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Jerry Carle was head football coach for the Colorado College Tigers for 33 years, and was the winningest coach in the school's history with a 137-150-5 record when he retired in 1990. At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, Carle's assistant coach came to him with an idea to scrimmage against inmates from the federal prison in Canon City.
Frank Flood, my assistant coach, was a hell of a fighter. Guys used to say he had a great left hook and left jab. His right hand though, they said he couldn't break a glass with. In the early 1950s, Frank was teaching the inmates at the state prison in Canon City how to box and found out the prison had a football team and they'd try to get colleges in there to play.
So that's how the Colorado College football team started to play the prison the Saturday before we opened our season. It was great for us as coaches because we could film the game. We could try different plays and formations and no one could see us. It lasted for about 6 or 7 years and they treated us great. Nothing dirty about it. They played hard and it was a good experience. But the big experience, truthfully, was for our kids. Say you're a running back for us and your dad's the head of some big company back east. You've been brought up where everything is hunky dory and nice, and suddenly you're going into a prison.
Frank said, "We have a lot of these young kids who've never been in a prison. Their eyes will be so big. Suppose I buy a big file and put it in one of their bags? So I said, let's try it.
So, Frank gets this file and puts it in there. We tell the guards ahead of time: that's the kid right there. They come to this kid and dump out his bag: clink, clank goes the file out in the parking lot. The two guards would grab the kid and pick him up and take him into the prison. It was a big success.
After the first time, we would pick the freshman every year. So that was the game we played. I'm sure those kids remember it to this day. We ate a meal there afterward with a little spoon and a tin tray. They treated us like any other visitor coming in and out.
One time in there, we're on our sideline during a game and we've got two prisoners running the chains. Frank looks down and a guy hasn't pulled the chain tight. Frank says, "Hey buddy, pull that chain tight, you're cheating us." The guy yelled back, "What do you think I'm in here for, ringing church bells?"
One of the times we went down there, a kid comes running across the field. He got close to me and I recognized him as being the trainer from my team at Camp Pendleton when I was a coach in the Marines.
I said, "For God's sake, what are you doing here?"
He said, "Coach, it's a long story, I'll make it short." He told me he'd been in there two years for involuntary manslaughter. I guess he was in a bar in Denver and got into an altercation with a guy there. The guy went after him, the kid banged him and the guy went down and hit his head on the brass footrest that ran along the bar. The guy died and this kid got sent down to prison for a couple years for that.
He told me he could be paroled, if he had the promise of a job. So we found him something and got the kid released on parole. He wasn't a mean or vicious guy. He'd just had some bad luck.
I really think I did more good with formulating those games at the prison than any other thing. Kids come back now who were part of that and talk about how impressed they were. We all talk about prisons, but how many people have gone through that first, second, third lockup? You hear those gates shut, and you think, suppose this was real?
I think those games might be one of the most impressionable things we did with our football team. We'd be in there eating and the guards would be eyeing you. The inmates were probably cursing us and thinking we were used to eating with china. There were lots of things I took away from my years of coaching, but going to the prison had to be one of the biggest things. How many football teams in America have gone into a prison and played the prison team?