I arrived at Santa Anna’s football field before anyone had taken the field. I took the opportunity to sit at the end of the field on the pad where the high jump mats take up residence during track. It was a beautiful evening. A slight breeze was blowing and the temperature was in the high 80’s. Before long the padless Blackwell hornets jogged onto the field to begin warm ups. The Santa Anna Mountaineers would soon join them.
The cheerleaders sat up the stereo system and planted the Mountaineer flag beside the bell. I was able to get a really cool picture of the flag with the sun setting in the background. Sometimes it’s the little things that make my trip to various towns really cool.
As I was taking pictures around the field, I spied Coach Tom McVey walking across the field. He was flexing. I can only assume he wanted me to take a picture, but I wasn’t ready and totally missed the moment. Later he gave me a hug and welcomed me to Santa Anna. We had a really good conversation about a variety of subjects. I did notice that the football field grass was in excellent condition and rivaled that of the field in Sands. We also talked about how some seasons are “down” seasons and are largely character building. I could tell he really cares about his players.
Just prior to game start, I found Coach Lowry. I had been hearing he had a young but good Hornet team. Coach admitted he had mostly underclassmen on defense but his offense was made of some good seniors. He was very complimentary of his players and thought their play would take them pretty far this year. I wished him luck and went to find my spot on the sideline.
While the score was somewhat lopsided, I saw a Mountaineer team that kept fighting and never gave up. You just can’t teach that. The Hornets were pretty solid on both sides of the ball. Santa Anna was a great place to visit. Another Friday night under the lights and a long drive home, smiling and jamming to some good tunes.
Observations from my time at Santa Anna:
I took the wrong road into Ackerly, but found a cool, old gas station. The Sinclair gas station is closed but it was in great condition and as an added bonus, the green dinosaur still sat out front. Under the overhang of the gas station sat an old vehicle in really good condition. I have been to Ackerly many times, but I always turn on the road right beside the school. So glad I took the “wrong” road. And it still got me to the Sands Mustang football field.
I like to arrive early and look around; observe the pre-game activities of the home town. Although I arrived more than an hour and half before game time, the Mustangs flags were already flapping in the wind from the top of the stands and the cooker was billowing smoke.
I made my way to the field and found Coach Billy Grumbles. He was watching a few of the mustangs warm up. He welcomed me to Sands and shook my hand. We had a great conversation about the team and the upcoming game. Soon Coach Keith appeared. I thanked him for doing such a creative and fun Coach Spotlight interview. You could tell they had fun with it! He welcomed me to Sands with a big smile!
Soon after I found Coach Toby Goodwin in the middle of the field. I had not seen him since week 1 at the Gridiron Classic. He smiled real big and thanked me for coming. After discussing players and the upcoming game, conversation turned to mutual friends and general small town stuff.
This is what I love about Sixman football and the 1A community. We are all from small towns. If you graduated from a small 1A school, no matter how many years ago, there is a chance that you know many others from small towns. We grow up playing against each other and then come back to our communities or another small community. Our kids then grow up playing with and against each other. And the pattern continues. And what an awesome pattern it is. Others then move in and find the small town life has meaning and join our ranks. This makes for a wonderful community of people who genuinely care about each other. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
I really enjoyed my visit to Sands. The coaches from both teams were welcoming and reminded me why I love small town Texas and 1A schools!
Observations from Ira vs Sands:
I must confess. I’ve wanted to see Balmorhea play all season. When I saw they would play in Klondike, my mind was made up. I would be there. With bells on.
What’s so special about Balmorhea? Let’s start with their head coach, Vance Jones. He’s been in the coaching business for a very long time, but more importantly, I have heard endless stories about his love of the game and especially for his players. I had to meet him.
I finally got that chance last night. It was definitely an honor. I introduced myself and shook his hand. He greeted me with a great big smile and welcomed me like he had known me for a long time. We talked about the Balmorhea area, the weather, and finally about the Balmorhea Bears. The pride in his voice and the look in his eyes when he looked over at his players proved all the stories were true.
He also has an underlying level of grit. As we were talking about last week’s game against Garden City, he said that when the Bears let the Bearkats in the game, he told them, “If you think you’re so good, then go out there and prove it.” The bears responded and did just that.
By the time we finished our conversation, I wanted to hug him. Maybe that’s a female thing, but he’s just the type of person that makes you feel happy when you talk to him.
I was pretty focused on Balmorhea, but have been watching the Klondike Cougars scores since August. They seemed to be doing some pretty good things on the field. I went in search of their coach. Dalton DeGraffenreid landed the Klondike position just this year. He’s a young guy with a lot of energy. He grabbed my hand and welcomed me to Klondike. He was very personable! He had good things to say about his players and the future of the program. I enjoyed our conversation and wished him luck.
I came away from the game feeling grateful for having met Coach Jones, the legend, and feeling very optimistic about the Cougar’s future with Coach DeGraffenreid. I also left with a ringing sound in my ears from the extremely loud Balmorhea horn!
Some observations from my trip to Klondike:
Six of One and half a dozen of the other
VAN HETHERLY Staff
SUN 09/01/1985 HOUSTON CHRONICLE,
Section Texas Magazine, Page 5, NO STAR Edition
It was a rotten night for football. The almost-grassless field was soggy after two days of cold rain, and the rain continued to fall on fans filing into the stadium, their shoulders scrunched up close to their red cheeks. They milled about the concession stand or sloshed to their seats and shivered under slickers and umbrellas. One of them said, "It's a great night for ducks," then laughed and laughed and, without a trace of remorse, winked and added, "but not for Jaybirds or Tigers, right?!"
Right, or for people either.
The temperature was in the high 30s. It was pushing 80 in the dressing rooms, where the Jayton Jaybirds and the May Tigers were agonizing quietly, dreading the extra dimension of pain that the mud and cold portended - but savoring it, too, in the odd way that misery, to be enjoyed to the fullest, must be as nearly absolute as possible.
That seemed true of the spectators as well, particularly here on the raw edge of the West Texas desert where inhabitants develop a kind of frontier pride in the extremes of heat and cold and dust and wind. I mean, we're all in this thing together, aren't we? So if it's gonna rain on us, let it rain HARD . And COLD . It feels that much better when it stops hurting.
The punishing weather added just the right element of macho masochism to the high-school war that was about to be waged last December in McMurray College Stadium in Abilene. This was the six-man football game, between two teams with identical 13-0 records, that would determine the 1984 state championship.
May, near Brownwood, beat Paint Rock (54-8), Cherokee (40-29) and Newcastle (52-6) in the playoffs. May had reached the championship game twice before, losing to Marathon in 1976 and beating Marathon in 1977.
Jayton, midway between Amarillo and Abilene, beat Grady (60-14), Tornillo (68-12), Higgins (60-0) and Marathon (66-30) in the playoffs. The Jaybirds had no previous six-man record, having stepped down just last year from 11-man competition.
May, with a population of 285, suited out 33 worthies. Jayton, with more than twice that many citizens (638), fielded only 19. I can't explain that, but country towns are what six-man football was invented for, places that simply don't grow enough kids to line up full-sized, 11-man teams.
It is fast and furious football. It is offense run amok, wide open, a touchdown tornado that routinely sends scores soaring to ionospheric levels. Consider the 57 touchdowns scored in the 1952 season by six-man football's most famous alum, Jack Pardee. He was playing then for the mighty Christoval Cougars. You know him better as a great linebacker for the Texas Aggies, the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins and as head coach of professional teams, most recently the Houston Gamblers. Where do you think Pardee picked up the run-and-shoot offense? Why, on the playing fields of Christoval, where else?
("There were 16 boys in Christoval High School when Pardee was a senior, and 15 of those played football," writes The Chronicle's Bill McMurray, the state's premiere high-school sports journalist, in his book, Texas High School Football , stocked by major Houston bookstores. Make a note: One of these days we must look up that boy who didn't play football and do a story on how he turned out.)
But except for high scoring and some funny rules (see box on page 6), the ambiance and the trappings of the six-man game are identical to those of its big-brother 11-man version. Both are serious stuff, and both peak weekly into pure Texas-high-school-football-hysteria. It is a madness that takes different forms in different teams and coaches.
Outside the dressing rooms, May coach Ronnie Watkins raninto Jayton coach Phil Mitchell.
"Well, you got 'em ready?" Mitchell said.
"Nah," Watkins fudged, then gestured at the black wet night. "It's the pits, ain't it."
Mitchell agreed, then stepped inside the building where his troops had finished dressing in their black and gold Jaybird uniforms, outfits just as snappy as any pro team's. The odor of Analgesic Balm would have told a blind man that he was in the presence of jocks.
The kids tried to look cool, pretending not to notice a snapping photographer. Some stretched their legs, scrawny compared to their hugely padded shoulders. Others lay still, staring at the ceiling. A jam box bombarded the room with rock music, Twisted Sister screaming Stay Hungry. One black-shirted Jayton warrior raised up to yell fiercely, "Stay hungry! That's exactly what we gonna do!" Then he lay back down and silently nursed the knots in his stomach.
It was a little like Ike with his D-Day troops; you watch the kids and empathize with them, wishing you were one of them and damn glad you aren't, cringing a little when Coach Mitchell decrees it time to go out in the cold for warm-up drills.
They began clapping in unison - CLAP, CLAP, CLAP - psyching themselves into combat frenzy. Mitchell quieted them.
"We started out a little ol' two-bit town nobody ever heard of," the coach said. "Now we're playing for the state championship. Isn't that great?"
"Great! Great!" they shouted, ignited with emotion as white-hot and awesome as that of any tent-revival faithful.
"But it won't be so great if we lose, will it?"
"We don't know HOW to lose! Let's go! Let's gooooooo!"
And they went, yelling, cleats scraping the concrete like chalk on a blackboard, out into the frigid slush.
Over in the gym, the May Tigers were still warm, dry, snug and nervously subdued. They were suited out, sans shoulder pads and shoes, in their green and white uniforms and were running plays on the basketball court, Watkins coaching them right down to the wire - offensive sets, defenses and cues.
"We gotta stop the sweep first rattle out of the box," he said. "Don't let 'em bounce out around you, Randy. We don't wanta give 'em nothin', nothin' cheap."
Some of the boys stopped and stared menacingly at me in the corner taking notes. The coach shifted his chew from one cheek to the other and said, "No, he's not a spy. He's a reporter."
Watkins had decided not to send his kids out for pregame warmups - except for his extra-point kicker, snapper and holder. He said, "We gonna get soaked soon enough as it is." Good strategy? Who knows? If the Tigers win, good strategy. If they don't, bad strategy.
When the kicking bunch came back inside - shake, rattle and roll up in a blanket - someone asked, "Is it cold out there?"
"Naw," one of them lied bravely through trembling teeth, "you don't even notice it."
Another, referring to Jayton's snazzy uniforms, said, "They look like the Saints."
"So what?" a teammate snapped. "We look like the Dolphins."
Watkins looked like every football coach in the world 10 minutes before kickoff: sick. He spoke to his players slowly and quietly.
"You gotta tackle some tonight, hear?"
"This is the one we been working for all year . . . got to take it to 'em . . . gonna remember it all your lives . . . give 110percent, and you'll be the champs . . . "
Then they recited the Lord's Prayer.
"GET MAD!" a kid hollered, and the herd thundered to battle, Watkins right along with them in his yellow slicker, gray May sweat shirt and black pants that were quickly soaked to the knees.
May won the toss, received and fumbled. Jayton scored first rattle out of the box on a 45-yard run by Trey Ritchey, a little guy (145 pounds) whose running style is berserk waterbug, flitting yon and then, abruptly, hither.
"DA-da-da-da da-DA da-DA" - the Jayton band sent The Aggie War Hymn , Jayton's fight song, blaring across the field. The good ol' boys who run the sidelines at all country high-school games in Texas, boys a year or two graduated, wearing their letter jackets and 10-gallon hats and boots and jeans, unable quite yet to let go of their own glory days, yelling insults and encouragement at the players - those ol' boys were down there whooping it up. So maybe the Jaybirds did right by getting cold and wet first.
But maybe not. May tied the score real soon, big ol' Glenn Pittman (190 pounds) muscling over from 18 yards out. May fans and drill team members rejoiced, but the May band didn't play because there is no May band. Every kid in town must be on the football or drill teams.
So we had a barnburner on our hands, but what else is new in six-man football? Touchdowns are so routine in this game you can miss one by merely glancing at a cute cheerleader. If you don't believe that, well, on the first play after May's kickoff, Jayton scored again on a 62-yard pass, Ricky Martinez to Pat Hamilton. And again, real fast, after a May fumble. Then May scored back, then Jayton scored again, and May scored back, and the count was Jayton 30, May 20, with 28 seconds left in the FIRST quarter. At this rate, the final score would be 120 to 80. But then things slowed way down.
Trey Richey ran beautifully for 60 yards to make one of only two touchdowns scored in the second quarter - it was 44-20 Jayton at halftime.
During the respite, both teams slipped into something more comfortable: fresh, dry uniforms. I call that big time. Back at Lampasas High we were lucky to have a change of uniforms every year. But you must remember that back then we walked 12 miles to school barefoot through the snow, and things like that.
Anyway, both dressing rooms were subdued and business-like during intermission, as they usually are, the coaches talking strategy at the blackboard. On the way back to war, Jayton's elusive Trey Richey outlined the chore ahead: "O.K.," he declared, "20 more minutes of bustin' butt."
And that is what came to pass, but in shocking fashion. Indeed, a truly strange and wondrous thing happened in the third quarter. No one scored. The fourth period was almost as remarkable, May scoring once and Jayton not at all. The game ended with Jayton owning 44 points to May's 28.
Say what? The second half was a defensive battle? In six-man ball? Stranger things have happened, but not lately. Coach Mitchell was, of course, happy; he had outscored Coach Watkins more in the first half than Coach Watkins outscored him in the second half. But he experienced mixed emotions. Now a Jayton Jaybird through and through, nonetheless he himself had worn the green and white of May in 1976 when the Tigers finished second in the state. Even now he knows most of the May players personally because his father-in-law, Grayum Hart, is on the May coaching staff.
"I hated to see those tears rolling down their faces," he said, but quickly and honestly qualified this show of empathy: "Course I'd have hated it a whole lot worse for us to be crying and losing at the end."
Coach Watkins still thinks he had the best team. Both coaches expect to be back in the finals this season. If they are, I see the outcome as a toss-up. Mark my words: It'll be six of one and half a dozen of the other.
The locker room was filled with players at halftime of a playoff game in Haskell, Tx. Coach Wendell Neff prepared himself to motivate his talented young team to come back in the second half. As he pushed the door open, he noticed a young player sitting at the end of the bench staring at the cement floor waiting to take instruction.
In one motion, Coach Neff’s jacket was quickly removed, took flight, and landed squarely on the young player’s head. The player didn’t move a muscle. He listened as the wise coach laid out the plan for the rest of the game. As the buzzer sounded to signal the start of the 2nd half, the player removed the jacket from his head and handed it back to the coach he respected so much asking, “Do you need this, coach?”
Coach Bubba Edwards and his fellow Jaybirds didn’t win that night, but they learned important lessons. Lessons that carried them through the next season to upset Petrolia and make it to the Regional tournament.
Fast forward a few years…
Today at 6:00 in Andrews, Coach Edwards and his #6 Borden County Coyotes take on the #11 Buena Vista Longhorns in a Region 2 Quarterfinal rematch. The Coyotes survived the Longhorns 80-61 in 2016 and made it to the Region 2 tournament.
How will the battle finish this year? You can bet that these two teams will leave it all on the court. Let’s hope Coach Edwards leaves his jacket at home.
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