In 2010 Atmore native Don McNeal will be inducted into the Atmore Hall of Fame after a long football career that includes Escambia County High School, the University of Alabama and the Miami Dolphins. But long before the name McNeal became the pride of Atmore another incredible, and sensational, player and man became a legend in Atmore and around the world. Arthur “Tarzan” White was inducted into the Atmore Hall of Fame in 2006.
Last Thursday, September 29, White’s son Butch was at the Atmore Public Library, visiting the Hall of Fame display there and looking over memorabilia about his dad’s life. Tarzan White was larger than life. According to Butch, some of the stories about Tarzan’s accomplishments should be taken with a grain of salt.
Tarzan White, a native of Atmore who got his nickname from swinging on vines over creeks in the area, began his long career at ECHS in the days when Atmore’s mascot was still the Tiger. He weighed in at an incredible five-foot-eight and 213 pounds at only 13 years old and began adding fuel to the fire of his legend by scoring all 40 Atmore points during his first game with the Tigers.
Only a few years later Tarzan was making a name for himself at the University of Alabama playing on the 1934 national championship team along side a man named Paul Bryant. His accomplishments at Alabama include being named to Alabama’s All-Time Team and the Southeastern Conference’s All-Time Team. While at the Capstone, Tarzan was also a member of Phi Delta Kappa, an honor given for outstanding grades.
After college Tarzan was a first round draft pick for the New York Giants where he won a world championship in 1938. He continued playing football professionally for six years and was a member of the Chicago Cardinals and of the first “Pro Bowl” team.
Mixed in with his football career was a stellar professional wrestling stint that Tarzan continued between football seasons. He continued to wrestle until the age of 60 and won three heavyweight wrestling titles.
In addition to his illustrious career in sports Tarzan spent time as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Later in life, he spent time coaching high school football and began the first football team in Menlo, Georgia, where three years later, his team won a state championship title.
Today the legend of Tarzan White runs deep and is full of super-human feats that could be believed only of a man as talented and over-the-top as Tarzan was known for being.
Butch said his father was an incredible man. So much so that it can be hard even for him to separate fact from fiction.
In the Atmore Public Library’s Atmore Hall of Fame section, Tarzan is said to have attended Columbia University where he received a degree in Spanish. Although Tarzan’s time at Columbia is mentioned in several reputable biographies of the man, Butch said he believes this to be only lore.
“There’s no truth to that,” Butch said chuckling. “He did speak Spanish very well but as far as I know he never stepped foot onto the campus at Columbia.”
Butch said his father’s astounding legend comes partly from his dad’s tendency to go overboard and partly because of the myths that come along with the outstanding accomplishments he achieved.
“Dad liked to tell stories from his past and sometimes he would exaggerate,” Butch said. “But then again you never did know with him.”
In 1978 Tarzan was acknowledged for his part on the 1938 world championship New York Giants team. The University of Alabama has since honored him for his part on the 1934 Rose Bowl team and in 1981, he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
With these accomplishments the legends and stories about the man people called Tarzan have only grown. Butch said he has been amazed by some of the questions he has been asked over the years concerning his famous father.
“People have asked me if he really dove off of the house head first every morning just to stay in shape,” Butch said. “It is amazing what people will believe. But Dad did things, like he would work outside in the winter wearing only his wrestling shorts. No shoes and no socks.”
Regardless of where the truth falls as it relates to the many outrageous stories about Tarzan White, one thing is without a doubt complete fact. The man from Atmore, Alabama, who conquered the sports world and left a lasting impression on everyone he met possessed talents of mythological proportions and a drive to succeed that matched them.
Arthur “Tarzan” White passed away in 1996 and was laid to rest in a cemetery near Gadsden, Alabama.
Butch White resides in Montgomery.
Butch White, son of Atmore native Arthur “Tarzan” White, looks through a scrap book about his father at the Atmore Public Library