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Weekly 150: Swat Scarbrough (Part 1)

From the Ballfield to the Haberdashery

Posted 7/14/20

Growing up in McKenzie, I learned the names of many of the city leaders from years past. One name that stands out in this distinguished group is H.B. “Swat” Scarbrough. Through research …

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Weekly 150: Swat Scarbrough (Part 1)

From the Ballfield to the Haberdashery

Posted

Growing up in McKenzie, I learned the names of many of the city leaders from years past. One name that stands out in this distinguished group is H.B. “Swat” Scarbrough. Through research and conversations, I found the story of the former sheriff and mayor very intriguing.

From a boy playing pick up games with his friends to serving as team captain at Bethel College, a draftee of the St. Louis Cardinals, a draftee of Uncle Sam’s, to the county sheriff and later city mayor, the story of Swat Scarbrough is no short undertaking. As a multi-part series, I will do my best to honor one of McKenzie’s finest.

Hughlon Brown “Swat” Scarbrough was born in 1914 in the little town of Pillowville, Tennessee. When he was two years old, his father, Samuel Page, and mother, Lenora Belle Montgomery moved the family to McKenzie.

Around first-grade, Swat picked up his moniker from a ballcap given to him by his father embroidered with words “King Swat.” He lived up to the nickname as he became the king of swat for his ability with a baseball bat. Growing up, he played on various vacant lots and cow pastures with the likes of Kermit Holland and Joe McClure.

The so-called “street teams” prepared Swat for high school ball. After graduating from McKenzie High School in 1931, he entered Bethel College. He lettered four years for football playing quarterback and half-back and was a senior captain. In basketball, he was a three-year letterman, but his true passion was baseball. There he lettered three years and served as team captain.

During his tenure at Bethel College, the 1932 and 1933 football team won the Mississippi Valley Conference Champions. The baseball team took home the conference championship in 1932, 1933 and 1934. In his three seasons, his batting average was over 400 and 450 his senior year. With one semester to go before graduation, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934.

Following Christmas break, Swat reported to the Cardinals instead of returning to Bethel.

“Frankie Frisch was manager of the Cardinals then,” said Swat in an interview later in life. “He had all us young boys in the outfield one day to throw as hard as we could.” Swat must have rubbed his shoulder one too many times and was ordered to have x-rays the next morning.

Frisch asked him when he broke his collarbone. After not running as fast as the manager wanted, Swat was asked why he ran so slow.

“Hell, I hit ‘em so far, I don’t have to run fast.” It wasn’t the right answer, and he found himself having another round of x-rays. This round of photos showed he had fractured his ankle years prior.

“And then my old knee started acting up, and I could not play big league ball with the ailments I had.” He was sent out to the smaller “Kitty League” (Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League). The minor league organization ran from 1903 to 1955. The low pay forced Swat to call it a career and come home to McKenzie.

“I enjoyed some of it. I played for Paducah, Kentucky, but there just wasn’t enough money in it to fool with so I came home.”

Back in McKenzie, Swat soon met the love of his life, Margaret Carter of Huntingdon. About finding a wife from Huntingdon, Swat once said, “Back then the McKenzie boys would go to Huntingdon and the Huntingdon boys would come over here. We courted for a long time.”

Swat and Margaret were married on May 1, 1938, when he was 24 and she was 21. Margaret taught school at Oak Hill before starting her own kindergarten. Swat began working for the police department, mainly working the night shift.

Supplementing his income, he worked for his father at the Moore and Burns Dry Goods Store. Samuel had purchased a portion of the store after ownership began to experience some financial struggles. His father purchased one-third of the store, Martha Bomar had a third, and third was bought for Swat.

After nearly five-and-a-half years of marriage, Swat was drafted into World War II. In January 1944, he boarded a train leaving behind his wife and young son, Hughlon, Jr.

He was based at the Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii as part of an ordnance team whose job it was to furnish what he called the “fighting equipment.”

Raising to the rank of Staff Sergeant, he was discharged after two years. He said about his time, “You see things you’ll never forget.”

While abroad, he received a letter from his father informing him they no longer operated the Burns and Moore Dry Goods Store. Swat noted, “I got a letter from my dad saying he was going to have to quit because he was too old. While I was in the jungle he sold it. It suited me; I knew he was getting old and couldn’t handle the store.”

Upon his return stateside in 1946, Hugh and his father opened a men’s store, S.P. Scarbrough and Son. Later, he parlayed his earnings purchasing the City Market grocery.

The 1968 purchase of City Market was just him “prospecting.” In an interview from 1973, Swat said, “I went into the market one day and the old man said he wanted to sell it. So I decided to buy it. I was just prospecting.”

With years of police experience, Swat decided to run for Carroll County Sheriff. Next week, the story will continue from Swat’s run for sheriff and his time as McKenzie’s mayor.

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