Some refer to it as the golden years of Lubbock High, a time when the school soared to excellence in virtually all pursuits and reached previously uncharted heights on the field of competition.
“Everything about those years, my three years at that high school, are among the happiest days of my life,” said Jimmy Gafford, one of the many athletic standouts to walk the halls of LHS in the early 1950s. “In some ways, it seems like just a while ago, but when I count it up, it’s been a long time.”
The march of time has covered more than a half century since the Westerners enjoyed what was probably the school’s most noteworthy stretch of athletic achievement in its history.
By the time it was over, the school’s trophy case, replete with plenty of previous on-field success, was practically bulging.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Dick Lowrey, a guard on the LHS football teams that won 26 consecutive games and back-to-back state titles in 1951 and 1952. “We had the backing of Lubbock. When we came back from Dallas after playing Baytown both years in the Cotton Bowl, we had cars meet us from as far away as Guthrie (about 90 miles east). The people of Lubbock really supported us. It was kind of like the Lady Raiders when they came back from winning the NCAA finals (in 1993).”
The football titles, the school’s first since the storied Cinderella Kids’ run of 1939, came on the heels of the Westerners’ 1951 state basketball crown.
Two school years.
One incredibly talented group of athletes.
“The families who had boys playing on the teams were always very close,” recalled Bo Sexton, a member of the 1951 basketball and football teams who now makes his home in the Dallas area. “The support the city and the community gave to the sports teams back then was just amazing.”
It began with the 1950-51 basketball team, coached by David Cook and featuring a number of talented players, including Sexton, Carl Ince, Walter Norton and Bob Fullerton.
Members of LubbockHigh’s 1951 state basketball champions pose with their trophy. From left are Bill Williams, Walter Norton, Carl Ince, Sammie Adams and Bobby Day.
The team lost only three of 32 games, according to the 1951 Westerner yearbook, winning its final nine games en route to the title.
And the Westerners saved the best for last.
Lubbock High faced Austin for the state title and found itself trailing 43-42 in the game’s waning moments. Austin had the ball and was running a stall to secure the victory when LHS’s Bobby Day saved the day, stealing the ball and scoring the game-winning basket.
“The most exciting thing was when we stole the ball in the championship game there in Gregory Gym and scored the winning basket,” Sexton said. “That place just went wild. It was the most exciting play.”
“I was in Austin as a spectator when they won the state championship and rode back on the bus with them,” Gafford said. “Bobby Day stole the ball, and they beat Austin High. Austin didn’t play regular basketball; they were stalling the ball. We were just able to win it right at the last minute.
“There were some great players on that team. Carl Ince was an outstanding player, and Walter Norton went on and played for Duke.”
The football team was equally loaded, but players were quick to credit the steady and determined hand of head coach C.R. “Pat” Pattison.
“Coach Pattison was the success,” Sexton said. “He brought a lot of discipline and camaraderie and knowledge of the game. He was a great motivator of people. We weren’t always the biggest boys, but we were by far the most disciplined.”
“We had quite a few outstanding football players on both of those teams,” said Lowrey, whose father, E.J., was a former athletic business manager and is the namesake of the LISD’s Lowrey Field. “There were 29 boys that got college scholarships, and a bunch of us played together all the way from grade school to college.”
That blend of discipline and familiarity served LHS well as it rolled through the regular season virtually untested. The Westerners captured the district crown with a 21-7 victory against Odessa before a chilly crowd of 22,000. Two playoff wins later, the team found itself in the Cotton Bowl facing Baytown for the state title.
“The main thing I would say is we had a fabulous head coach,” said Charles Brewer, quarterback of the ’51 team who was voted the state’s outstanding high school player that year. “Our coach was incredible. He made it all work. We had a bunch of overachievers because we weren’t that big. Our line was very small, but they were all very good, and on defense it was the same way. We just had a bunch of well-coached guys who kept going until we won it.”
Lubbock High fullback James Sides scored on 63- and 37-yard runs as the Westerners prevailed 14-12.
“I can say without any reservation that the 1951 team had more talent,” Gafford said. “We had the outstanding player in the state, and we graduated a good portion of the team.”
All of that was of little consequence to the 1952 Westerners.
“We played at the Cotton Bowl with Baytown as the opponent (in 1951), and when that game was over, they were shaking their fists at us and saying, ‘See you next year,’ ” Gafford said. “Sure enough, we got back to the Cotton Bowl, and they were there waiting for us. No one told us we couldn’t do it; we just did it anyway.”
The 1952 Westerners scored 399 points in 13 games, winning handily in most contests until meeting Baytown once again in the Cotton Bowl with a state title on the line.
“The support we received was amazing,” Sexton said. “Everyone who was interested in sports teams rallied around the team and attended the games. It made you feel almost like a mini-celebrity. It was a different day, and sports was definitely king in West Texas.”
And the kings of high school football once again were the Westerners, clipping Baytown 12-7.
“We had a coach who was absolutely the best,” Gafford said. “He was a man who believed in character. He had a sign over his office door that said, ‘A true Westerner has character.’ He told us when we started that if we thought we were there to play football, we were in the wrong place. We were there to do our schoolwork and then play football.”
Time continues its march, but players from those teams say the memories will never fade.
“In one sense it seems like only yesterday,” said Sexton, who stays in contact with Brewer and other teammates who now live in the Metroplex. “Three of us get together for lunch about once a month. The funny thing is we used to talk about where our teammates were and what they were doing, but now we talk about what hurts the most — knees, ankles, elbows, whatever.
Previous A-J Remembers: