Editor’s note: “Going Home” is an occasional series appearing in The Oklahoman throughout this centennial year. We take the famous and the not-so-famous back to their hometowns and ask: How has Oklahoma changed, and how have its towns changed those of us who grew up there? LAVERNE — Fixed beneath the south basketball goal of the high school fieldhouse is a bright purple wall pad bearing the white lettered, gold-trimmed words: Laverne Lady Tigers. Above on the same wall, hangs a large United States flag. On a recent September day, Jane Jayroe looked at the pad. What she saw was not as important as what she was reliving. Jayroe remembered how it felt to be a part of a winning girls basketball team — the chemistry of a team that ran countless laps and stairs and abided by team rules and put trophies in the trophy case. After looking at the pad, Jayroe looked up at the American flag. Only two and a half years after playing in the state championship as a senior, Bert Parks was singing “There She Is, Miss America...” in Atlantic City as the crown was placed on the tall brunette hair of the 19-year-old from Harper County. Soon she would be off traveling the nation. Soon she would be off to entertain the troops in Vietnam. Soon she would be on her way to Europe making stops at Hyde Park in London, the Coliseum in Rome and Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland. What she was feeling as she looked up at that American flag on the fieldhouse wall was the pride of having represented her country as Miss America 1967 and knowing that Laverne, as well as her previous home of Sentinel, had a lot do with why there is a connection between that wall pad and the American flag. “To walk out on that gymnasium floor at the state tournament was a dream,” said Jayroe, whose senior class included 50 students. “To see all those people was just beyond belief. But then to be able to focus on the task at hand, that’s what mattered.” Let’s move forward 2 ½ years. “You can imagine how intimidated I was in Atlantic City, never having been on an airplane, having grown up in a town of about 1,600 people and then driving to Atlantic City,” she said. “I was so over my head. But I was able to risk my self and risk failure. “All I knew was you work hard, you risk it and then you deal with the consequences, and I learned that here.” Going to the line Amid the sounds of current students dribbling basketballs, followed by either a swoosh of a jumpshot or a rattle of the rim, Jayroe boasted of her Lady Tiger teammates in the 1960s and Coach Walt Huffman. “What I remember was a culture of discipline and the attitude that we had that I really walked into because the team had that determination when I moved to Laverne,” she said, “and I was so thrilled to be a part of that. “I think it really did teach me a lot about being a part of something important.” Discipline? Yes. As in very strict rules. As in there are no names on the back of the uniforms but your town’s name or nickname is on the front. And if you break those rules you’ve let Coach Huffman and the Lady Tigers down. And that would be the worst loss you could suffer. “If you stayed out later than the team rules allowed you were signaling to them that you didn’t care about winning like they cared about winning,” she said. “We just didn’t do that to each other.” Discipline was also about running laps and stairs and laps and stairs when nobody but your teammates was around. “There was kind of a euphoria that came with knowing that you were part of this well-oiled team of discipline,” Jayroe said. “I mean we were somebody because of what we were willing to do. We had talent but we had effort with a capital E. And then we had tremendous support from the community. “We didn’t lose many games.” The game was six on six back then — three guards and three forwards per team divided at half-court. She talked of the talents of all but specifically mentioned Lola Ham and Glenda Rogers. She talked about a controversial loss to Okeene her junior year and how it ended what they thought was their season. She talked of a far northwestern Oklahoma community that never failed when it came to support in victory and defeat. She didn’t talk about herself. But newspaper archives are a great thing. They’ll give you insight into pressure, such as stepping to the free throw line where in the quarterfinal and semi-final games Jayroe was a combined 18 of 26 and scored a total of 42 points. Jayroe didn’t tell me about those games. Instead she skipped ahead to a foul she was called for in double overtime against Mangum her senior year. She was 17-years-old and was called for a foul on a Mangum High School player in the state championship at Municipal Auditorium in Oklahoma City. That foul sent Greta Hogan to the free throw line for what would result in a double-overtime loss for the Lady Tigers. But the lesson learned: life was anything but over. “It wasn’t a total devastation because we did really well,” she said. And because they knew what to expect when they arrived in Laverne. This town near the eastern edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle had turned out in big numbers to watch their team at the state championship in the state capital city. But the town’s people were also there for the girls after the loss at season’s end the year before. Thus Jayroe said the team had no doubt the town would support them after the loss at state. “There was joy in what we’d done in the four years of being together and the excellence that had come with it,” she said. “We knew Laverne’s support wasn’t dependent on us winning. Their support was because we tried so hard and because of the kind of kids we were. “You have to learn to fail. Sometimes you fail because of circumstances, sometimes you fail because life just deals you some tough blows and you have to learn those lessons.” But what could that possibly have to do with Miss America? There she is ... No cliff hanger here — how could high school basketball in Laverne, Okla., possibly have helped prepare you for the pressure of Miss America? Jayroe said that when they were running stairs no one was thinking they needed to do so because they might go into double-overtime at state. It was just a part of the discipline to prepare them for whatever was ahead.
So while she looked at the United States flag recently in the Laverne fieldhouse, I asked what advice she has given to the Miss Americas from Oklahoma who have followed.
“It’s a very grueling, tiring year,” she said of Miss America. “I think all of us want to feel like we’ve given it our best. But especially toward the end of the year, you kind of wear out.
“So you need to be in good shape when you go in.”
Like being ready for double-overtime. “Exactly.”
So from there we backed up to the season — or time period — that was Miss America.
Think about the situation this 19-year-old was about to face: the United States in 1967.
Peace demonstrations, riots, bra-burnings. On Valentine’s Day Arthea Franklin released in song what others were seeking — “Respect.”
But this was also a very important time because of what was happening outside the United States. While in Laverne recently, Jayroe stopped by the Museum which was formerly the Fox Hotel. A downstairs room is dedicated to her with items ranging from more than a dozen keys to cities to a gown to a special framed thank-you on the wall from a special trip — to Vietnam.
As she turned and looked to the framed thank-you from the 87th Engineer Battalion her voice weakened and tears welled.
“I can’t talk about it without getting emotional,” she said. “What affected me the most during that year was going to Vietnam.
“It was such a little thing that we did to spend two weeks there but it meant so much to those who were serving there.”
This wasn’t double-overtime. This was life — hard, blunt life.
She and others traveled with the U.S. Navy on the USS Intrepid. She knew what some Americans thought of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. She also knew the members of the military she had been sent to entertain “weren’t politicians they were just serving their country.”
In fact two of the men she took photos with were very familiar to her — Claude Roach, who had graduated the year after her at Laverne, and Mike Smith, her cousin from Turpin.
The goal was to bring home to a place that was anything but home.
One of the organizers of the tour missed that mark. He thought it would be great to have the women entertain on stage while wearing fatigues.
“We came out and they booed,” she said. “We went back in, found the shortest dresses we could find and then went back out. They loved it.”
From Laverne to the world and back
Think about it.
In March 1964, Jayroe was playing for a high school basketball state championship. On Sept. 10, 1966 she was crowned Miss America and the next month she was riding in a 1967 Oldsmobile convertible with her mother Helene Jayroe and others down Jane Jayroe Blvd. as Miss America 1967.
In fact, the days before and after the parade offer a perfect example of how this young woman from Harper County, which had a total population of 5,956 in 1960, went from never having flown to becoming a constant traveler.
The day before the parade she flew from New York City to Tulsa where she had won Miss Oklahoma in June. Then the next day she flew to Woodward and then a motorcade traveled to Laverne for the parade. Think – from New York City, the nation’s largest city, to a parade whose path included the instructions “go down Broadway to the section line south of town...”
Laverne was a one stoplight town, and Sentinel, where she lived before her freshman year, was so small that the telephone operator could actually provide some callers with personal information.
“Sentinel had a party line system with the operator,” she said. “I loved it. When I was home alone, I would just call the operator and ask her if she knew where my parents were and she would ring them. “
Besides being involved in band, cheerleading, basketball and activities at the United Methodist Church, Jayroe would occasionally watch the family’s television in the living room. Of course, she says, her favorite show each year was the Miss America pageant.
“I sat real close to it because I always cried at the end and my dad would laugh at me,” she said of her father E.G. Jayroe. “I didn’t want him to see me cry.
“Yes, I got nervous. I still do.”
But when you believe in the people who love you – your mom and dad, other family members, your hometown and your state – then it’s a little bit easier to handle double-overtime at the state championship, or replace your own tears with a smile so you can possibly help those in the military forget the misery of Vietnam for a few minutes.
When you have that kind of assurance, you can, as Jayroe did, take a small western Oklahoma town out into the world and bring the world back with you without giving into the fear of failure.
Robin Kickingbird, News Researcher contributed to this report.
Jane Jayroe, winning the Miss America pageant.