Mustangs legend Cornel Thompson inducted into SETX Coaches Hall of Honor

Published 8:10 am Sunday, January 29, 2023

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BEAUMONT — Former West Orange-Stark head coach Cornel Thompson was officially inducted into the Southeast Texas Coaches Association Hall of Honor at the organization’s annual banquet this week.

A legendary name in Southeast Texas and throughout Texas high school football, Thompson earned his place among the best of the best.

His coaching career spanned 51 years in total, 44 of which were spent with West Orange-Stark athletics.

“First of all, I want to say thanks to the Hall of Honor and Southeast Texas Coaches Clinic,” Thompson said. “This is a tremendous honor to be recognized by your peers, the guys that you played against for 48 minutes a lot of nights. We were enemies across the field from each other, and we were battling for the same purposes. But when the game was over, you walked across the field and you shook hands with them. It was all there for the same purpose, and I really feel that’s what athletics does for us now.”

Thompson’s career began in 1970 as a baseball coach at Kirbyville High School, where he spent two years before taking a job at Stark High School in 1972. He filled two roles there, coaching the baseball team and the football team’s defensive ends.

In 1977, Stark High merged with West Orange High, marking the genesis of a historic Mustangs football program.

Thompson was offered a job to serve as West Orange-Stark’s defensive coordinator – the rest is history. Over 34 years as a coordinator, he helped guide the Mustangs to two state titles in 1986 and 1987, as well as two more state finals appearances in 1988 and 2000.

In 2011, Thompson took over as head coach, a position he held for 11 seasons. Under his leadership, West Orange-Stark played in four state title games from 2014-2017, winning the championship in 2015 and 2016.

“The other thing that I’m proud of is that we only had 103 losses, but our defense had 119 or 120 shutouts,” Thompson said. “We had more shutouts than we had losses, so that’s a big deal to me.”

Championship rings aside, one of Thompson’s greatest achievements while coaching was helping turn the brand-new West Orange-Stark program into the winningest team in Texas high school football history – the Mustangs boasted a win percentage of more than 80 percent through the qualifying mark of their first 500 games.

When Thompson retired following the 2021 season, the Mustangs’ all-time record read 435-103-3.

“Our program was based on a sign we had in the field house that said discipline and defense,” Thompson said. “In discipline, there’s parts for both team discipline and self-discipline. If you did right for the team, then you start to develop a notion of self-discipline and good habits.

“Coaching student athletes is one of the most important jobs in the world. Not because of anything that is accomplished on the field, but for everything that is learned and put to good use off the field. That’s always been a great statement to me.”

“Someone once interviewed me, and they asked, ‘Why all the success? Why have y’all had the successful longevity that you’ve had?’ It’s family. That’s our secret, it’s a family affair,” Thompson said.

During his time at the helm of the program, Thompson coached several players whose fathers had played on his teams years before.

He said these student-athletes knew what was expected, which set a culture in the locker room.

In 2021, Thompson knew it was time to retire when he coached the grandchildren of two of his former players.

“That’s how long I’d been in it, and it was time to go. I thought that was phenomenal,” he said

In addition to Thompson, the other class of 2023 Hall of Honor inductees includes Terry Culley, Pat Day and longtime Little Cypress-Mauriceville head football coach Randy Crouch.

“I also want to give thanks to all my family and friends, and to these coaches here who have been inducted – Coach Culley, Coach Day and it’s very special to be inducted here with Coach Crouch,” Thompson said. “I think this association is outstanding.”

SETCA also recognized the 2022 Coach of the Year award winners.

Orange County was well-represented with eight selections. LCM’s winners included Dena Adkins (girls cross-country), Johnnie Kay Harrell (girls golf), Brett Nicholson (boys tennis) and Frank Snoddy (girls powerlifting).

Conner Wilbur (boys cross country), Tim Erickson (baseball) and Todd Trawhon (boys golf) each brought home an award for Orangefield, while Jamie DeShazo (girls track and field) represented Bridge City at the ceremony.

— Written By Keagan Smith