Decades after I lived it, the month of May continues to spur memories of my final weeks in high school.
And why not? It’s an amazing time in every young person’s life.
For me, that hectic month included the senior prom, my first car, and commencement itself. Then, as the final days of that monumental May counted down, I made my first visit to Brownwood and the college where I would spend the next four years, and where I would later start my career and family.
It’s not healthy for anyone to live in the past, but it can’t hurt to visit there once in a while — especially if the purpose is to trace the string of events that brought a person to the point in life we know as the present.
A group of former Brownwood High School student-athletes will be afforded such an opportunity Saturday when they are inducted into the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions. Also being added to the elite group will be the late Rodger Sweeney, who came to Brownwood courtesy of the military, but who stayed and became closely identified with the Maroon and White as a public-address announcer and avid supporter of all youth sports in Brown County.
These inductees are being profiled in the Bulletin’s sports pages this week, so I’ll not repeat that information here. But I hope readers will take the time to review those biographies, and then invest a couple more hours Saturday night to attend the banquet and meet them in person.
If you aren’t a longtime resident of this area, or you’re not a fan of Texas high school football (I guess there are a few of you around), you might not be familiar with Gordon Wood. It has, after all, been almost 30 years since he retired from coaching, and more than 10 years now since he passed away. So, for the handful who might not know, Gordon Wood is more than just the name of the football stadium here.
Wood was head football coach and athletic director at Brownwood High School for 26 seasons beginning in 1960. His teams won state football championships twice while at Stamford, and seven times while at Brownwood. He achieved national acclaim during his lifetime.
I could go on with details of Wood’s impressive record as a coach, but statistics should not be the headline to any story about his legacy. Instead, that distinction rightly belongs to the young men — now adult men — he mentored.
The Gordon Wood Hall of Champions has been honoring former high school athletes and others closely associated with Wood for 15 years now. Most of them, but not all, played or coached in Brownwood. Some of them — like previous inductees Dallas Huston and the late Bill Stovall, and this year’s honoree Rodger Sweeney — are included for their work off the gridiron. Regardless, they are all linked to Coach Wood and/or the Brownwood Lions athletic program in some significant way.
Inevitably, there is some “looking back” to days of glory as each inductee rises to accept this recognition. But what they accomplished in high school was only the beginning, and part of the joy of this annual event is having them return to share with the community what has happened to them in the years since.
Coach Wood was blessed with many years of life after he retired, and those who knew him also knew he followed the paths the lives of his former players were taking. He rejoiced in their successes, and he was deflated in the rare occasions when things went off track for some. The coaches who worked with Wood as assistants were no different.
Saturday’s banquet will look back in time as far as 1957, but its value goes beyond reflecting on moments of past glory. More importantly, the ceremony will be a time to understand how the Brownwood High sports tradition developed to what it is today, and how blessed this community is to have coaches and players who continue to carry that banner high in the 21st century.
The banquet, if nothing else, reminds us of this: The rich tradition enjoyed at Brownwood High may not always win championships in sports, but it always molds champions in life.
Gene Deason is a former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. He started writing his “tgif” column on Fridays in 1977. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.