Like fine wine, Elks 69’ only gets better with age
I was in fifth grade in the fall of 1969. My best buddies, Steve, Gary, and I were doing all the things kids did in those days—playing tackle-the-man-with-the-ball in the front yard, racing Hot Wheels, riding our bikes, tramping around the rural wilds of old Burleson.
There was a magic to that fall. My oldest sister, Kathy, was on the varsity cheerleader squad, cheering on the Burleson Elks as football season got underway. I hadn’t been much of a football fan before that year, but seeing as how my big sis was on the sidelines—and by that time I knew just about every player on the team—I went to the games that year. I will forever be grateful that I did. What a year it was.
Not much had been expected of the Elks then. Although the 1967 team had gone 8-2-1, the ’68 squad finished 4-5-1, losing badly to the Ennis Lions, 43-0. The ’69 season would start with those same Ennis Lions—the state-ranked Lions—coming to town for Game Number 1.
Back then, I lived on the corner of Gregory and Lester streets, directly across from what was then Burleson High and Elk Stadium. As I headed out to walk to the stadium the night of the first game, our next-door neighbor, Mr. Haas, joked with me: “You going to watch us get killed?” Hardly. What happened that night was, as evidenced by the Ennis newspaper, “a stunner.”
Game No. 1: Burleson 7, Ennis 0
In one of four shutouts the Elks would post that season, Big Red kept one of the state’s most high-powered offenses out of the end zone all night. The Ennis Lions were ranked in the State’s Top 10 going into the game, and many had expected a repeat of the previous year’s shellacking of the Elks. Burleson kept the Lions bottled up all game, and it was in evidence that something big was brewing in ol’ “Burlyville.” Up next: Mineral Wells.
Game No. 2: Burleson 20, Mineral Wells 6
In the second game of the 1969 season, the Elks held the Mineral Wells Rams to only 6 points in a 20-6 win, impressive considering the Rams won their next four games in a row, scoring in double digits in each game. The Big Red defense was making a name for itself. Up next: Weatherford.
Game No. 3: Burleson 28, Weatherford 10
In the ’70 BHS yearbook, the Elks’ Game #3 victory of the 1969 season over Weatherford is listed as 22-10, but in most other historic annals, the game is posted as a 28-10 win. Either way, the Big Red defense once again shut down the opponent’s offense, remarkable considering the Kangaroos had scored 38 and 39 points, respectively, in two previous games. Next up: Diamond Hill.
Game No. 4: Burleson 48, Diamond Hill 0
The Eagles of Diamond Hill-Jarvis were no match for Big Red in Game #4 of the 1969 season. With quarterback Alan Magee at the helm, the Elks rolled to a 48-0 victory, their second shutout of the season and their highest point production so far. Next up: Como.
Game No. 5: Burleson 44, Como 14
In Game #5 of the season, Big Red dominated a determined but outmatched Fort Worth Como Lions squad, 44-14. This was the last tune-up for the Elks before homecoming. Little did Burleson fans know how much they would appreciate Como as the season came to a close. Next up: Everman.
Game No. 6: Burleson 54, Everman 0
In the Elks’ Homecoming Game of the 1969 season, it was Big Red from start to finish in Game #6, as Burleson shut out the rival Bulldogs from Everman, 54-0. With running backs Rick Rogers and Wayne Rogers (no relation) leading the way, and cheerleader Kathy Gardner being named Homecoming Queen at halftime, Big Red fans enjoyed the festivities and a 6-0 season record. Next up: Carter-Riverside.
Game No. 7: Carter-Riverside 13, Burleson 12
Halloween night was truly a terror for Big Red, as Fort Worth Carter-Riverside edged the Elks, 13-12, in Game #7 of the 1969 season. Burleson could never get its offense going, as the Eagles took the inside track to the district title with the win. (On a personal note, I always carried a twinge of guilt about this game. It’s the only one I didn’t attend that year—trick-or-treating was a higher priority for an 11-year-old. Could I have affected fate if I’d passed up the candy to root on the Elks? We’ll never know.) Next up: Azle.
Game No. 8: Burleson 50, Azle 21
In Game #8 of the season, Burleson bounced back from its Halloween loss with a convincing 50-21 win over the Azle Hornets. The Hornets’ 21 points was the most the Elks would surrender in a game during the regular season. Ironically, Azle had scored 21 points against Burleson the previous year as the Hornets won that one, 21-6. But as with many rematches, the ’69 game was sweet redemption for the Elks. It was the second time in the season that the Elks scored 50 points or more, and the Big Red offense was now averaging over 32 points a game. Next up: Lake Worth.
Game No. 9: Burleson 40, Lake Worth 12
Fears of the dreaded Lake Worth Monster aside, Burleson easily handled the Lake Worth Bullfrogs, 40-12, in Game #9 of the 1969 season. The BHS cheerleaders handed out Bullfrog clickers to fans in order to hex Lake Worth, and it must have worked. Earlier in the season, the Bullfrogs had upset Carter-Riverside, 8-0, but the 8-1 Elks would need another Carter-Riverside loss to claim the district title—and only one game remained. Next up: Brewer.
Game No. 10: Burleson 35, Brewer 0
In the last game of the regular season, Game #10 of the Elks’ 1969 season was a commanding 35-0 win over the host Brewer Bears on a cold, wintry night in White Settlement. The only tension felt by Burleson fans was waiting for the outcome of the Carter-Riverside-Como game. The Elks needed Como to upset the Eagles for Burleson to take the district title. With just seconds to go in the Elks’ game, the score came over the PA: Como 6, Carter-Riverside 0. Burleson had won the 3A-5 crown! Next up: Bi-District and Bonham.
Bi-District: Bonham 37, Burleson 8
The Bi-District matchup between the 10th-ranked Elks and the Bonham Warriors was a tough one. The Elks were game but outmatched—and heavily outweighed—by the Warriors, 37-8. Burleson could hold its head high, however, as the 12-1 Bonham team dominated its opponents that year, beating Ennis in the quarterfinals before losing to eventual State Champion Brownwood.
In all, the Elks scored 338 points in their 9-1 regular season, averaging 33.8 points per game, while the defense surrendered only 76 points all season, averaging just 7.6 points scored against per game.
There were many things about that magical season I remember—as I’m sure all the folks of Burleson who faithfully followed the Elks that year will recall, as well. I remember the high school cheerleaders would visit the elementary schools during the week, selling Elk buttons and spirit ribbons for a quarter. The cool thing for the guys to do in those days was to wear the ribbons on their pants leg, down near the ground. If you followed the team throughout the year, you’d have a collection of ribbons—some red, some black—flowing as you walked. By year’s end, when the Elks claimed the District 3A-5 title, a special red and white button was sold, featuring a crown atop a football proudly proclaiming the Burleson Elks as District Champions.
Aside from the action on the field that year, the BHS Elk Band, cheerleaders, majorettes, pep squad, drill team, and others filled those fall Friday evenings with thrilling pageantry and excitement. The favorite fight songs that year were “Hail to the Victors” and “Dixie,” and when the band struck up those tunes, the entire stands came to life. I remember my buddy Steve and I getting so caught up in the spirit, we’d jump from the stands to the sidelines, dancing and clapping to urge the Elks along. Home games were packed; there wasn’t a spare seat to be had. Road games elicited a veritable caravan of cars, which put me in the mind of that old adage, “Last one to leave town turn off the lights.” The whole town had the Big Red Spirit.
There were so many great names on the ’69 team that I can’t possibly mention them all, but aside from QB Magee and the Rogers boys, some of the outstanding Elks of that season included Brian Davenport, J.W. Cross, Eddie Neeper, Dan Parks, Tim Rial, Bobby Smajstrla, Gary Underwood, Bobo Badgett, Hank Hoaldridge, Rick Grohoske, Larry Goodnight, Johnny Pack, and many others. Under Head Coach Jerry Richburg (the Fort Worth Star-Telegram 1969 3A-5 Coach of the Year) and coaches such as Robert Barham, Jack Asbill, and others, the ’69 Elks made the town’s folks proud to be from little ol’ Burleson. Remember the chant? “We’re from Burleson, couldn’t be prouder! If you can’t hear us, we’ll yell a little louder!”
My sister, Kathy, married Bobby Smajstrla, a running back on the ’69 Elks team. They’re still married, and they still live in Burleson. Their two kids, Shawn and Kasie, are grown now with families of their own. An interesting note: Kasie, like her mom, was an Elks cheerleader, and Shawn, like his dad, played on the Elks football team—and the 1992 team Shawn was on was the first Burleson team since the fabled ’69 squad to make the playoffs.
Go, Big Red!
Burleson Elks 1969 Season
Elks 7 Ennis 0
Elks 20 Mineral Wells 6
Elks 28 Weatherford 10
Elks 48 Diamond Hill 0
Elks 44 Como 14
Elks 54 Everman 0
Elks 12 Carter-Riverside 13
Elks 50 Azle 21
Elks 40 Lake Worth 12
Elks 35 Brewer 0
Elks 8 Bonham 37