May 2009
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ONE OF ECU'S FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN ATHLETES OFFERS SOME ADVICE 

An East Central University graduate who has scored a lot of "firsts" in his life returned to ECU on May 1 to give some students from the 5th grade through high school and their teachers a little advice.

Dr. Marty Pennington, assistant professor of education at East Central University, presents a book about Oklahoma to Idabel native Dr. Jim Scales, one of ECU's first two African-American football players. Scales, now the superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tenn., spoke at ECU's Science Spectacular for about 90 area 5th and 6th grade students.
Dr. Marty Pennington, assistant professor of education at East Central University, presents a book about Oklahoma to Idabel native Dr. Jim Scales, one of ECU's first two African-American football players. Scales, now the superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tenn., spoke at ECU's Science Spectacular for about 90 area 5th and 6th grade students.

"You have to put yourself into your education," said Dr. Jim Scales, the superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education in Tennessee. "You have to invest in your own self. When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror, you're looking at the most challenging opponent, the greatest barrier you'll have. Learn to deal with yourself and you'll take a giant leap."

Scales, a native of Idabel, spoke at ECU's Science Spectacular. ECU's pre-service teachers conducted 18 science-related sessions for about 90 students, assisted by 8th and 12th grade students.

Today's students are growing up in a global economy where they don't compete with just the person next to them, but with someone as far away as Australia, Scales said.

"There aren't any jobs any more where you just fill out an application," he said. "We have 'positions' we need to fill based on a skill set."

To teachers, he said, "Let students know the value in the course you're teaching. Is it just to fill an education requirement, or do you need to know this for the next step?"

He told students there are things in life they can't control, but they can control their behavior, desires in life and what they want to become.

"That's the way we'll maintain the edge in this country," he said.

"We must make sure we have good reading, science, technology, engineering, mathematics and communications skills," he said. "Then there are the soft skills -- being ready for work, being on time for work. Those are things we need to learn in high school."

We also need to appreciate the differences in cultures, he said.

Scales has lived his own advice and found success as one of the first two African-American football players at ECU and later as a high school teacher, coach and administrator.

He transferred to ECU after a year at Wylie College in Marshall, Texas, and told legendary football coach Elvan George he wanted to play at ECU. George told him he would have to work his way through the first year, when he was ineligible, then he could come out for the team the next spring.

"That's all I needed," Scales said. "I took one of Coach George's classes so he would get to know me. I sat on the front row so he could not miss me, although it was hard to miss an African-American in those days."

When he was an undergraduate student, from 1962 to 1966, he said ECU had only six African-American students -- two football players, three basketball players and one female.

"She was very popular," he joked. "We all wanted her attention."

Scales and Jackie "Tex" Rollins were the first African-American football players in the history of ECU, Scales said.

"The country was in the midst of all the desegregation and civil rights issues," he remembered. "President Kennedy was in office. There were riots in Watts, Calif. James Meredith was admitted to the University of Mississippi and Vivian Malone entered the University of Alabama. They were troubled times. Things were happening all across the country, but nothing like that at ECU."

From all those experiences, Scales came to believe that "if we can get people to talk through issues and understand differences in cultures and background," many problems can be prevented.

"In an educational setting, education levels the playing field," he said. "It can help us understand who we are. It can peel away misinformation, erroneous information. It takes all of us in this country to make it a great country."

Former East Central University football player Dr. Jim Scales, superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tenn., watches youngsters perform an experiment at ECU's Science Spectacular for 5th and 6th grade students. Scales spoke to participating students and teachers during his visit to ECU.
Former East Central University football player Dr. Jim Scales, superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tenn., watches youngsters perform an experiment at ECU's Science Spectacular for 5th and 6th grade students. Scales spoke to participating students and teachers during his visit to ECU.

Scales was confronted on the campus by one ECU professor, however, when he got a bad grade on a test after doing well on the first one. The professor said he was disappointed in Scales because he could do better than that. At first angered, Scales realized the professor saw potential in him and believed he could succeed.

He graduated in January 1966 and went to Okmulgee Dunbar High School as a teacher and assistant basketball and track coach. After a year and a half he was transferred to Okmulgee High School as its first full-time African-American teacher.

"I think there were two reasons I was transferred," he said. "First, I was not from Okmulgee and had no community ties. Second, I had graduated from ECU, so I had come through a desegregated community."

Scales earned a master's degree from ECU in 1969.

"I remember that," he said with a smile. "I went four consecutive summers to get a master's degree."

From 1971 to 1974 he was the head football coach at Northeast High School in Oklahoma City.

"Oklahoma City was under court order to desegregate schools and administrations," Scales explained. "Part of Judge Bohannan's decree said the administrations at all schools needed to be desegregated. In 1974, my high school principal went to John Marshall High School and I left coaching to become assistant principal."

He was principal of Millwood High School in Oklahoma City from 1977 to 1985. The school won a National Exemplary Scholarship Award in 1984 based on the competency and performance standards it had developed.

"We were a minority school but we had really high graduation rates and a high percentage of our students went to college. We had a tremendous athletic program -- in football, basketball -- and band. We had tremendous community support."

In 1984 Gov. George Nigh appointed him to a six-year term on the State School Board, the first African-American to serve on the board.

Scales was principal of Tulsa McLain High School from 1985 to 1990. He was an area superintendent for Tulsa schools for four years, meanwhile completing his doctoral degree at the University of Tulsa in 1991.

He was superintendent of the College Station (Texas) School District and deputy secretary for the Dallas Independent School District before becoming superintendent of Hamilton County Schools in Chatanooga, Tenn., in 2006.

Hamilton County, with 40,500 students, has a number of magnet schools, including two Paideia schools and science and technology, arts and museum magnets. More are about to be added. Some are dedicated magnets built around a theme, such as the arts, that require students to apply for admission and possibly audition to get in. Others are called zone magnets that focus more on such areas as math or science. They are open to all students living in that "zone," but accept students who apply from other areas of the county.

The schools consistently receive national honors and rankings.

Scales said the whole concept of school needs to change, in many instances.

"It's not just to go to school because you turn 5 and stay until you're 18," he said. "Schools and students have to be very focused. We have to educate students for life and we have to educate them for the work force.

"What do you gain by going to school for 'X' number of years? When you get out, what can you do? We'll need very skilled workers, workers who can change career paths seven or eight times. We have to embrace the notion we have to graduate kids with a skill set. And they have to be flexible in their pursuit of careers. We have to be engaged in continuous learning."

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