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Book recounts 100 years of Jackson football
With his second book on Southeast Missouri high school football history completed, Nic Antoine says the possibilities are endless for more books in the same vein.
Just don't ask him to get started on another right away.
Antione's latest, "The Jackson Indians: 100 Years of Gridiron Glory," will be released officially Wednesday evening in an event coinciding with the start of the Jackson Homecomers Festival. The release party is set for 4:30 to 7 p.m. on the Jackson High School campus and will provide the chance to get autographed copies and pick up preorders. Former players, coaches and others associated with Jackson High School are invited to attend.
"I'm very pleased with the product," said Antoine, who was able to apply some of the lessons learned during the process of publishing a book on the history of Perryville's two high school football programs in 2005.
"The process up there was a lot different, and I learned," Antoine said. "The great thing about Jackson is that when they approached me, I said this is what I want, and Jackson said, 'We'll do this and then some.' I couldn't have been treated better. They are an A-1 school district and that's how the process went.
"It worked out great, and hopefully everybody will agree with that."
The resulting work is more than 250 pages and includes more than 200 photos. Antoine estimates that more than 100 people are quoted in the book after he conducted countless interviews with people associated with football in Southeast Missouri.
The book sells for $25 in softcover, while 500 hardcover limited editions are available at $35 per copy.
Antione, who has just begun his first year as principal at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Sikeston, said Don Kuntze approached him about a Jackson book just as the process for the Perryville book was wrapping up. Antione said at that point he declined, having just put in two years on the book chronicling St. Vincent's and Perryville's programs.
But Kuntze was relentless and Jim Woeltje assisted in convincing Antoine. They also made themselves available to help throughout the process.
"Don and Jim were at my beckon call night and day," Antoine said. "They were the catalysts for the book.
"The whole Jackson group — all of them were real helpful. Dr. [Jim] Welker was really instrumental in this book going through."
Antione also had assistance from several school districts, including SEMO North rivals Central, Sikeston and Poplar Bluff; the Butler County Historical Society and Sam Giambaluca of Poplar Bluff. He had full access to Jackson's yearbook archives for photos and also did extensive research at the Cape Girardeau County Archive Center and the Jackson Cash-Book Journal newspaper.
"I literally probably spent every day from May through last August or September at the archive or the Cash-Book Journal," Antoine said.
That kind of exhaustive research is why he is in no hurry to produce another.
"My wife would kill me if she saw any inkling of that," said Antoine, who is focused on his school duties and pursuing a master's degree at William Woods. "There's no future of writing right now.
"Down the road a couple years, if Sikeston or Cape Central or any other school comes knocking on the door, I'll listen. Every one of these schools in Southeast Missouri, I can write a book about. If St. Vincent and Perryville, 1A and 3A schools, can get a book and they have a rich history, I can tell you Kennett, Caruthersville, Charleston, Dexter — every one of these schools deserve their own book."
Antoine said he has become a fan of high school football in Southeast Missouri through his work on the two books.
"I can sit down right now and talk about Sikeston football with the best of them, and even Cape Central, because Perryville and Jackson played so many of these teams," he said.
Working on the Jackson project left an impression, however. He documented the school's 900 or so contests — as well the years before 1908 when Jackson Military Academy fielded a team — and counted 530 victories.
"Today, it's the class of Southeast Missouri. I don't think anyone can dispute that," he said. "It is a class program. The 530 victories through 2008 put them in the echelon of top programs in the United States. One of the most surprising things to me, I couldn't believe Jackson didn't have five or six state championships."
But the Indians have had outstanding teams, and Antoine said it's natural for people to expect player rankings or team rankings.
"I didn't do that only because I learned from the first book that it's debatable, one, and people get upset about those kinds of things," Antoine said.
But he doesn't mind talking about the comparisons when asked.
"When you talk about the greatest teams of all time, you have to start with the 1935 team," he said. "I mean, when you go in and look at the chapter on the 1930s and that team: 10-0-0, 311 points scored, zero points against. That team was just a dominating force and probably could have beaten some college teams.
"They're always going to be able to lay claim to the fact they were unscored upon, undefeated, untied. I talked to two of the players from the team, and they were very proud of that.
"The 2001 team that scored the most points in their school history was a truly remarkable team. I didn't get to see them, but writing about them was impressive."
Antoine did follow the 2007 team that made the Class 5 state semifinals. He said that team would fit into the conversation along with Jackson's teams from the mid-1990s.
He can go through the decades and name several standout players, but one person stands out as the program's key figure.
"In writing that book, coach Paul Webber was the most influential person in Jackson football history, without a doubt," Antoine said. "He started or got things like The Tribal Council and JAYF ... he got the community involved."
Webber, who coached the program from 1969 to 1988, died in 1998. He was the program's winningest coach (130-71-2) when he stepped down — Webber was passed last season by Carl Gross, who was one of his assistants — and he led the school to its first state playoff berth in 1972.
Webber also was a figure in what Antione calls his favorite story in the book. The story centers around the rivalry with Sikeston in the 1970s and details Webber's ability to motivate his players by using dirt.
"If you like football, to hear those guys tell that story is just classic," Antoine said. "Some of the stories in there are just freaking awesome."
He produced a CD for the school with some audio interviews, and recognizes that future chronicling of sports history may include other types of media or electronic books.
"Only recently has video media became available with games," Antoine said. "Older stuff is tough to track down. Jackson had talked about making this an e-book, and I thought that was kind of cool."
But before Antoine contemplates the possibilities for his next project, he's going to take a break from writing for a little bit.
"It takes a good year or more to recover," he said. "Down the road, you never know."