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Trinity Standard - Local News

Copyright 2017 - Polk County Publishing Company

 

Remembering Trinity's Finest, Coach McCord
Trinity Standard -

 

By Dan Barns

On August 17th of this year, James Weldon McCord passed away at age 85 in Gainesville, Texas. To most of today's Trinity residents, he is not even a memory, but with his arrival 51 years ago as our latest head coach, a new era began for the Trinity Tiger football team and those who, come win or lose, rain or shine, loyally supported it. Weldon McCord came to us from the coaching staff at Linden- Kildare, a program where he had mentored the likes of A&M's immortal quarterback Ed Harrgett. Trinity was his first head coaching job. He arrived in the summer of 1965 with his wife Rita and their two small children, Gayla and Jeff. The season began with a team meeting during the first week in August, where we were introduced to both McCord and his very competent assistant coach, Roy Foerster. Ominously, only 17 potential players were in attendance. What nobody seemed to know was that this lack of participants was a symptom of a football program near the state of collapse, a process that had probably been underway for several years and was due to many factors. Foremost among these was our lack of recent success on the field, where we had lost so consistently that we were immersed in a culture of failure. I think this syndrome initially effected nearly everyone on that team, including most of those who stuck it out. In retrospect, perhaps Coach McCord's biggest initial challenge in Trinity was to instill of a winning attitude in the football program he inherited. Nevertheless, whether by chance or design, Coach Mc- Cord began his sojourn in Trinity as if he had an unlimited and expendable talent pool. His two-days began in mid- August, always in full pads and often in heat of over 100˚. His rugged practices could last three hours, always followed by innumerable 50 yard dashes. At the first afternoon practice, the sprints were accomplished in the dark and I lost count with number 35. P r e d i c t a b l y, given these physical demands, our numbers dwindled daily until around Thursday morning, when only 9 players "answered the bell". "Coach" called of that practice and we were sent on a team recruiting effort that, if unsuccessful, would see the whole program cancelled. Though the players' sales pitch fell on deaf ears, two other volunteers miraculously showed up at 4:30, and with this, the program was continue and our practices resumed. Things hardly improved numbers- wise, however, as at our first game, in Barbers Hill, we could only suit up 12 players. As luck would have it, though our numbers were small, there was talent on the 1965 Tiger squad for Coach McCord to work with. Stalwart Senior end John Ellis' efforts that season would rank him in my eyes as the most formidable football player I ever got on the field with. Though enduring a shoulder permanently injured almost to the point of disability, I considered Junior Quarterback Jon Elliott as the District's best all-round athlete. Cat-quick Sophomore Jon Paul Richards would quickly emerge as one of the best halfbacks Trinity High ever produced. And by his senior season, Freshman Fullback/ Linebacker/Kicker Randy Shelley would be awarded a spot on the All-East Texas football team. Luckily, all these guys played for us. Our line in those years was patchwork and small, but it was also game, tough, and fast, and seemingly always up to any challenge. On offense, the McCord teams I played on were rather conventional. It was mostly run, run, run, and pass when you had to. Actually, this was pretty normal in that time in a Texas where football was dominated by the reputation of Bud Wilkerson and the results of Darrell Royal. And unless we got substantially behind our opponents, this offensive approach worked for us. But Weldon McCord's football was mostly about what usually wins games, good defense, and in this regard, in Trinity in 1965, the man had found his team. Perhaps surmising that we were as long on "quick" as we were short on brawn, "Coach" devised a novel defense and defensive scheme, one totally new to us and our opponents, and one that marshaled our only three real weapon - conditioning, speed, and guts. Daring all opposing offenses to pass the ball, from a 4-4 formation we "shot every gap" every play, a maneuver that left perhaps fifty possible but unpredictable combinations of guy's arriving for an offense to block. As a result, the age-old football practice of blocking a particular man gave way to the need to block into a space, all the while not knowing if your opponent would be a driving down-lineman or a gap-shooting linebacker. Consequently, with the hiking of the ball, we literally swarmed at our opponent's offense. For me, McCord's defensive approach calls to mind Admiral "Bull" Halsey's succinctly memorable command to his naval forces during a critical engagement in the Pacific in 1942: "Attack! Repeat, Attack!" What usually ensued from this approach can perhaps best be described as organized chaos and confusion, with the outcome usually working to our advantage. A Baylor-bound tackle from Elkhart later told me they never figured a way to successfully block our defense. The 1965 season ended successfully for us. We finished with 5 wins, 4 losses, and a tie, and Trinity's first winning season since 1958. But there was more here than just a won-lost record. Trinity's dentist of the time, Gordon Dickinson, himself no mean football analyst, told me several times that the 1965 Trinity-Barbers Hill contest was the best high school football game he ever saw. And as the season progressed, we were manhandled by only one team, Grapeland (6-24), a squad that ranks in my memory as the best all-round team I played against in 4 years of competing. Significantly, our one tie was with Elkhart, the eventual District Champ. Additionally, we were in the other three losses until the end, losing to Barbers Hill (0-6) in the last 40 seconds due to sheer exhaustion; Diboll (0-8) due to accumulative injuries; and Groveton (6-8) due to our failure to follow their novel approach of dressing out several of the refs for the game. And things got better in 1966. Though we had 3 critical personnel losses due to graduation, many more guys showed up to joined the team that year. Junior- Senior-rich and, as always, in excellent physical shape, we finished the season 8-2, only being beaten by two teams that were frankly better than we were the night we played them (Groveton and Elkhart). To its credit, however, this team had the best won-lost record of any that Weldon McCord was ever to head coach. But of perhaps greater significance than who we beat or lost to, in late October our and Coach McCord's exertions and achievements over the last 14 months led to Trinity, the former doormat of the district, being ranked by the Dallas Morning News as 10th in the state in Texas Class 1A football. Weldon McCord generally continued his successful ways in Trinity after my class graduated, producing 5 winning seasons in 8 years. Utilizing our football squad's speed and athleticism, he also coached Trinity's 1967 track team to a district championship. And in a meaningful familial aside for me, with no prior experience, he coached and helped nurture what eventually evolved into perhaps the best girls basketball team that Trinity ever saw. All this being said, his greatest achievement while in Trinity High School has to be that he truly saved its football program. Coach McCord and the football program he instituted in Trinity had other important characteristics. First off, he had no tolerance for foolish or bad behavior. Foul language was not used by him or Coach Foerster, and it was not tolerated in us. He expected all his players to do their best in class and he never asked for special academic "consideration" for them. When we visited other towns to play ball he made sure that our behavior and appearance made us good ambassadors for Trinity and Trinity High School. And though tough on us all, I do not remember him ever being partial or unfair with any player. Coach McCord's 1965-66 teams won through persaverance and work hard, and in so doing built up pride and self confidence in the players and increased respect in the community for itself. In great irony, Coach Mc- Cord now lies beside his family members in Wilmer, Texas, in that community's "Trinity Cemetery". I last saw him back in June at the Trinity High School reunion, upon his attendance at the 50th anniversary of my class' graduation. Though the years had obviously taken their toll on him, I recognized him immediately and was struck by the joy he obviously felt at being in the presence of so many people with whom he had accomplished so much and had shared so many fond and meaningful memories. Never a very demonstrative man, I was struck as he was about to leave us for what would be the last time, when he turned with the aid of his walker and announced in a loud voice, one crisp with emotion: "I'll always consider Trinity my home!" Similarly, for all those that rode his leadership to unaccustomed success on the field in the 1965-66 football seasons at Trinity High, I think that I can assert that each of us will always consider James Weldon McCord "our coach."

 

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