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We are in New York preparing for the Kickoff Classic and enjoying the sights. Good luck in your first game. Looking forward to watching you play later this season....
Most people who met Boobie agreed that he was one of those kids for whom the game of football had become as indispensable as a part of the body. Taking it away from him would have been like amputating a leg. Some in town wondered what might happen to him if he had to stop playing. They saw something dangerous in this, because Boobie's role as a black star in a white-dominated town was a precarious one.
Blacks made up roughly 5% of Odessa's population of 100,000. It was only in 1982, after a bitter fight in federal court, that the schools in Odessa had been truly desegregated. Before then, 85% of the blacks in the county who attended high school had gone to Ector High in the Southside. The school was closed as a means of achieving desegregation, and its students were distributed between the town's remaining two high schools, Odessa and Permian.
Most whites had never had much use for Ector. The less heard about the Southside the better. "I think the [white] community perceived it as a minority place, a place they wouldn't travel into," said Jim Moore, Ector's last principal. But with Ector's closing, whites suddenly began to see enormous value in some of the school's black students. It had nothing to do with their academic potential. It had everything to do with football potential.
There was remarkable interest in which school, Permian or Odessa, would get the greater number of black students, and thereby the greater number of black football players. In the end, the curious zigs and zags of the boundary line between the two school districts gave Permian a clear edge over Odessa High.
"It was gerrymandering over football," said Vickie Gomez, who was a member of the county school board when the line was drawn. "Whatever [the school board] did, they did not want to hurt the dynasty that was being established at Permian. I think it clouded their vision. We spent more time talking about the athletic program than the curriculum."
As a result of this desegregation, football became the one arena in town where blacks could be sure to gain acceptance. "We don't have to deal with blacks here," said Lanita Akins, a devout Permian fan who was active in county Democratic party politics. "We don't have any contact with them, except on the Permian football team. It's the only place in Odessa where people interact at all with blacks."
"We know that we're separate until we get on the field," said Nate Hearne, the only black among the 11 men who coached football at Permian. "We know that we're equal as athletes. But once we get off the field we're not equal."
It was because of this that some in town worried about Boobie. Others, all of them white, didn't worry about him at all. Without the ability to run with a football, they gleefully suggested, Boobie might as well get a broom and start preparing for his other destiny in life—sweeping the corners of storerooms.
"What would Boobie be without football?" echoed a Permian coach when asked the question one day. The answer was obvious, and he responded without the slightest hesitation.