AND NOW YOU KNOW — Coach Willie Ray Smith and Wallace High’s championship efforts

Published 12:08 am Sunday, October 9, 2022

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When the West Orange Stark Mustangs won their third state football championship in the history of the school it was a remarkable achievement. Even more remarkable is that it was the fifth championship won by Orange high schools.

The first two championships are almost lost in history. The first two were won by the Emma H. Wallace High School Dragons, coached by Willie Ray Smith Sr.

The high school for Black students in Orange was opened in 1920 and in 1930 was named Moton High School. It was named for Robert Russa Moton, who was president at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. Tuskegee was one of the leading colleges for Black students in the days of segregation.

Emma Henderson Wallace joined the faculty of Black educators in Orange in 1914. In 1933 she was named principal at Moton High School. In 1946 the school was renamed “Emma H. Wallace High School” in honor of her years of service. Wallace remained principal at “her” high school until her retirement in 1952.

Willie Ray Smith had a remarkable career as a football coach. He suffered a leg injury as a child that made him unable to play sports. It also made him ineligible for the draft in WWII. Smith was on the faculty at Dunbar High School in Lufkin when the football coach was drafted in 1942.

The school needed a coach and Smith volunteered in spite of knowing next to nothing about football. He learned all he could about coaching from books and trial and error. With the support of wife Georgia and the administration at Dunbar, he built a successful program.

World War II ended and the prior coach came home to reclaim his job. That put Smith out of a job. Wallace High School was needing a coach and the record Smith built at Dunbar led the Orange school to make him an offer to coach the team they were starting that year, 1946. Smith came to Orange and became the first coach of the Wallace High School Dragons.

In 1948, the second year of the team’s existence, they won a berth in the state playoffs and advanced to the final game. They were defeated by Dennison Terrell High School 13-0.

The following year, 1949, Smith and his young team won the state championship by defeating Victoria Gross High School 34-13.

Black schools in Texas at that time were part of the Prairie View Interscholastic League, established in 1940. Administration of the PVIL was under the auspices of Prairie View A&M College. Wallace was a Class 1A school those first years.

By 1954 Wallace increased enrollment and moved to Class 2A in the PVIL. The Dragons of Wallace High in their Green and White uniforms took their second state championship by defeating Greenville Carver High School 39-0. The outstanding Dragon on that team was Ernie Ladd, who would go to a career in professional football and wrestling.

The popularity of Coach Smith was grating on the principal at Wallace who had replaced Mrs. Wallace. Smith was respected and admired in the community for his ability as a coach and his integrity. He had been presented a new station wagon by a leading Orange citizen.

It was all too much for the principal. Tension between the two men was more than Smith wanted to work with, so he accepted an offer to become coach at Charlton-Pollard High School in Beaumont. At Wallace, Smith’s teams had won two state championships and eight district championships. At retirement his record was 235 wins in 33 seasons.

The PVIL had merged with the UIL in 1970. Integration had become complete in Texas and there was now only one governing body for high school sports in Texas.

In 1980 the PVIL Hall of Fame was established and in 1984 Smith was elected posthumously as a member. In 1992 the Beaumont Founders Lions Club began the Willie Ray Smith Sr. Award to recognize outstanding athletes in the Southeast Texas Region.

And now you know.

— Written by Mike Louviere