For a 16-year-old boy in 1967 from Shreveport, La., Gardner, Kan., was the last place Audie W. Starkey wanted to move.
“I threw a fit, when I found out we were moving to Gardner,” Starkey said. “I didn’t know it then, but 1967 and 1968 were two of the best years of my life.”
Audie’s father was a Korean War Veteran and in the U.S.Army, when he was reassigned to Nike Missile Base in 1967. Audie attended eight different schools in 12 years.
“We lived in Japan, South Dakota, and all over,” Starkey explained.
He had family in Shreveport, however, and Audie had lived there longer than anywhere else in his youth.
Segregation was the norm during the mid-1960s in the south.
“We had a men’s restroom, a women’s restroom, and a colored’s restroom. Restaurants had a back door for the coloreds and a petition separating them from the white patrons,” Starkey explained with his deep southern accent. “We had separate schools.”
He grew up believing “coloreds” were different, and he didn’t want anything to do with them.
When the Starkey family moved to Gardner in 1967, Audie immediately noticed the Watson kids. Watson family members were the first black students to attend the Gardner school system.
Leo Watson was in Audie’s class and on the football team.
“I hated him,” Audie said. “I just didn’t like him, and we had a lot of trouble with one another.”
As the football season progressed, Audie and Leo started to respect one another’s abilities on the football field.
“I didn’t have time to hate, I had to play football,” Audie soon realized.
Watson and Starkey eventually became close friends and once even went on a double date together. The 1967-68 Gardner High School football team went on the win the Jayhawk Championship, “which was our Super Bowl,” Starkey explained.
Dennis Delay was the coach.
Audie moved back to Shreveport halfway through his senior year, though he has stayed in touch with Coach Delay.
Delay now resides in Council Grove, Kan.
Audie is now a retired pipe liner turned author and currently resides in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
His first book, “My Three Heroes,” is about his father, football Coach Delay, and his daughter who suffered from cancer between the ages of 11 and 21.
Three years ago at the age of 26, his daughter lost her life in an automobile accident and left behind a three-year-old daughter of her own.
“I wanted to leave my grand-daughter something, and let her know what a remarkable person her mother, my daughter was,” Audie said.
He kept journals for nearly all of his life, and most of them were written when his daughter was in St. Jude Hospital suffering from cancer.
When he began, “My Three Heroes,” he referred back to his journals for material. He exercised the same strategy for his second book, “Gardner, Kansas 1967.”
The book, released two weeks ago and available on Amazon.com details his experience moving to Gardner, and how his ideals were changed forever by football and his friendship with Leo Watson.
Audie dedicated his second book to Leo, who was inducted into the Gardner Edgerton High School Hall of Fame in 2001 for his accomplishments in football, basketball, and during his high school career in the mid-1960s.
Leo will never see the book or its dedication. He was killed in an unsolved shooting in January 1995 and is buried in the Gardner Cemetery. But Audie will share the book with Leo’s friends and re-unite with members of the 1967-1968 Gardner High School football squad this Saturday.
“We are all going to celebrate our 60th birthdays together,” Audie said
Audie is making the trip from Texas to re-connect with Stan Haynes, Ike Sizemore, Bill Gay, Mike O’Connor and other members of the championship football squad.
Audie will also autograph copies of his book while in town.
“I do not write these books to make money. I write these books for my family, and my former teammates,” Starkey explained. “Now all of these old faded newspaper clippings and high school photos I’ve kept in a desk drawer will live forever, because they are in print now,” he said.
Audie will be at the Reece & Nichols, O’Connor & Associates Real Estate booth on the Johnson County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Aug. 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to promote his book. Copies of “Gardner, Kansas 1967” will be available for purchase at the booth.
“The people you meet through sports like football will last you a lifetime,” Audie said.