Sunday, May 31, 2009

Oakes Trophy Rich in Family Tradition

The Oakes Trophy is awarded each year to a student-athlete at Columbia (TN) Central High that is considered to be the best all around athlete.

The history of the trophy goes back to 1945, when in the midst of World War II, Albert Fisher Oakes, Sr. commissioned the trophy that was to be “awarded annually to the school’s most outstanding athlete,” according to a newspaper clipping from The Daily Herald.

The award was established to “encourage clean, wholesome, athletics and good citizenship.” The school’s coaches and principal would select the recipient who had to have “passing grades in at least three subjects and be a good citizen."

The trophy was established to honor Oakes’ three children, Albert Fisher Oakes, Jr., John W. (Jack) Oakes, and Jane Page (Oakes) Trice. When the trophy was started, both Fisher and Jack Oakes were overseas serving in the war.

It was a difficult time in our country’s history, when most of the nation’s young men were involved in the war effort and parents never knew from day-to-day if their boys would ever return home.

Fisher Oakes served in the Army Air Corps in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea from December 1942 to January 1946.

Jack Oakes served in the Army from June 1944 to May 1946. After serving on the front line in Belgium and Germany, Jack’s infantry rifle unit was preparing to invade Japan when the atomic bomb ended the Eastern theater conflict in August 1945.

Albert Fisher Oakes, Sr. was the owner of Oakes Chair Company, a local firm that dates back to 1885. He was also an avid sports fan and sponsor of youth athletics in Columbia.

Born in 1897, Oakes, Sr. attended the Athenaeum School, which predated Columbia’s first public high school that opened in 1915. He graduated from Columbia Military Academy where he was a catcher in baseball and also played football.

After school, he entered the Army as a corporal and was dispatched to the Mexican border to hunt down Pancho Villa. In 1918, he advanced to the rank of First Lieutenant and later was appointed to the local draft board leading up to World War II.

Albert Oakes, Sr. always said, “The hardest thing he ever did in his life was to induct his sons into the Army.”

Albert Fisher Oakes, Jr. grew up playing sports in Riverside and was a star athlete at Central High, Baylor School in Chattanooga, and played for one year at Vanderbilt University. At Central, where he graduated in 1937, he lettered three years in football and twice in baseball.

In a post-graduate year at Baylor, he played football and lettered for the track team where he ran hurdles and did the “broad jump” as it was then known.

The following year, 1939, Oakes played freshman football at Vanderbilt and received a career ending injury. He was later an Assistant Coach under “Mutt” Quillen at Central High in 1942 before leaving for the service.

John W. “Jack” Oakes was also a local sports star. He attended Central High from 1940-42 where he lettered in baseball and basketball each year.

Jack transferred to Columbia Military Academy for his junior and senior year where he received five letters, adding football to his repertoire. In his senior year in 1944, he served as captain of the basketball team. Two weeks after graduation, he reported for duty and left for military service.

Jane Page (Oakes) Trice did not participate in sports as there were few women’s athletics at the time. She was an avid sports fan and was a cheerleader during her years at Central. She was also an accomplished pianist.

Albert F. Oakes, Sr. and Fisher Oakes, Jr. passed away in 1981 and 2002 respectively. Jack Oakes and Jane Page Trice remain Columbia residents.

Buddy Oakes, who covers pro hockey for The Daily Herald, is the son of A.F. Oakes, Jr.

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