Miracles happen. Firsts happen. But it’s not often that a miracle becomes a first.
It was a miracle that Mustang graduate James Garner walked and then became the first quarterback at Mustang High School in 1968.
Garner was born in Texas and lived in Pampa for the first couple years of his life.
He was born with his feet backwards and his parents were told he might never walk.
The only thing that would fix his feet was multiple surgeries and many years of braces.
Two doctors in Texas refused to perform the surgeries but recommended a doctor in Oklahoma City. So, Garner’s parents made the trip to Oklahoma City to see Dr. James Charles Amspacher.
Amspacher agreed to perform the surgery but had to wait until he was at least 1 1/2 years old.
“They took me to a couple of doctors, one in Houston and one in Amarillo. They wouldn’t do the surgery due to the fact that I would only have a 50/50 chance to ever walk,” Garner said.
The Garner’s were willing to wait, so when James was 1 ½ years old the family made the trip to Oklahoma City for the procedure.
The procedure required the doctor to stretch Garner’s heel chord (Achilles tendon) and place his feet in shoes with a bar in between the feet. He was required to wear those corrective shoes 24/7 for six months.
Once he turned two Garner was allowed to wear the shoes with the bar only to sleep but would have to wear corrective shoes that were attached to braces until he was 10 years old.
The braces Garner wore, he described as being similar to the braces that Forest Gump wore, were attached to his shoes and went up to his knee.
When Garner turned 10 was when him and his family moved to Mustang.
He had been begging his parents for two or three years to allow him to play sports, but to no success. That was due part to Dr. Amspacher telling his parents that if he was to get hurt playing sports, he would have to be in a wheelchair for what could be the remainder of his life.
After a year of living in Mustang and Garner’s parents listening to him throw a non-stop fit. Garner’s parents allowed him to play baseball.
“I begged and begged and begged to play and believe it or not they gave in and allowed me to play,” Garner said.
So, Garner and his father went to purchase some rubber spikes, typical cleat for baseball players, but with his conditions the cleats hurt Garner’s feet.
The first year of playing Garner wore his tennis shoes with his braces attached and hidden under his jeans, which was the proper attire for baseball teams at the time.
Garner played baseball and basketball for the rest of his school years and it wasn’t until he was 15 or 16 when Amspacher learned about Garner playing sports by reading his name in the newspaper.
In 1970, Garner was part of the Mustang basketball team that held the longest winning streak, of 18-games, in school history until 2015 when Mustang went undefeated winning the state championship.
“Both of them played basketball in high school. So, they weren’t too concerned about me playing basketball,” Garner said.
Mustang had never assembled a football team until Garner was a freshman in high school.
Just like any other sport, it took some persuading to get his parents to allow him to play. His parents were worried about the physical sport leading to a possible life-changing injury.
“Naturally, I wanted to play, and my mother was against it all the way. So, I had to beg her. But my dad finally convinced her to let me play,” Garner said.
In the first two seasons of the program the team only played a combined eight games with a handful of scrimmages.
It wasn’t until Garner’s junior year that the Broncos joined a conference and had a full schedule.
It was a start of a new era for Mustang and Mustang High School and there was a Garner at the forefront of the football team.
Garner led the Broncos from the quarterback position throughout his high school career.
Garner lettered three years in football and basketball and all four years in baseball. Garner also was named the Little All-City Baseball Player of the Year in 1970 by the Oklahoman.
After high school, Garner took up fast-pitch softball, and would be a part of the 1978 world champion team.
Garner was named to the All-World team for that season.
Garner had four boys; Shane, Jeremy, Evan and Jordan, with three of the four graduating from Mustang High School, with the fourth graduating from Norman. All played sports for their respected school.
The oldest three went on to play collegiate sports, while the youngest had enough of sports by the time he graduated.
But Garner used his own story to teach his kids that they can do whatever they set their minds to and not let the fear of injury ever hold you back.
“I told them to go out and play, give it your all and just remember that number one that you can accomplish anything you want to,” Garner said. “I told them not to ever think about getting hurt. Because if you start worrying about getting hurt, you are going to get hurt.”
What started as a miracle, with Garner being able to walk when he was three after doctors told his parents he would never be able to walk, turned out to be a story of perseverance with Garner battling through tough times and becoming the first quarterback at Mustang High School.
“Very few people knew of my surgeries on my feet, not even my close friends knew,” Garner said.
Garner’s high school letter-jacket can be found in the Historical Society Museum.