Friday, March 13, 2015

TOP STORY >> Crouch roasted in Cabot

Leader staff writer

Retired FBI agent “Snacks,” aka Eugene Crouch, was interrogated at the Cabot Scholar-ship Foundation’s 20th Roast and Toast banquet on Tuesday.

Eugene “Laddie” Crouch was a Cabot Junior High football coach. He was born in Helena and raised in nearby Lexa. He graduated from Barton High School in 1961.

Crouch attended the University of Arkansas on a football scholarship, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education.

He held coaching jobs in Brinkley and El Dorado schools before beginning a 25-year career with the FBI, including time with the bank robbery squad in New York City.

Later in Crouch’s career, he was assigned to Little Rock. He moved to Cabot in 1981.

After retiring from the FBI in 1995, Crouch taught and coached in Cabot schools, retiring in 2003. His support of Cabot’s sports programs continues with his regular attendance each season at most sports competitions.

Gene was married to the former Sue Wood until her death in 2013. Their sons, Lad and Andy, attended Cabot schools, and both were active in Cabot athletics.

Former Arkansas Razorback football coach Ken Hatfield was a teammate with Crouch and lit into him during the roast.

He said Crouch’s high school graduation class had 14 students and 13 of those were on the football team. Crouch was first team quarterback and first team defensive tackle at the same time.

Hatfield asked one of Crouch’s friends if he had dated much in high school.

“His nickname was bedspread — because all the girls turned him down,” Hatfield was told.

Hatfield and Crouch also played together in American Legion baseball one summer.

Crouch told him about a summer job he had with a rancher. Crouch said, “I had a problem the other day. They put this bull out there in the pasture. I looked up there for a day and the bull just sat over there despondent. I went to the vet and told him about it. He gave me some pills, and I gave them to the old bull. Woke up the next morning and that bull was jumping fences and hurling.”

Hatfield asked, “My gosh Laddie, what was in those pills?” and Crouch answered, “I don’t know, but they tasted like peppermints.”

Hatfield also said Crouch could be tight with money.

He asked Crouch’s wife if everything was alright at the house.

She said, “Tight? No, he took me out the other day for coffee and doughnuts — but I never donated blood before.”

Hatfield said Crouch was a man in charge of his house.

“I spent the night one time with him and Sue. I’d gone to bed and heard a little argument in the kitchen. The next morning, I got up and asked Laddie if everything was all right,” Hatfield said.

Crouch told him everything was great. “Oh yeah, I’m the master of my house. Everything always happens to end this way. I always have (Sue) on her hands and knees begging,” he said.

“What did she say,” Hatfield asked. And Sue Crouch scolded, “You better come out from under that bed, you coward.”

Then Hatfield said Crouch always wanted to be a coach. “He is as good as it gets.”

James Handley with the FBI met Crouch while they were teammates playing American Legion baseball. Crouch was a pitcher and Handley was a catcher.

That was in 1959, and they did not see each other again until 20 years later. Crouch went to Arkansas and Handley went to Mississippi State. Unbeknownst to each other, they both worked for the FBI.

Handley said Crouch was involved in one of the most famous bank robbery cases in the history of New York City.

“There was a movie made, ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ starring Al Pacino. It was about a guy who got caught inside a bank during a robbery. The big television camera rolled up. Crouch was very prominently mentioned in this movie,” Handley said.

He suggested looking for Crouch while watching the film.

“Gene was the guy who heroically left cover on several occasions to run to the hot dog stand to get snacks,” Handley joked.

He also remembered reuniting with Crouch in 1979 when they were in Fort Sill, Okla. for regional SWAT team training to repel out of a helicopter.

“I recall a guy from Oklahoma City who, before he gets on the helicopter, excuses himself and leaves. Next time I see him, he is standing in the back of the line. It happens three times. I check him out and get to looking at him. Lo and behold it’s Laddie Crouch. I don’t think he ever got on that helicopter,” Handley said.

Crouch and Handley met again when they were assigned to the Little Rock field office.

“When he and I would work together, if we would stop for gas, Gene would always get two of those great big Snicker bars. He would hand me one and open his up. He knew I could not handle chocolate. I’d take one bite and he’d get to eat the rest of mine along with the one he had,” Handley said.

Handley added that Crouch had always been a true Southern gentleman.

“Gene Crouch always had and always will have my back. I am privileged and honored to have Gene Crouch as my friend,” Handley said.

Cabot High School football coach Mike Malham finished grilling of Crouch.

“You already heard they call him ‘Snacks.’ When he worked at Cabot High School, it didn’t matter if you saw him mid-morning, noon, early afternoon, mid-afternoon or late afternoon. He either had a doughnut, a Snickers or a bag of potato chips in his hand,” Malham said.

Malham said Crouch was supposedly a pretty good athlete. He got a scholarship to play at Arkansas and played with Ken Hatfield.

“When talking with Ken before the banquet started, I asked what makes a good team,” Malham said.

Hatfield replied, “If you can get rid of all the dead weight, you are going to be successful.”

Malham said, “Well, Gene quit the team in ’63 and they won the national championship in ’64. So Gene, Ken wants to thank you for your part in the national championship.”

After retiring from the FBI, Crouch coached the Cabot Junior High football players.

“He was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had at the junior high. I tried coaching seventh and eighth graders for one day and I gave up. Those guys don’t listen to what you say. Gene had the most patience of any coach I’ve ever seen. Kids loved him and started calling him Grandpa,” Malham said.

“When Gene had to quit, we lost a real good coach. He had to help his late wife, Sue, with her health over the past 10 years. You have to have a heart of gold to do that.”

Gene Crouch said, “I am honored, humbled and blessed to be a part of this year’s recognition of the high school scholarship recipients. It is one of the great honors of my life.”

He then fired back at the roasters. “Ken Hatfield is a scratch golfer. Anytime he hits the ball, he scratches his head and wonders where it went,” Crouch joked.

He also told a story about Malham. “A couple of years ago, Coach Malham was preparing for a big game against Jacksonville. He went to his church, which is in Jacksonville, to pray and light a candle before the game.

“Inside the church, he looked up and noticed Jacksonville’s star quarterback lighting a candle a few feet away. Soon after he got up and left, Coach Malham walked over and blew out that candle,” Crouch said.

Crouch is a member of Cabot United Methodist Church and the Rolling Hills Golf Association. He was a Cabot Rotarian for many years, being honored as Rotarian of the Year for 2008-09.