Freedom Isn’t Free

Don Matthews - 1It was just another day at the Barrel Drive, until we met Don Matthews, a WWII Veteran, who found great pleasure in singing along as we played.  The state games were re-branded as the Liberty Games, and we are indebted to everyone that has served, is serving, and those that will serve to keep us FREE and afford us the endless Liberties we enjoy today, of which being able to contest each of the ES Sports events, in particular the Liberty Games, is a result!  As a show of Respect, and in Honor, of what so many have given their lives, or part of their lives for, we believed that there was no better name than the Liberty Games for this event. In fact, to get 2015 off on the right foot, the Empire State Sports Council will offer Liberty Games competitions as FREE to anyone that has served in the Military, or is currently serving in the Military!

Below is a story that Mr. Matthews shared with us in between the pieces we played:

Don Matthews - 2One of the best gifts 88-year-old Don Matthews received as a boy was a gold watch, a prize won for speed, then lost for honor.

”Right now, it’s laying in a field somewhere in Germany,” he laments.

The World War II soldier, having suffered through a grueling 24 hours of bloody battle near the Rhine-Rhone Canal in Germany, had ”written himself off.”  He was exhausted.  His comrades were falling around him and the enemy was relentless.

”I took my watch off, threw it in a field and said, ‘Nobody is gonna take this from my wrist’,” he says.

The decorated veteran made it back to the States safely, but the watch never did.  Matthews regrets tossing the timepiece, but he still has the memories of just how he came to receive the award, meticulously preserved in a scrapbook.

It all began when Matthews, at the age of 15, entered one of the area’s best-loved youth sporting events — the Second Annual Soap Box Derby.

Sponsored by the Times-Union and Don Allen Chevrolet Company, the event drew a crowd of 35,000, according to a story published in the Times-Union.  Matthews, with a laugh, says more like 3,000 to 5,000 actually huddled along Ward’s Lane in Menands.

Matthews crossed the finish line in the final heat in less than 20 seconds, beating nearly 140 other young boys to claim the top prizes — the M.E. Coyle Trophy inscribed with, ”The Greatest Racing Event in the World” and a trip to Akron, Ohio, to compete in the National Soap Box Derby.

The next day, Matthews’ name was splashed along the top of the Times-Union, just above the masthead, something Matthews still can’t get over. A lengthy story spread throughout the newspaper, including a ”pictorial review” of the event.

”Too elated to say anything, Matthews grinned happily when he was presented the big silver Soap Box Champion Trophy by Fred I. Archibald, publisher of the Times-Union,” said the story.

It was an unbelievable experience, recalls Matthews.

”Everybody called me ‘Champ’,” he says. ”I suppose it was better than being called ‘prune head’.”

Several more stories followed, leading up to the national event, held on Aug. 17, 1941. He and his parents were taken to Akron in a Times-Union-sponsored car with a trailer attached for his silver and red streamlined racer. When they arrived in Akron, they were escorted to the stadium where nearly 40,000 spectators anxiously awaited the event.

Matthews, who refers to himself as ”Joe Pack Rat” has plenty of mementos from that day. He didn’t win, but recalls doing well. As a consolation prize, he did receive the watch.

”The best thing they gave me was that gold watch.”

Four (4) years later, at age 18, he was drafted and sent to Europe.

Merry Christmas, Don Matthews, from the Empire State Sports Council, to you and your lovely wife!  It is our hope that both of you get to another 64 Christmas Celebrations together!  Have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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