Maynard Britain doesn’t claim that he was a star athlete, but he’s proud he was able to participate in football, basketball and track while attending Chadron High School some 70 years ago. And, he’s hoping the Coronavirus Pandemic subsides so he can continue his many years of cheering for the Cardinals this coming school year.
“It would be terrible if the students can’t go back to school this fall and play football and volleyball and have all the other activities again,” he said recently while being interviewed in his home in Oelrichs. “I had so much fun in high school and college and have enjoyed being a sports fan ever since.”
“Brit,” as he likes to be called, has lived on the southern edge of Oelrichs all but the two years he served in the Marines and the five years he attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. He didn’t anticipate that he’d return home after he’d graduated from college in 1956, but that’s where he and his late wife, LeMay, wound up.
“Dad was having health problems when I was about to graduate at Wesleyan and said he’d have to sell the place if I didn’t come home to help. He’d bought 560 acres in 1943. I didn’t want that to happen, so LeMay and I came here after we got married and I’ve been here ever since.”
After taking a year helping keep the farm in the family, Maynard was hired as the seventh and eighth grade teacher at the Oelrichs Schools and continued in that job for 30 years until retiring. LeMay had started teaching at the school the previous year and spent 31 years in the Oelrichs classrooms.
“When we were dating, there were four ‘nevers’ LeMay said she didn’t want to have happen,” Britain remembers. “She didn’t want to marry a farmer, she didn’t want to live in a small town, she didn’t want to be a teacher and she didn’t want to be pregnant in the summer.
“Well, they all happened,” he noted. “Even the last one, because both of our daughters were born in August. But, bless her heart, in her later years she said she wouldn’t change a thing. She was a great lady and a great wife, mother and teacher.”
A native of Mitchell, S.D., LeMay died Nov. 13, 2013 of a heart attack. She was an outstanding flute and piccolo player and was a charter member of the Bordeaux Community Band founded by Carola Winkle at Chadron State College and played in the band 19 years. Brit nearly always accompanied her to the Tuesday night practice sessions.
The first of Brit’s forebearers to arrive in southwestern South Dakota were his maternal grandparents, Nathaniel and Sophia Dryden, who came from Wisconsin in 1886, homesteaded 10 miles west of Oelrichs and became a prominent family in the area.
His grandparents Britain brought their growing family from Missouri in 1916, but most of them didn’t stick around too long. An exception was Brit’s father Ollie, one of 13 kids in the family.
“When nearly everyone else decided to go back to Missouri, dad told his parents he had found some land here that he could farm without having to go through the field and pick up rocks first. So he stayed and married my mother, Esther Dryden, in 1921. I’m the youngest of their four kids. My sister Phyllis died in 2007, my brother Clarence died in 2008, but my sister, Caroldean, is 94 and lives in Kansas City.”
Maynard was born Aug. 1, 1931, meaning he will be 89 this summer, but he’s still sharp mentally and remains on the go physically. One of his daily tasks is checking the water in his pastures where the cattle belonging to his daughter Vann and her husband, Mark Miller run. The Miller ranch in 23 miles southwest of Oelrichs.
Another daughter, Kari, works at the University of Northern Iowa and calls her dad every night.
While Oelrichs High had an undefeated 11-man football team in 1939, the program had deteriorated by the time Clarence, who was three years older than Maynard, wanted to play the sport. So arrangements were made for him go to Chadron High. The family rented the basement of a small house at 511 Chapin and the brothers batched there while attending high school.
Several other Oelrichs boys also went to Chadron High so they could compete in athletics during that era. They included Don Rickenbach, Victor Milligan, Joe Bogner and Jack Kannolt.
Maynard said when Clarence was a freshman in the fall of 1942 and went out for football, classmate Allen Alderman, later a prominent Chadron physician, reportedly “wondered out-loud” if Clarence wasn’t too small to play the sport.
But a short time later when Clarence broke loose in practice for a long run and no one caught him nothing more was said about his lack of size.
Clarence went on to become a solid football player for the Cardinals. He helped the Cardinals win the Northwest Nebraska Conference championship as a senior in 1945 and placed fourth in the 440-yard dash at the State Track Meet the following spring.
Another outstanding football player and trackman in that era was Lawrence “Lorny” Madsen, who won the Class B 200-yard low hurdles, tied for second in the broad jump and was third in the 120-yard high hurdles at state that season.
The next year, Milligan took fourth in both hurdle races in the state. They apparently were Chadron High’s only state meet placewinners in the 1940s.
Clarence’s speed was passed on to his son, Galen, who won the Class B 220-yard dash at the South Dakota State Meet as a senior at Oelrichs in 1977. He also averaged 19.5 points a game for the Tigers’ basketball team that season. Galen now lives in Hot Springs.
When Clarence was a senior at Chadron High, Maynard was a freshman and went out for football. He remembers several teammates chuckled when he put his hip pads on backwards the first time. But during the season when the Cardinals went to Sheridan and Casper for games, he was one of four freshmen on the travel squad
When he was a junior, Maynard didn’t usually start, but he saw action in every quarter. As a senior in the fall of ’48, he was the starting quarterback until he took a hard hit against Sidney, landed on the back of his neck and missed the rest of that game and all of the next one.
The Cardinals were not outstanding that season, but reports in the Chadron Record say Britain helped the Cardinals win their final two games. He scored Chadron’s first touchdown on a quarterback sneak during a 12-6 win over Crawford and threw a touchdown pass to Roy Beem and also scored on a run during a 20-0 verdict over Hemingford.
Beem, Earl Mitchell, Dick Soper and Pete Witte made the Northwest Nebraska Conference all-star team that year. Jerry Lincoln and Joe Logan had been on the all-conference team the previous year.
Lincoln also won both hurdle races and both the broad and high jumps at the conference track meet his senior year in ’48 and qualified for the state meet along with miler Don Cavaness, but neither placed.
Although Maynard seldom started, he was among the 10 varsity players on the basketball team as both a junior and a senior, tallied 13 points in a basketball game against Rushville and sometimes placed in the 880 during the track season.
The Cardinals’ top basketball player during that era was Jim Hooper, who is credited with averaging 18 points and was placed on the 1947-48 Class B all-state basketball team by Nebraska High School Sports when it was published in 1980.
Another athlete Brit admired was Harold “Ozzie” Ostrander, a 1947 graduate who was the starting quarterback a couple of years and also was a basketball standout. He added that Harold “Deek” Dierksen, who still lives in Chadron, could more than hold his own on the football field.
Britain has much admiration for Frank Kerner, who was the Cardinals’ head coach for all three sports the first three years Maynard was in high school before resigning at the end of the 1947-48 school year to move to Ogallala.
“He was a really good coach,” Britain said. “If a football player wasn’t doing something right, he would demonstrate how it should be done. He could knock you on your backside with no trouble at all and wasn’t wearing pads when that happened.”
While only the ’45 football team won the conference championship during Kerner’s tenure, all three basketball teams won the titles, as did both the 1947 and ’48 track teams. His basketball teams at Deadwood had won two South Dakota state championships during the late 1930s.
Kerner’s replacement, Tom Journey, was not as effective, particularly as a football coach,” Britain said.
“He was continually changing our alignments on both offense and defense and even our positions, so we never found our rhythm,” Brit explained.
Although Britain lived at home during the summers while he was in high school, he seldom practiced with the team but played third base on three Chadron American Legion baseball teams. One of those years, the coach, Ralph Ormesher, often flew to Oelrichs to pick him up for the games and then took him back home afterwards.
“Through the years, I’ve often appreciated what Ralph did to help make it possible that I could play baseball,” Britain said.
After Britain graduated from high school and with the Korean War heating up, he spent two years in the Marines. He was among 60 young men who took physicals in Sioux Falls. During the process, it was announced that five of them would become Marines and the others would go to the Army. He was one of the five “drafted” by the Marines.
After 13 weeks of boot camp, he became a radio operator and spent much of the time wearing headphones, listening to teletype reports and communicating with planes that were on bombing runs in California deserts. He never left California during his tour of duty.
Being in the Marines increased his confidence and made him more outgoing, he says.
Britain did not plan to attend college after he was discharged, but the minister of the Oelrichs Methodist Church that his family attended urged him to continue his education. A short time later, the choir director from Dakota Wesleyan showed up at the Britain home.
“I’d had a bad day farming and gave him $3 for my matriculation fee before he left,” Maynard said. “I soon realized it was about the best decision I ever made, particularly since that’s where I met LeMay and also became a teacher, something I really enjoyed.”
He earned a master’s degree from Chadron State in 1983.
Besides teaching and taking care of his cattle, Brit kept busy with other activities. He ran the down marker at Oelrichs football games for years and kept both the boys’ and girls’ basketball scorebooks during home games for about 25 years. After the games, he and LeMay often invited the referees to their home for snacks and soft drinks.
He also served on the township board, was commander of the Oelrichs American Legion post a couple of terms, often helped with Boys’ State selections and spoke at a couple of Memorial Day programs.
In addition, dating back to the 1960s, Brit has made dozens of trips to Chadron to watch both high school and college football and basketball games. In recent years, he’s usually ridden with Dave and Karol Dunbar, when they came to Chadron to watch their grandkids, Dana, Dan, Dawn and Dawson, play for the Cardinals.
“I really appreciated that my parents made it possible for me to go to Chadron to play sports. Ever since then I have been a sports fan and attended many games,” he noted. “I’m looking forward to doing that again this fall.”
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