‘Wicker book’ is a prize lost by time
Have you read any good books lately?
One book that occupies a second most prominent spot in my home behind the Holy Bible is a time-stained and tattered 4 1/2-by-7 1/2-inch treasure once known as “Wicker’s All-American Sports Booklet.”
Simply, the 152-page labor of love was known to its many devoted readers as “The Wicker Book.”
Written by the late Times-Picayune Prep Sports columnist, N. Charles Wicker, this piece of work was the hottest item on the shelves at the city’s leading restaurants, department and sporting goods stores between 1954-69. And it was free for the asking.
The Wicker book was a treasure trove of statistics that was updated every year it was published.
It contained facts today’s reader might consider minutiae. It lists the names of the annual AAU champions, outstanding athletes named by the New Orleans Athletic Club and eight categories of award winners chosen by the John Dibert Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The baseball category included statistics from the major leagues, AAABA, American Legion, Babe Ruth and prep champions. It also included the New Orleans Diamond Club Hall of Fame inductees.
Sport after sport, the booklet lists facts and statistics for basketball, boxing, fishing, football, golf, horse racing, swimming, track and field, including the NORD Meet of Champions and college and prep football schedules.
I have two copies (1957 and 1969) and I still refer to them at times.
Big business, small ads
The booklet was published by Wicker himself, paid for by dozens of small ads. Among the business and merchant leaders that underwrote the Wicker Book were Maison Blanche department store, French Market and Security homesteads; Paretti Pontiac, Canal Rambler; Gemelli’s, Perlis, Gus Mayer and LaBiches clothing stores; Security and Simpson-Stoutz Sporting Goods; National American Bank, Pascal’s Manale Restaurant, Schoen Life Insurance, TAC Amusement, Russell’s Sunshine Ice Cream and even Manny’s Sanitary Supplies, who sponsored CAA and GNOAL softball leagues back in the day.
Wicker, the man
N. Charles Wicker was a unique individual who devoted 37 years of his life covering high school sports in New Orleans, both as a stringer and full-time columnist and reporter.
His name does not appear in any hall of fame, although the Louisiana High School Athletic Association honored him with a bronze plaque when he retired in 1966 for his service to prep sports.
As prolific as he was as a reporter, Wicker is better known for his literary gaffes which were commonly known as “Wickerisms.”
He once reported that a 6-6 tie between St. Aloysius and Jesuit “was closer than the score indicated.”
No one was immune to his way with words. Not even the Archbishop of New Orleans.
In a column, Wicker referred to the Very Rev. Joseph F. Rummel as, “Joe Rummel, well known local archbishop.”
Ted Castillo, who was Wicker’s counterpart at the Baton Rouge Advocate recalled the, activities at a sports writers convention in Shreveport:
“Wicker volunteered to keep time for an impromptu hurdles race between Shreveport Journal sports editor Jimmy Bullock and Jim Saggus of The Associated Press. The race was arranged on the mezzanine floor of a downtown hotel.
“Wicker seated himself comfortably on the floor with his back against the wall with watch in hand while the race got underway at the other end of the hall, with chairs serving as the hurdles.
“As the two writers crossed the finish line neck and neck, they looked at Wicker to get the winning time only to discover that he was peacefully asleep.”
He was hardly the life of any sportswriters’ convention hospitality rooms, Castillo said. The two writers respected each other, although they were hardly the best of friends.
“I remember we were sitting side-by-side in a pressbox. After the game, I was looking over my notes when Wicker left. He just started grabbing things and stuffing them in his case. One was a carbon of my story, which he took by mistake. I had to chase him down to get it back,” Castillo recalled.
During Mardi Gras season, Wicker was a rider in one of the parades. He told a fellow T-P staffer where to stand at a certain corner on the parade route, but it wasn’t prize throws he had for his co-worker. It was his column to take back to the editor while he paraded on.
Numbers lost in time
You can’t find the Wicker Book on eBay or Amazon. It’s that rare, although I believe there still may be a few dozen that may have survived he decades.
Statistical books that chronicle New Orleans sports, particularly high school sports, will be more difficult to write in the future.
Social media is not conducive to documentation. There will no longer be microfilm of news pages for the general public to study.
That’s why my Wicker Book is a prized possession. It is part of an engraved history in my keeping.
If I want to know the NORD bantam football bowl game winners, I can find it on page 130.
NORD Meet of Champion time and distance records are on page 72.
I met N. Charles briefly after he retired in 1966. It was my first football season covering prep for the States-Item.
Although I read every word of his prose as a teenager interested in high school sports, I never had an occasion to talk prep history with him. His understudy at the T-P, John Joly, became my pseudo tutor through my formative years.
But his columns provided me with priceless glimpses of high school lore from which I benefitted as a link in the chain of amateur historians.
My friend and fellow author, Bob Remy, also benefitted from Wicker’s accounts. Remy said he used his collection of Wicker Books as inspiration for researching and writing his brilliant “Louisiana Sports Encyclopedia,” published in 1978.
Wicker died in 1976 at age 61. He rests at Metairie Cemetery peacefully without a time clock in hand.