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As our reunion approaches, I started reminiscing about our high school years and the richness of those times. While we all have different individual memories, we do share many common experiences. Several years ago I wrote the following thoughts about one aspect of those experiences and wanted to share them with you, Seniors '71. I hope it brings back vivid memories of an historic time for you all.
Remember the Coyotes
In the year 2000, the box office hit movie, “Remember the Titans,” depicted the forced integration of some Virginia high schools in 1971. As I left the theater I remember the overwhelming emotion and profound impact of what I had seen. I leaned over and said to Bobbie, my wife, “I lived that movie.”
A sweltering blanket of heat was smothering North Texas in August of 1969, but the elevated temperatures were not nearly as high as the expectations…and anxiety…and confusion. As a football player for the Wichita Falls Coyotes, I was eager for the new season to begin; excited to again attempt to fulfill the lifelong dream of a State Championship. But suddenly there were so many uncertainties! Under a Federal Court Order, the Wichita Falls ISD Integration Mandate overshadowed everything with unchartered anger, fear and turmoil. Classmates from tradition rich Booker T Washington High School were being split up and forced to attend Rider, Hirschi, or Wichita Falls High School according to boundary lines drawn by the WFISD. Their similar dreams of bathing in the tradition of the school they loved had been shattered. Best friends were directed to different schools. No one understood “why they couldn’t just leave us all alone?”
Since summer football practice (two-a-days”) began a couple of weeks before school started, football players were the first to enter into the racial mix realm. Trust was as distant as the boiling sun and suspicion hung from every word, expression and action. Fights broke out on the field as resentment ignited tempers between black and white players. For a while it looked hopeless that we could ever come together as a team. Once school began it only got worse. Fights detonated around every corner. Halls were filled with angry students who refused to submit to authority and were determined to make life miserable for all those responsible for their own misery.
But then, unexpectedly, something extraordinary happened on the football field. Instead of focusing on skin color, we began to respect each other’s ability and performance on the field. Then once the season started and we faced weekly opponents, our team bonds strengthened as we came together to “fight” against our common enemies. Gradually we transitioned from “whites and blacks” to “Coyotes”.
There was an intangible kindred spirit that grew among us, and as our success increased week by week, our bonds of brotherhood did too. Triumphs in battle against our common foes thrived as we embraced our need for interdependence. The closeness we Coyotes demonstrated with each other soon moved to the student body at large. The constant racial fighting on campus began to diminish as students followed the team’s lead in coming together. Protest marches through the halls that were common early on vanished. When the team gained statewide recognition with each new victory, a sense of pride in our school and in each other prevailed. The “Coyote Team” became the focal point for all students to rally around. We were living the dream, and with each week’s victory the hatred that had once reigned was replaced by unity.
On Saturday, December 20, 1969, the Wichita Falls High School Coyotes played San Antonio Lee for the 4A State Championship. (At the time 4A was the largest division). The Coyotes, underdogs for every single playoff game that year, were victorious 28-20 in landing their record setting 6th Football State Championship of Texas. The glorious victory brought tears of joy comingled with the sweat and blood of battle. We Coyotes had achieved our goal and reached the pinnacle of Texas High School Football. But our greatest achievement was, “we did it together” against the extreme odds of social turbulence. Cast within a role of racial unrest, distrust, anger, hatred and fear, we gridiron warriors, we Coyotes, became brothers. That is my sweetest memory when I “Remember the Coyotes.”