July 1969: Apollo 11 crew quarantined; controversy erupts over change in Cordova coach

Posted 7/5/19

I'm going to be camping out in the Daily Mountain Eagle's July 1969 bound volume for the next few weeks.This month marks the 50th anniversary of the "one small step for man." In keeping with the …

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July 1969: Apollo 11 crew quarantined; controversy erupts over change in Cordova coach


I'm going to be camping out in the Daily Mountain Eagle's July 1969 bound volume for the next few weeks.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the "one small step for man." In keeping with the spirit of this column, I want to see how this historic event was reported in the Eagle in the weeks leading up to the moon landing and whether we had any local connections to it as well as what local stories were capturing the attention of readers when they weren't stargazing.

The Fourth of July passed relatively quietly in Walker County. The holiday fell on a Friday, giving most a three-day weekend.

For the second year in a row, there were no serious accidents. There were no American flags on display either, which upset the Eagle's editors.

The Eagle ran an editorial several days later chastising merchants for the absence of flags in downtown Jasper. The lone exceptions were City Hall, the courthouse, the post office, Carl Price's and the Eagle.

"Yep, this may be nit-picking, for it was an overdue holiday for most all and maybe this patriotism bit can be overdone, but wouldn't the day have been just a little bit more symbolic if all the businesses — and every one of them own flags — had set out Old Glory on Independence Day?" the editors asked.

In the sports arena, the big news during the first week of July 1969 was that former Cordova High football coach Johnny Grubb may become an assistant coach for his brother, Wayne, who had been named Samford University's youngest head coach in history in late June. 

Wayne Grubb had been Cordova's coach from 1961 to 1965, amassing a 38-8-4 record. He was credited with laying the foundation for the Blue Devil football dynasty.

Johnny Grubb had followed in his brother's footsteps at Cordova but had been fired in early June following an incident in which he allegedly ordered a group of players to return another player to the practice field after he quit. The 15-year-old player's father claimed he had been beaten unconscious and had required stitches in his tongue.

Grubb was charged with assault and battery, but the charges were dismissed by the court for lack of evidence.

Still, the county board of education voted 3-2 in June to transfer him from his coaching position to a teaching job at Dora. The 28-year-old Grubb told the Eagle after the decision was announced that he wasn't sure whether he would stay in coaching.

The fallout from Grubb's firing dominated headlines during the month of June, with local coaches weighing in on whether the incident would make coaches reconsider their tactics (most thought it wouldn't) and 40 protestors descending on the superintendent's office with the vow that Cordova would not have a football program unless Grubb were reinstated.

The Eagle was flooded with letters in support of Grubb that claimed he was ousted for political reasons and out of jealousy of the Cordova athletic program's success. 

On June 30, the same day that the Eagle ran a large article about Wayne Grubb being promoted at Samford University, a smaller article announced that Mississippi native Larry Hancock had signed a one-year contract to become the next head coach at Cordova. He would not stay past the 1969 season.  

Meanwhile, in Houston, the Apollo 11 crew members were in quarantine. 

NASA announced that the social lives of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and their families had been shut down. They could not even go to a movie.

The purpose of the quarantine was to determine if there were life forms on the moon. NASA physicians were taking meticulous notes on the bacteria in the astronauts' bodies, and any new ones that came back with them would be tested as possible lunar life.

On July 3 the crew took part in a two-hour takeoff simulation. The real launch was scheduled for July 16.

Chief astronaut Deke Slayton told a UPI reporter that Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were given the chance to make history largely by happenstance. 

Their participation in the Apollo 11 mission was a given, but the mission itself would not have been a landing mission if the ones before them had experienced significant troubles.

"There's no way you could sit down three years ago or two years ago (when the Apollo 8 crew was named) and say these are the guys that will be the first to set down on the moon. It was about as much luck as anything else," he said.

There is no shortage of books, documentaries and podcasts about the mission to the moon.

The Jasper and Sumiton public libraries have copies of "American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race," a new book from Douglas Brinkley.

The library also has the 1974 autobiography of Collins and "Neil Armstrong: a Life of Flight," by Jay Barbree, the NBC correspondent who covered every manned space mission.

For children, there is "Go for the Moon: A Rocket Boy and the First Moon Landing," a new title by Chris Gall.

Alabama Public Television viewers can catch "Chasing the Moon," a six-hour "American Experience" special, this Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night.

CNN also has a new documentary called "Apollo 11" that will be shown at Sanders Aviation at 8 p.m. on July 20, the official 50th anniversary. 

For my fellow podcast fans, BBC World Service is in the middle of "13 Minutes to the Moon," described as "the full story of the people who made Apollo 11 happen and prevented it from going badly wrong." Apparently, a lot happened in those final 13 minutes before landing on the moon, and each episode picks apart those problems and provides background on the various players.

Later this summer, the Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham, whose previous efforts were "Presidential" and "Constitutional," will present "Moonrise." The teaser suggests that it will tell a much darker tale about why we really went to the moon.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.