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Big Sandy basketball teams had two legendary coaches

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In Dallardsville in the 1930s, a two-room school was built at the present school site near where the old cafeteria is located. A water well was present where the old oak tree now stands near the cafeteria. The superintendent was Proctor Galloway and there were two other teachers.

The school grew, and in 1939 the Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration or WPA) built the present junior high building. It was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects.

In the early ‘40s, the first gym was built near where the present new gym stands. A cafeteria was built in 1951 and was located behind the present junior high building. I.V. Burkett was the superintendent, W. Ford King was the high school principal, and Earl Jordan was the elementary school principal.

A new gym was built in 1953 and is still standing today. Today, they call it the “old gym.” During the 1970s, the agriculture building and a new cafeteria were built. In 1982, the new high school was built where grades 8-12 were located.

King is a member of the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame, inducted in 1992. He coached at Woden for five years before moving to Big Sandy where he stayed for 24 years. During the 1950s, he won two State Class B titles. His teams were state runner-up six times and he was named by sportswriters as the Texas Coach of the Year in 1957.

Ed Holder was the assistant coach from 1964-1968. He was a classroom teacher 1949-1963. Holder was superintendent from 1968-1988 and coached from 1968 until he retired in 1988. He coached the B-team and junior high in 1950-64.
Mickey Battise, who represented Big Sandy in the Texas High School Coach Basketball Association’s game tells me that the most memorable game was in 1959 at the state tournament.

“They played against East Mountain in northeast Texas. The score was 43-42 with three seconds left to play. Coach King called time out. Then, when they resumed play, Eddie Jo Cylestine ran down the side of the court to the East Mountain end of the court as two of their players were talking and didn’t see Eddie Jo throw the ball to Edwin Battise. Edwin made a jump shot and scored. So we won by one basket! Then they were able to continue on to the state meet.”

Ed Holder and his family have lived on family land for seven generations in Big Sandy.

“Big Sandy went to the State meet from 1949-1957, seven times,” Ed said. “They won second place in ‘49,’51,’53,’54 and ‘55.

King coached from the late 1930s to 1964.

“The Alabama-Coushatta students were good ball players,” Battise said. “The boys played all night and all day. We ran through the woods as we would go from one house to the other to play ball. We had no more than three or four cars on the reservation at that time.”

As we finished our interview, Battise said, “We would brag about all of us being in the top 10 of our class. What other teams didn’t know was that there was only 65 students in our high school.”

“Kids need goals to achieve what these teams did all those years,” Battise continued. “We all played ball on Sunday afternoons. Church was our best social and even the grandparents were playing ball with the younger players.”

Writing one of these articles, I earn more of a respect for our communities and citizens. This article has given me an understanding of the importance of integrity. This word occurred recently in the article about Jack Moseley. Mark Moseley said, “Mom and dad’s biggest contribution to those who knew them was their integrity.”

Kevin Hendrix, principal of Big Sandy Junior High, said coach Thomas Foster’s coaching reputation was his integrity.
“His team didn’t play dirty; they don’t backtalk the referees or talk back to persons in authority.”

Integrity is something taught but it is also something modeled. I have heard from all those I interviewed about the coaches’ integrity. I have to say that I’ve heard the same comment for years about the Big Sandy community and school. That’s a legacy that the school, community and parents can have ownership in having a part of with the team and community.

Hendrix continues to tell me that W. Foster, Sr. was his high school principal and that he was intelligent and serious about his responsibility to the kids.
Thomas Foster had a great sense of humor!

Iona Tolar Barrett was one of the coach’s girl basketball players that went to state in 1961. She tells a story about Thomas Foster losing his temper and kicking the bleachers. When he kicked the bleachers, his teeth fell out.

“He just picked them up and stuck them right back in his mouth,” Iona said.

She also said that he never wore matching socks.

“It seems like he just reached in the drawer and took what he put his hands on! So when they went to state, the girls’ team pitched in and bought him a pair of matching socks!” Iona said.

“When he took the girls off on a road trip, the parents didn’t have to worry about them. He expected them to be in the bed at 9 p.m. and when he checked the girls’ room, he wanted them to show their face at the door so that he could be accountable for each girl.”

The girls on this team were Jennie Williams, Ida Tolar, Peggy Sue Jones, Carol Wagnon, Carol Kervin, Jeanette Cylestine, Bobbie Hendrix, and Betty Sue Smith The team was the first and only girls team from Big Sandy that went to state. Jennie Williams and Jeanette Cylestine made All-State and Peggy Sue Jones, Bobbie Hendrix and Carol Wagnon were honorable mention.

Thomas never married. He took care of his parents in his home, his brother and raised his brother’s two children, Roland and Kevin.
Iona said, “Coach Foster knew what he was talking about and if you paid attention, you would learn what you needed to learn.”

Luther Myers and his wife, Billie, were both taught by Coach Foster, but Luther was also coached by Coach King.

“Coach King was very serious, no joking in any way,” Luther said.

Then he tells of a bus trip to Nacogdoches for a basketball tournament.

“We were country boys and we got real excited when one of those big trucks would pass us.”

A problem arose when Johnny Williams, one of the players, stood up and motioned to the truck driver to blow his horn. The driver of the truck ignored Johnny’s request to blow his horn. So Johnny yelled to the truck driver, “Blow your d--- horn!”

Coach King called Johnny up to the front of the bus and said, “If you do that again, you won’t ride this bus!”

Luther wanted to give junior high coach Ed Holder credit for being the coach responsible for teaching the team how to play with Ed’s great basketball skills. He then said,

“Coach King just advanced us.”

I remember Coach King’s daughter, Sherry. She was a very pretty girl. Her mother, Gladys, died when Sherry was 11 years old. Big Sandy dedicated the school yearbook to Gladys that year. Sherry would ride the bus with the team to games.

Sherry asked me if I had heard about “Bigfoot.” (I thought she meant the other Bigfoot that is believed to roam the woods around Big Sandy).
She actually was referring to her dad! She says, “He is 6 foot 6½ inches tall and wears size 15½ shoe.”

Battise told me, as I was interviewing him, that Ford bought himself two pair of wingtip shoes on the annual trips to Austin (he may have had trouble finding size 15½ shoes).

Sherry has fond memories about looking out the back of the bus window and seeing a “long train of car lights” as they followed Big Sandy to the ball games.
Everybody could hear King coming down the hall. He carried keys in his pocket and would jingle them so students could hear him coming and many would straighten up before he got there!

Sherry’s brother, Ford King Jr., also coached in Woden, near Nacogdoches. When her father died in 2007, the gym was dedicated to him.

Kevin Hendrix’s father, Edwin Hendrix, can be classified as a teller of big stories! I had to pick just one of his three whoppers. One was about a “hoop snake,” another about a tarantula spider (loose in chemistry class). I chose to tell you about the “rotten egg smell.”

Mr. Foster was holding a jar out the window mixing Hydrogen Sulfide. It smelled like rotten eggs.

Edwin said, “Mr. Foster, I can’t take it!”

Then Mr. Foster said, “if you can’t take it, go down to Mr. Burkett’s office (the principal).”

Edwin and Larry Williford left the room, but stopped for an extended time by the restroom to avoid Mr. Burkett. When they returned to the class, Foster asked them for their excuse from Mr. Burkett (Larry Williford’s dad and my granddad, Lemuel Williford were brothers).

They went to Burkett’s office. When they told him why they needed an excuse, Burkett said, “I don’t blame you! The smell was getting to me!”
He wrote the note, “Please admit Edwin Hendrix and Larry Williford back to your class.”

Gary Hendrix said if you weren’t in bed by 10 p.m., Coach Ford King would pick on you until you confessed why you were not in bed on time. Then, he’d have you sit out for two or three games. You could suit up and sit on the bench during your punishment.

Iona Crewl, a student at Big Sandy, tells me that her brother, Oscar Smith, played basketball under Ford. It was known that he would go to the player’s home to see if they were in the bed at 10 p.m.

“Coach caught Oscar in the corn patch,” Crewl said. “Oscar’s dad had him there to keep the raccoons from eating the corn. Coach let him suit up, but he had to sit on the bench for not being in the bed by 10 p.m.

Gary Hendrix had let his hair grow out for the summer. Gary said, “If you are going to play ball for coach, you’d better have short hair! Here comes Coach King and he ‘rared’ (chewed) me out.”

“I told him, ‘Coach, I respect you and I’m intending on cutting my hair, but is there any way I can just once have long hair for my picture?’”
King replied, “We’re going to let it slip this time, but get that hair cut!”

In visiting with Jennie Williams Battise, she tells me that when Foster began to teach, he was only 21 or 22 years of age. She also tells me that even after he retired from teaching, he came back and worked full time. He worked at the school in whatever way he was needed. Jennie tells me that she has three grandchildren (Edward, Matthew and Misty) and that Foster, a very dedicated teacher, would meet Misty at 7 a.m. before school and tutor her before class began.

She says, “You’d have to hear Mr. Foster say this so it would sound right … ‘What’s your problem?”

Mickey Battise said that housing was hard to find during those days. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council met and voted for King to live on the reservation (he lived there for eight years).

Ford King Jr. and Mickey Battise became best friends. Mickey said that Gladys, the mother of Ford King Jr., would have him a present as well when they celebrated Ford King Jr.’s birthday.

Keep in mind that Big Sandy had only 65 students in high school and half of those were girls.

“There were only 10 in our class.” Mickey said, “Coach put up three basketball goals for us to practice and one of those was in front of his house. He got us rubber balls so we could practice outside.”

Mickey was upset that only five years ago he was talking about King and no one knew who he was.

Mickey said, “He was a legendary coach, he was a young coach and King said he could see our potential. He gave credit to the Alabama-Coushatta students for their part in the success of his coaching.”

Milton Redd Williams was one of the boys that help put Big Sandy on the map. He then he went to play ball for Tyler Junior College, making All-State three times. Redd played for The Centenary University basketball team in Shreveport, La. He received the All-American recognition while there.

Ford’s teams won tournaments at Sam Houston six years in a row. When Mickey Battise was in King’s home, he noticed that the coach had six watches scattered around his home. These were his “trophies” for the accomplishments.

While Ford King Jr. was living on the reservation with his family, he actually learned the Alabama-Coushatta language, because his Indian friends spoke only the Indian dialect and very little English.

In visiting with Oscar Williams, he mainly wanted to talk about his grandson, Angel Bullock, who is now playing basketball for Big Sandy. Oscar did tell me that he was an All-State player in 1957 when they played in the state tournament in Austin.

Oscar said he has two grandsons that play basketball, but that he is currently working with his granddaughter and teaching her to play basketball. Basketball is a favorite sport for this family and it goes on for generations to come. Oscar’s brother was Redd Williams, who also played under Ford King.

Pauline, Redd’s wife, tells me that Redd was a preacher for 45 years and died at age 70. Pauline helped me get my information from Oscar. Oscar has problems, like I do, hearing over the phone!

A coach named Cotton Robison from Buna had six championships in the 1950s. When he was interviewed by the press, he was asked to name the five top high school coaches. He named Ford King as the best!

Big Sandy Superintendent Arvis Rogers was showing a “UIL Sports Book” to Mickey with a full page in it about Coach Ford King. Shelby Metcalf, coach at Texas A&M University, would open the college for the Big Sandy players to practice on their way to the Austin meet. Coach Ford King and his team were welcomed to the “training table” and they ate all the food they could hold!

Jenny Battise shared her 1961 Big Sandy annual with me. As I was looking at the picture of these basketball players, I recognized two boys that I knew during that time: Dudley Dickens and Harvey Glen Jones.

“He’d rattled his keys in his pocket like a cowbell and we would scatter like ducks,” Dickens said of King. “He used to smoke and coach King decided to quit. So, he bought two boxes of toothpicks. After a game, we would see at least two full boxes of toothpicks chewed up and scattered on the floor where he was sitting on the bleachers. He never smoked again!”

As I was thumbing through the annual, I noticed that Harvey Glen Jones received the award for “Most Athletic” and Dudley Dickens received the recognition as “Senior Best Lookers.”

I’d like to thank all the “Big Sandy alumni” who contributed to this article. Jennie Battise and Margie Cain (my cousin) for their extra help and pictures. The history of the school came from the Big Sandy School website.

big-sandy-team-640pBIG SANDY’S 1961 BASKETBALL TEAM — Led by Hall of Fame Coach Ford King, Big Sandy High School’s basketball teams made it to the state finals seven times from 1949-1957, winning two championships along the way. Above is a photo of the 1961 boys team that included (kneeling, L-R) Herbert Johnson, Marvin Lilley, Gary Hendrix, John Davis, Robert Burbank, (standing, L-R) Edward Holder, Lowell Sylestine, Harvey Jones, Larry Wagnon, Dudley Dickens, Cecil Alec and Coach Ford King.