1914 The First Team
Probable 1914 Team Members
Elvies Allgood, Gideon Coley, Tate Counts, Euel Duke, Elmer Gentry, Gaston Grisham, J.P. Howell, Gus McCain, Tassie Mohon, Blake Neal, B.J. Pittman Jr., Dean Rippetoe, Lloyd Tunnell, Buel VanZandt, Dick Wozencraft
Ironically, as De Leon fielded its first high school football team, it would do so with players who by the end of their careers would be considered among the greatest to have played for De Leon even nearly a century later. Those young players would dominate the area as seniors and go on to play for several college teams including two Southwest Conference Championship teams.
How those first players developed into the champions of 1917 and play for a state title would be an incredible story but sadly, the details are limited by the lack of early sports coverage and the loss of printed material. The De Leon Free Press burned in July of 1923 wiping out most of the early records and there was no high school annual until 1919-1920. Therefore, virtually every bit of game information that has been located on the early years will be included here. The reader will quickly see that there is not much.
As noted on the Football’s Beginnings page, De Leon began to compete in the University Interscholastic League in 1914, but it is not possible to say with absolute certainty that 1914 was indeed the first year. The assumption is based on interviews with the earliest players still living at the time including B.J. Pittman Jr., Dean Rippetoe, Byron Short, and Dewey Daniell. The evidence leans heavily toward that date, however…
In the June 9, 1933 issue of the De Leon Free Press the following appeared: “Some ingenious pen sketches back in the good year 1913 penned a fancied likeness of the football team of that year and displayed the cartoons in the window at T.P. Weaver and Son Drug Store. A few days ago Herbert Weaver found the pictures and displayed them in the window again after 20 years.
The cartoons were of B.J. Pittman Jr., Gus McCain, Buel Van Zandt, J.P. Howell, Tassie Mohon, Gideon Coley, Dick Wozencraft, Gaston Grisham, Elvies Allgood, Dean Rippetoe, and Lloyd Tunnell. Elmer Gentry and Blake Neal were done in caricature as officials.”
In all probability, the date was simply a typo by the Free Press and were caricatures were of the 1914 team rather than 1913. B.J. Pittman Jr. who played five season (1914-1918) confirmed that all these boys played with him with two exceptions. He noted that Blake Neal had only one leg and was not a player. He suggested that Blake may have acted as manager of the team. (Mr. Pittman, who was well into his eighties at the time, may have had Neal confused with someone else as subsequent to this conversation, a photo of Blake Neal was provided by Hiram Smith Jr. with no apparent leg issues.) Blake’s brother was future U.S. Army General Paul Neal. Elmer Gentry was unknown to Mr. Pittman but he was perhaps better known along with his partner Wayne Bell as De Leon’s first Chevrolet dealers and later operator of Gentry’s Garage.
In 1982, Dean Rippetoe stated that De Leon began to compete as a high school team in 1914. He recalled that the U.I.L. had added the sport a year earlier but that De Leon did not participate that first year.
A Comanche Chief article in 1915 noted that “ De Leon had improved with a year’s experience.”
In the spring of 1914, De Leon graduated six students. That fall 373 students enrolled in eleven grades. With a few exceptions, the student body came entirely from within the city limits of De Leon, then only about a mile square, centered around the depot. In addition to the nine independent school districts in Comanche County, there were eighty other schools in the county all administered by the County Superintendent. The independent districts included De Leon, Comanche, Theney (Comyn), Sipe Springs, Downing , Wilson, Sidney, Proctor and Hasse. De Leon was one of the smaller area independent districts. By comparison Comanche enrolled 688 while future rivals Dublin and Stephenville enrolled 602 and 760 respectively.
The Bearcat Beam, the De Leon High School newspaper of January 21, 1938, stated that De Leon played two games each against Gorman, Cisco and Comanche that first year. It was customary for teams to schedule games on a home and home basis in the early years. And, since it was usually necessary to schedule teams based on the availability of transportation as much as the consideration of proximity, it would be logical that in the early years, De Leon might have played Walnut Springs, Cross Plains, Rising Star and other teams located along the Texas Central Railroad, the primary means of transportation.
The Bearcat Beam also reported that the players played in cowboy boots and baseball caps. Although this may be true of the 1914 team, it appears that the 1915 team played with football pants, leggings, and heavy sweater type jerseys.
B.J. Pittman recalled that only four members of the 1914 team had head gear. Pittman was one of the four. The head gear was called a “Princeton helmet” and was nothing more than two layers of leather with cotton ticking packed and stitched in between. The helment had been purchased by B.J.’s father but offered little in the way of real protection.
Assuming the Bearcat Beam was correct and De Leon played Gorman and Cisco, no records of those games have been found. Pittman did remember playing Cisco and Hamilton at some point during his career.
He recalled that De Leon journeyed to Cisco for a game and when they arrived at the field, they were shocked at the size of the Cisco team, which was working out on the field. The De Leon boys could not believe that they were expected to play against these giants. But as they gawked in disbelief, the team from Britton College (now Cisco Junior College) finished their practice and the Cisco High School team came out. De Leon won the game but Pittman could not remember the year it was played nor the score.
Pittman also recalled that at a game played at Hamilton, De Leon found that the field was nothing more than a cornfield that had not even been cleared of all the stubble. B.J. got a cut over his eye when he fell on s stalk of corn.
THE COMANCHE GAMES
De Leon’s first game with Comanche as a U.I.L. member came against the Comanche J.V. It was played on October 28, 1914. The Comanche Vanguard, a newspaper of the time said “Comanche lost last Saturday 6-0 to Brownwood while the second team lost out with De Leon 6-3. Both games were played on the home grounds of the winning team.” The Comanche Chief added that “De Leon was much heavier and Comanche couldn’t move. Dutch Woodward was the star for Comanche as he drop kicked the field goal.”
The Chief said of the rematch, “The Comanche second team went down in defeat Monday before the De Leon High School team. It was rather cool and both teams played a hard and fast game. De Leon outweighted (sic) the home boys…but [the teams] were evenly matched. De Leon scored in the second quarter when the right end got away for a twenty yard touchdown and then kicked goal.” The final score was De Leon 7-0.
That is all that more than three decades of searching has reveled about that first Bearcat football team. It was a beginning and the foundation for a great team had been laid for the 1917 football season which would be one of the greatest in De Leon history.