“And Now You Know” — 60 years ago, The Tigers roared for all of Orange County

Published 12:04 am Saturday, September 17, 2022

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The surviving copies of the 1962-63 Orange Peel are for the most part showing wear. They have been hauled around through years of college, moving from town to town, and over half a century of life in general.

Inside those yearbooks, the words are still as fresh as the day they were printed. The words and pictures never fail to generate memories of old friends and school activities, like football.

Page 220 of the 1962-63 Orange Peel carries the heading “Sports Summary.” The first paragraph refers to “Orange’s history-making Bengal Tigers.” The last sentence calls them “the greatest Tigers ever.” They were.

The 55 Tigers who were members of the football team of the 1962 season did something no other Tigers team had ever done. They won district, entered the playoffs, won bi-district, the quarter finals and nearly won the semi-final game.

In addition to playing possibly the best football Orange County had ever seen, the Tigers unified the county in a way that had never been done. They made Tigers fans of nearly every citizen of Orange County.

Before the necessity of consolidation, Orange County had independent school districts in Orange, West Orange, Little Cypress, Orangefield, Bridge City, Vidor and Mauriceville. None had ever won a district title.

In 1962, Orange had been reclassified from 4A down to 3A. In the 1961 season, they had lost their 4A district title to Port Neches in the last five seconds of the game. In their first year in Class 3A, the Tigers had sharp claws and were out to prove it.

They would be coached by Ted L. Jeffries, a career high school and college coach. He had retired but accepted an offer to leave his retirement and coach at Orange. It was a decision he never regretted.

“The 1962 team in Orange had more talent than any other team I ever coached,” Jeffries would say in an interview years later. That team would produce 13 all-district players, 3 all-state players and one High School All-American, quarterback David Foster.

Bill Hammond, Ben Hurt, Jackie Bond and Ralph Smith would round out Jeffries’ coaching staff. Hurt and Smith would later coach at the college Division I level.

There was a lot of coaching and player talent and energy waiting to be loosed on unsuspecting opponents. As the season progressed it was evident how well the Tigers were playing as a team. Even with Foster developing as an All-American, there were no “showboats.” It was a team who shared. On the field they played as equals. Off the field they were friends.

Non-district play started against the Buffalos of French High School in Beaumont. The game ended with the Tigers putting the Buffs out to pasture 44-0.

Their next opponent was the Golden Tors of Sulphur, La. Sulphur was ranked No. 3 in their class in Louisiana. The Tigers took their wind. When the game was over the score was 19-6, Tigers.

LaGrange of Lake Charles was ranked No. 1 in their Louisiana class. No matter, the Tigers outscored them by one point to win 14-13. The LaGrange Gators had a heavy team averaging 201 pounds on their defensive line and 204 on the offensive line.

The following Friday night the Tigers went to Port Arthur to meet their nemesis, the Thomas Jefferson Yellow Jackets. Orange was ranked third in 3A and Port Arthur fourth in 4A. This was a bad night for the Tigers. The Jackets took the game 26-7.

Port Neches was the last non-district game. The Tigers avenged the prior year’s loss. They topped the Indians 19-6.

For the district opening game, the Tigers would face the Nederland Bulldogs. Nederland had been the team to beat in the district for years. They started each season expecting to win the title and usually did. On this night the Bulldogs would lose by a score of 49-0, their worst loss since 1947.

In the game against Bridge City, quarterback Foster tossed the ball for a total of 253 yards, he had passed for a season total of 1,000 yards total in the air and was 16 for 23 in the game. The Cardinals were shut out 41-0.

The Vidor Pirates sank 35-0 in the third district game.

Jasper was the next opponent. Jasper managed to score, but the game ended 65-6.

“Jasper scored in the first half. I remember the coaches chewing us out during the half for allowing ourselves to be scored on for the first time in district,” said R. C. Slocum.

Slocum was an end on the team. He went on to be an All-Conference player at McNeese University, and set records as the head coach at Texas A&M University.

Silsbee was 9-0 going into the last district game. The Tigers gave them their first loss of the season by winning 40-6.

The Tigers had won the first district title in the history of the school!

“Orange Leader sportswriter Fred Cervelli about mid-way through the season started calling us ‘the Zing Along Gang’ to describe our high-flying offense,” said Slocum. “We had the district title and were ready to keep going.”

At every game Orange fans would look skyward and see the little airplane towing the banner that advertised “Woozy’s Pest Control.” Woozy would be getting the plane ready to travel to the playoffs.

Bi-district play was against Conroe. Conroe was leading the game 6-0 at the half. The Tigers started the third quarter ready to play and won the game 20-6. They won their first playoff game and would get ready to play for the quarter finals.

The quarterfinal game was played in Baytown on a cool night. The opposing team was the Bay City Black Cats. By the night this game was played, the season for the other Orange County teams was over.

The West Orange Chiefs had won their district title but lost to Humble in bi-district. Fans from the other Orange County schools made up a large part of the audience that night in Robert E. Lee Stadium.

Billy Fisette carried the ball 16 times for 94 yards; other players were playing just as hard. Things went well until late in the third quarter when quarterback Foster took a hard hit and suffered a broken collar bone. Foster had done an exceptional job that season. He would be named a High School All-American.

Junior quarterback Steve Korby was called in to replace Foster. Korby directed a touchdown that won the game 19-0. The next game would be for the semi-final title.

Victoria, Texas, was about half way between Orange and the consolidated school district Pharr-San Juan-Alamo. Their Bears would face the Tigers. The score at the end of the first half was 7-6, Tigers.

Danny Potter returned the second half kickoff for a 94 yard touchdown. The Tigers increased the lead to 13-6. The Bears came back and won the game 20-13. The Tigers after going farther than any other Orange County team in history were out of the playoffs.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo would lose the title a week later to Dumas 14-3.

There is probably no accurate guess as to how many Orange fans journeyed to Victoria for the semi-final game. From every corner of Orange County when someone referred to the Tigers it was “Our Team, Us, or We.”

The Tigers were Orange County’s team. The day of the game, televisions were turned off and KOGT radio was turned on to hear Richard Corder’s sportscast of the game.

Throughout the third and fourth quarters, tension ran high in Orange and disappointment was great when the Tigers lost.

Over the decades since that game there have been questions about how the game was officiated. Corder chastised the officials, and not just for opinions on calls.

“The only time I ever spoke to an official was at the game in Victoria. Some things they did were just so flat out wrong,” said Corder.

Others who attended the game have made similar comments about the officials and conduct of some of the Bears players.

Later in the 1960s M.B. North High School and Lutcher Stark High School merged. In the late 1970s the merged Lutcher Stark High School and West Orange High School combined.

Individual school histories were frozen and the new merged school started to build traditions and set records. When three schools merge into one, there should be titles won. It is almost expected. There is a large pool of talent to make a team from.

The state championships won by West Orange Stark High School are a great accomplishment, but nothing will ever equal excitement of the season of 1962 for those who were around to see the Tigers win that first district championship.

“And now you know.”

— Written by Mike Louviere