Contrary to the beliefs of the young, high school football in Del Rio did not begin with the Rams.
Long before the first patches of grass were planted at what would become Ram Stadium, now Walter Levermann Ram Stadium, two high schools represented our community. And while they didn’t play each other regularly — they didn’t even play in the same district until 1969! — they each produced a bevy of great players and future community leaders.
They are programs that produced greats like Sid Blanks, Wayne Benson, Al Best, Danny Chavira and others. And they are the programs from which our current Rams can trace their lineage.
In the Beginning …
Football has been an organized sport in Del Rio for just over 100 years. According to a story published in the Del Rio News-Herald in 1971, the earliest available record of a football team here was at Del Rio High School in the fall of 1914.
According to the story, the team had 12 players – Curtis Osgood, Milton Smith, Ashton Garrett, Jimmy Garrett, Marat Thurmond, Hugh Goodin, Carl Friesen, Henry Horn, Louis Qualia, Bayless Miner, Oscar Morton and Buddy Cummings – and was coached by M.L. Stubblefield.
The team played on a dusty patch of land located at the corner of Spring and Washington streets, which is now home to the First Presbyterian Church.
Introducing the Wildcats
It wasn’t until 1921 that Del Rio High recognized the importance and health benefits of having a football team. That September, the school board allocated $250 for the team and $250 for athletics as an actual class.
That same year, the team adopted a baby wildcat as its mascot. It appeared in the first team photo, sitting in the lap of quarterback and team captain Roger Thurmond. Shortly thereafter, the Del Rio Wildcats were born.
There were 18 players on that inaugural team, coached by D.C. “Bobby” Cannon. Those players included Roger “Adam” Thurmond, Elvis Stewart, Alfred “Snag” Laughlin, Henry “Heinie” Doty, Ross “Bubbles” Smith, Claude “Spike” Arnold, Frank “Rusty” Kirchgraber, Fred “Bucky” Dobkins, Ben “Benjamin” Cannon, John “Red” Harrison, Milford “Skeet” Walker, Reginald “Icky” Johnson, Owen “Garlic” Lindsey, Richard “Dynamite” Dick and Francis “Tuff” Whitehead.
The team played eight games its first season and went 4-3-1. All but two games were played at home, which was Cowboy Park, located off Garfield Street. Opponents that first season included Ozona, Uvalde, Sabinal, Hondo, Crystal City and Eagle Pass twice.
If the football games didn’t thrill you, then the antics of the school’s mascot did.
According to legend, the team’s mascot, an actual wildcat, was chained on the field for each game. After every touchdown scored by the Del Rio team, the little guy would jump up and down at the end of his chain.
When he died a few years later, the wildcat, whose name is lost to the annals of time, was buried between the 20 and 30-yard line nearest the west goal post. As the story goes, future Del Rio touchdowns were welcome with a faint tinkle underground, rumored to be the spirit of the original wildcat celebrating on its chain.
The Wildcats brought Del Rio its first district championship in 1922, earning the District 11 title over Eagle Pass, Sabinal, Uvalde, Devine, Brackettville, Laredo, Pearsall and Hondo.
It would be six more years before the Wildcats won another district crown. However, that team is best known for a thrilling 13-12 win over Cuero to capture the bi-district championship. Unfortunately, heavy rains and flooding literally washed away any chances of playing the next round of games, so Del Rio and Robstown settled things with a coin flip. Luck was with the Wildcats that day, and the record books show Del Rio as the regional champs in 1928.
In the Beginning … Part 2
The year 1928 wasn’t only significant in that the Wildcats were regional champs in football. It was also the beginning of Del Rio’s second school district and, eventually, its second high school football program.
In the summer of 1928, the Del Rio ISD initiated action to annex Val Verde County Common School District No. 2. One court battle later, the San Felipe Independent School District was born in the fall of 1929. In 1930, San Felipe High School was created and officially dedicated that December.
And with a new high school came a new football team.
The PTA helped purchase uniforms, and Joe F. Martinez was named the school’s first football coach and PE teacher.
Nineteen boys came out for that first San Felipe team. They were Primo Calvetti, Fortunato Guerra, Antonio Moralez, Ubil Valdez, Ruperto Rodriguez, Arnulfo Ozuna, Raul Euresti, Severo Martinez, Guillermo Calderon Jr., Napolean Guarnelo, Ubil Frausto, L. Zertuche (no first name was listed), F. Fernandez (no first name was listed), Dario Cuellar, Joe Hernandez, Guadalupe Robles, Rico Peimbert, Sixto Dominguez and Joe Martinez.
Their first games were played against the Wildcats’ second team. And though the games were losses, optimism was high that the San Felipe team would be ready soon to eventually take down the squad from Del Rio High.
That original San Felipe team was known as the Tigers. According to the 1971 News-Herald article, it was Aurora Rodriguez, a San Felipe teacher and founder of the school’s pep squad, who felt the name Mustangs would be a better mascot. It is believed her time at Southern Methodist University, which boasts the Mustangs as its mascot, influenced her push for the renaming of San Felipe’s mascot.
In 1938, the Mustangs officially became the new mascot for San Felipe High and a new era began.
The 1940s was a golden decade for the Mustangs.
In 1941, the team garnered its first victory over the Wildcats, a 27-6 shellacking, but things were just getting started for the purple and gold.
Former Wildcats star S.S. Peimbert became the Mustangs’ head coach and the team became a powerhouse. In 1946 they won the zone title but missed out on the district crown, losing to Pearsall, 20-19.
Two years later, the Mustangs won their first district title, beating a tough Bandera team to clinch the crown, and they advanced to their first playoff game, which would be played at San Felipe Memorial Stadium against San Antonio Edgewood.
San Felipe and Edgewood waged a tough battle for the bi-district title, but the Mustangs prevailed, 7-6, and advanced to face Floresville Tigers in Floresville for the Region 10 championship.
Down 12-0 at halftime, the Mustangs rallied to score twice on a pair of Genaro Cuellar to Aguirre (no first name given in the actual game report published in the News-Herald) touchdowns in the second half and earned the regional title, 14-12.
Elias Guerra recovered a fumble and Dicky Mendes made an interception to set up each score. Danny Peña booted the extra points on both scores.
The regional round was the furthest any Class B team could progress that year.
The Mustangs defended their district championship the following year, and again won the bi-district title, defeating Nixon at Alamo Stadium, but they missed out on a second regional title when they lost to Port Lavaca.
Return to Winning Ways
While the Mustangs were winning district titles, the Wildcats were going through a bit of a drought. It took 24 years before Del Rio High recaptured the district crown, upsetting Uvalde, 7-0, in 1952 to give the team, and head coach George Webb, the title.
In 1954, the Wildcats did it again. Coach Glenn Scallorn led the team to another district title, and then saw his team roll through Floresville, 27-6, to win bi-district, but a loss to Freer the next week brought an end to the season. Scallorn would win his second district title three years later.
The Wildcats also won back-to-back titles in 1960 and 1961, but a coin toss kept them from advancing to the postseason in 1960. In 1961 the Wildcats beat San Antonio Lee, 30-18, to win bi-district, but lost to San Benito in a third round game played at Marcy Martin Field, the Wildcats’ home and now site of the new Garfield Elementary.
The Wildcats’ final district title came in 1965.
Together … At Last
In 1968, the cross-town rivals became district rivals when the Mustangs and Wildcats were thrown together in the same 15-3A district. Now the games meant even more, and both teams were eager to prove they were the better team in Del Rio.
The Mustangs took the first district meeting between the two in 1968, winning 14-6.
The next season, it was the Wildcats who were victorious, edging the Mustangs, 21-14.
The 1970 meeting between the two teams proved to be the last, and in an odd sense of cosmic justice, the final meeting between the Del Rio Wildcats and San Felipe Mustangs ended in a 0-0 tie.
An End and a New Beginning
A historic court order brought an end to the town’s two districts and created the San Felipe Del Rio Consolidated Independent School District. One district meant one team, so players from both teams consolidated to create one football team, which carried the Wildcats name for the 1971 season.
It was the last time Del Rio played in 3A. The roster of that historic team, coached by Claude Fest, included Felix Garcia, Hernando Hernandez, Ruben Martinez, Robert Jefferson, Jerry Fay, Mario Hernandez, David Simpson, Dan Schaertl, Jeff Kemp, David Gomez, John Sarazoza, Arturo Ramirez, Courtney Brien, Mike Scott, Rusty Chalk, Louis Guerra, Keith Stone, Walter Green, Frank Lowe, Glenn Banks, Bobby Rosas, Armando Paniagua, Reynaldo Andrade, George McFarlen, David Rountree, Robert Martinez, Mario Cuellar, Leon Best, Carlos Cordova, Humberto Barrera, Greg Funk, Tony Lomas and Victor Luna.