SI Vault
Carlton Stowers
November 01, 1971
Nothing is bigger in small Texas towns than high school football, and Brownwood is the biggest little town of all
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November 01, 1971

A Pride Of Lions In Cattle Country

Nothing is bigger in small Texas towns than high school football, and Brownwood is the biggest little town of all

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It's the last stop before you plunge headlong into cattle country, a Sinclair Lewis-type community with street after street of modest white frame houses shaded by ancient pecan and walnut trees.

Brownwood, Texas, with its tall church spires and Rebekah Lodge rummage sales and monthly 'rasslin' matches and a small college campus which has known neither violence nor nationwide notoriety, is but 16 miles removed from the geographical center of the state of Texas. There is a recently completed school for wayward girls, a Holiday Inn and, for those in search of night life, the Pizza Hut or Chisholm's Restaurant or one of the 7-11 Stores, where you can pick up a six-pack, or the lone downtown movie house, which the city's self-appointed morality guardians recently took legal action against to prevent the showing of the Academy Award-winning film Midnight Cowboy.

Which is to say it is not unlike other Texas towns whose population is listed in the neighborhood of 17,000. God, country and motherhood are alive and well in Brownwood just as surely as the channel and bluecat bite early in the mornings down on the Pecan Bayou.

Also alive and very well indeed is high school football. The Brownwood High School Lions are the reigning Class AAA champions: 7,000 fans often jam themselves into 5,800-seat Lions Stadium on autumn Friday nights; half the town tries to book passage on the chartered bus that bank cashier Steve Morelock drives to such destinations as Temple or Burkburnett or Weatherford. Curfew at the Golden Age Rest Home is disregarded when Ken Schulze, radio station KBWD's Voice of the Lions, is doing the play by play. Downtown merchants decorate their windows in maroon and white and display their latest stock alongside a glossy photo or two of the town's teenage heroes, and if one sees a car which doesn't bear a bumper sticker proclaiming its driver a Lion Booster, the vehicle just has to be from out of town.

Texans still spend untold man-hours a year arguing whether Doak Walker or Warren McVea was the best broken-field runner in schoolboy history. High school football doesn't merely arrive in the Lone Star state each September. Rather, it explodes, from the barren cold of the Panhandle to the piney woods of East Texas to the muggy heat of the Gulf coast. It is not a phenomenon to be taken lightly. To wit: They still talk about the father of a standout halfback who repeatedly insisted to a Breckenridge oil company that he did not want to move to that West Texas community just so his son could play for the Buckaroos. Returning from a weekend trip, he found that his farmhouse had been lifted from its foundation and taken 50 miles down the road to Breckenridge. If he wished to move it back, he was told, it was O.K., but it would have to be done at his own expense. Thus his son became a member in good standing of one of the legendary Buckaroo teams.

Another indication of the devotion with which Texans pursue their schoolboy mini-wars is the fact that both the Associated Press and United Press International release weekly high school Top Tens that are read with even more interest than those that rank the top colleges.

Tradition has demanded that teams should rise from the Texas schoolboy ranks to become dominant powers. They are variously known as The Greatest Team Ever, The Team Nobody Can Beat, etc. and have gone to battle clad in every color of the rainbow. In the '20s Waco ruled, winning 73 of 75 games in a six-year period and defeating Latin Cathedral of Cleveland for the mythical national prep championship of 1927.

Amarillo was the next super team, with state championships in '34, '35 and '36, and after them tiny Hull-Daisetta, one of the numerous rural consolidated schools, went 43 games without a defeat. The Wichita Fallses had their day, and oil-rich Breckenridge won four state championships in eight years. Abilene High stepped into the spotlight in the mid-'50s and established a national winning streak record of 49 in a row, an achievement that earned its coach, Chuck Moser, a healthy bonus from the booster club and a write-up in TIME magazine. Five years later the same publication was dispatching a writer to little Pflugerville, a school with a male enrollment of 40 that had stretched the national record to 55 straight. The record subsequently passed to such football hotbeds as Massillon, Ohio, but those who worship at the shrine of Texas high school football will quickly point out that the only reason such long-term winning streaks have gone out of style is that now virtually all teams in Texas are of high quality, thus eliminating the possibility of a patsy schedule.

The University of Texas Interscholastic League, governing body of high school athletics, goes the NCAA one better and provides a playoff schedule designed to determine the true No. 1 teams in Classes AAAA, AAA, AA and A. Next year there will be a playoff for Class B schools, too. A silver-plated football mounted on a walnut base is the Texas schoolboy answer to the Grantland Rice Trophy or the MacArthur Bowl and is earned after 60 minutes of supreme effort on some neutral field in what is referred to as the state finals—the 15th game of the year for the two teams that manage to earn the right to play for the championship.

For a span of 40 years Brownwood High School could rarely handle district rivals like Graham and Breckenridge and Vernon, much less level any kind of offensive attack on the remainder of the high school football world. Even in the '20s, when Coach Mack Miller went over to boomtowns like Cisco and Ranger and brought back players to live in rooms rented from sports-minded residents, results rarely reached the .500 mark.

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