Jun 09, 2009

by: John Agan

Many Echoes of Our Past have dealt with events from the relatively distant past; however, today's column will concern a more recent landmark event in Minden's athletic and social history. On September 28, 1973, 27 years ago last night, probably the most unique athletic contest in our city's history took place. For the first, and the only, time in the town's history, its two high schools met on the football field for the City Championship. Today's column is the story of that game and how it came to be.

Throughout the first 6 decades of the 20th century, high school sports in Louisiana, as most of life here, were segregated. In the 1960s, as the Civil Rights movement began to gain victories, things began to change. High School sports in Louisiana made a radical change in the 1970-71 school year, when the traditionally all-white Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) absorbed the schools of the Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization (LIALO) the old association of Black schools.

During that school year competition began between schools that had been neighbors for decades, but had never met athletically. In Minden, the first match between Minden High School and Webster High School came on the basketball court. On Tuesday, December 22, 1970, the Crimson Tide and the Wolves played at Tide Gym.

There were many contrasts coming into this game, in addition to the fact the one school was predominantly White and the other predominantly Black. Minden was coming off of a 4-23 season in 1969-70, and was led by new Coach Clyde "Buster" Carlisle. Webster, on the other hand, was coming off a season that saw the team finish with a 39-3 record, losing in the playoffs to the Robert Parish-led Union High School Eagles of Shreveport. The Webster squad had beaten Union in two previous meetings that season.

Webster was coached by Ozias Johnson, who had been at the school since 1946 and had compiled an amazing record of 820 wins and only 221 losses at the school. In addition, the Wolves were led by perhaps the best player in North Louisiana and without a doubt one of the two best basketball players to ever come from Minden, Louis Dunbar, who was averaging 33.5 points and 21.5 rebounds per game. Webster, entered this match-up with a 12-1 record, its only loss came to a Texas team in the DeRidder tournament. The Wolves were averaging 94.5 points per game while allowing only 59.2.

Minden had reasons for optimism, under their dynamic new coach, the Tide sported a 12-4 won-loss mark, and with the home court advantage hoped to give the talented Wolves a good ballgame. A more than standing-room only crowd packed Tide gym for the match up. The outside of the Minden gymnasium was undergoing repairs and spectators climbed the scaffoldings in place to get a glimpse through the windows of the much-anticipated contest. Unfortunately, the game was rather anti-climatic.

Minden was not prepared for the all-around skills of Dunbar, who often brought the ball up-court as a 6'8" press-breaking guard, and the Tide found it difficult to stop the 30 point scoring from the outside of Con L. Flournoy of the Wolves. I remember as a 12-year old watching the futility of a 5'9" Tide guard trying to cope with the skills of the nearly 1 foot taller Dunbar. The Wolves coasted to an easy 80-51 victory.

The return match-up at the Wolves gym on Tuesday, December 29, was even less of a contest. The Wolves used their starters in only the first half of an 88-39 victory over the Tide. Minden went on to its most successful season in several years, finishing with a 24-12 record, while Webster ended its season by claiming the State AA championship in its first year of competition in the LHSAA with a 34-1 record. Dunbar was named the Outstanding Player in the Top Twenty, as the state tournament was then known, and Coach Johnson won his fifth Coach of the Year honor. Dunbar would of course go on to star at the University of Houston and have a long career as "Sweet Lou" Dunbar of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The two schools continued to meet in basketball, baseball and track and field over the next few years, but because of scheduling conflicts, did not meet on the football field, the "king" of high school sports in our area. This changed with the redistricting of schools in the spring of 1973. Minden and Webster High were both placed in District 1-AAA, the cross-town rivalry would now become a District rivalry and the city football championship would become a reality.

As with the first basketball meeting, the two schools were coming from entirely different situations. Minden was led by first year coach, Jerry Fausett, and was coming off a 1972 season that saw the Tide finish with a 1-8-1 record, perhaps the worst season in the history of the school's football program. Webster was led by Coach Eddie Robinson, Jr., son of the famous Grambling mentor, and had finished 1972 with a record of 5-4 while competing in District 1-AA.

However, the immediate circumstances of the game seemed to favor Minden. Webster, having moved up to a higher classification, brought a record of 0-3 into the contest, and had scored only 1 touchdown in its three games. Minden's record was only slighter better at 1-2 record, but the Tide was coming off a 40-0 victory against Mansfield, the Tide's largest victory margin in 6 years. In addition, the Tide had home field advantage in the contest.

The starting lineups for the game were as follows:

Minden Crimson Tide     Webster Wolves

Offense                 Offense
Tim Kennedy    - SE     Victor Howard    - SE
Brad Walston   - LT     Leo Carter       - LT
Gary Ellington - LG     Ben Clark        - LG
Danny Haynes   - C      Bruce Parker     - C
Chad Garland   - RG     Wallace White    - RG
David Hunter   - RT     Gregory Shyne    - RT
Jerry Almond   - TE     Andre Grigsby    - TE
Alan Sherrill  - QB     Obie Jones       - QB
Danny Parker   - HB     Fred Harrison    - HB
Lamar Rentz    - HB     Glen Odom        - HB
Alton McCann   - FB     Drew Edwards     - FB

Defense                 Defense 
Randy Thomas   - RT     Wallace White    - RDE
Gary Ellington - RG     Willie Jackson   - RDT
Glen Cox       - LG     Gregory Jackson  - NG		
David Kirkland - LT     Jimmy Green      - LDT				
Guy Sanders    - RLB    Anderson Benton  - LDE
Alton McCann   - MLB    Kenny Williams   - RLB
Mack Myles     - LLB    Dedrick Sterling - LLB
Scotty Wise    - CB     Reginald Bailey  - CB
Alan Sherrill  - CB     Cecil Montgomery - CB
Danny Parker   - S      James Williams   - RS
Lamar Rentz    - S      Willie Cole      - LS

At the beginning of the game, it appeared that Minden would dominate the contest. On its first three drives, the Tide reached the Wolf 15 yard-line twice and the 7 yard-line once, but failed to get any points and the first quarter ended scoreless. Minden finally scored on a pass from Alan Sherrill to Lamar Rentz. Bobby Igo added the point after and Minden led 7-0 with 7:19 remaining in the 2nd quarter. This lead was very short-lived.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Webster return man broke free and raced 85 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. The identity of the kick returner was reported differently in newspaper accounts. One credited the score to Andrew Salisberry, while the other credited Donny Lewis with the return. Salisberry then scored on a two-point conversion run and the Wolves led 8-7. The remainder of the half was scoreless and the Wolves went into the locker room with that one-point lead.

In the third quarter the game settled into a defensive struggle, until the Tide scored on a two-yard run by Guy Sanders on the final play of the third quarter. The try for two was unsuccessful and the third quarter ended with the Tide holding a 13-8 lead. In the fourth quarter, the superior depth of Minden finally wore down the Wolves, as the Tide scored two more times, on a 10-yard run by Lamar Rentz, followed by a two-point conversion run by Guy Sanders, upping Minden's lead to 21-8.

The final tally came on a 14-yard run by Sanders. Igo's conversion brought the final score to 28-8 and the Minden Crimson Tide had become the first "City Football Champions."

Statistically, Minden dominated the game, out rushing the Wolves 254 yards to 63 and gaining 42 yards passing to only 16 for Webster. However, the determined effort of the Wolves and several Minden turnovers made the contest close until the last minutes of the ball game. In the aftermath of the contest, discussion centered on how this could become an annual event and the focus of the fall athletic season in our community. Webster was looking forward to the rematch in September 1974, at Wolves Stadium.

In July of 1974, those plans and many other aspects of education in Webster Parish changed drastically. The Webster Parish School Board finally settled the 1965 desegregation suit and submitted a plan acceptable to the Federal Courts. Under that plan, Webster High School was closed and converted into a Junior High School. All Minden students of high school age would attend MHS. Thus the new rivalry ended almost as soon as it began. However, for one season, and one night, 27 years ago this week, Minden had a High School City Championship football game. That is one of the unique Echoes of Our Past.

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