The Hall of History section is lined with replica lockers that feature artifacts such as Robert Strait’s windbreaker from Cuero High School and Willie mack Garza’s Refugio High jersey from 1985. Garza rushed for an eye-popping 57 touchdowns.
High school football takes center stage at Bullock museum
By Matthew Odam
The “Friday Night Lights” franchise might have introduced Texas high school football to the rest of the world, but it didn’t take a fascinating nonfiction book, a feature film or a critically acclaimed television show to educate Texans about the importance of Friday nights.
The Bullock Texas State History Museum’s new exhibit, “Texas High School Football: More Than the Game,” explores every facet of Texas’ “national pastime.” From cheerleaders to referees, from the ladies who design homecoming mums to the old-timers who spend hours arguing who should start at quarterback next season and what the coach did wrong last week, “More Than the Game” examines how the ritual that seems to reside in Texans’ DNA has played out in towns big and small for more than 100 years.
“This is sports as culture and why sports are so much a part of our identity,” said guest curator Joe Nick Patoski, who has written about Texas culture for more than 35 years. “We’re competitive people. We get unified now and then when we have a common enemy — the other school. It tells us why Texas is the dynamic place it is today. We’re different from everywhere else. For better or worse, I think we’ve strived to distinguish ourselves from the other 49 states. People have an image that Texans are different, and our enthusiasm and zealotry about this game and how we respond to it speak to that greater thing of why we’re larger than life.”
“It’s not just a game, and it’s not just kids. It’s about community. The great thing is if you want to participate, no matter who you are, there’s a role for you.”
The multimedia and interactive exhibit opened Saturday and runs through Jan. 22, making it the second-longest-running special exhibit in the museum’s 10-year history. The circuitous layout ushers guests through eight stages, from a replica small-town water tower to a concluding section that discusses the way high school football in Texas has been portrayed in the media.
Along the way, visitors will be treated to almost 200 artifacts such as “Dandy” Don Meredith’s Mount Vernon High School football jersey, a copy of the lineup card from the first game played by a high school team and a spring-loaded metal snapping machine invented by coach Felton “Pooch” Wright in the mid-1930s in Ballinger.
While past greats and notable figures from the gridiron receive plenty of attention, the exhibit places a strong focus on community: cheerleaders, drill teams, fans, mascots and boosters.
“I think what people will get from the exhibit is that feeling that high school football is really something that creates a bond that crosses gender, race, religion and that so many different people come together to connect around high school football,” museum head of exhibits Toni Beldock said. “And I think we’ve done a good job of showing all of the different aspects and all of the different people that are involved in high school football and how important it is to everybody.”
They really wore this: Among the player memorabilia in the AstroTurf-laden Taking the Field section is a winter jacket from the Brownwood Lions, circa 1940, taken from the Gordon Wood Museum. Featured in the same case is Drew Brees’ Westlake High School jersey from the team’s undefeated 1996 state championship season. The quarterback would go on to be a standout at Purdue University before leading the New Orleans Saints to victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
Do you know football? The multimedia exhibit features an interactive game that offers visitors a chance to test their football IQ.
Getting their kicks on the field: Texas is home to more than half the dance/drill teams in the United States, according to Patoski. Among the most innovative was San Antonio’s Thomas Jefferson High School Lassos. The dance/drill team is responsible for inspiring the Western dress worn by many today and is the only one that incorporates rope-twirling as part of its dance performance. Visitors also will learn the history behind the Port Arthur Red Hussars, the nation’s first all-female drum and bugle corps, and find out more about the legendary Gussie Nell Davis, who brought her personal flair to the Greenville High School Flaming Flashes before starting the Kilgore Rangerettes.
Trumpets blaring: Probably not surprisingly, Texas boasts the largest high school marching band in the country. The Allen High School Marching Band (the Escadrille) has 600 students. ‘We just do football better in every element. We like superlatives. Texans embrace superlatives,’ said curator Joe Nick Patoski.
Where the boosters strategize: The introductory section of the exhibit features a replica of the ‘Braggers’ Table.’ Found in quintessential small-town cafes all over the state, this is a place where men from the community sit and talk about what needs to be done with the team and relive memories, some imagined, of their time under the lights. On the table is a ’60s-era custom-made ceramic ashtray from Stinnett High School. The ashtray features the names of every member of the high school football team. The “Braggers’ Table” installation features an audio component that allows visitors to listen to folks talking football in Brownwood, Cuero, Port Neches-Groves, Harlingen and Canadian.
Go, Team, Go: Guest curator Joe Nick Patoski feels a kinship with cheerleaders, having served in that capacity at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. Cheerleading equipment at the exhibit includes megaphones provided by Abilene High School and Philips High School.
This was safety: Among the oldest artifacts in the exhibit is a leather helmet, circa 1920, from El Paso High School.
Team pride on display: The Pre-Game Ritual station in the exhibit features mascot costumes from around the state, including Austin High School’s 2010 ‘Mr. Maroo.’ The area also pays tribute to the mum, an exceedingly Texas tradition. ‘No one does mums like we do,’ Patoski said. ‘And in certain communities, it’s a cottage industry.’
Texas High School Football: More Than the Game
When: Now through Jan. 22
Where: Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum (1800 Congress Ave.)
Cost: $9 for adults; $8 for college students (with valid ID); $7 for seniors/military (with valid ID); $6 for ages 4-17, free for ages 3 and younger.
Information: 936-4649, TheStoryofTexas.com