From A to Glee

Posted on December 11, 2023 by USA Marketing and Communications
USA Marketing and Communications

Tom Meyer in Tracksuit.As Tom Meyer remembers it, he received his cross country varsity letter — a black “A” with “SOUTH” in gold block letters — at a small athletics banquet sometime in the late 1960s.

“Jaguar colors,” Meyer said, laughing. “Black and gold.”

Sports were just getting started at the University of South Alabama, and the school didn’t formally adopt red, white and blue until the summer of 1967.

“Cross country was a fall sport, and there was no football back then, so it was first,” Meyer said. “I was the first one to go up there and get a letter.”

He saved the letter, with its silver pin for cross country, but never sewed it onto a sweater or anything like that. He kept it in a cardboard box that was lost during Hurricane Frederic in 1979.

And that was that, he thought, for years.

Meyer, now 77, wound up earning a biology degree at South, then a master’s degree in nursing, and returned to his alma mater as an assistant professor. He was Faculty Senate president during South’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Celebrating that legacy was one of the reasons he wished he still had his old varsity letter.

“Every time I started a new chapter in my life, South was there,” Meyer said. “That’s what South means to me.”

Student of the ’60s

Meyer now lives across Mobile Bay in Spanish Fort. His back porch faces the Blakeley River. He keeps a pair of binoculars next to his favorite chair.

He loves to laugh and savor a memory. 

After high school, he worked at a downtown bank, but started taking biology classes at the new university in west Mobile. The ’60s were a different time.

“A degree was nothing but a piece of paper to me,” Meyer said. “I didn’t care about grades, but I was gloriously devoted to education. I took whatever classes I wanted and worked as an assistant in the biology department.

“I skipped more than a few classes because there were so many woods to walk through on campus. There was a pond where the library is now, and I used to go there just to sit.”

During the Vietnam War, Meyer joined the National Guard, where he was trained as a Special Forces medic. After earning a nursing degree in 1975, he began working at local hospitals. 

During the 1980s, he and his wife, Mary, also a nursing instructor at South, spent five years working at a military hospital in Saudi Arabia. They returned to Alabama, earned their master’s degrees, and began careers at South.

As Meyer got older, he became more of a kayaker than a runner. He took up nature photography. For the 50th anniversary of South, he paddled 50 miles in a single day to raise money for a scholarship.

‘Is This Important?’

As a student, cross country was important to Meyer, even though the sport didn’t attract much attention.

“We were running for the joy of running,” he said, laughing. “You know, they wrote a book about that.”

Meyer always assumed that his varsity letter perished in the waters of Hurricane Frederic. Then a housecleaning project in 2015 turned up some family history.

“My wife and I were clearing out some boxes, and Mary goes, ‘Is this important?’” he said. “And I just about dropped my teeth on the floor.”

Track LetterIt was his old letter. The black-and-gold A. The material was tattered, so he had a fabric restorer prepare it for mounting.

Meyer has talked with the South Athletic Department about displaying the letter. He and his wife haven’t lost their school spirit. They’ve enjoyed watching the University grow.

“For years, we didn’t have a campus identity,” Meyer said, “but it’s become a home for students, and not just a place to go to school.”

If he had to give South a grade, it would be the same as what he received from the University all those years ago — the letter A. 

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