Interview With A Legend “Junior Coffey”

Interview With A Legend “Junior Coffey”
by Anthony A. Moore

I had the opportunity to interview a Legend Mr. Junior Coffey who actually played in the Prairie View Interscholastic Football League (PVIL) originally known as the Texas Interscholastic League of Colored Schools (TILCS) served as the governing body for “Colored” public schools inter school competitions.

I caught up with Mr. Coffey via telephone that now resides in the Seattle Washington area. I asked Mr. Coffey to explain to me what the Panhandle was like growing up in that era of racial barriers and being the first to play for a integrated school?

Mr. Coffey stated that at first his Uncle and Aunt move to find a job farming in Dimmitt Texas. Mr. Coffey was separated from his Mother and sisters along time. Mr. Coffey stated during my time the only advantage a young man could have after high school was to join the military. It was an avenue to get a proper education and a good job.

Junior Coffey was the first Black to play for an all-white team in the Panhandle – and among the first statewide – when he started for Dimmitt from 1957 to 1961. During that time the whole state of Texas didn’t want Blacks to integrate in sports or any other social activities. A lot of teams didn’t want to play Dimmitt High because they had integrated and he was own the team.

When asked how did the football team first treat him Mr. Coffey quoted: ”When they first befriended me, I wasn’t an athlete or anything. I was just another kid on campus. They got to know me before passing judgment. It just showed the love that those young guys had. It just shows the love that Dimmitt has.”

On the football field, Coffey was known for his hard-charging runs and ability to deliver yards in critical situations. By the time his prep grid career ended, he had been named a high school all-America. Likewise, he helped the Bobcats reach the UIL state basketball championship game in consecutive years, although Dimmitt fell to state powerhouses Buna and Linden-Kildare, respectively.

Mr. Coffey credits a huge amount of his success to his two high school Coaches JD Covington Football and Coach John Ethridge Dimmitt Basketball. Mr. Coffey informed me on one occasion Dimmitt went to play for the State Championship in Austin,Texas and had to seek a motel to sleep the team.

Coach Covington was informed by the larger motels in Austin, that everyone was welcome except for Junior Coffey. Coffey said Coach Covington told the parents and the team if Junior can’t stay there we’re not either. So they went outside of Austin to a small shabby motel and the parents rallied around Coach Covington and stayed at the same motel.

On another occasion Coffey recalled they were at practice and Coach Covington was a devoted Christian man Coffey said he fumbled the football and said “Jesus Christ” all the team said Awwwwww !!! Coach Covington told Coffey that he would receive punishment for cursing which was swats on the rear after practice.

Well Coffey was a bit upset. So after practice everyone got ready to see Coffey get swats. Coffey told Coach Covington “I’ll take the swats Coach but where I come from that’s not cursing”. Coach Covington looked at him and asked him to come in the office. He asked Coffey to tell him of the curse words he had heard in his neighborhood (all the blacks lived across the railroad tracks).

After Junior Coffey informed Coach Covington of some curse words that we as a people sometime used. Coach Covington stared at him as if to say (Cultural Diversity) and told Junior not to curse and never use those words again including “Jesus Christ” and Coffey never received swats. Coffey became an all-state performer for the Bobcats in football and basketball in 1961. A year earlier, Coffey became the first black athlete ever to play in a Texas UIL state basketball tournament.

These two Dimmitt Coaches had the desire to see change and were willing to change history but you know what ? “They Did”.

Mr. Coffey recalled a game that all the team was calling him names and his Coach JD Covington stepped right in and confronted the Referee. Dimmitt’s Coach JD Covington called the entire football team to the sideline and said quote,“ Junior Do you want to leave and we can forfeit this game?

Junior Coffey replied Coach as long as my teammates are with me we can play but I don’t want to forfeit the game. All the players rallied around Junior and they whipped those guys good.

Another time Dimmitt was going to play Olton Texas and a lot of talk was going around that Junior better not show to play in the game. Mr. Coffey said on that night a large group of youth rallied around the Dimmitt bus as they pulled in just to see him.

The Dimmitt team wanted to play a trick on Olton so he moved to the rear seat of the bus and the players kind of hid him. When the last player was exiting the bus Junior stood up and the Olton team sighed in disappointment “Oh No there he is we don’t have a chance”.

Mr. Coffey was highly recruited and went to visit top colleges Universities Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Washington.

With the Huskies, he was a three-time all-conference selection and was tabbed honorable mention all-America all three seasons. He finished his career as the second leading ground gainer in school history. Coffey was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the seventh round of the 1965 NFL draft, and he played on the Packers’ championship team of ’65. He finished his career in 1970, compiling 2,037 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

Mr. Coffey said that he never really looked at sports as opening avenues. “I realize now that after I was at Dimmitt High School that any other black kid who came after me definitely had an opportunity to prove the type of person he was”.

As I spoke with Mr. Coffey he was so sincere when he spoke about his teammates and the gratitude toward his coaches and friends in Dimmitt. Mr. Coffey is now a professional horse trainer. I’m very proud that I got a chance to speak with a Legend, an Ex- Professional Football player and an honest Man.

By the way Mr. Coffey did return to the Panhandle in the 80’s to honor his old Basketball Coach John Ethridge on his birthday in Clovis NM and when Junior Coffey paid his coach homage, Coach Ethridge wept.

© Copyright 2010 – Anthony Moore. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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Comments

  1. avatar Richard Jeffery says:

    From UIL Archives
    1955-56
    78 3A Amarillo Palo Duro Beaumont French 59-51 26-3 Tom Gilley Gene Arrington/Robert Echols
    79 4A Laredo North Dallas 65-54 27-6 Bill Batey Phillip Trammel/Rudy Santos
    80 B Big Sandy Meadow 80-59 35-12 Ford King, Sr. Oscar Williams/Ford King Jr
    Look above, I graduated from Palo Duro too, Gilley was there in the 70’s. In fact Coach Ed Smith was the head coach after he retired. Gilley use to tell us in class stories about the state championship game he said “I had a Negro on my team and he was good”. I am not taking anything from your story printed. I enjoyed reading it. Now the picture used to be in the front trophy case at Palo Duro. I left a 1955 yearbook at mother’s house, If find it, I would gladly let you view it.
    I enjoy reading your online newspaper. I grew up in Amarillo and it will always have place in my heart. I have seen the good and bad, most of it good for me. There are a lot of people who lived in Amarillo who fought for the progress you see now. Never heard their names (Joe Giles,Marville White, Happy Hale) mention including mine. I started the first black drama group (North Amarillo Association back in the late 70’s which is now called West Texas Performing Arts Association at Amarillo, Lubbock and El Paso. Note to my understanding blacks have always attended Palo Duro.

  2. avatar ANTHONY MOORE says:

    Hello Mr. Jeffery:
    I must say Mr. Jeffery what was the black players name in 1955? Did Palo Duro go to the State Play off that year? Who was Coaching the team that famous year? All these are questions that need to be answered. The young man you talk about possibly was good but he never made the Pros and he never did play in Austin Texas for a State Championship.

    I also left out one other thing Mr. Jeffery before they destroyed the old basketball gym on University Of Texas campus to build the new one. It was only one player that received a piece of the original floor and he still has it in his possession (Junior Coffey). Why? because he was the First Black High School player to set foot on that Gym floor and play for a State title.

    Now Mr. Jeffery if you can pull a rabbit outta your hat (Like the Nike Commercial says) “Just Do IT” I find it hard to believe that one Palo Duro Player had such accolades as Junior Coffey.

    However I graduated from PD and and I’ve never seen his picture in the Trophy case either. So let’s be proud of any and all Blacks that accomplished something those years LIVING THROUGH IT ALL.

  3. avatar Richard Jeffery says:

    Not Ture, Palo Duro had a black basketball player on it’s 1955 state basketball team. In fact if you live any of the small towns around you had to attend the school in that town. In Amarillo, AISD had to accept military blacks in there schools if they wanted to go.