Former bowl team still close after 58 years

The 1952 Hilltoppers

Emily Patton

Homecoming is a time for football, camaraderie and school pride.

These traditions are revisited annually at Homecoming when a group of former WKU football players from the 1952 Refrigerator Bowl team come together in Bowling Green.

The Refrigerator Bowl, named because Evansville businesses that manufactured refrigerators sponsored the game, was a college bowl played from 1948 until 1956 in Evansville, Ind. The Western Kentucky State Hilltoppers defeated Arkansas State Indians, 34-19, on Dec. 7, 1952.

The ’52 team will celebrate 60 years since the game in 2012. Several members have stayed friends since leaving school.

One member of this group is Jimmy Feix, former quarterback, coach at WKU and namesake of WKU’s football field. Feix served as the honorary captain at WKU’s Oct. 16 game against Louisiana-Monroe and delivered a pre-game message to fans from his home.

Max Stevens, 80, was a senior running back on the 1952 team.

“We are a really close group, and we have stayed that way since the very beginning of our football careers,” Stevens said. “I thank WKU for these life-long friendships.”

Stevens, now lives in Shalimar, Fla., and said no matter how much time passes, Homecoming is still a special time for former players.

“Homecoming was always a special time for us,” Stevens said. “We always played our best there and drew the biggest crowds. You still get that today.”

Stevens entered the Air Force after graduation — when the United States was at war with Korea — but never lost contact with his former teammates.

The remaining players are spread out around the U.S. in areas within California, New York, Florida, Texas, Indiana and Kentucky, Stevens said.

About 20 players from the original 1952 team will watch the 2010 WKU football team take on North Texas on Saturday to “rekindle the memories.”

“The people that go (to Homecoming) — there is camaraderie,” Stevens said. “Even though WKU is big now, you still get that homey feel. We always go meet with the team and the coaches, and everyone seems the kind of together like we were back then.”

Stevens said that a closeness this group shares is not something seen anymore on teams.

“We were all for one and one for all,” Stevens said. “There were no hidden agendas with us in class or on the field. Nearly every person in that senior class football team graduated.”

Former guard Guy Newcom, an 82-year-old from Jefferson, Ind., said most collegiate sports are missing that “togetherness.”

“Players are so scattered now,” Newcom said. “There is nothing holding them together. We were always together. We all lived together in Potter Hall on the same floor and didn’t just play on the football field. We literally lived together.”

Though many of the original 44 players are now deceased, Newcom said he talks with at least one former teammate a week.

He said the team often comes together for weddings, funerals and holidays but is always sure to make Homecoming its annual focus.

“We still have that Hilltopper spirit,” Newcom said. “With that, your mind never gets old. We are still just like a bunch of kids.”

Former sophomore quarterback William “Whitey” Sanders said this spirit is a part of what makes returning to WKU so special.

Sanders, 80, who currently lives in Fort Myers, Fla., was invited to try out by the Cleveland Browns, but entered the United States Army after graduating to complete his ROTC commitments instead.

“As a student at Western, you know professors, you know the teachers and you know the president, no matter how many students are there,” Sanders said. “I think it will always be that way.”

Each year, the former players get older, and, due to health reasons, it becomes harder to travel. But Sanders said the team will keep coming back to the Hill as long as they can.

“Homecoming is a nostalgia thing for us,” he said. “But it’s also a celebration of our close relationships.”