Now the Wilkinson Task is to Develop All-America’s Fitness

Oklahoma Today, Fall 1961

At Oklahoma, Charles B. (Bud) Wilkinson has produced many great athletes. Now, he has taken on an added task that is far more awesome in both responsibility and opportunity. He has been assigned by the President to produce a nation of physically-fit Americans.

It may surprise some to learn the two jobs have little if any, relation to each other. The answer to the physical fitness problem is not more football players. The pressing need is a program that will raise the millions of physically-deficient Americans up to minimum acceptable physical standards.

It is a tribute to Wilkinson, and to the coaching profession, that he was chosen March 23 a Special Consultant to the President on Youth Fitness. His appointment came after several conferences with President Kennedy. Although he is admittedly no expert in the field of physical education, Wilkinson outlined what he thought had to be done. The President told him to get it done.

The 44-year-old Wilkinson took on the added burden despite the fact he’s attempting to fight his way back from a losing season-for the first time in his career. He took it because he is convinced of its importance. “The physical fitness problem,” he said, “is so much more important than winning football games there’s no comparison. If we can get people as concerned over fitness a s they are over their favorite high school or college football team, we’ve got the problem licked.”

The presures of 23 seasons of football, the last 14 a s head coach a t Oklahoma, have silvered and thinned Wilkinson’s blond hair. And now, the 6-2, 190-pound coach can count getting his top football players ready for each Saturday in the fall a s only one of his problems. He must also worry about the physical condition of 180 million Americans. He i s dividing his time about equally between his two assignments.

After he was named by the President, he appointed a three-man staff to help him, set up an office in the Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, and started planning a basic physical fitness program for use in schools in grades one through 12

He rushed home for Oklahoma’s spring football practice, arriving two days before it opened. Two days after i t ended, he was back in Washington on a full-time basis.

He and his wife, Mary, rented a 150-year old Georgetown home for the summer. In August, he returned to prepare for the opening of fall practice a t Norman.

During the summer, the school plan was completed and endorsed by a dozen key national organizations of educators and medical men. This was necessary to get the bugs out of i t and make it fully acceptable to all schools-public, private and parochial.

Since Wilkinson and The Council on Youth Fitness have no authority to force physical fitness, the school plan is a suggested program. I t recognizes that physical fitness i s but a part of the broad base of education essential to the proper development of youth. I t stresses that spiritual and moral fitness, health education and intellectual growth are vital. But i t zeroes in on i t s objective-improving the physical fitness of our youth.

The basic concept of the suggested program is contained in three main points:

1.     Pupils who have a low level of muscular strength, agility and flexibility should be identified by a screening test a s part of the health appraisal. Pupils so identified should be required to participate in a program of developmental exercises and activities designed to raise their physical performance to desirable levels.

2.     Objective valid tests of physical achievement should be used t o determine pupil status, measure progress and motivate pupils to achieve increasingly higher levels of physical fitness.

3.     At least 15 minutes of vigorous exercises and developmenta1 activities should be included in the daily physical education period.”

The full program includes suggested tests to identify the physically-deficient students, suggested exercises and activities to remedy the deficiencies and programs to test and improve the physical fitness of all students. Getting the program endorsed by the various education and medical groups required an almost endless round of meetings and editorial conferences to prepare the final manuscript. But the program, now endorsed and in the hands of school superintendents all over the country, is expected to show good results in the current school year.

Future programs of Wilkinson and his staff will be aimed a t the military and reserve organizations, a t youth organizations and a t the general public in all age brackets. Wilkinson probably will continue to devote much of his time to the nation’s state of physical fitness.

Despite the fact the dual assignment has virtually erased his leisure hours and any possibility of a prolonged vacation, Wilkinson has enjoyed his work in Washington and has approached i t with the same vigor, enthusiasm and thoroughness that has marked his coaching career.

In launching the first program in the campaign for physical fitness, Wilkinson has been a frequent White House visitor. He has dealt closely with cabinet members.

He often has called on two old friends from Oklahoma, Senators Robert S. Kerr and Mike Monroney, for advice in cutting through red tape. Those close to him credit what progress has been made to his sound approach, his power of persuasion, his determination and his administrative ability. But Wilkinson insists his only real value to the physical fitness program lies in the area of public relations and in personally selling the idea of fitness to Americans.

The truth is, he has been the No. 1 man on both fronts. He has personally supervised the preparation of all phases of the program, and has presented it personally to various groups for their endorsement. And he has been the top salesman, too.

He has spoken to such organizations a s the National PTA, the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, the National Junior Chamber of Commerce, and the Governor’s Conference. He has been a frequent guest on television and radio and the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles.

Wilkinson may be a unique appointee in Washington. He favors a small staff, and the first thing he did when he got i t together was deliver a forceful lecture on holding down expenses. “Treat this job,” he said, “like i t was our private business. If we don’t show a profit a t the end of the year, we’re out of business.”

The nation should hope Wilkinson, in his physical fitness work, enjoys the success he has had a t Okhhoma in building winning teams, and in molding the men who make winning teams. If he does, the fitness problem is solved.

His Oklahoma teams-light, fast and aggressive-have made him the most successful coach in history. The Sooners, since he took over in 1947, have won three national titles and six of seven bowl games. They were ranked among the top 10 in the country 11 straight seasons.

They put together a record string of 47 straight victories and another streak of 31 straight. In Big Eight conference action they played 74 times under Wilkinson before losing. I n his first year they tied for the title and then won 12 undisputed championships in a row.

The output of great individual players matches the won-lost record. While winning 124, losing 19 and tying four games, the Sooners have put 25 men on various AllAmerican teams and have had nine selected for national individual awards. Wilkinson is proud of the fact his players do well after leaving school. A check of Oklahoma’s All-American list since 1947 offers reason for this pride. His first two are head coaches, guard Buddy Burris in high school and quarterback Jack Mitchell a t the University of Kansas. Burris was picked in 1947 and both were named a year later.

Jimmy Owens, Wade Walker, and Darrel Royal, named in 1949, have three of the nation’s top headcoaching jobs, Royal a t Texas; Owens a t Washington, where he had a Rose Bowl winner last January; and Walker a t Mississippi State. Royal was a quarterback, Owens a n end and Walker a tackle.

Guard Stan West and halfback George Thomas also were named in 1949. West now is president of a trucking concern in Oklahoma and Thomas is district manager of an oil company in Kansas.

Four Sooners-fullback Leon Heath, tackle Jim Weatherall, back Buddy Jones and end Frankie Anderson were named in 1950. Heath now is a n oil company salesman, Weatherall combines pro football and business, Jones is a geologist and Anderson an insurance man. Weatherall repeated in 1951, along with center Tom Catlin, who now is a n assistant coach in professional football, in Dallas.

Catlin was a repeater in 1952, being named along with quarterback Eddie Crowder, halfback Billy Vessels and fullback Buck McPhail. Crowder now i s a Sooner assistant coach, Vessels is in public relations work in Miami, Florida, and McPhail i s assistant coach under Pete Elliott a t Illinois.

Guard J. D. Roberts was the lone selection in 1953. He is line coach at Auburn.

In 1954, end Max Boydston and center Kurt Burris were named. Both are playing professional football, Boydston in the National Football League and Burris in the Canadian league.

Halfback Tommy McDonald and guard Bo Bofinger were honored in 1955. McDonald now is a pass-catching wizard for the pro Philadelphia Eagles, and Bolinger is line coach a Tulsa.

I n 1956, four Sooners again were named to various All-American t e a m s M c D o n a l d , guard Bill Krisher. tackle E d Gray and center Jerry Tubbs. All are playing pro football, and Gray also has a half-interest in an oil field business in Odessa, Texas.

Clendon Thomas, still a pro player, was named in 1957 a t halfback, and center Bob Harrison, another current pro, was picked in 1958. In 1959 the list was completed when tackle Jerry Thompson was named.

I  addition to Mitchell, Walker, Royal and Owens, three other former Sooners are collegiate head coaches. Carl Allison is at Arkansas State a t Jonesboro, Melvin Brown is at Southeastern Oklahoma, and J. W. Cole at Southwestern Oklahoma.

A total of 14 former Wilkinson players are assistant coaches in collegiate ranks and another 20 were, at last count, coaches of high school teams in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Georgia, Arizona and Idaho.

Collegiate Assistant Coaches:Dee Andros-University of Illinois, Bo Bolinger-Tulsa University,Bert Clark-University of Washington, Eddie Crowder-University of Oklahoma, Merrill Greene-Texas Tech, Dick Heatley-University of Washington, Bob Herndon-University of Illinois, Jack Lockett-Lafayette College, Leon Manley-Northeastern Louisiana State, Buck McPhail-University of Illinois, Jay O’Neal-University of Oklahoma, J.D. Roberts-Auburn, Calvin Woodworth-Utah State University.

High School Coaches:Jim Acree-Corsicana, Texas, Dan Anderegg-Crane, Texas, John Bell-Vinita, Oklahoma, Bob Bodenhamer-Lawton, Oklahoma, Chuck Bowman-line coach, Tulsa Central, Dick Bowman-Ponca City, Oklahoma, Don Brown-line coach, Kermit, Texas, Robert Burris-Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, Dick Corbitt -line coach, Ponca City, Oklahoma, Bob Gaut—Shawnee, Oklahoma, Benton Ladd-line coach, Hobbs, New Mexico, Nolan Lang-assistant coach, Atlanta, Georgia, Emery Link-Coolidge, Arizona, Wray Littlejohn-Norman, Oklahoma, Clair Mayes-line coach, Amarillo, Texas, Palo Duro, Gene Mears, assistant coach, Norman, Oklahoma, Joe Mobra-Hobbs, New Mexico, Cecil Morris line coach, New Mexico Military, John Reddell-Amarillo, Texas, Palo Duro, Ed Rowland-Butte County, Arco, Idaho.

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