2014 Oklahoma Sports Historian of the Year honored at Territorial Capital Sports Museum luncheon
By Darl DeVault
Special to Guthrie News Page
In a presentation Wednesday at the Territorial Capital Sports Museum in downtown Guthrie, Norman resident Dr. Edgar L. Frost was honored as the 2014 Oklahoma Sports Historian of the Year. He won the award sponsored by John Vance Motor Group for his book portraying the profound influence the late head wrestling coach Port Robertson had on thousands of athletes at the University of Oklahoma.
Many who helped with the book gathered to honor Frost’s three-year writing project: Port Robertson: Behind the Scenes of Sooner Sports. There were enough OU sports luminaries in attendance at the luncheon for it to also qualify as a tribute to Robertson, a former assistant athletic director.
“Frost has enriched the level of writing about that era at OU by sharing Robertson’s former student-athletes’ worshipful oral histories in a manner accessible to future researchers,” said Richard Hendricks, TCSM executive director. “He has set new standards of scholarship in sharing these in-depth accounts of personal experience and reflections about Robertson’s devotion to his athletes’ futures.”
A host of former OU All-Americans gathered were hailed by The Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel. Tramel’s OU history degree and considerable background in writing about OU sports added to his emceeing the event.
More than a dozen of Robertson’s former athletes were in the audience, many thankful their long-held belief that Robertson’s contributions deserved proper recognition finally resulted in an authoritative book. That included legendary running back Clendon Thomas (11 NFL seasons) from Robertson’s coaching of the freshmen team and OU national championship coach Stan Abel from Robertson’s head wrestling coach career. Fourth-year OU wrestling head coach Mark Cody attended the event as well.
Former U.S. Ambassador Ed Corr, spoke about Robertson’s influence on the athletes after his valor on the Normandy beaches in WWII in the Army. Corr wrestled for Robertson and went on to become a Marine and ambassador to Peru, Bolivia and El Salvador in a distinguished career as a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service.
A former Robertson football player, Chuck Bowman, gave the invocation. The first director of the state chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes then presented Frost with an OU football helmet autographed by many of Robertson’s former “Peaheads”. That was a favorite label Robertson put on athletes in need of “supervision”.
Jerry Pettibone, who played for Wilkinson and was an assistant coach for Sooner coaches Gomer Jones, Jim McKenzie, Chuck Fairbanks and Barry Switzer while becoming a nationally noted recruiter, also attended the event.
One of Robertson’s former football players, who mostly competed in track and field, sang portions of the national anthem while accompanying on his mandolin with Jim Fish on acoustic guitar. Now Guthrie resident Byron Berline started an OU sports career and then went on to music legend status as an early rock studio musician and three-time national fiddle player.
It was sometimes difficult to tell who was being honored Wednesday since the subject of the book was as important to many in the group as the author, known as Ed, who brought his OU story to life.
The sellout attendees were there to celebrate the subject of the book while honoring the first-time author. Four of Robertson’s former athletes sparked turning their oral history into prose by asking Frost to write a book about Robertson’s pushing them to excel academically as well as athletically. They wanted to help document what they considered Robertson’s almost selfless devotion to his alma mater and its students.
After interviewing almost 100 people for the book Frost does not see himself as an historian, simply a writer that doggedly sought the whole story. Frost pointed out that he had interviewed some of those in the crowd for the book and that many didn’t realize what they had signed on for since in some cases he needed to interview the person several times.
That outlook brought the loudest response from the more than 100 in attendance. Frost quipped “I received a letter from a friend in Alabama, Professor Ralph Voss, who wrote ‘I think it is pretty cool to be judged best of the year at something that you didn’t even think that you were’.” The crowd erupted in laughter.
The Sports Historian of the Year award recognizes an Oklahoma resident for publication of notable new material about Oklahoma sports history during the past year. Last year’s winner Larry C. Floyd, an OSU-Oklahoma City adjunct history professor, introduced Frost to the luncheon. Floyd and Bill Plummer III won for their book, A Series of Their Own: the History of the Women’s College World Series. The Oklahoma City co-authors were the first to receive this award by the museum. The award is intended to encourage active interest in Oklahoma sports history.
Noteworthy for amply documenting Robertson as head wrestling coach, 1947-59 and 1962, the book also offers a new football perspective. The work demonstrates to readers that Robertson joins legends Bud Wilkinson and Gomer Jones as one of the three men most directly responsible for elevating the OU football program to national prominence.
Freshmen Robertson coached in football later won three national championships in the 1950’s and an NCAA record 47-straight wins during a five-season span. Robertson helped prepare those teams as head freshman team coach from 1950 to 1965, when incoming freshmen were not eligible to play varsity football.
The new book is a rich mosaic of Robertson’s life as coach, mentor, role model, and disciplinarian. While sharing when the coach was forced to take action as the legendary disciplinarian of that era, Frost details several instances when he went out of his way to help athletes retain their eligibility.
Frost, a retired Russian language, culture and literature professor, has since returned to sports writing about the subjects that began his writing career.
Along with other writing, he has penned 34 historical non-fiction feature articles termed Sooner Flashbacks for Sooner Spectator Magazine in the last decade that helped lead to the writing of this book. He spent six months studying microfilm in the basement of the Bizzell Memorial Library at OU to create the hardcover 208-page richly illustrated book.
That original research enabled him to richly document Robertson’s many contributions to student-athlete life and the changing times at OU until his retirement in 1985. The work also portrays his handling of the athletes’ cafeteria, study halls, academic advising, and the business of the O Club (now Varsity O Association). Robertson died in 2003 at 88 in Norman.
Book was long overdue
“A book about the late great Port Robertson was long overdue. This story needed to be told. Several attempts to do such a book never materialized, and it was only after Edgar Frost agreed to take on the project did it actually come to fruition. A great many supporters of Port will be forever grateful for Frost’s dedication and the many hours he spent on this outstanding book.
Robertson’s contributions to the proud history of the University of Oklahoma cannot be overstated. The successes of OU athletics is well known, but because Port preferred to work behind the scenes and out of the limelight only those persons close to those programs were aware of his vital importance in those successes.
The influence that Robertson had on the lives of literally thousands of young athletes is almost folklore. You have to ask, how could one man have been so influential in the lives of so many young athletes as they matured into young men and prepared to go out into the world? BUT HE WAS! and Frost tells the story superbly.
Previous attempts to do a “Port” book did provide Frost with enough information to give him a running start on his book, and he was very diligent in his pursuit of all the information he could uncover about Robertson.
Frost carefully researched every story, every contact, and even every rumor. One contact would often generate another contact; one story would lead to another story, etc. He finally reached a point when he decided he had to stop interviewing and start writing if he was ever going to get the book written. I’m sure he now knows more “Port” stories than we do, and he never met the man.
I am so thankful this story has finally been told while many of us old timers are still living. Many are not. Frost told us at one point after the book had been published, that 11 persons he had interviewed during his research died and never got to read the book. I am sure that others have since passed.
We owe Frost a huge debt of gratitude for making this book happen, and for telling the story that needed to be told. Congrats on his selection as the 2014 Oklahoma Sports Historian of the Year,” said Dale Sullivan, Robertson coached three-year wrestling letterman.
“I am highly pleased and grateful for Ed Frost’s masterful description of Port Robertson – the man, the coach and Athletic Department administrator. Were Port still with us, he would be humbly embarrassed and courteously denying that his impact has been as great and as positive as portrayed in the book. Port was seldom, if ever wrong, but in this case he would be.
Frost accurately, comprehensively and humorously describes Port’s enormous contributions to and leadership within the University of Oklahoma (OU) Athletic Department. He relates Port’s positive influence on OU scholar-athletes, and his contribution to the acceptance, if not strong support, among most of the University’s administrators and professors for OU’s winning, highly ranked Div. 1 athletic teams. Port’s supervision of athletes and his influence upon them laid the basis not only for national championships but, more importantly, for OU’s student athletes to value education, to study, and to graduate (many in challenging majors).
More importantly, as somewhat of a father figure, he instilled in most of his student athletes a high level of morality and a desire to serve and be successful in life. This is seen over and over in the anecdotes former OU athletes related to Frost.
Those of us who have bought and read the book are thankful to Frost and to the Oklahoma Heritage Association for writing and publishing it. This attractive volume allows Robertson’s influence on those of us who personally knew and benefitted from his direct guidance to be shared with a new generation. We are proud the Greathouse Foundation donated a copy to high school libraries throughout Oklahoma so more OU sports fans and young men and women today can read this book. Go Sooners!,” said U.S. Ambassador (ret.) Edwin G. Corr, Robertson coached two-year wrestling letterman
“The last two paragraphs in the foreword I wrote for the book summarizes what Frost’s book on Port means to me. Port and my father were the two greatest influences on me during my life-time including Bud Wilkinson, Gomer Jones, Dr. George Cross, and my football teammates to name a few.
Books have been written by and about Bud, Gomer, Dr. Cross and numerous OU athletes, but I feel that OU fans through the ages will be missing a very important part of the great OU tradition if they don’t have the opportunity to read Frost’s book on Port. And, this means a great deal to those of us who knew and appreciate all Port did for them. Thanks again to Frost for writing the book,” said Leon Cross, Wilkinson coached three-year football letterman and All-American who became OU associate athletic director under Wade Walker
Harold Keith may have said it best writing about Cross in illustrating Robertson’s profound efforts to prompt the students to success in his book Forty-Seven Straight: The Wilkinson Era at Oklahoma:
“As usual, reports from the registry office documented the academic excellence of the squad motivated by Wilkinson and by Port Robertson, his academic counselor. Leon Cross, 1962 co-captain and All-American guard, set the pace with a straight 4-point average (all A’s) in biological science.”
In its 40th year of publishing the state’s history and heritage, the Oklahoma Heritage Association published this footnoted work as part of its Oklahoma Trackmaker Series in April 2014. It is available online at oklahomaheritage.com, Amazon.com and in bookstores statewide.