McCrabb: Middletown classmates trying to honor star athlete despite tragic ending

Richard White’s friends and classmates know there’s no way to erase his questionable past.

They’re more interested in rewriting the way he’s “remembered” nearly 60 years later.

White, called “one of the most gifted student-athletes” in Middletown’s storied history, isn’t a member of the school’s or Butler County’s sports halls of fame. You’re inducted on your production, not potential.

When White was a junior at Middletown High School in 1956, he was a highly regarded safety on the football team and sprinter on the track team, running the 100-yard dash in 9.9 seconds.

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But that same year, while sitting in study hall, White allegedly tossed a dictionary out of a third-floor window of MHS on Girard Avenue. Bob Hart, one of White’s closest classmates, said White was innocent and he took the fall for a female student.

White and his father met with school officials who informed him he could return to high school after his two-week suspension, but his punishment was being kicked off the football and track teams.

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“Going back to school made no sense to him,” said Hart, 79, a 1957 MHS graduate.

So White withdrew from school, joined the U.S. Air Force, served four years, completed his high school graduation requirements, played football and returned home in hopes of enrolling at Miami University and playing for the then-Redskins.

Hart played football at Miami, and one day Coach John Pont asked if he knew a kid named Richard White. Sure, Hart said. They were buddies back in high school. Pont told Hart that White was going to be Miami’s starting safety. Pont assigned Hart the duty of showing White around the Oxford campus.

That was the last time Hart saw White.

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He became ill during the summer of 1961 and was treated with radiation at a Cincinnati hospital, Hart said. He never recovered and died on Sept. 20, 1961. He was 23. He’s interned in the Military Section at Woodside Cemetery.

Hart was told by White’s family that he had radiation burns on his chest and his body, once muscular, was “skin and bones” when he died.

Armethia Sims, 73, the last remaining of the 10 White children, said her brother’s death “destroyed us all.”

Because of her brother’s athletic ability and dedication to the military his sister referred to him as “the prince of the family.”

She said her brother loved building and painting wooden airplanes and he constructed a military airfield in the family’s basement.

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“He loved life,” she said from her Michigan home. “He had plans.”

Now, Hart, along with other former Middies, hope to memorialize White for his athletic accomplishments and service to his country. A small group has met once and plans to make a presentation to city and school leaders.

Some of their ideas include a memorial tree with a bronzed plaque and the establishment of a Richard White Memorial Scholarship.

“It’s important for people who knew Richard to understand what happened to him, and for those who come after him to know who Richard White was,” Hart said.

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