Ray Smith and Bubba Hooker were in class, winding down the week before Thanksgiving. Mike Smith was waiting for his car to be repaired. Dennis Koutoufas saw it hit home at his Catholic school. And Mike Tallon delivered the news to his shocked community.
Each generation is partly defined by one question: "Where were you when …?" For most of us, that event is 9/11. But for the over-60 crowd, and even some in their late '50s, it was John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
Fifty years later, they still remember. How could they ever forget?
"I was a ninth grader at Warwick High School," said Ray Smith, now the athletic director at Bethel. "I was in algebra class, last row by the window, third seat back. At 12:45 (p.m.), Mr. Hayes, a government teacher, came into our class to tell us what had happened.
"I was shocked and saddened deeply. I had the opportunity to hear him speak in person and was impressed by his speech and hoped that our country would become better as a result of his leadership."
Today, most Americans weren't even born when Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Many who had been are too young to remember it. Those who do can still tell you exactly where they were.
Hooker, the Bruins' head football coach, was a sophomore at James Blair High in Williamsburg.
"We did not have TVs in the classrooms — in the school, for that matter — so the school put the radio on the loud speaker," he said. "We were able to listen to the news as it was reported.
"We were all very shocked because we did not live in a violent world, especially in Williamsburg. All after school activities were canceled so we could go home and watch the coverage on TV — black and white. Lee Harvey Oswald (was) arrested then killed by Jack Ruby … just crazy events."
Mike Smith had graduated college that summer and was in the first year of what would be a brief stay in medical school. His car had broken down, so he was stuck in a garage in Knoxville, Tenn.
"The guy was working on my car, and we heard it on the radio," said Smith, the Crabbers' veteran coach. "That was a sad day. He was a great leader. It was total shock, kind of like (when) those planes (flew) into the towers."
Koutoufas, Menchville's boys' basketball coach, was a sports-obsessed seventh-grader at Sacred Heart Elementary in Norfolk. The magnitude of what happened didn't hit him until he saw the nuns at his school in tears over the death of the first Catholic president.
"They were breaking down crying, and the nuns never did that," said Koutoufas, one of two boys basketball coaches in the Peninsula District who was around then. "I remember that more than anything else. That and when Lee Harvey Oswald was killed. I was watching that live."
Tallon, Woodside's girls' basketball coach, was only 8 years old at the time. But he remembers it vividly.
"I was watching a school play, and the principal stopped the whole production and made the announcement," Tallon said. "They ended the play and closed school and everybody went home. And there wasn't a dry eye anywhere — adults, children, anywhere."
Tallon had a job delivering the local newspaper in Pinehurst, N.C., which had a morning and an evening edition. So just after getting home, Tallon hopped on his bike for his paper route.
"It was like 4 o'clock, and the headlines were everywhere," he said. "Some people were literally standing on their porch waiting for me."
The assassination happened on a Friday afternoon, and the only local game scheduled was Warwick vs. Ferguson. The game went on with the Farmers (as they were then called) winning 13-6 behind Jerry Stainback's 102 rushing yards. Stainback later played at Marshall and was one of 75 persons who died in the 1970 plane crash.
The Daily Press ran a game story and sidebar from the Warwick-Ferguson game, neither of which mentioned the president's assassination or whether school officials considered postponement.
Though only a freshman, Ray Smith started at defensive back that night for the Farmers. He remembers little from that night, including whether there was any talk of rescheduling or if there was a moment of silence before kickoff.
"I do know we were the only game in the state of Virginia that Friday night," he said. "And I'm pretty sure it was the only game we won that year (it was). There was sort of a subdued happiness after the game."
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun