackle football….even creating games like yard hockey. For the same hours spent playing video games now…..they played the real thing….with broken bats held together by 3 nails and 2 rolls of tape and partially deflated basketballs and footballs. They didn’t specialize at an early age…for Los Tres Hermanos played the sport in season….as Pops had taught them. They created a wonderful life just playing sports on their own….being gone from home for hours upon hours on long summer days guided by 2 rules: One – be where you said you’d be…..and Two – be home by dinner at 6pm.
Los Tres Hermanos were the sons of fathers who had to grow up quick….learning difficult lessons while facing hard times at very young ages. Their youth was shaped by the deprivation of the Great Depression….their late teens and early 20’s by fighting for their lives in the Pacific and in Europe in an “ultimate competition” where winning or losing had horrific results with a finality that was hard to imagine. Los Tres Hermanos buddies might get a black eye or twisted ankle but many of their fathers friends didn’t come home….whereby the survivors spent a lifetime trying to bury harsh memories, while forever wondering why they survived and trying to prove that their life had value.
Armed with this harsh education, the Dads of the Baby Boomer Generation mentored and coached their sons and daughters. These were the lessons that were far too important to be left to private, paid coaches with no vested interest in The Three Brothers guidance toward manhood. The tenants of code of conduct, sportsmanship, teammate camaraderie and playing by the rules were taught above winning by Pops to Los Tres Hermanos. Trash talking, showboating, and beat downs were simply not allowed. Make no mistake….you were to play to win with grit and determination….without whining or complaining….but to win with honor or lose with grace was far more important than the trappings of winning alone. You played for FUN & COMPETITION…and if you worked hard and gave back as much as you took….the future would take care of itself….even in terms of making high school teams or earning scholarships to college or future pro careers.
As the 60’s & 70’s rolled around, off Los Tres Hermanos went to The University of Texas at Austin…steam rolling onto the Intramural Fields with a zest that may never be seen again. They reveled in the endless variety of sports available, not to mention the incredible levels of competition. Even the Mullet Division was competitive with just a little more fun thrown in. To a large part this was the heaven on earth experience of youth their Dads wished they could have lived. They didn’t begrudge their boys the fun….since they had prepared them for it. Bone Daddy says you could see Pops sitting on the top bleacher at the Intramural Fields with a great big grin on his face just watching the creation he helped foster play ball. That gift of love of sports carried his sons happily through their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and beyond. Los Tres Hermanos never got burned out on sports….they just got old. Even now, it’s all about “Is there a game worth watching tonight?”
So on this Father’s Day 2015….this story is dedicated to the “Men of the Greatest Generation” and the influence they had on their children’s lives. The Big W’s, Big Kenny’s and Big Ed’s of Midland were their role models and mentors….and they deserve to have special mention on the Wall of Fame….because without them….Los Tres Hermanos and so many more sons pictures would never have ever appeared. As each year passes, fewer and fewer of these icons are still with us. So, if your Dad is still available….give him a great big hug of thanks from all the sons of these men. For the rest of those remaining….and in deference to Kevin Costner….what wouldn’t each one of them give for just one more game of catch with their “Pops”.
HAPPY FATHERS DAY 2015