Sunday, January 22, 2012

First EHHS Football Teams

Pictures used to illustrate this piece have come from old yearbooks and one scan is from a private collection—if you have a HQ scan of one of these teams that could improve the picture quality, please send it in. 

For those of us who played on one or more of these early teams, this story was not at all obvious at the time.  For me, there were elements of participation with these teams that provided both incredible highs and crushing lows, and of course, a range of emotion in between.

Starting in the elementary grades, kids possessing some natural athletic skills began to emerge.  Sand lot baseball games probably identified the early stars…they were the kids picked first for the softball teams each recess period.  There were always a couple of kids in the group that no one wanted because in addition to having no skills, they often showed no interest, either.  These teams were generally made up from within a single class having about 15-20 boys from which to pick…so, the choices were few—the girls played jump rope in another part of the playground back then.  Inevitably 1 or 2 “stars” would emerge from each class.  A few of them were just boisterous kids with no particularly notable talent, but there were also a few genuinely gifted youngsters among them.

At the start of 7th grade Junior High, kids having an interest in playing the game were first exposed to school sponsored contact (tackle) football, pads and all.  Kids already identified as lacking athletic skills didn’t bother trying out for the team, but since each Junior High grade was made up of perhaps 6 or 7 different former elementary school classes, the total potential talent pool had expanded to perhaps 90-140 boys, including among them, perhaps 5 or 6 budding “stars.” 

Of course, there was also a significant number of the middling sort who liked to play and held on to some hope that they would grow and improve to a point where they, too, could win a spot on the team.  Winning a spot on the “team” and ultimately, winning a letter was the end goal.  From the start of the 7th grade, there was a school team that not only competed on behalf of the school, but also served as an example of what was possible even for the middling sort, at least for a year or two.  It was that possibility that kept a number of kids coming out for the team each year, often well beyond the point where they should have “hung them up.”

This 1959 Meadowbrook Junior High team picture below shows all 3 grades, 7-9, together.  I counted about 80 kids and circled those I recall who later became EHHS lettermen.  The green circles are those who lettered with the 1962 Ft. Worth championship team and the white are those I recognize from the 1963 & 1964 EH teams.  Of interest is how few would ultimately survive the culling process to follow at EHHS.  Handley Junior High would add about 1/3 of this number into the process and William James JH would add a few more.

“B” Teams

When we reported to the EHHS football locker room as Sophomores in August 1960, we encountered an entirely new world than the one we knew a year earlier at Meadowbrook Jr. Hi (or Handley, or William James).  For the first time, we saw the 17-year old Seniors and they were really big guys, while we 15-year old Sophomores were still pretty skinny and awfully light in comparison.  To my eyes, all the 1960-61 Seniors were new faces as I had not been at Meadowbrook to see them 2-years earlier, while in the 7th grade.

For us Sophomores, waiting for us was the EHHS “B” Team and Coach Ronnie McBee, a tall, slender, yet solid man, about 30.  He had a deep, resonant voice, a cocky attitude, and was in firm control of about 41 of us.  Almost immediately he divided the 41 “B” Team aspirants into 2 groups and assigned them the team names, Rinky Dinks and Raiders. Generally, the 41 "B" Team youngsters were the Junior High lettermen from Meadowbrook and Handley.  That Junior High letter was the first culling of the future "A" Team varsity Highlanders.

At the time it was obvious that Coach McBee had selected the best players for the Rinky Dink team and the Raiders…well, the Raiders were the scrubs, probably slated to be cut from the following year's "A" Team tryouts.  I’m pretty sure that the “A” Team varsity coaches, Mitcham, Willingham, and Graves, took no part in making that division.  However, in reviewing the pictures with older, adult eyes, I can see that the 18 Rinky Dinks were mostly the starting team players the previous year at the 2 local Junior Highs, Meadowbrook and a couple from William James and a Junior transfer from Waco who, due to residency requirements, was ineligible to play on the "A" Team, Biff Flatt. 

Not obvious at the time was that although ours was the school’s 2nd “B” Team, it was the 1st year the boys were divided into the 2 distinct groups.  The year before, 1959, the very 1st EHHS “B” Team consisted of 42 boys, but they were kept in a single group.  Recalling Coach McBee’s persona, it is likely that during the first year he determined that he no longer wanted to fool around with scrub players, knowing that essentially none of them were destined to play a significant part on an EHHS varsity.  The second cut had been made. 

Supporting that approach was another not so obvious fact…no more than about 20 boys from each class ever became “A” Team players on those early EHHS varsity football teams.  And perhaps only about half of them would play enough to earn that coveted “E” letter.  The “A” Team coaches set the final procedures and standards by the way they managed their varsity.  Their principal interest was to find the best players for the 22 starting positions and back them up with the best of the next year’s senior class players, who were then Juniors; the result being, "A" Teams consisting of about half Seniors and half Juniors.

The Rinky Dink – Raider approach lasted only 2-years, 1960 and 1961, before it ended when Ronnie McBee moved on and was replaced by Coach Johnny Howerton in 1962.  For those on the Raider teams, it was made clear nearly every day that they were not of any value to the EHHS football program.  They were not issued numbered jerseys, were kept apart from the Rinky Dinks, and used only as Rinky Dink live practice dummies.  They were the “Rudy” group well before there was a “Rudy.” 

In retrospect, McBee’s judgment was pretty accurate.  Only 4 of the 23 Raiders went on to earn their “E” where 13 of the 18 Rinky Dinks did so, some of them more than one…those 13 boys earned 20 letters, meaning that 7 of them lettered as Juniors.

These “B” Team pictures show 3 of the first 4, EHHS 4A-5 All District players (red stars)…one each from the 1959 "B" Team, the 1960 Rinky Dinks, and even one from the 1960 Raiders.  The 4th All District player skipped “B” team altogether and went straight to the “A” Team as a Sophomore.  He was Sam Scott. 

Under Coach Howerton, the 1962 “B” Team was once more combined into one group, but the number was reduced to about 30.  Either way, the 42 boys wanting to continue playing football were effectively reduced to about 20 final “A” Team survivors in each class.  So, as you view the following “A” Team pictures below, you are seeing a pretty select group of boys who each got their start as one of about 300-350 young kids (2-grades) on an elementary school playground and who had survived a relentless culling before getting to put on their varsity jersey.  Only about half of them in each picture would ultimately earn their “E” letter jacket.

“A” Teams

Although my take and greatest knowledge about the EHHS football program began with the 1960 season, there was one earlier team…the first EHHS varsity that played its season in the 3A league as it had as Handley High School before its closure.  The school was quite small that first year and it had to wait one year before neighborhood growth took EHHS into the 4A-5 district of Ft. Worth’s largest schools.

Included in this section are the last 2 HHS varsity teams in order to illustrate that much of the Handley program actually made the transition to the brand new EHHS.  Several details are worth noting in the HHS team pictures.  First, by 1959 Handley was graduating only about 80 seniors (only about half of them boys), which meant that the coaches had to draw on the Junior and Sophomore classes in order to find enough skilled players to field a credible team.  In so doing, you will see a number of Handley players on the teams over a 3-year period, including the first EHHS team in 1959. 

Second, there are a number of families that provided siblings to those Handley teams; and lastly, the Handley coaching staff became the first EHHS coaching staff…George Mitcham, Bill Elliot, and Ronny McBee.  Bill Elliot would stay only that first year, before he returned to Handley.




This 1958 Poly team picture shows the next to last Parrot team to play as the sole East Side representative in Ft. Worth's District 4A-5 before EHHS opened.  I don't see anyone in this photo who transferred to EH the next year to play on the first EHHS varsity team.  So, that suggests that the 1959 EHHS team was entirely a Handley show.

However, I do see several older brothers of those we did know at EH during the early 1960s.  There's Pat Wadlington, Susie's older brother; Ronnie McCoy, Danny's older brother; and Jack Morris, Phil & Roby's older brother.  There are also some familiar names such as Thompson, Priddy, and Buckman who may have been related to some of our classmates, but I'm not sure of that.


This is the 1st EHHS varsity “A” Team.  It was essentially a Handley High School team carryover from the closing of Handley.  Although I recognize a few Meadowbrook players among them, I think most of the ex-Meadowbrook players of this year elected to attend Poly and play their football there.  Anyone with better information than this, please straighten me out on the story.

1959 - Coaches
They had been the coaches of the HHS teams above for a number of years; George Mitcham the head coach, Bill Elliott, his assistant.


This is the first EHHS 4A-5 team to play the large Ft. Worth high schools.  All the Handley High players were graduated and gone by this point.  Coach Elliot returned (I think) to Handley Junior High and George Mitcham remained as head coach.  He was joined this year by new coaches, James Willingham and Dub Graves.

34 players are pictured, 24 letters were awarded, 11 of them to Juniors, 1 of them to Sophomore Sam Scott.  The school's first 4A-5 All District player.  Kip Miller is #30 in the center of the second row.  The season record was 3-6-1 overall and 1-4-1 in 4A-5.

1960 - "A" Team Coaches 


This is the second 4A-5 team, the school's third varsity.  The coaching staff solidified their program this year, and it is about this point where traditions and coaching philosophies began to become apparent.  It is also the first team that included as about half of its members, our Class of 1963...those who had survived McBee's "B" Team Rinky Dink/Raider culling process.

39 players are pictured, 24 letters were awarded, 9 of them to Juniors, 1 to Sophomore Roby Morris, and there were no All District players named from this team.  EHHS' first 3-year letterman, Teddy Gober earned his 3rd letter this year.  The season record was 4-6 overall and 3-3 in 4A-5.


This is the first EHHS Ft. Worth 4A-5 District championship team and the school's fourth varsity.  There were no coaching staff changes as the school's football program continued to mature.

This season's first victory over Ft. Worth's perennial powerhouse, R.L. Paschal (8-7) remains a bright memory to this date (2012) in many old timers' minds.

45 players are pictured, 23 letters were awarded, 5 of them to Juniors.  The school's 2nd, 3rd, and 4th All District players were Sam Scott #35, Paul Shields #86, and Bob Keener #70, each of them shown in this picture.  Sam Scott became the school's second 3-year letterman.

The season record was 7-3 overall and 5-1 in 4A-5.  The team lost its first venture into the Texas State Playoffs, 0-7 to Dallas Samuell, which brought the overall season record to 7-4.   


This EHHS team, the school's fifth fielded its team the year after we '63s left.  It must have been somewhat difficult to labor in the shadow of the previous year's glory, but they did a good job with it.  There were still no coaching staff changes and the school's football program continued its maturation.

46 players are pictured, 30 letters were awarded, 14 of them to Juniors.  Apparently the Ft. Worth district coaches and local press started taking EHHS seriously this year as they named 5 Highlanders to the All District team--Steve Rose #64, Ted Harris #24, and Ray Avery #53, each of them returning starters from the 1962 championship team; also, Junior Mike Flowers #55 and Ted Moberg #32.  Roby Morris #10 became the school's third 3-year letterman.

Ted Moberg was a fine football player who had been singled out at Meadowbrook, as an 8th grader (see the Meadowbrook picture above), to play with the school's varsity but never quite developed to his highest potential until this year.  In retrospect after studying the teams for the piece, it is clear that his great misfortune was to be slotted just behind one of the school's early standouts, Sam Scott.  When Ted finally got his chance, he made the most of it and was named to the All District team as both a halfback and a fullback.  Note:  This is one of the subtle facts that are often lost to history...very important to the individual, but utterly lost in life's larger sweep.  There were a few other stories like this one in these pictures.

The season record was 5-3-1 overall and 4-2 in 4A-5.  Unfortunately, the 2 District losses were to Paschal and Arlington Heights, who no doubt were focused on ensuring that EH would not embarrass them again in 1963.  

All District 

Just earning a spot on an “A” Team was an ambitious goal and then winning a starting position was a fairly rare achievement experienced by very few.  It’s quite likely that any notion of achieving any further recognition was not at all on any kid’s mind.  However, near the season’s end the coaches and sports writers would cast their votes for the best players at each position in the city district consisting then of 7 schools—Paschal, Arlington Heights, Carter-Riverside, North Side, Poly, Tech, and EHHS.  The results were published in a late November, Sunday paper, along with a listing of others who polled the next highest vote totals. 

An offensive and defensive team followed by a listing of the honorable mention players was the usual published format.  The All District players were usually not too much of a surprise because the coaches’ scouting reports used all season had usually highlighted those same players as the best on the opposing teams we met.

Eastern Hills’ entry into the 4A-5 district in 1960 was generally viewed by the Ft. Worth sports community with some low regard.  We got no respect, as Rodney Dangerfield liked to say.  The accompanying collage shows the EHHS All District picks during its first 5-years; the lack of respect seems apparent in the slow start EH got in placing some of its players on the teams.  

The Coaches 

One of the more enlightening aspects of this study has been to both recall and discover small changes in the coaching staff over the first few years in EHHS history.  Those of us who participated with some of these early teams generally knew of our particular 1-3 year period of involvement, but little or nothing of the years outside those we were there. 

Whatever 3-year period picked, members of a team will generally recall just those coaches for whom he played.  However, the movements of the individual coaches over a wider time span in those early EH years tell an interesting story.
George Mitcham got the head coach job at Handley High School shortly after his graduation from TCU in the early 1950s.  His assistant coaches there were Bill Elliott and Ronnie McBee.  Mitcham and Elliott became EHHS’ first varsity coaches in 1959, while McBee coached the “B” Team.

Bill Elliott returned to Handley Junior High for the 1960 season and as EHHS made the move up to 4A-5, Mitcham was joined at EH by James Willingham and Dub GravesPrincipal Roy Johnson most likely played an active part in recruiting the new coaches.  Both Johnson and Graves had been coaches at Tech some years earlier. 

The Mitcham-Willingham-Graves staff remained together through the 1966 season, after which Graves left to take a position outside the Ft. Worth ISD.  Mitcham and Willingham coached one more year in 1967, then both left and were replaced by Jerry Sadler, the long-time North Side Coach...see the collage to the right. McBee and Howerton remained on the coaching staff.

The coaching staff we knew during the first 5-years remained fairly intact through the 1967 football season.  The Class of 1968 saw the last of the school, we in the early classes saw at the very beginning of EHHS.  Also leaving with the coaches was K.O. Vaughn, the school's first Vice-Principal; Roy Johnson, the first EHHS Principal left with the Class of 1967, a year earlier.

One of the more interesting new arrivals Fall 1968 was Raymond Davila.  Davila and Sadler had been Coach and student quarterback on the North Side team that had blown EH out during the 1962 championship season, 6-years earlier...see the program highlight at right. 


cj said...

Super compilation of a lot of history. I had never thought of the process from Jr. High to Varsity as a winnowing, but it was. Also, how ironic that Sadler and Davila end up at EHHS, since they killed us in 1962. I think Davila played college at Baylor. I wonder what caused the mass exodus in 1968, if anything, or was it just coincidence?

Gus said...

I have some thoughts regarding the 1967-1968 mass exodus of coaches and staff that we knew during our time at EH. For now, suffice it to say that the year was 1968...and the times, they-were-a-changin'.

cj said...

On the Meadowbrook players participating at EHHS in 1959 -- I had a neighbor, Joe Bell, a football player and incoming senior at Poly. He said the Poly coach lobbied pretty hard to retain his good Meadowbrook players. His success rate was inversely proportional to age. Virtually all Seniors "finished up" at Poly, the Juniors were mixed (Morris and McCook switched to EHHS), and the Sophomores virtually all went to EHHS. Makes sense. Bell finished at Poly.

Gus said...

That makes perfect sense and helps explain why EH had a very strong Handley "feel" to it in those first one or two years. The recent gatherings of the 1960 & 61 classes (nos. 1 & 2) for their 50th reunions still had a strong Handley "feel" to them.