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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Who Was Highlands' David Cecil?

Hank Pogue addresses the crowd at the unveiling of the two new frames dedicated to David Cecil at Highlands High School. FTM file. 

By John Deering

David Cecil was an 11th grade student; and among other activities, he was a football player at Highlands in 1951. The day after a game, he died because of an injury to his head the evening before. It was and still is a tragedy to all who knew him.  He was a fine young man with a grand future before him.  He was indeed a person whom it was a pleasure to know and to teach.  To honor David, many of us  -- his  friends,  classmates, teachers, and  coaches--  decided  to name our relatively new stadium in  his honor. However, as time passes,  younger   people come along and do not know  why such honors have been given. Then how should we bring the newer generations up to date on such things?

On Saturday, November 12th, many of us gathered at Highlands to be a part of a renewal to this honor.  David’s letter sweater had been saved all these years; so some friends of David got the idea of framing this sweater and other reminders of who he had been and mount it permanently in Highlands.  Hank Pogue conducted the gathering with dignity and graciousness.  If David had lived, he would have become Hank’s uncle.
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The Cecil family has been a part of Fort Thomas for many years.  In addition to Hank Pogue and Tom Cecil,  others  who  have assisted in  this endeavor are Debbie Cecil Andrews and Stanley Cecil, surviving siblings of David; Robin Cecil Slater, Carolyn Cecil Bardo, Lucy Cecil, Terri Pogue Hill, Cathy Pogue Burt, all of whom  would have been  nieces  of David;  Morris Cecil, a  nephew. Also having assisted are Principal Brian Robinson, Athletic Director Matt Haskamp, Athletic Secretary Kathy Eaton, and retired Director Dale Mueller. Gerald Cecil, whom we all highly respected, was on our school board for more than twenty years.
Tom Cecil admires the restored plaque, which hangs at Highlands' football stadium. FTM file. 

It has been almost seventy years  since this death occurred.  However, by holding this assembly, many memories have returned to all of us who were a part of Highlands at that time. We mourned our loss.  Coach “Judge” Ewell Waddell grieved about it to the extent he could hardly get it off his mind. The injury certainly was not his fault or anyone else’s, but Mr. Waddell was not only a coach, but one of the finest history teachers and one of the finest gentlemen any of us has ever known. He was a dedicated person.  All of us helped him through this terrible experience. Later he became our superintendent.  David would have graduated in 1953. Yes, many of his classmates attended this ceremony. I believe I am the only one of his teachers still living. *

We had to know how this had happened. Bernie Sadosky, teacher and coach, sent the helmet away to the manufacturer to be examined; it was one of the hard-shelled kinds they still use. It eventually got back to us with a report that said it had not failed. Then we discerned it must have been a cleat that had gotten through to David’s head just below the helmet line. Eventually we had a plaque displayed adjacent to a trophy case and another one on the front of   the stands. That was sixty-five years ago.

Part of the crowd on hand. FTM file. 
Hank Pogue, a part of the Cecil family, conducted our meeting and said, “I’d like to give you some background how this all came about. Somehow I had in my possession Uncle David’s letter sweater that I  have  always cherished. Also I was proud to play football at Highlands   in the David Cecil Memorial Stadium. I also wanted my two sons, who also played football at Highlands, to appreciate the family history of David and how the stadium became named for him.” Traditions are firmly fixed in schools, but they aren’t always appreciated by later generations.  Highlands has so honored  some  with wonderful memories.

Of course, no one intentionally ignores such history of a school; however we of the older generations do   sometimes forget to explain to present and future generations why such people have been so honored.  Evidently the question has come about recently, “Who was David Cecil?” Of course, many of us know full well; but through the years, as I have said, we had not explained it to the current generation.  Most likely there might  have been thoughts of changing the name of the stadium to honor  a more recent person. Well, we must not do that – as well-meaning as those intentions might be.  In fact, shortly before the beautiful even fantastic improvements to our buildings had begun, I had a phone call asking why the name Bridges had been placed on our new Gymnasium [1955] and was it honorably given or a paid-for naming. [1955]  I could hardly believe the question, but   I remembered even though we knew  who  Mr. Bridges had been to us of the  Fort Thomas Schools, that was years and years ago.  I politely but firmly explained to my caller that it was an honorary naming and why.  Although we have had a steady line of fine superintendents, Mr. Bridges was the one who put our schools on the road to excellence and recognition throughout the state and the region.
David Cecil's letter sweater had been in the Pogue and Cecil families for years. If you look closely, you can see Hank Pogue and Debbie (Cecil) Andrews in the reflection. FTM file. 

There have been two others whom I have known of whose names have been removed.  For example, there was the Grace Kellogg Memorial Room. Mrs. Kellogg died in an accident when the tie –rod of her car broke loose and she hit a large pole somewhere in Cincinnati.  [1949].  Seatbelts  were not  in our cars then, of course. Another was Lydia Berry.

It was 1954 when I had the before- school “hall duty.”  One morning I noticed a photograph high on the wall near the entrance of our original building. [1914] There was a framed portrait  of a rather distinguished – looking  woman whom I had never met.  She was deceased well before   my time at Highlands; when I inquired who she had been – Lydia Berry. Someone told me she had been a former teacher at Highlands. “Okay, so why is her picture still hanging there?”  I thought. Maybe there should be a photograph of someone whom all of us knew.  I naively suggested to Jim Apple, the editor of the Hilltopper, to write a short feature about replacing that photograph with one of the current Superintendent, Russell E. Bridges. Jim wrote and published it.  That morning he innocently  went to math class, and Miss Williametta Baker took off on him politely but  firmly!  She explained whose picture we were suggesting to be   taken off that wall -- one of the finest teachers she had ever known at Highlands or anywhere else!  Both of us got the message: predecessors continue to count! The teachers’ lounge had also   been named for her.  However, that was where the principal’s office is now.  That portrait was still on that wall when the building burned in 1962. It was destroyed.  Jim and I had learned an important lesson, though! Well, we were both too young to be nostalgic -- yet. Older and wiser, we are now.

Honoring someone of a state, the nation, and even a school must not be taken lightly. However, once it has been presented, it must remain permanent and never hastily eliminated. We know now that the name  of our stadium is permanently fixed:  David Cecil Memorial Stadium. Now you know positively who David Cecil was and is in the memories of us who knew him.

*The death of student and that inevitable vacant seat in the classroom the next day is one of the most traumatic experiences teachers   can expect to have during their careers. Fortunately it did not happen often in my career, but, yes, it did happen.  It is always a very sad time.  Parenthetically my opinion of handling this is best left to the students’ teachers who in most cases know both the lost and the other students.

An article in the “Cincinnati Times Star,” dated November 13, 1951 described Cecil’s death. 
Gridiron Injury Fatal to David Cecil, 16

Junior footballer David Cecil died Monday, November 12th of an injury suffered Friday night in the Highlands-Campbell County grid game at Highlands Stadium, Fort Thomas. David was injured in a pileup when Campbell County executed a play through the right side of the Highland’s line in the third quarter of the contest. Described as a “model student” by Morris Cierley, Principal, David was a bass singer in the school chorus and was also slated to pitch on the school’s baseball team. David resided on Miami Parkway with his father, Gerald Q. Cecil, and mother, Mildred Cecil. In addition to his parents, he leaves two sisters, Mrs. Susan Cecil Pogue and Deborah Ann Cecil, of Fort Thomas three brothers, Gerald Q. Cecil Jr. and Morris Cecil, of Fort Thomas, Lt. Stanley Cecil, USN, stationed at San Diego, California, and his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Alfred Morris.

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