By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — This is the way it works.
Lester “Bear” Jensen is headed into another hall of fame. You may know him or you may not, but it’s notable because he grew up in Norman and lives in Norman now.
Eighty-seven years old and still married to Hazel going on 65 years, Jensen has lived quite a life, one charted by various enshrinements.
He’s in the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame for coaching stops at Davis, Pauls Valley and Claremore. He’s in the East Central University Hall of Fame for his athletic exploits between the lines. And the weekend of Feb. 15-16 he’ll enter Cameron University’s Athletic Hall of Fame for his work as a coach and administrator.
But you should know him because he’s seen it all, done it all and remembers it like it was yesterday. Because his enshrinement into one more hall of fame may not be a huge story, the opportunity to catch up with him is huge indeed.
Where’d “Bear” come from?
It was 1938 or 39 and the newspaper he’d been selling, The Oklahoma News was no longer in business, so he and his younger brothers, Bill and Harvey, approached B.M. Shields, who ran The Oklahoman and Times office in Norman. Shields gave them jobs and monikers, too.
“You’re going to be the three bears,” Shields told Jensen.
Maybe it stuck because he was the oldest. Whatever, it stuck so well that earlier this week, phoned for an interview and asked upon answering, “Is this Lester?,” it took him a moment to realize it was.
He graduated from Norman High in 1945, where he played for Arlo “Skivey” Davis. Though state titles were not recognized until 1944, Jensen remembers being ranked No. 1 in 1943.
“We lost one game, to the Amarillo Golden Sandies,” he said. “We used to play them every year.”
What he remembers most about that game was there being 25 Tigers and 75 Sandies, a number committed to memory because he counted them.
“They were the only high school in Amarillo at the time,” Jensen said.
He remembers his senior year well, mostly because so many players got hurt, including star running back Bill Remy, whose bloodline would eventually fill Norman pitches with some of the nation’s best female soccer talent.
“He was a fine football player,” Jensen said.
A star on the grid and the diamond, Jensen was part of NHS’ state-champion 1945 basketball team, too. Though, he’s not too proud to admit, he came off the bench on the hardwood.
He went to Oklahoma to play football for Dewey “Snorter” Luster, because, apparently, every football coach back then had a nickname.
He was an All-Big Six pick as a freshman (and you can look it up in the Sooner football media guide), but chose to exit for East Central, in Ada, when Luster departed following the 1945 season to make way for Jim Tatum.
The story there revolved around Frank Crider, who had an NHS stop on his resumé, but had become a veteran assistant at OU under Luster. Crider decided to take the head coaching job at ECU when Tatum replaced Luster and Jensen decided it would be a good idea to join him.
After starring at ECU, Jensen stayed as an assistant coach before taking the football reins at Davis High School. His 1951 team tied the state title game with Thomas, but lost on “penetrations,” a penetration being entry inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the Red Zone before it had a name.
He spent two seasons at Pauls Valley before taking over Claremore’s football program, where he won only two games his first season, 1954, before going on to post a 74-25-4 mark over 10 seasons.
Next stop, Cameron, in Lawton, where Jensen became head football coach and athletic director in 1964. He led the football program for 10 seasons and went 60-35-4. His first bunch of Aggies finished the season ranked No. 1 and won an invitation to the Junior Rose Bowl played inside the actual Rose Bowl, in Pasadena.
As AD, a position held until 1981, he oversaw Cameron’s transition from a two-year school to a four-year school, and when the Aggies needed a baseball coach in 1975, Jensen took that job, too. Expecting to be in the dugout a season or two, he stayed until 1984.
Talking to him about it all, and other stuff, is a pleasure.
Looking back, he thinks he had the most fun coaching high school football. At home in Norman, if there’s a game on, he’s watching, even though that means having to put up with so many spread offenses.
“I don’t like it, personally. We played the other way,” he said. “The split-T formation, the I-formation and things like that. It was run, run, run and now it’s pass, pass, pass. I’ve always thought if I could get rid of the passing game, I would.”
He still drives, and frequently that means morning coffee at McDonald’s on Tecumseh, near the newest Norman Regional Hospital campus and evening coffee at McDonald’s on Lindsey.
Often the subject among Jensen’s crew is politics where, as a man who remembers when it was hard to find a Republican in Cleveland County and now regrets the fact that it’s often hard to find anything but them, he’s often outnumbered.
Not that it bothers him.
“I’ve never lost an argument yet,” Jensen said, “but I’ve had some of them prolonged.”
Though his wife will leave the room to watch “Dancing with the Stars,” while he refuses to turn it away from football, he readily accepts that Hazel knows her stuff.
“She’s watched so many football games,” he said, “she knows as much about football as I do.”
Though he made his name as the winningest football coach in one high school’s history and one university’s history and, as an administrator, built facilities that remain busy and well-used today, he came back to his hometown in 1986, 40 years after he left it.
“I think Norman’s a great town,” Jensen said. “It’s not quite like it was, but it’s a good town.”
Track him down and you’ll find a good story to go with it.
Follow me @clayhorning
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