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.