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Friday, December 24, 1999

Abilene has produced more than its share of stars
Al Pickett
Sports Editor

Abilene’s sports history is simply amazing.

We are a city of only slightly more than 100,000 people — and much less than that during most of our 118-year existence — but our sports history is nothing short of remarkable.

From world records to Olympic champions, Masters champions to great dynasties and more, Abilene’s sports history has played a role in many of the nation’s top sports stories.

Consider these facts:

The longest field goal ever kicked in a football game at any level — high school, college or professional — was kicked at Shotwell Stadium when Abilene Christian University’s Ove Johanssen booted a 69-yarder against East Texas State in 1976.

Bobby Morrow, still considered by many the greatest sprinter this country ever produced, was a college sophomore at ACU when he won three gold medals at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. One of several world records set by Morrow came in the 100-yard dash at the NAIA national championships at McMurry University’s Indian Stadium.

Jack Mildren, still considered the greatest wishbone quarterback to ever play college football, grew up in Abilene and played his high school football at Cooper. Many of the rushing marks set by Mildren and the 1971 Oklahoma Sooners still stand as NCAA records.

The winningest high school football coach in the nation when he retired in 1985, Brownwood’s Gordon Wood is still the all-time winningest high school football coach in Texas with 405 victories and nine state championships. Wood grew up in Abilene, graduating from Wylie High School and Hardin-Simmons University. He was recently named the high school football “Coach of the Century” by the Dallas Morning News.

Abilene High’s and ACU’s Billy Olson made the 1980 and 1988 U.S. Olympic teams and still holds the American indoor record in the pole vault.

Considered one of the greatest players in NFL history, Sammy Baugh grew up in Sweetwater and at age 85 still lives on his ranch near Rotan. After a brilliant 16-year career as quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Baugh was the head coach at Hardin-Simmons before leaving to become the first head coach of the New York Titans, now known as the Jets.

Charles Coody grew up in Stamford but has called Abilene home for most of his professional golf career on the PGA and Senior PGA Tours. Coody is best known for his green jacket, the one he received for winning the 1971 Masters.

Those who own Super Bowl rings include former Cooper running back Terry Orr with the Washington Redskins and former ACU defensive back Cle Montgomery with the Oakland Raiders. Cle’s brother, Wilbert Montgomery, broke the NCAA scoring record during his football career at ACU and went on to play in a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 1960 U.S. Olympic Trials for women’s track and field was held in Abilene. The meet proved to be the national emergence of sprinter named Wilma Rudolph, who became one of the greats in American track history.

ACU has won more track and field championships than any college in the country. Texas Monthly recently named the ACU track program its “Dynasty of the Century.” Just last spring, ACU won four national championships (men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track) in the same year. That’s only happened one other time — when ACU did it in 1996.

From 1980-88, Abilene was the smallest city on the PGA Tour. Mark Calcavecchia and Ryder Cup team member Steve Pate earned their first Tour victories at Fairway Oaks Country Club at the tournament known as the LaJet Classic and later the Gatlin Brothers Southwest Classic. In 1989 and ’90, the tournament became a Senior PGA Tour event. George Archer won in 1989 in his Senior Tour debut.

Abilene has produced numerous high school state champions in tennis, golf, football, baseball, basketball and track and field, as well as dozens of professional athletes, including Mildren, Chuck Harrison, David Johnson, Bill Gilbreth, Glynn Gregory, Ken Blackman, Ray Berry, Bob Estes, Mike Standly, Rick Meyers and Andrae Patterson.

But a man who spent just seven years coaching in Abilene — where high school football is king — was the overwhelming choice as the outstanding Abilenian in sports.

The late Chuck Moser’s influence in Abilene was so profound that his coaching tenure is still referred to as “The Glory Years.”

Moser won 49 games in a row and three consecutive state championships from 1954-56 at Abilene High. His Eagles’ teams of the 1950s were recently selected the high school football “Team of the Century” by the Dallas Morning News.

Those who played for Moser still speak in glowing terms of the influence he had on their lives. It is for that reason, as much as for his remarkable record, that Moser was selected by our Abilenian of the Millennium committee as the outstanding Abilenian in sports.

Moser was a unanimous selection by the committee. Other nominees from readers included former Abilene High coaches Pete Shotwell and Blackie Blackburn, former McMurry and Baylor coach Grant Teaff, Morrow, Baugh, Coody and Montgomery.

Al Pickett can be reached at 676-6772 or picketta@abinews.

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