B. T. Shoemake was a Baptist preacher who may have been a better golfer than he was as orator. Since I was raised in the Church of Christ, I was taught not to listen to Baptists anyway, so I couldn't have said either way.
But sitting on the curved wooden fold-down seats in the Winters High School auditorium as a kid, Ruth and Eddie Little had taught their second son to be polite and listen to the man who was talking, so I did. I think I was in the fourth grade, but it's been a lot of years since my grade school days, so forgive me if I missed that, but it's really not important anyway.
What is important is the message he delivered at that school assembly that morning and on this Senior Day and Hall of Honor Recognition Day more than 40 years later, it has particular meaning.
"When you leave your house, your mom and dad will ask you three questions," Shoemake said, "and they are questions which will be important to you for the rest of your life. They are 'where are you going?,' 'who are you going with?' and 'what are you going to do when you get there?'"
Today, two groups of people - 23 Longhorns seniors and eight Hall of Honor inductees - will walk on Joe Jamial Field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. They have, in their time, answered those questions when it comes to athletics and The University of Texas. This weekend marks the 45th year for The Longhorn Hall of Honor, and at a dinner Friday night, the new members were enshrined. They, like the seniors, will be honored this morning.
For the seniors, it was only four or five years ago they were young recruits, deciding where to go to college. There is no more important decision for a young person to make. Under NCAA rules, when you cast your lot with a school, it's like getting married. Oh, you can decide it's not working and transfer or get a divorce. However, either of those options has a chance to become messy.
That marriage bit about "for better or worse" is dead solid right when it comes to either one. Ask Major Applewhite, D.D. Lewis, Quentin Jammer or any other of the seven seniors who were freshmen in 1997. Not one of them could have imagined a season that ended at 4-7 would bring a changing of the guard in the UT coaching staff.
Little could they know that they would be the foundation, not for John Mackovic's solidifying his Texas position after a Big 12 Championship in 1996, but rather a linchpin of leadership for the Mack Brown era as he became head coach of the Longhorns in December 1997.
That is why today's senior recognition is so important to this coaching staff. Those seven and the other 16 seniors honored this morning, were the beginning of a winning stretch that has not been seen for more than 25 years.
It seems only yesterday that Mack Brown finished a press conference in the Frank Erwin Center as the new Texas coach and hooked up with Cleve Bryant as a two-man recruiting office. The recruits who are part of this class didn't have time to get to know Brown, Bryant and the staff who would follow. They had to decide to come based on faith - a belief in an institution like Texas - but faith in the people and what they stood for.
This is a senior class that hopes to complete a string of 13 consecutive home wins and a record of going unbeaten at home in three of the last four years. More significantly, they have been the common thread in Texas' return to national prominence and they have done it the right way. Nineteen of the 23 are on track to get their college degrees in May.
We will remember their names: Jermain Anderson, Matthew Anderson, Major Applewhite, Corey Bradford, Ahmad Brooks, Montrell Flowers, Maurice Gordon, Bradford Hermes, Ervis Hill, Kyle Hunt, Quentin Jammer, Mike Jones, Tyrone Jones, Nathan Kaspar, Antwan Kirk-Hughes, D.D. Lewis, Robby Nethercut, Everick Rawls, Travis Slagle, Chris Stroup, Marcus Walther, Marcus Wilkins, and Mike Williams.
And they will remember you. They have seen the stadium renovation and the metamorphosis of a late arriving, multi-colored crowd into a sea of burnt orange that comes early, is loud and stays late. They have seen concrete rise and grass grow, and while they were in college, their generation has been threatened as no American generation in the last 60 years. College life is about passages and their passage is one to be duly recognized and appreciated.
Passages also describe this new class of inductees into the Longhorn Hall of Honor. In the current era (those who have played in the last 40 years) there are five new members. There are two vintage choices and one member who is being enshrined as a special exception to the rules which require an athlete or staff member to have finished their tenure before becoming eligible. The Hall of Honor charter says selection is done "in recognition of those qualities that brought credit and renown to The University of Texas."
Three football players, all of whom were chosen All-American, are part of the class. Bill Atessis was an outstanding defensive end on the National Championship teams of 1969 and '70. Offensive line star Terry Tausch lettered from 1978-81 before going on to play eight years in the NFL. Linebacker Britt Hager was one of the toughest players on UT's defense in the 1980s and played nine years in the NFL.
Baseball player Dennis Cook, who played on NCAA runner-ups in 1984 and '85 and has gone on to an incredible Major League pitching career and basketball player Ron Baxter, the co-MVP of the NIT championship team in 1978 and one of the all-time leading scorers in UT history, are the other current era honorees.
The vintage committee had two selections. The late Ike Sewell was an all-conference football player in 1926 and went on to become one of Chicago's leading citizens as the owner of the famed Pizzeria Uno. The late golfer John Payne was an Army Air Corps officer who was so distinguished that the airfield in Cairo, Egypt, was named for him during World War II. He also has been honored by the University's ROTC chapter.
Normally, to be eligible for consideration, a staff member has to have retired or ended his tenure with the University. However, from time to time, the Hall of Honor Court uses its discretion to select someone who is still working. This year, that person is Dr. Charlie Craven.
Forty-one years ago, Craven began working with Longhorns athletes in the new field of strength training. He carried the weights in the back of his pickup and had to find a place where football players could lift iron bars with round things on the ends of them. Except for two years as a coach at Del Valle High School, Craven has worked, quietly efficiently and without a hint of desire for recognition with Texas athletes.
Today, he continues to teach kinesiology and health education and every day he works with the Longhorns football team in their rehabilitation after injuries. Of the seniors honored today, Applewhite, Jammer, Kirk-Hughes, Jones and Hill, among others, all have spent time rehabilitating under the watchful eye of Craven. The weight program he pioneered is now a major part of every athletics program in the country.
After the Hall of Honor committee recommended him for induction this year, the 2001 Longhorns football team gave him one of the loudest "Oh, Texas! cheers you ever heard. Clearly, Craven has touched more than the injured arms and legs. He has touched hearts for 40 years of Texas football.
As the sun was setting on the road back from Waco Saturday, Craven sat in front of me and Major Applewhite, a good representative of the senior class, was a couple of seats behind us on the bus. The preacher, Gerald Mann, pastor of the 10,000-member Riverbend Church and Mack Brown's special guest on the trip to the Baylor game, was in the front seat working on his Sunday sermon on, appropriately, "Happiness."
Maybe that's why I thought of B. T. Shoemake and those wooden seats with the ornamental iron work in that auditorium so very long ago. There are those who do their jobs because they want to impress people and those who impress people because they do their job.
Where are you going? Who are you going with? What are you going to do when you get there? The 2001 Senior Class and new Hall of Honor members have answered those questions with unquestioned class and loyalty. They greet this day with abiding humility.