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140303 - March 3, 2014

William Thomas "Tommy" Esslinger
Class of '65
February 25, 2014

  Mr. Esslinger passed away suddenly Tuesday night at his home. He retired after teaching 25 years at Lee High and was loved by many. Mr. Esslinger was a polio survivor, on crutches the majority of his life, but that never stopped him. he was preceded in death by his father, Bill Esslinger. He is survived by his wife of 48 years Teresa Esslinger; daughter Tollie (Glenn) Godwin and grandson William Godwin. He is also survived by his mother, Margaret Esslinger; siblings Linda (Eddie) Morrell, John (Betty) Esslinger, Tim (Sue) Esslinger as well as many beloved nieces and nephews. Visitation will be Friday, Feb. 28th 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM at Valhalla Funeral Home and the funeral will be held in Valhalla chapel on Saturday Mar. 1st at 2:00 PM. Burial will follow at Cochran Cemetery, New Market. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to New Market United Methodist Church. Please sign guest registry at

        Memphis, TN - Gone again, Skip-to-my-lu. Sue and I are off on another adventure in the sky and I will let you know where we end up when we get there. When you travel on military space-available flights you never know how it will go.

    We are saddened to hear of the loss of another of our Fami-LEE. As a matter of fact, Tommy Esslinger has been credited with first coming up with the term "Fami-LEE." I am releasing this issue early so that those of you in town might get a chance to go to Tommy's funeral.

Craig Kimbrel and Hits

Patsy Hughes Oldroyd

LHS '65

    I was glad to see the little article about LHS graduate Craig Kimbrel in this past week¹s Traveller. He has done so well as a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and everyone is so proud for him. Although he is much younger than all of our group and most of us who faithfully read the Traveller, he is still one of our FamiLee. I am always happy to see a Lee High graduate do well and make us all proud.

    My oldest son,  Todd Willoughby, opened a new sports training facility here in Athens this past November, and he had Craig to come for the grand opening and open house to meet people and sign autographs. The name of the facility is HITS (High Intensity Training & Sports), which is a state-of-the-art training center for baseball and softball. A few of the young players, such as my grandson, Parker Willoughby, were fortunate enough to have one of Craig's # 46 jerseys signed by him. I have attached a couple of pictures that were made that day. One of the pictures is of my son and daugher-in-law, Todd and Julie, and my grandchildren, Lauryn and Parker along with Craig.  The other picture is of my grandchildren standing to the right of Craig along with some of the young ball players that were there for the grand opening.

    He will be coming back to HITS from time to time for special events. I should have let everyone know in advance when for when he came to their grand opening, but it just did not occur to me to do so. Many of our friends would have probably enjoyed seeing him and bringing their grandchildren to meet him. I will do better next time hopefully.



Tuesday, February 25, 1964

56th Day - 310 days to follow



    School was normal today.  After we stopped at Mullin's on the way, I came home.  Took a nap and slept till 5:30 P.M.  Got up and put my Explorer uniform on and went to the church.  The Men's Club had a spaghetti supper and the Post put on a citizenship ceremony.  I was in charge of the whole nights program.

    Came home and listened to the Liston-v.-Clay flight on the radio.  Clay won by a T.K.O. in the fifth round.  Watched T.V. and wrote a theme for English.  I wrote a story in couplets like Chaucer did.

    Watched      on T.V.  Guess I shall go to bed now.  I need some sleep.  I'm only human you know.

    I cannot imagine listening to a boxing match on an AM radio today; I don’t even like trying to follow the fast pace of a basketball game with only audio commentary. The thought of listening to someone trying to describe a round of boxing where each boxer may throw a hundred jabs, swings, and upper cuts in less than two minutes seems incredible.  To me, football is an easier sport to listen to on a radio today, since it is a slower paced game and a mental picture can easily be painted with the description of the action, but I still prefer to watch a game on television. Back in 1964 I did not have the option to see the action of the long awaited fight; I was forced to just have to listen to it.

    My research shows that the championship fight was not broadcast over network television and that is why I spent my evening listening to the fight taking place in Miami between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston. Clay had earned the Gold Medal in the 1960 Olympics and was a rising star, but no one expected him to even put up a good effort in the match and he was a 7-1 underdog for those who bet money on such events.

    Listening to an announcer trying to describe a sport as fast as boxing must have been painful, especially when you consider how bad AM radio reception was and the commentary being relayed from Miami to the local station. I did recognize that it was something that I should note in my journal, and the fight turned out to be one of the most memorable ones in history. With the win Cassius Clay became a national hero, but his fame was short lived at the time.

    Later he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali and that did not set well with many in what was considered a God fearing nation. Shortly after that he refused to report when he was drafted and claimed to be a conscious objector and was stripped of his championship title. In a nation that praised Elvis Presley for answering his call and putting his career on hold while he served a tour in Germany with the US Army, Clay (now Ali) refused to serve. For many it would take a long time before he was forgiven for that slap in the face to our country.

    To further my stand on us being in the Information Age, today I searched on the internet and found a site that featured the same radio broadcast which I listened to in 1964. As I said, it was hard to listen to the announcer and get a clear picture of what was really happening in the ring, but it was fun listening to Howard Cosell again, in an early attempt to be a commentator.

    Boxing was not a favorite sport of mine, but I did watch it ever so often at that age and the sound of the announcer almost singing the introduction of  “The Friday Night Fights are on the air” is a sound clip I could never forget, nor the sponsor “Gillette.”

    My research also uncovered why I could only listen to the boxing match on the radio. While only 8,297 sat at ringside and saw the fight live, it was not being shown live on network television but only broadcast on a paid Closed Circuit television system. Unlike today’s common Pay-per-View (PPV), closed circuit broadcast were only sent to a select audience in larger communities and shown in places like gyms, bars, and auditoriums, where people paid $4.00 or $6.00 for the privilege to be among the elite who were able watch the action live. It is noted that closed circuit television set a new record of half a million viewers when they broadcast the fight that night. It would be October 1, 1975, before the first “Pay for View” World Championship Boxing match was broadcast and featured Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in “The Thrilla in Manilla,” which Ali also won. At the time it cost $10 to watch the fight. Today, a big boxing match cost $49.99 on PPV and many more people pay for the pleasure of watching such spectacles. Statistics today show the leading PPV attraction had approximately 12.8 million PPV purchases with a total value of $612 million in domestic television receipts.

    Therefore, without PPV or a network broadcast, those of us who did not have access to the closed circuit broadcast had to wait until April 11, 1964 to see the tape made of the fight. That night it became the first World Heavyweight Championship fight ever to be televised on the "Wide World of Sports" series.

    Today I am able to view on my computer screen the tape of the fight I could only listened to on the radio in 1964. It is odd that there was only one announcer who spent his time just trying to describe the action and we only had views of the fight from a camera angle looking down on the ring. In today’s fight broadcast we invariably have an announcer and a color commentator who do not describe the action we are watching as much as they babble back and forth about strategies and past fights and recaps of previous rounds. We also are treated to instant replays, stop actions, and multiple camera views of highlights of the fights, and should you need to go get a snack or bathroom break all it takes is a press of the pause button and the action is frozen until you return. 

    Oh, and for the record, I had the facts wrong, because it was not a T.K.O. in the fifth round that ended the fight. The fight lasted a full six rounds and Liston did not answer the bell for the seventh round.

Class of '64 - 50th Reunion
Class of '68 - '69 - '70 Reunion

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From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Last Week's Issue

Joel Weinbaum

LHS '64

    We are certainly better off financially now than back in the trading stamp days of incremental savings based on the yellow stamps shown along with "green stamps", and coupons from packs of Raleigh cigarettes. I never took up the habit of smoking, but my parents just puffed away, two packs each at four coupons a day, and they kept track of every one waiting for that special day like you where they would redeem their prize. And thank the Lord for plastic more saving pennies like the old cumbersome our lives were. Now we all are so busy with the intensity of modern media, we could care less about the past. Its all about music and games and reclusive peekaboo with each other through facebook and the likes. I don't know how it could be better. We have certainly accelerated into a whole new dimension.

    Thanks for the brief on OLLI. I recently joined but being in Decatur makes it difficult to just casually run up to campus. I finished UAH in 1971 after a long fought battle with academia. They won and I won, however you measure that. Maybe its like Las Vegas where the house takes 51%. Then the job market collasped in Huntsville beginning in 1970. Terrible times if you lived here. During that time I was still enrolled and somewhere during that difficult time in the community someone asked if i got paid for my drill time as a reservist, and I said yes. The individual's response least you have some money coming in. I was also on the GI Bill and working part-time. Difficult to understand a community out of work. So went the Space program after the Lunar launch of '69.

    But look at how much UAH has grown over the years. There were 28 students graduating in Aug., '71, and 8 of those were engineers including me. We did have the opportunity to go through the motions of the graduation at the more traditional time of June, 71. I was given a rolled up piece of paper as a substitute diploma. The commencement speaker was non other that Albert Gore, sr., recently retired US Senator from Tennessee. A white haired stately gentleman with a message of what the future held in store for us. Its was about all the changes we could expect, and everything he spoke of eventually came to fruition.  I was very pleased to have the opportunity to make Senator Gore's acquaintance. Talking about US Senators, did you know that there have been three originating from Tuscumbia, Colbert Co., Alabama., with two representing other states. Howell Heflin, Alabama, Fred Thompson of Watergate fame and movie actor, Tennessee, and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Interesting trivia. Then there is Helen Keller of world renown, my grandmother and me, for whatever thats worth. Gottta be from somewhere.

    And for the record, while at UAH I was a member of the student advisory committee that was formed to support then UAH President Benjamin B. Graves, in those early years of UAH. The one time we did meet with Graves was during a dinner held at his home to discuss the evolving future of UAH. Well, there weren't enough chairs to go around so i was sat on the floor during our discussion. As Graves proceed to unfold the character in progress at the school, he remarked that we were on par with the likes of MIT, with the level of academic prowess we held. Something akin to the likes of the "MIT of the South." Call it a premonition, but when there was opportunity for me to throw in my two cents I chimed in with the suggestion of "why doesn't the school advertise" with the suggestion of putting up a billboard to that effect and say we are the "MIT of the South." President Graves had come to UAH from Mississippi and had this deep radio voice and stated "Schools of higher learning do not advertise!" So goes the world. That resonant voice of his gave me the sense of digging my way under the rug I was sitting on and not coming out for a while. I was just a lowly student and I had transgressed in my suggestion. But the school has prospered and the media is a major tool these days for all of us. Dr. Graves was a fine fellow and i wish i had stayed in contact with him. 

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