Article on the old "Oil Belt" high school football league

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From an article in the November 20, 1961 Big Spring Herald
LOOKING EM' OVER
By TOMMY HART


For blood-and-thunder football and callous above-the-table piracy,
there is little in the Texas schoolboy history to equal the old
Oil Belt, which flourished back in the late 20's and early 30's.
Abilene was a football power, then as now, and Breckenridge
was just feeling its oats but other communities in the colony
fielding winners were some of the most unlikely places you ever
heard of — Cisco, Ranger and Eastland. Unlikely, that is, when
compared to today's high echelon football.

Such small communities as Caddo, Comanche and Moran
were feeder schools in the district's vast and complex plan to
develop football winners, often without the consent and blessing
of officials in those schools. The plundering wasn't limited
to players, either. In the heyday of the Oil Belt circuit, Breckenridge
tempted Eck Curtis, then coach of the Ranger Bulldogs,
with an offer of, $100 more a month than he was making at
Ranger.

Curtis, who is now director of athletics of the Lubbock schools,
noised it about that he'd stay in Ranger for a bigger stipend —
after all, he felt he deserved as much pay as some of the Oil
Belt's best football players were making. Ranger let him go, however,
and thereafter Eck took great delight in beating the socks
off Ranger wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Roy Bruce, who now operates a service station here,
was a member of the Ranger team during that era. He was
'home grown" talent, incidentally. He played under both
Curtis and Blair Cherry, who later was to become head
coach at the University of Texas after a tenure at Amarillo
High School.

It is said that one of the member schools plundered a so-called
'farm club' of so much talent one year that the feeder school had
to call off the rest of its games. Some of the great ball players
in the salad days of the Oil Belt circuit were Dan McCarty and
Chuck-a-Luck Bird, both of the Ranger team; Curley Kellog and
Honk Invin of Cisco; Billy Cheatham, Eastland; Boone Magness,
Breckenridge; and Altman Smith, Dan Salkeld, Hale Kincaid and Stan Smith, all of the Abilene
team.

Dewey Mayhew, later head coach at Texas A&I, was head man at Abilene High during part
of those years. Pete Shotwell was coach at Abilene before Mayhew
took over and later was to head up the football program at Breckenridge.
The late, great Weldon Chapman was the overseer at Cisco.
Chapman was ultimately to gain fame as the developer of a dedicated
Lubbock team that proceeded to win the state championship
after a slow start following the unexpected death of
Chapman.

The area from Ranger to Breckenridge and Abilene was experiencing
an oil boom in those days and the circuit got its name accordingly.

Bruce recalls MacCarty, a bruising 180-pounder, as the
finest ball carrier he ever saw. McCarty, incidentally, married
the daughter of a publisher but the marriage didn't
work out. Later, he enrolled in Cameron JC in Oklahoma
to play football and wedded a wealthy Indian girl while In
Oklahoma.

Bird, by the way, had been induced to come over to Ranger
from Mineral Wells but the latter school couldn't protest
too much. The officials there had talked him into moving
from an even smaller community.

Campaigning was hot and heavy throughout the life of
the circuit but Abilene did most of the winning. The Eagles
lost to Waco (13-0) in the state finals as long ago as
1922 — back before the Oil Belt really got into the swing
of things. The Eagles turned the tables on the Tigers In the
title game the following year, 3-0.

In 1927, Abilene lost to Waco in the finals again, 21-
14, at a time Paul Tyson of Waco was regarded as the
best of the school coaches. In '28, the Eagles again made it to the finals and
there beat Port Arthur, 38-0. In '29, Breckenridge finally
broke Abilene's spell and roared all the way to the finals
before being tied by Port Arthur, 0-0. Two years later,
Abilene again popped up in the title game, where it defeated
Beaumont, 13-0.

Big Spring was added to the circuit in its latter years but just
about the time Obie Bristow got his recruiting drive in high gear,
to such an extent that some of the Oklahoma schools began lo
call for a League of Nations investigation, the depression came
along and the Texas Interscholastic League adopted more stringent
eligibility rules. The most telling of the statutes was the
one-year transfer rule, incidentally.

Texas has never seen anything like the circuit, before or since.
If piracy was a sin, and no one looked upon it as such in those
days, the august old league more than made up for it with fan appeal
and unbridled enthusiasm.

And West Texas, then considered an uncharted wilderness to
people in East Texas, needed such an elixir to help civilize it
and make life more durable.
 
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