Max Earl Cole was buried several weeks ago. I was away and missed his funeral.
Like me, he was a Dry Creek native, who attended East Beauregard High School.
Max Earl was a lanky rawboned basketball player on the excellent Trojan basketball teams in the mid-60s.
He was a product of two of Dry Creek’s strongest families, The Coles and Nations families.
Max could jump out of the gym and played rough and with abandon.
If I could’ve visited him one last time, I’d asked him about the famous panther’s mouth story.
Several times I asked him about the story. Each time he smiled noncommittally.
The story took place during his basketball career.
The gym was the old Fairview High gym.
Fairview’s mascot was the Panthers.
The jump circle at the old gym featured a snarling black panther.
Max Earl, who could jump, was assigned for the opening tip-off.
As he and Fairview’s center stepped into the circle, Max Earl recoiled and said, “There ain’t no way I’m putting my foot in a panther’s mouth.”
He wouldn’t and he didn’t.
His teammate and cousin Milford Cole told me he pinch hit for the center jump.
Goldie Cain, our coach’s wife, swore it all happened.
I’ve never asked Coach James David Cain about it.
Ken Farmer, another member of the team, told me he remembered it.
My first coaching job was at Fairview High School.
Often we’d practice in the old gym and standing around the circle, with the faded gaped-mouth panther still there, I’d tell this story to my players.
They didn’t believe me.
But then, they’d never met Max Earl Cole.