this season. That’s a good mark to have going into the playoffs, since the competition is so tough; the last two state champions were district rivals Levelland and Canyon Randall. “When we get into district play,” Lombard says, “our gym is full. For a big district game at six-thirty, the gym might be full by five-thirty. We’ve had playoff games where we’ve had three thousand people.” When to go: The regular season runs November through February (the playoffs run through March, but the games are not usually played in Canyon). For details call 806-656-6181.
IF YOU MANAGE TO GET IN TO SEE A Stephenville High School football game, don’t forget to bring your earplugs. The seven thousand fans who cram into Tarleton State University’s stadium (where the YellowJackets play) have a noisemaking tradition that’s second to none: They fill old paint buckets and propane tanks with ball bearings and rattle them throughout the game. Believe me, standing within earshot of just one of these contraptions is painful; thousands can be deafening. But the faithful love it in this town an hour southwest of Fort Worth, and, anyway, the cacophony can be forgiven as an ongoing attempt to exorcise the past. From 1953 to 1988, the YellowJackets were positively listless, with no banners of any kind to hang on the wall. During the past decade, however, there’s been something to cheer about every year, including three 4A state titles in the past six years (all over rival La Marque). The difference? Head coach Art Briles, who signed on in 1988 and has been a hero in Stephenville ever since. When to go: Catch regular-season home games on Friday nights from September through November; playoffs run through December. Call 254-968-4141 for more information.
Baseball and Rodeo, Alpine
ALTHOUGH THE RANGERS AND ASTROS play a long way from tiny Alpine, the crack of the baseball bat is just as stirring a sound in far West Texas as it is in the big cities. Beginning in February at Sul Ross State University’s Kokernot Field—an old-time shrine to baseball considered by many to be the Yankee Stadium of Texas—875 fans can sit in original wood-slat seats and see games three or four nights a week. The Sul Ross Lobos play here, as do the Alpine High School Bucks, and the significance of the experience isn’t lost on members of either team. “It’s a big thing for kids all over West Texas to come and play here,” says Sul Ross baseball coach Donnie Randell. Elsewhere in town, there’s just as much enthusiasm for the rodeo. Each year Sul Ross’s renowned range-animal science program hosts the Sul Ross State University Intercollegiate Rodeo at the city’s San Antonio Livestock Exhibition and Equine Science Center. When to go: College, high school, little league, and old-timer teams play at Kokernot Field from February through November. For details call 915-837-8226. The rodeo is held the first weekend in October. Call 915-837-8200 for information.
Six-Man Football, Gordon
SIX-MAN FOOTBALL IS A CLASSIC SMALL-town pastime, a scaled-down version of the traditional game that’s meant to be played in sparsely populated areas. But it still inspires big passions in this North Texas town. One of the state’s premier six-man teams, the Gordon High School Longhorns have made it to at least the state quarterfinals each of the past five years, winning the championship in 1996, and have functioned as the sport’s unofficial ambassadors to the rest of the world. They received national attention in 1994 when the Associated Press covered their game against a team from Colorado, and in 1996 they were featured on ESPN and in the pages of Sports Illustrated. Although the population of the town of Gordon is only 465, the school’s stadium has 2,500 seats—and yet even that wasn’t enough to accommodate the 3,000-plus fans on hand at last year’s “Super Bowl of Six-Man” against neighboring Strawn. “They’ve been trying to beat us for the last nine years,” says Nelson Campbell, Gordon High’s principal and head coach. “They were ranked higher than we were, and they just brought everybody in the dang county out to watch the game. They did wind up beating us by six points—but they had to fight to do it.” When to go: Football season runs September through November, with playoffs in December. For a complete schedule call 254-693-5342.
“IF YOU ASK ME WHERE BASEBALL’S BIG in Texas,” says Charles Breithaupt, the athletic director of the University Interscholastic League, “one of the first places I think of is Robstown.” Led by Coach Steve Castro, the Robstown High Cotton Pickers have been to the state playoffs each of the past twelve years, and they’ve won two state championships; no wonder the stadium is almost always packed. Here in the cotton country of South Texas, the population is more than 90 percent Hispanic, so the atmosphere of the games is distinct. Tejano music pours out of the loudspeakers between innings, and the particular brand of baseball played—light hitting, great defense—is squarely in the Latin American tradition. Among the graduates who’ve gone on to bigger things is second baseman Jesse Garcia (class of ’92), who has been invited to spring training by the Baltimore Orioles this year. When to go: The regular season began on February 22 and ends April 30, but put a star by April 13; that’s when Robstown plays at home against archrival Corpus Christi Calallen. For a complete schedule call 512-387-5999.
TROY HAMM, THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL principal and head basketball coach in this North Texas town, says that he’s heard stories of Krumians visiting places as far away as San Francisco, mentioning where they’re from, and getting asked, “Isn’t that that basketball town?” Yes, it is—and it deserves its national reputation for excellence in the sport. Krum High (which doesn’t even field a football team) won the state basketball championship last year and seems a good bet to repeat this year. Although the entire student body is just 302 people, they regularly compete