Mr. John E. Palmer

b. 1931 - Lynchburg, VA
d. 25 Aug 1990 - Pulaski Co., VA

E.C. Glass High School Class of @ 1951
Duke University, B. A.

Social Studies, U. S. History,
Jr. Varsity Basketball Coach, Assistant Varsity Football Coach,
Sponsor of the Eighth Grade of 1963 (Class of 1967)

  1959 Anchor, p. 71 1962 Anchor, p. 28
At our Reunion of the 97th Rifle Company USMCR last week, several Officers identified this photo as that of 1st LT Johnny Palmer USMCR. Coach Palmer had served two years Active Duty in the USMC following his commissioning, and served in the USMCR to complete his obligation. "FOOTBALL COACHES
1st Row: Center and line coach, John Palmer; head coach, J. C. Range; back coach, Charlie Nuttycombe; 2nd Row: Line coach, Bill Helms; end coach, Charles Driesell; back and J. V. coach, Jack Powers."
Courtesy of Joe Madagan ('57) of FL - 11/05/11
Thanks, Joe!
04/25/04 04/25/04


Roanoke Times, The (VA) - August 27, 1990

A part-time assistant football coach at a Lynchburg high school died of an apparent heart attack while scouting one of his team's opponents.

The funeral for E.C. Glass High School assistant coach
John E. Palmer Jr. was scheduled for today.

Palmer, who started 41 consecutive games at center for the Duke football team that played in the Orange Bowl in 1955, was head coach at Hampton High School and E.C. Glass before retiring from full-time coaching in 1977.

collapsed while scouting a team at the Pulaski County High School football field and was pronounced dead at Pulaski County Hospital at 4:37 p.m. Saturday. - Associated Press

Published in the Roanoke Times on 8/27/90.


Here's another personality to discuss.  Maybe you have already, and I missed it.  Coach Johnny Palmer, who also taught Math.  What a character.  He was the first teacher that I knew with a "Pineapple" haircut - - a crew cut, with a tuft of hair in front to comb.

As I recall, the dirty dog left NNHS to be a successful head football coach at Hampton High School, then on to a small college...

Is he still around?  Does anybody know the rest of the story?

- Craig Miller ('63) of FL - 01/14/05
Thanks, Craig!

From the book, Hampton High School 600th Football Victory Celebration, 1899-1995:

"Johnny Palmer was born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1931. He attended E. C. Glass High School and was
an All-State center and linebacker his senior year. His outstanding play in high school earned him a
full grant-in-aid to Duke University. His performance as a football player continued to receive acclaim
in college as he was a member of the conference All-Star team in 1954. Upon graduating with a major
in Education, Johnny served in the Marine Corps for two years. In 1957 he accepted a coaching position
at Newport News High School and was there through the 1964 season.

"He accepted the position of head coach at Hampton High School in 1965 and coached through the 1970
season. His record at Hampton was 48-12-1 and included a state championship in 1969. In 1971, Coach
Palmer accepted an offer to return to his hometown and became head coach at E. C. Glass and held the
position through 1977. In 1974 Johnny also assumed the duties of Assistant Principal. Not being able
to completely turn his back on football, Coach Palmer returned to the field as an Assistant at E. C. Glass
for the 1985 and 1986 seasons.

"In a conversation prior to his death in 1990, Johnny Palmer had fond memories of Hampton High School
and the city. He recalled getting off to a slow start his first season, but upsetting Newport News
on Thanksgiving Day. After that, criticism turned to support and thus he had established himself. He was
very proud of offering current Hampton coach, Mike Smith, his first football job as an assistant. He
considered Mike one of the premier coaches in the country. Johnny fondly remembered his State
Championship victory when the Crabbers defeated Great Bridge 48-0. John Palmer summarized his
feelings by saying, 'It was a wonderful school and city. I really enjoyed it and it is a great honor and
privilege to have been associated with Hampton High School.'"

Following the 1970 football season, Mike Smith was offered the head coaching position at Pembroke High
starting in 1971, right about the same time Johnny Palmer was considering leaving Hampton and returning
to E. C. Glass. In 1970 Hampton was defending state champs and had won 27 games in a row (until that final
Turkey Day game in 1970). That year, as a testament to the magnitude of that final game against NNHS,
Hampton outscored their opponents 415-22, and sixteen of those 22 were scored by Newport News!
Now that Johnny had successfully re-established Hampton as a football powerhouse, in the tradition of the
Suey Eason teams of the 40s and 50s, he said he would decline Glass' offer if Mike did not stay on at Hampton
and take the head coaching job. Mike did, Johnny left, and the rest is history!

- Tom Norris (HHS - '73) of VA - 01/15/05
WOWZERS!  Thanks, Tom!

Coach Palmer stands out in my mind, probably because he was shot-put coach after football season ended.
As a
Marine, he would always want to show me some "hand to hand" tactic's prior to practice. There were days
when I thought he'd kill me long before I ever got on the field. Johnny Palmer went on to become the epitome
of Virginia High School football coaches. I am proud to have known him and to have played for him.

- Joe Wingo ('65) of NC - 04/30/05
Thanks, Joe!



Daily Press (Newport News, VA) - November 22, 1990
Author: AL PEARCE Staff Writer
The images come galloping back from the past, bringing with them a flood of 20-year-old, black-and-white Kodachrome memories.

Thanksgiving Day, 1970. Saunders Stadium in downtown Newport News. It's the last time Newport News and Hampton high schools will play football against each other.

Strutting on the visitors' side of the chewed-up field is Hampton, 9-0, winners of 27 straight and generally regarded as Virginia's best team.

Hampton had scored 408 points in nine games (45.3 points per game ) and had allowed six points - TOTAL! - all season. Over the previous five seasons, the Crabbers had allowed only 23 touchdowns in 51 games.

On the home side is Newport News. At 7-2, the Typhoon is good, to be sure, but considered overmatched in the 76th game of this storied 59-year series.

Or, so it would seem.

For Hampton's red-and-white: Coach Johnny
Palmer and his young assistant, Mike Smith, the current Hampton coach. Crabber stars are Jimmy Williams, Tom Henderson, Kenneth Flournoy, Alex Hill and Peter Blount.

For Newport News' gold-and-blue: Coach Harlan Hott and assistants Jim Cavanaugh, Don Clary and Jimmye Laycock. Typhoon stars are Willie Armstead, Reggie
Johns , Jo Jo Bethea, Phil Allen and Jimmy Swinton.

Has it really been two decades - covering five presidents and three Popes - since Newport News knocked Hampton from the Group AAA championship playoffs with a 16-7 whipping?

Just how big was The Game back in those days?

It was so big that the Daily Press put it on Page 1 Friday morning. All told, The Times-Herald and Daily Press ran eight stories and 12 pictures from the game.

And why not?

The Game captivated the blue-collar Peninsula because the two schools represented the pride and identity of each community.

Each had pre-Turkey Day pep rallies, bonfires and parades, and folks who stayed home Thursday afternoon were looked at askance.

After the game, families rushed home for a late-afternoon Thanksgiving dinner. On Friday, a school holiday, teenagers gathered at the Hampton Country Club for the annual Red and White and Blue and Gold Ball.

"For years, the Newport News-Hampton game was big and important to both cities," said Hott, currently a teacher at Ferguson High. "There's nothing like it now, no more long-running rivalries.

"Hampton and Bethel got close to that feeling in the '70s, but that died, too."

Hott remembers Turkey Day '70 with clarity: 12 days to prepare for Hampton; rain forcing Newport News to practice indoors until players insisted on practicing outside, in the mud, on Monday and Tuesday; Hott urging his team to stay focused, even with a 16-7 halftime lead; teary-eyed players carrying him across the field.

"That was my greatest thrill in coaching," he said. "We had Willie, Jo Jo and Phil, and five or six other athletes. But we were poor in some spots. Overall, Hampton had better people.

"On that day, though, Newport News wouldn't lose. We won on emotion and because some kids played over their heads. If we'd played Hampton 10 more times they would have won nine."

Laycock, now head coach at William and Mary, remembers the play call that freed Armstead for a 10-yard TD.

"It was flanker-right, dive-left and Willie took it in," he said. "We played a goal-line defense the whole second half and dared them to throw.

"It was a great game, a lot of fun. I was only there one year, but I got caught up because it meant something. There aren't many rivalries like it."

In all, Hampton won 37 games, Newport News 27 and there were 12 ties.

The schools played 17 football games between 1903 and 1911. They skipped 1912-13 and 1929-30. The series was suspended between 1943-46 because of repeated turmoil between players and fans.

It resumed in 1947 after supporters from both schools met along Pembroke Ave. to peacefully settle their differences.

The finale was perhaps the series' biggest upset:

Hampton received the kickoff and fumbled on its second snap. Newport News fumbled on its first, then Hampton fumbled back to Newport News. Finally, Allen kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Newport News moved ahead, 10-0 when Armstead scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter. Allen kicked the extra point, one of only a handful he tried all season.

Hill brought Hampton to within 10-7 on an 8-yard TD dash in the second period. But the game turned on Bethea's 25-yard interception runback with seconds left in the half.

Hampton High and North Carolina graduate Jimmy Eason played in the 1957, '58 and '59 games. Even today, 30-something years later, he recalls every score and major detail of them.

"My first year we beat Newport News 21-0 (20-0, actually) and won 35-14 the next year," he said. "We lost 34-0 my senior year, the week after losing 2-0 to Norview. I can tell you just about everybody who scored, when and how in those games."

Eason was closer to the series than most since his father, the late Suey Eason, coached Hampton to three state championships in 21 years. Even though refined and honorable, Coach Eason wasn't above a ploy or two.

Jimmy recently found a cartoon, circa 1954, showing his father on a tractor, dragging Hampton players into Saunders Stadium as Typhoon fans taunted them.

"The idea was that he had to rope and drag players to the 1954 game," Eason said. "Well, he showed it to the team and said it came from Newport News.

"I'm pretty certain he had somebody draw the cartoon and send it to the football team."

Whatever works. The 1-7 Crabbers stunned heavily favored Newport News, 20-0.

The 1970 finale was just the opposite. Almost everyone expected the Crabbers to casually brush aside Newport News en route to yet another state AAA championship.

Smith, Hampton's head coach for the past 20 years, called it, "One of the darkest Thanksgivings of my life. Man, we had a great offense, but they played a 6-5 goal-line defense all over the field.

Perhaps it's appropriate that Smith felt the night suddenly close in on the Crabbers as the clock ticked down the series' final moments.

"As the game went on and we stayed behind, it got darker darker and darker out there," he said. "And when it got to be almost night, the game was over and we had lost."

Lost a game, to be sure, but much more than that.

But when Newport News High School closed just before the 1971 season, it drew the curtain on the series, the Peninsula's most beloved sports tradition.

And if you don't believe it was, just ask around.

Spinning Football clip art courtesy of - 06/23/08

Animated United States Marine Corps Flag clip art courtesy of - 06/18/03

Roanoke Times and Daily Press Articles added on 04/22/08

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