Growing up in Bronte, Texas afforded me and my family a wonderful small town experience. It was an experience that I would fail to appreciate until I eventually had a family of my own. My Mom and Dad moved us to Bronte from San Angelo shortly after the birth of my brother in 1972. I began school there in the 1st grade. Looking back now on those memories I realize how special and unique it was to have lived in a small town where most everyone knew each other.
When anything bad happened to someone the whole community would rally around and support those in need.
Likewise, when something good happened to someone, everyone seemed to share in it with them. It was sports and especially football that appeared to bring our small town together and allow each of us to share in something good and positive.
My first memory of football was at 6 or 7 years old when my Dad, who dabbled in photography, brought home some black and white photos from the two-a-day practices being held over at the football field. I was very intrigued by the photos and asked that he take me down there with him the next time he went. What an experience, I quickly saw how deeply vested our little community was in High School Football and how a certain man named Gerald Sandusky seemed to be at the center of it all.
I was first introduced to Mr. Sandusky in my elementary PE class. “We may just cut ourselves a watermelon come Friday”
was something he would always say yet rarely deliver on. He kept us guessing every week and then that time when he actually did it, you would have thought we had hit the lottery. I guarantee you every kid in that class remembers that day.
As we played dodge ball or some other game he would walk leisurely around that gymnasium carrying around with him a piece of wood with a taped up handle on it that quickly got any young boy’s attention.
Whenever anyone acted out of line the cry for “LICKS! LICKS!” would instantly be screamed out by the rest of the class.
For the most part that board was just a part of his wardrobe and mystique, along with those vintage gray, Bike coaching shorts. However, on those occasions, such as when a fight would break out and the big stick was put to use, a serious silence fell over the whole class with the exception of the guilty parties’ tears.
We were all witnesses of the disciplinary action handed down by this Mr. Sandusky and an early reverence began to take shape for the man I would first call coach.
Gerald Dewey Sandusky started coaching at Bronte High School in 1969 and as he put it in our recent interview he would “climb the hill” on three different occasions after a losing season over his 17 year career with the Longhorns. My high school playing days started at the bottom of one of those hills as a freshman in 1982. I recall after a grueling introduction to two-a day practices being so excited to get my hands on the new issue of the Texas Football magazine so I could see my picture with the team.
I took great pride in the picture however, coach’s comments on our team were very telling of our bottom of the hill status. Each coach was requested to answer two questions regarding the team’s overall outlook. “What are your team’s strengths and what are your team’s weaknesses”. Well coach put it this way: Strengths: None / Weaknesses: Lack of size, Lack of speed. I think that lit a fire under our upper classmen as we came out and beat top ten, state ranked Forsan in the first game of the season 7-6.
Unfortunately, our senior class was riddled with injuries throughout the rest of the year and we finished with one of those 3, bottom of the hill losing seasons at 2-8. Nevertheless, we got to work on climbing that hill again and the following season was highlighted by the most memorable game I ever played in. It was the Coke county showdown, Bronte vs. Robert Lee. Adding to the suspense of the game was that Robert Lee’s head coach just happened to be Nelson Coulter, who played for Sandusky in the early 1970’s.
Sandusky remarked to me that Coulter’s days were among his finest coaching memories when the team achieved a 9-1 season. Well, we fell behind 13-0 by halftime. As we entered the field for the second half, coach and our star running back Jon Lee were the last to come out of the locker room.
Coach told me he said to Jon, “I’m going to put you to work in this second half” to which Jon replied “I’m ready coach!”
Well that second half was truly a surreal experience. I think we gave the ball to Jon nearly every play and he just refused to be brought down.
We came back and won the game 16-13. Later, on the notorious 12 mile ride home, we were so pumped up coach had to stop the bus at the little hill between our two small towns and just let us savor the victory. And guess what, we all had ourselves some watermelon. It was great!
Like many Texas High School football coaches, Coach Sandusky imparted those values we all hold dear from our playing days. Values such as discipline, teamwork and respect for the game.
I asked him in our interview what was his favorite memory of me as a player and he said “well Dave, you turned out to be a pretty good punter”, I laughed and told him that was my favorite memory as well.
When he showed me how to lay the football just right on my foot so that when I punted it, the spiral would actually turn over similar to a pass, I was hooked. I would get 10-20 more yards out of each kick. I actually got credited for winning a game due to my punting keeping the opposing team pinned deep in their territory all night.
There is so much more to tell of my high school football experience, I suppose I could go on and on. Coach is about to turn 83 years old next month and although we hadn’t talked in more than 20 years, it seemed like we just picked up right where we left off. Remembering back to when coach took that time to show me how to punt and afterwards finding out that he also was a punter in his playing days, well I guess that just always left me feeling a bit of a special bond with the man I first called coach. Hook’em Horns!
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