THE IDLE AMERICAN: Extending a coaching trail

Published 6:19 am Saturday, January 13, 2018

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

At their wedding 52 years ago in their hometown of Bangs, TX, Virginia and Lowell Bishop repeated “old school” vows. When she murmured the “whither thou goest” commitment, however, she gave little thought to the “whither thou stoppeth” milestone.

Now, she’s not sure. Combined service for the career educators totaled 75 years (her, 38; him, 37) when they retired in 2001. Having taught in Gatesville, Monahans, Bangs and Abilene schools, they returned to Bangs, ostensibly for retirement. There, she began part-time work for Music in Motion, a Plano, TX, company, and he started raising cattle, which became a full-time job.

Lowell, a track star at Bangs High School and for the fabled J. H. (Cap) Shelton–track coach for 49 years at Howard Payne University–never lost his yearning to coach and teach. He mentioned it to their daughter, Dr. Amy Jacobs, superintendent at Coahoma ISD. Come summer, he was offered a position at little Marathon ISD, second smallest of Texas’ 1,300 plus school districts. Emerging from 16 retirement years, the Bishops headed to Marathon for the 2017-2018 school year.

She’s a part-time elementary music teacher. His responsibilities, however, are considerably broader. He is athletic director and coach of all sports (junior and senior high schools) for both boys and girls. He also teaches elementary PE, as well as high school world geography and world history. He also drives the bus to out-of-town events.

It should be noted that Marathon, with some 70 students in Pre-K-12, has only 17 in high school. It once had larger enrollments, and the Mustangs twice won state in 6-Man football, but more than a decade has passed since they last played football.

There are barely enough students for basketball, and prior to this year, they played several seasons without a single win. With five boys out for basketball this fall, they won the one-day Valentine ISD Tournament, victorious in both games.

On the way home, a senior player, clutching the championship trophy, said, “I’m glad we got this trophy. Otherwise, kids at school Monday morning would never believe we won not one game, but two!” (This was the first time he and his teammates had won a tournament.)

Bishop is optimistic, but he knows the Mustangs have their work cut out for them in district play against schools with at least five times their enrollment. He believes the Mustangs’ heart and spirit will match any of their opponents, however.

“We have unbelievable community support,” Bishop said. “Folks understand that our biggest challenge is to help students find themselves, and to become the best they can be in both sports and life.” Citizens are proud of the Marathon Foundation that provides $8,000 college scholarships for qualifying MHS graduates. Marathon also is home of the five-star Gage Hotel, the community’s largest employer and an outstanding school supporter. It offers world-class accommodations at the gateway to Big Bend National Park.

They are planning homecoming in February. Right now, Virginia is trying to find words and music for the school’s alma mater. She believes someone “out there” can help.

At a recent basketball game, there was a discussion about providing special seating for the elderly, since some of the fans are nearing 80.

“They could sit on the bench with the coach,” she suggested.

What about the future? Just a “day at a time,” the Bishops say. They have four children (three of whom are educators) and 14 grandchildren, with number 15 on the way.

They still drive back to Bangs, three weekends monthly, so Lowell can look after the cattle. Any way you slice it, it’s a 600-mile roundtrip.

Recently, he was disposing of old football gear, last used about a dozen years ago. Inside a zipped bag was a uniform, marked by grass stains from the final game. He zipped it back, tossing it up on the shelf, perhaps for use another day. He couldn’t bear the thought of throwing it away.


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook, Don Newbury.