Members of Dr. Steven Cutbirth’s staff may not have known why their office operates the way it does until he wrote an article for Texas Coach Magazine titled, “The Value of High School Football — A 30-Year Perspective.”
It all became clear then for those associated with the internationally respected Waco dentist, a 1972 graduate of Brownwood High School who has also published numerous articles and lectures extensively on restorative and esthetic dentistry.
Cutbirth was one of five members of this year’s class of inductees into the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions Saturday night. The others, all of whom played football at BHS under Wood, are Jimmy Piper, a 1966 graduate; Shae Southall, 1972; Kevin Taylor, 1979; and James Roy (Squirt) Thompson, 1971.
“We’re not up here because we were such great football players,” Cutbirth said in his acceptance remarks. “We represent a team responding to a system.”
Cutbirth said he calls himself a “systems guy,” and “I learned how systems work in high school.”
He added that it’s difficult to explain to people who didn’t grow up in Brownwood in that era.
“A lot of kids grow up wanting to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he said. “Here, you aspired to one thing — being a Brownwood Lion… You think about all those coaches living in a town like this, on a team like that,” Cutbirth said, “and the impact that it made on our lives.”
Cutbirth said the players didn’t just think they were going to be successful, they knew they would be.
He said the aura of the Lions was such that the team had a 14-point advantage before kick-off — 7 points because the Lions knew they were going to win, and 7 points because the opponent knew the Lions were going to win.
Thompson echoed Cutbirth’s comments of knowing he would succeed by saying, “I knew I could play, but I had to convince Coach Wood, and I’d like to thank Coach (Morris) Southall for convincing Coach Wood.”
Weighing 145 pounds during high school, Thompson was one of a series of “mini-backs” who played much larger than their physical size during Wood’s career at Brownwood, master of ceremonies Dallas Huston said in Thompson’s introduction. Many times, he was assigned to block defenders weighing as much as 100 pounds more.
“Coach Wood kept asking Coach Southall if I could play,” Thompson said. He did, and Thompson went on to be a major part of two state championship teams.
“I’d like to thank my teammates,” said Thompson, who lives in Brownwood and is employed by the school district. “Those guys made this possible for me.”
Taylor, now general manager of the Somerville County Water District in Glen Rose, told how a pep talk in reverse by Wood in the middle of his sophomore year was the springboard for a Brownwood state championship in 1978. After an 0-5 start under assistant coaches, Wood appeared in the locker room to address the sophomores for the first time with the team down by three touchdowns.
“He told us we were the worst team he had ever seen in Brownwood,” Taylor said.
Describing it as a “butt-chewing that lasted 2 1/2 years,” Taylor said the team lost that night by 7 points, but won six of seven games the rest of the season and posted a 34-2 record overall before that class graduated — including the state title.
“A lot of the players quit after that halftime speech, but the rest of us had a bond,” Taylor said. “We knew we could either lie down and be the team that broke Brownwood High’s tradition, or we could rise to his challenge…
“People ask what it was that Coach Wood did,” Taylor said. “The things he did were so subtle, it’s hard to describe. But I can’t tell you how proud I am of this honor.”
Southall said his perspective of Wood is different than other inductees, because — with his father as Wood’s longtime assistant — the head man was always at their home. “He was basically my second father,” Southall said. “I couldn’t get away from him.”
He praised the Hall of Champions concept, observing that “it says a lot about the people of Brownwood who want to preserve this tradition.
“We didn’t do a whole lot,” Southall said, continuing the thread of working within Wood’s system. “We were just doing what we were told and having fun. We expected to win. Some of the teams we played, I don’t know why we intimidated them. But the culture in Brownwood in the 1960s and ’70s was so pro-football, you could taste it. It’s something I wouldn’t trade for a million dollars.”
Southall expressed a special word of thanks to his mother and father “for the way they brought us up.” He now lives in Odessa and works in oilfield services with Weatherford International.
Piper, president and COO of Insurors Indemnity Companies in Waco, reflected on the 1960 Lions team that won the state championship when he was in junior high.
“As a kid growing up in the 1950s, sports was everything,” Piper said. “Everybody on that team was my hero. (The state championship) was huge, and therein was planted that dream for all aspiring athletes in Brownwood.”
Piper’s 1965 state title Lions team, on which he won All-State defensive honors, went 14-0 and allowed only 43 points all year.
“We had a great team, and played with desire and determination to win,” Piper said. “But what I have drawn most from that was our preparation. Coach Wood would go through the films… saying this is where, this is how you can be successful against this team. When we prepared for Steve Wooster, he told us nobody had stopped him yet, but you can stop him. People are still trying to figure out how we stopped him. (Wood) got us ready for the games mentally.”
Piper talked the audience through practices and — as others did in their remarks — showed how the system was followed.
“These are fundamentals of the game,” Piper said. “By Friday night, he had us ready to play, and in 1965 we did pretty well.”
Along the way, Piper said the coaching staff taught players numerous life-lessons.
“I’m grateful for that,” Piper said. “I’m grateful that Coach Wood and all the other coaches had a philosophy of teaching us how to be successful in life.”
The Gordon Wood Hall of Champions has been inducting notable former players of Coach Wood into its ranks since 2000. Saturday’s induction was preceded by the first Gordon Wood Golf Classic at Brownwood Country Club, helping to raise funds for the opening of the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions Museum on the second floor of the Harvey House. Inductees and their families were given tours of the museum Saturday morning.