Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories relating several interesting football seasons for the Madisonville Mustangs.
Madisonville High School’s 2017 football team has been undefeated in District play and won Bi-District last week. Through the years, our football teams on the whole have not been as successful as our basketball teams, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of football stories to share.
Recently I asked Roger “Sonny” Knight about Madisonville football teams, and he instantly answered, “You know, I was a member of the only football team Madisonville High School has ever had that was undefeated in regular-season games.” Then he clarified that, saying, “We won 9 games, tied one, were 19-A District Champions, but lost when we played for Bi-District.”
I pulled a 1959 Mustang yearbook, to get more 1958 football facts. Coach George Autrey was assisted by James Walker. Team captions were Charles Bates, Ralph Cole, Billy Hall and Jimmy Wells, all seniors. Bates, Cole, and Hall received All-District recognition, along with Harold Hoke and Jerry Stubbs. Other team members were Wayne Akin, Thomas Baker, Buddy Chambless, King Cole, Ben Dillard, Bob Ellisor, Joel Fraley, Bruce Gaylor, Fernon Gibson, Charles Grizzle, Carey Herring, Sonny Knight, Forrest Mathis, Jimmy McIver, Billy Owen, Joe Taylor, David Tinder and Larry Wilson. Billy Don Bates and Billy Colwell were managers, and Margaret Grizzle was football sweetheart.
That year’s Mustangs defeated first Navasota (12-6) and Centerville (50-8), and tied Crockett (8-8). When District play began, we beat Diboll (78-0), Grapeland (92-0), Elkhart (56-0), Corrigan (45-0), Groveton (14-0), Trinity (22-18), and Alto (26-6). Then as 19-A District Champions, the Mustangs traveled to Mexia that November 21, meeting the Mart Panthers for the Bi-District title. The Mustangs fought hard against a strong team, but the end score was Panthers 28, Mustangs 0. The 1958 team remains to this day to be the only undefeated Mustang team in regular season play in history.
Sonny Knight also shared another football tidbit. He graduated from MHS in 1959, and he told me about playing football while in junior high, so that had to be around the mid-50s. “George Autrey was our coach then, too. In Junior High, we played football barefoot. One afternoon we were headed to play in Franklin. Autrey advised us players that a norther was going to blow in and it was going to get very cold. He told us there was a pile of shoes in the corner of the dressing room, and he advised us to all grab some so our feet would not freeze. Some didn’t bother to get shoes, and they really suffered during that game. I remember one in particular who kept trying to come out of the game, his feet were so cold.”
Folks near my age and older remember Houston Chronicle’s Texas Magazine article from Dec. 12, 1965. It’s not a fond memory, but many aren’t. Entitled “Texas’ Losingest Football Team,” the subhead says, “Madisonville High has endured 39 straight defeats,” Recently Ron Jackson, president of the MHS Class of 1966, and now of Brookhaven, Ga., sent the Museum an original copy of the article. His cover letter stated that his dear mother and sister kept the article for these many years and his sister finally shared it with him after “my dear mom’s passing last year.” He stated, “It brought back old times and great smiles remembering these challenging times for MHS.” Ron had told me a while back that he was sending this, so I was delighted when it arrived.
The article started out, “Football is supposed to be fun. You win some, lose some, and tie some.” The photo beside that was captioned, “A portrait of gridiron despair. The Madisonville Mustangs sit grimly in their dressing room before taking the field against Rusk. At right is action during the 33-0 slaughter.”
A good friend of mine played on that team and told me to burn the article instead of write about it. I’m not good at obeying and plunged ahead. The losing streak began with the second game of the fall of 1962, and Mustangs broke out of it finally with the second game of 1966. Since those days, that losing streak record has been broken by other schools’ teams, which sure got sympathy from folks here.
What amazes me about the 1965 team is the fact that the players kept playing. Head coach W.T. Hoskins and assistants Jerry Dyer, Robert “Bo” Harrison, and Harold Scott could surely teach us a thing or two about motivation in times of adversity. They weren’t here throughout the losing streak. Charles Strawther coached at the beginning but did not return for 1963. He was replaced by Don Hanks for the next two seasons. One of our problems was that we played much bigger schools, but after those years, were moved into District 21-A, to play teams with about our same school enrollment.
A-team players included Eddie Adams, William Baine, Billy Blow, Gene Bracewell, Ray Collier, David Culbreth, Charles Floyed, Donnie Gannaway, Edmon Garrett, George Hawthorne, Freddie Hollis, Dennis Ivey, Ronnie Jackson, Billy Ed Key, Dennis McWhorter, Roy Langley, Eddie Minze, G.G. Reynolds, Kenneth Sanders, Freddy Starns, James Venable, Larry Weisinger, Buck Wells, David Wells. Team managers were Jim Reed, Paul Wappler, and Ken Hoskins. Wappler had just moved here and UIL rules kept him from playing on the team.
Folks here didn’t give up. The detested Chronicle article contained a photo of Mustangs fans still pretty much filling the bleachers here, regardless of the record. Cheerleaders then were Janet Standley, Lana Cannon, Leta Ann Wells, Ann Dean, and Susan Chavers. One of the old Chronicle photos shows Lana standing on the sidelines beside a Mustang at the Rusk game, and the scoreboard behind them showed Mustangs 0, Rusk 33. Everyone knew Chronicle folks were on-hand. One of our players was quoted, “They (the Mustangs) were so mad, they played their best game of the season. Sure, they lost (33-10), but they held Rusk scoreless for the whole first quarter.”
The 1965 football season was the last one in which we students attended the old high school, which was on the lot where Bank of Madisonville now stands. Despite our record, Dennis McWhorter earned 1965 All-District recognition, later taught Ag here for years, and is now on our school board. Dennis Ivey was one of our fastest runners, and now he’s a preacher/singer in Crockett. Some of the other guys still around here, some not. Billy Blow wound up local politics for a while and still lives here, and Gene Bracewell and David Culbreth still reside here. Billy Ed Key, Jim Reed, and Paul Wappler are no longer earthbound. We were blessed that Coach Scott spent a long career here in our schools, retiring in 1999, but he passed away in 2013. Dyer coached several years, stayed in Bedias always, and died in November 2014. Coach Hoskins coached in many schools and died Crockett in 2015. Bo had started his coaching career here, moved on to larger schools, left coaching in 1980, and died in 2016. It’s strange to me how they died one-a-year there.
Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX, is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Museum curator Jane Day Reynolds welcomes your visits. Memorials or donations may be mailed to the Museum, P.O. Box 60, Madisonville, TX 77864.