Two years ago my alma mater, Columbia High School in my hometown of West Columbia, Texas, created a sports hall of honor to recognize the exploits of former Roughnecks greats in the field of athletics. A well-deserving group of athletes and coaches from the past were honored at halftime of a Roughnecks football game at Griggs Field in each of the past two seasons. I have submitted nominations of five former Roughnecks greats to be considered for induction in the sports hall of honor during the 2009 football season, which kicks off tonight when Columbia hosts Brazosport.
I have no idea who will be chosen for induction this season. There are many deserving of the honor, but in my opinion the 2009 Hall of Honor class should be comprised of former CHS football heroes Kenneth Boone, Gene Hernandez and Marcus Bonner, baseball pitcher Kurt Heble, and tennis star Clark Woodson III. I would love to see my father, Rex Gupton, who died at the age of 79 in 2001, included with his high school's sports elite one day. After all, Daddy played guard for three college football teams (Austin College, East Texas Baptist and Texas Lutheran) before and after World War II. But I don't feel comfortable nominating my own father. And, while Ken Boone is married to my cousin, at least he is not blood kin. So I nominated "Cousin Ken" sans any kind of guilty conscience. Hey, he's deserving!
The 1969 Roughnecks football team was the most successful in school history, reaching the state championship round in the playoffs under first year head coach Jack Hays. Charley Davis, Charley Johnson and assistant coach Charley Brand were honored the inaugural year of the school's new sports hall. Hays received the honor last season. Now, in my opinion, it's time for Hernandez to get in. He was a valuable member of that '69 football team that lost to Brownwood in the state championship game.
And Boone, pictured above on water skis in a photo taken from his senior yearbook, was a running back for the 1957 Roughnecks team that advanced to the state semifinals where Brady High School defeated the 'Necks 20-6 when West Columbia was a 2A team. That was Ken's junior year. The '57 Roughnecks whipped Sam Houston High School of San Antonio 46-6 in the quarterfinals after having edged Mercedes 7-6 in regional and beating Deer Park 23-6 in bi-district. So, prior to the '69 team advancing all the way to the state championship game, the success of the '57 Roughnecks was the best the West Columbia high school had experienced.
Ken Boone lettered in football three years and was a co-captain his senior year in 1958. He lettered in baseball and basketball four years and lettered in track his junior and senior years. He was the epitome of the versatile all-around athlete during his four years at West Columbia High School. Thus, Ken was voted "Best All Around Senior Boy" by his classmates.
In the district track meet his senior year Ken Boone came in second in both the 100-yard dash and the 440-yard relay and was fourth in both the shotput and the mile relay. His junior year Ken also placed in the 100-yard dash, 440-yard relay and the shotput.
While Ken Boone was voted honorable mention all state as a running back in football his senior year and made all district and all county as a senior, he would probably say his junior year was more memorable. In addition to earning all district and all county honors on a Roughnecks football team that was a quarterfinals champion in 1957, Ken starred on Columbia's basketball team that finished 14-7 and were champions of District 26-AA for the 1957-58 school year.
His senior year Ken played on the Roughnecks baseball team that won a district championship and was the featured ball carrier on the football team that was 4-3-2 the year after Coach E.S. Golson's team came one win shy of earning a berth in the state championship game.
Kenneth Boone played college football at Rice University, TCU and Tulsa. Gene Hernandez was a standout defensive back at TCU and Marcus Bonner was an exciting kick returner and dual-threat carrying and catching the football out of Texas A&I's backfield.
Ken Boone coached football in the Columbia-Brazoria school district for the past nine years but will not be patrolling the sidelines at Roughnecks and Roustabouts football games this season. His wife, my cousin Peggy Lou Gupton Boone, told me this week that Ken will be coaching only boys track and girls volleyball at West Brazos Junior High during the 2009-2010 school year. Like his high school teammate Dennis Gaubatz, who played middle linebacker for the Lions and Colts in the NFL for seven seasons, Ken has had both knees replaced in recent years and is unable to cope with all of the standing around football coaches have to deal with.
Current West Brazos Junior High coach Kenneth Boone is pictured at right in the photo below with, from left, assistant coach Holmes Ellisor, Allan Sassin and head coach E.S. Golson, during his senior year in high school. Both Boone and Sassin were named all county football players for the 1958 season.
The first class of inductees into the Columbia High School Sports Hall of Honor included the four former Roughnecks who played in the National Football League. James Ray Smith of the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys, Dennis Gaubatz of the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts, Charley Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings, and Charley Davis of the Cincinnati Bengals were all honored by their former high school two years ago. Now I would like to see Columbia High honor a pair of former Roughnecks who came close to being NFL players. Gene Hernandez was an eleventh round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1975 NFL draft, and Marcus Bonner played professionally in the United States Football League with the San Antonio Gunslingers.
Hernandez was cut by the 49ers prior to the start of the 1975 NFL season. During a conversation I had with Gene at a West Columbia restaurant earlier this year he told me that he also tried out for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1976 but wasn't able to survive the Chiefs' roster cuts either. He was the 270th college player taken in the 1975 draft, going to the 49ers in Round 11.
As a junior at Columbia High, Gene Hernandez played alongside future pro football players Charley Johnson and Charley Davis on the Roughnecks team that lost to Brownwood 34-16 in the 1969 Class 3A state championship game. In his senior season in 1970 Gene was an all state defensive back, earning a football scholarship to Texas Christian University. Now 56 years old, Gene Hernandez is, in my estimation, very deserving of induction as part of the 2009 Columbia High School Sports Hall of Honor class. Equally deserving in the world according to Gup to join this year's group of inductees is former Roughnecks running back Marcus Bonner. And, although neither is related to me like Kenneth Boone, both Gene Hernandez and Marcus Bonner are friends of mine . . . and that should count for something! In fact, it's all that matters in "The World According To Gup."
Marcus was an outstanding running back and kick returner for the Texas A&I Javelinas from 1979 through 1981. Texas A&I, now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville, was the champion of the Lone Star Conference in 1979 when Marcus Bonner played football for the Javelinas. A&I was 12-1 that season (6-1 in LSC play) under head coach Ron Harms. The former Roughneck is still tied for the Lone Star Conference record for the longest punt return, Bonner having returned a punt 100 yards for a touchdown against Northern Arizona in 1980. And Marcus was the LSC annual scoring leader in 1980 when he scored 78 points that season.
Marcus Bonner played professionally in the USFL as a running back and kick returner for the San Antonio Gunslingers in the early 1980s. He went to training camp with the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL following the USFL closing up shop after the 1984 season.
Gene Hernandez led the Southwest Conference in interceptions in 1973 when he picked off seven passes while roaming the secondary for the TCU Horned Frogs. Five players were tied for second behind the former Roughneck with four interceptions each that season. Yet Gene had to settle for second team defense on the All-SWC team in 1973.
In "Dave Campbell's Texas Football" magazine released prior to the start of the 1974 college football season, Gene was listed at 6'1", weighing 175 pounds. He was the starting left cornerback his senior year at TCU. First year head coach Jim Shofner stated in "Texas Football" that year that Gene "is well-suited to the new four-deep arrangement" Shofner was implementing for the Horned Frogs defense.
"He's outstanding, a natural athlete," TCU secondary coach Junior Wren said of Hernandez in the 1974 edition of Dave Campbell's annual football magazine. "That's why he's at the corner, where the pressure is." I watched my fellow West Columbian play several football games on TV when he was at TCU and was so very impressed that somebody I actually knew was doing so well on the college level.
Gene Hernandez (with helmet on backwards) is pictured in the 1971 Gusher yearbook cutting up in the locker room with Roughnecks teammates, from left, Gary Sims, Charlie Scott and Mark Kirksey. Hernandez was a member of the only Roughnecks football team to play in a state championship game.
Marcus Bonner, wearing number twenty in the photo below taken from the 1977 Gusher yearbook, is pictured with Coach Charles Forehand at right and surrounded by Gary Phillips (83) and Danny Carpenter (60) as the trio of Roughnecks leave the field in a 1976 football game.
Marcus was the recipient of the Marvin Gray Award, given each year to the Roughnecks most valuable player in football, based on his outstanding performance during the 1976 season. He also contributed greatly to the success of the 1975 Roughnecks during his junior year. The Roughnecks defeated intracounty rival Brazosport 7-3 in the Houston Astrodome to claim the district championship in 1975. At that time the district was divided into two zones; Columbia was the winner of one zone and Brazosport won the other. Quarterback Marshall Edwards' long pass to speedster Carl Williams for the only touchdown of the game proved to be the winning score in that Astrodome matchup 34 years ago, as the Roughnecks' defense limited the Exporters to a field goal. That game under the big top in H-town remains vivid in my memory and will go down as one of the greatest Columbia High School playoff victories of all time.
Trey Woodson was one of five state tennis champions Columbia High School could boast about during Charlie Brand's tenure as the Roughnecks varsity tennis coach. Bobby Farmer was the first, in 1962, to win a state singles championship representing the Roughnecks. He was followed by Van Manning in 1976, Joe Langner in 1978, Trey in 1985 and Kelly Hay in 1991. In 1986 Trey Woodson's younger brother Clint advanced all the way to the finals but lost in the championship round. Each of these state champions who played tennis at Columbia High School under Coach Brand is equally deserving of induction into the local high school's sports hall of honor. But for 2009 I have suggested Clark Woodson III of West Columbia for the honor.
Clark, who currently is an attorney in Angleton, and his brother Clint are two young men I have known since they were both small children. They used to live next door to my parents' feed store in West Columbia and would often come in the store when I was working there as a teenager. I used to push the two little Woodson brothers around the feed store on the dolly that we used to haul stacks of feed and fertilizer out to the customers' trucks. They are the nephews of Gilbert Jones, one of my closest friends from my high school days at CHS. I still call them "Trey" and "Clincy," nicknames from their childhood days when they were my "little buddies" at the feed store. Clark, obviously, was called "Trey" because he is Clark Woodson the third.
Trey Woodson followed up his outstanding high school tennis career, capped by taking the boys singles state championship in 1985, by playing tennis at Southwest Texas State University. He was named to the all-conference squad his freshman and sophomore years as a Bobcat tennis player, and was later the tennis pro at Columbia Lakes for a couple years while pursuing his law degree.
Kurt Heble and his twin brother Kevin were playing baseball for coach Bobby Tosch on the Roughnecks varsity team when I was the editor of The Brazoria County News. I had the privilege to watch the Heble twins excel firsthand at Renfro Field in West Columbia when I covered the Roughnecks games for the local newspaper. Both Heble brothers were top notch baseball players in high school so, like the Woodson brothers in tennis, it is almost unthinkable to nominate one brother over the other for the sports hall of honor. It would be great if both sets of brothers (the Woodsons and Hebles) could be inducted in the same year. But, for the sake of a numbers game and an attempt to limit my suggestions to the handful of deserving nominees I have selected, I will save Kevin Heble and Clint Woodson for future years.
Kurt Heble was born February 9, 1969, and first played college baseball at Lee College in Baytown once his high school baseball days in West Columbia had ended. He later transferred to McNeese State to continue his college baseball career. Kurt was the 875th player selected in the 1991 amateur entry draft of major league baseball teams, picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 33rd round.
The 6'3", 205-pound righthander was 22 years old when he was drafted by the Jays in 1991. Kurt launched his professional career as a member of the St. Catherines Blue Jays of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1991, pitching and playing first base in the South Atlantic League at Myrtle Beach in 1992, and splitting time in 1993 between Dunedin in the Florida State League and Knoxville. He pitched for Knoxville, the Blue Jays' double-A affiliate, during the entire 1994 season. And in 1995 Kurt Heble pitched for both Knoxville and the Jays' triple-A team, the Syracuse Chiefs.
Among the highlights of Kurt's pro career was getting to pitch to Michael Jordan when the Chicago Bulls multiple MVP winner decided to step away from the NBA to pursue his dream of playing major league baseball. I recall watching the former Roughnecks star pitch to Jordan on television when the national media was following MJ around minor league baseball parks.
And, until Jared Wells of Brazoria (a 2000 Columbia High graduate and classmate of my son Brian Gupton) pitched for both San Diego and Seattle during the 2008 baseball season, I don't believe any other Roughnecks product other than Kurt Heble and Wells advanced as high as triple-A in pursuing their dreams of being a major league baseball player. I remember Dexter Tielke of West Columbia pitching in the Baltimore Orioles' minor league system in the 1960s but I was only a child then and have no knowledge of how high up the ladder Dexter climbed during his minor league career.
According to a little research I did on the internet recently, I came up with the following statistics on Kurt Heble's minor league career. In his five years in the Toronto Blue Jays' farm system, Kurt won 18 games and lost 16. He was being groomed to one day be a major league closer. In the 170 professional games Kurt Heble pitched in he threw 226 innings, allowing 212 hits, 15 home runs, 101 earned runs, striking out 204 batters and walking 128. His career ERA in the minor leagues was 4.02 and he recorded 13 saves while finishing 46 games on the mound.
He capped his pro career by pitching in four games in 1995 for triple-A Syracuse, striking out five and walking two in four and two-thirds innings of work for the Chiefs. For these accomplishments in the Blue Jays' farm system, and based on my memories of watching him play baseball in high school, I recommend Kurt Heble be inducted into the Roughnecks Sports Hall of Honor in 2009.
Former Roughneck pitcher Kurt Heble, pictured above with his wife Holly in a recent photo, was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and pitched for five years in the major league baseball team's minor league system. Kurt is among my recommendations for this year's Columbia High School sports hall of honor.