He was born “Clarence Arnold Thompson,” but for twenty-two years Poly High School students knew him as “Mr. T.”
When he became principal at Poly in 1943 at age forty-seven Mr. T was a fatherly figure in the halls.
By the time he retired in 1965 at age sixty-nine he had become a grandfatherly figure in the halls. And despite Mr. T’s wide, disarming grin, he took no sass from his “one percenters”—those few troublemakers that every student body has. (Photo from the 1965 Poly Parrot yearbook.)
Mr. T was born in rural Tarrant County near Mansfield in 1896 to Herman and Anna Thompson. Herman was a farmer.
After the war Mr. T earned his bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University and taught in Midlothian, Eliasville (Young County), and Olney. In 1925 he joined Fort Worth public schools.
By 1926 Mr. T was at North Fort Worth High School, teaching history. He was thirty years old. This page is from the 1926 Lasso yearbook.
In 1926 Mr. T also was the boys track coach.
By 1929 Mr. T was teaching science at North Side High. This page is from the 1929 Lasso. Notice that Mr. T’s hairline was already receding. I’m relieved to find that we Poly students didn’t cause Mr. T to lose his hair. Clearly the blame lies with those North Side one percenters.
Fast-forward to 1933. That year was a big one for Mr. T. He received his master’s degree from the University of Texas with a thesis entitled “Some Factors Contributing to the Growth of Fort Worth,” and his first son, Tommy, was born.
Mr. T and Mrs. T (wife Ruth) raised two men of letters. The older son, Tommy Thompson, wrote Blood and Money, Serpentine, and Celebrity. Tommy died in 1982. Younger son Larry is a lawyer and author of such legal thrillers as The Trial.
In 1940 Mr. T was still a teacher.
But fast-forward to 1943. Mr. T became principal of Poly High. These images from the 1946 Parrot show a school building that was only eight years old.
Fast-forward to 1955. These images are from the 1955 Parrot.
Say it ain’t so, Mr. T! The Thompsons lived at 1841 Hillcrest on the West Side—smack dab in Arlington Heights High School territory.
After the war, rivalry between Fort Worth schools began to seep from playing fields onto parking lots. Students formed the All-School Better Relations Organization to eliminate “vandalism” and “rowdiness” at athletic events. Mr. T and Paschal High School principal O. D. Wyatt were sponsors of the BRO. Rowdiness was curtailed, and the BRO was disbanded in 1949. Mission accomplished.
Or not. In 1956 students and ex-students from Poly High and Paschal High “brawled” after a Poly High-North Dallas High basketball game in the Fort Worth public schools fieldhouse next to Farrington Field.
The Star-Telegram wrote: “Witnesses said the tangle was touched off when a Poly graduate student suddenly slugged Cullum Greene Jr., a Paschal student, as he was leaving the gym.”
The Press wrote that some Paschal students and ex-students had been in the stands cheering for North Dallas High.
The Press wrote: “Cullum Greene Jr., a Paschal student, said he was with a group of youths who chanted ‘Poor Poly.’ ‘A fellow came up and slapped me two or three times,’ he said. ‘A boy with me swung on him. Then a bunch of Poly students and Paschal students jumped in. I left. I didn’t want to get into a fight.’”
Other teens were less reluctant. A brawl broke out. Poly’s Mr. T later said that five hundred students were present but that 475 were “doing nothing but watching.”
Nonetheless, nineteen police cars and one sheriff’s car responded. One officer was trampled, and the roof of one spectator’s car was dented.
Police used a loud speaker to address the teenagers and convince them to disperse.
The Star-Telegram reported that “several students” were hospitalized.
The Star-Telegram wrote: “Police kept a close check on two drive-ins on the south and east sides [Carlson’s and the Clover?] after the free-for-all. Both places are favorite hang-outs for the two schools.”
Police also kept an eye on a Lone Star drive-in restaurant in the 6500 block of Camp Bowie Boulevard, where two hundred “milling” teenagers gathered but remained peaceful.
Teenagers also barricaded the 4700 block of East Lancaster Avenue, stopped traffic, and set off road flares. (Another Lone Star drive-in restaurant was located at 4700 East Lancaster.)
Meanwhile Paschal coach Charlie Turner told two hundred boys gathered at “a South Side drive-in” (Carlson’s?) to disperse. Nonetheless a fight broke out, and seven students were arrested.
The next day, after the dust and Clearasil had settled, principals Thompson and Wyatt each appointed eight boys from his respective school to attend a “peace meal” to “break bread” (not heads) and try to improve Poly-Paschal relations.
The two principals also discussed reviving their 1946 All-School Better Relations Organization. And in a scene that seems right out of Happy Days, Mr. T and Wyatt announced that they planned to discuss the problem while fishing together.
In fact, in 1957 Mr. T and O. D. Wyatt met again, this time with athletic director Herman Clark (as in the FWISD stadium on Wichita Boulevard), after students from the two schools engaged in “an egg-tossing incident” during a basketball game in which forty-three fouls were called, followed by “a gang fight outside the gym.” Night baseball between the two schools was suspended for a semester.
Fast-forward to 1958. Another year, another round of rowdiness. After “a number of fights during and after the Paschal-Poly game,” Wyatt and Mr. T were again among Fort Worth educators discussing ways to prevent after-game violence among students. Wyatt raised the possibility of suspending the teams of schools whose students were “involved in gang fights.” Mr. T suggested segregating students of opposing teams on opposite sides of the stadium. To which Wyatt said that segregated students would simply unsegregate later at drive-in restaurants. (Poly students took up a collection to help defray the medical expenses of Charles Grisham.)
In December 1958 Mr. T lent his support to a group of Poly students who organized to control juvenile delinquency shortly after the November Poly-Paschal “gang fight.”
But Mr. T witnessed plenty of good sportsmanship, too. His “Remember who you are and where you’re from” was invoked in 1964 when Poly High won the Fort Worth Jaycees’ Sportsmanship Award for the second year in a row.
The year 1965 was the first year at Poly High for my class of 1967 and the last year at Poly High for Mr. T. After forty-six years as an educator, he retired.
Star-Telegram entertainment columnist Elston Brooks reported that Mr. and Mrs. T had started Mr. T’s retirement by sailing to Jamaica to meet son Tommy.
This monument erected by Poly Alumni Association on the lawn of the school includes Mr. T’s words of advice. (Photo courtesy of Don Peacock.)
Clarence Arnold Thompson died on December 8, 1982 just five weeks after son Tommy died. Mrs. T died the next year.
But Mr. T attended the 2012 Poly High centennial reunion if only in spirit.
Mr. T and Mrs. T are buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Postscript: Mr. T’s son Larry spoke at Poly High’s centennial celebration in 2012:
Below are two video clips.
“Remember Who You Are . . .”: