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Look Back: Team true to its word

The photo above shows Jimmy Rollins about a year before his death. It was taken by his girlfriend as they walked in Odd Fellows Cemetery, now Parkersburg Memorial Gardens. (Photo provided by Jimmy Rollins’ twin sister, Joan)

Big Reds kept promise — too late for doomed youth

Seventeen year old Jimmy Rollins didn’t know he was dying of cancer of the lungs last Thursday afternoon in his oxygen tent in the Camden Clark Hospital. He thought the two weeks illness that had taken him to the Cleveland Clinic and back was a respiratory infection.

Big Red gridders Joe Kiser, Paul Starr and Jimmy Earley did not tell him when they dropped into the hospital, instead they tried to laugh and joke, but it wasn’t easy.

When Jimmy, Parkersburg school junior, said he was going to be listening to the broadcast of the Parkersburg-Clarksburg tilt Friday night, the three told him: “We’ll dedicate that game to you. We’ll win it too,” they promised, “even if they do say Washington Irving is spotted to beat us by six points. We’ll show you.”

Friday night the Big Red team played hard but at the end of the first half the score stood 13 to 12 in Washington Irving’s favor. It was a sober, thoughtful 11 who trouped into the dressing room.

There, Coach Jimmy Scott handed Team Captain Leon Wilson a telegram.

His teammates gathered around him as he read it.

Jimmy Rollins was dead! The malignancy he never knew he had, had done its work swiftly.

Numbly the boys heard it. They were sick at heart as they faced each other. The game they’d promised Jimmy they’d dedicate to him and win — Jimmy hadn’t been able to hear.

But even if he wasn’t where he could hear it — or maybe he was — Jimmy’s classmates decided they wouldn’t let him down.

All Parkersburg knows what happened.

They went back on the field and when the final whistle was blown the score stood 32 to 19 in Parkersburg’s favor. The Big Reds had kept their promise.

Yesterday at Jimmy’s funeral, they turned out en mass.

So did the members of the Civil Air Patrol at Swatter airport, where Jimmy was also a favorite. They had heard last week, and been shocked and bewildered.

Jimmy’s illness was of short duration. A fortnight back he complained of shortness of breath [and] entered the Camden Clark hospital for observation. [He] had to be put under an oxygen tent immediately. Last Sunday he was taken to the Cleveland Clinic — by air, oxygen tent and all — he was crazy about airplanes.

The clinic report was cancer of the lungs, and hopeless. They did not tell Jimmy. Nobody had the courage.

But the boys back home knew and when the word came [that] Jimmy would be returned in an ambulance plane, his CAP companions planned to meet him. Not in uniform, that would be too formal, he might wonder about it.

[But] then the plane was grounded. Jimmy came in Tuesday evening by ambulance, went back to the hospital; thought he was going to get out, joked and made plans for next week, next month, next summer!

The youngest of seven children, Jimmy was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Clayton Rollins of 1506 Beaver St.

Marie Wood, Staff Writer

The Parkersburg Sentinel

Oct. 10, 1949

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Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: roberteenoch@gmail.com, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.

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