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Saturday, July 27th, 2024

at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center

6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
For table sponsorship info: Call David Thetford – 806-777-0677
or send an email request to: [email protected]

1963 Dunbar High School Football “State Champions”

Class of 2015

1963 Dunbar High School Football “State Champions”

The date of December 14, 1963 still holds a special significance in the history of Lubbock ISD Athletics. On a chilly Saturday afternoon with snow covering the ground and overcast skies posing a threat for even more gray and cold weather, the fans of Dunbar Panther football would later realize that this was a “perfect day for football.” The Panthers, that day, claimed the first and only state championship in football in the school’s history by virtue of defeating Conroe Washington 19-14 to claim the Prairie View A&M Interscholastic League Class 2A crown.

It’s been just over 51 years since that date and there are, no doubt, many Panther greats who still look back on that day as one of the proudest moments in school history. The Panthers were trying to become the city's first state football champs since Lubbock High in 1952 when they lined up against Conroe Washington at Lowrey Field that afternoon. The Bulldogs were 11-1 with five shutouts that season; Dunbar was 5-3-2 but on a three-game roll, defeating Amarillo Carver 28-14 for the District 2-2A title before topping Richardson Hamilton Park 27-20 in bi-district and Hallsville 32-0 in the semifinals.

The title for the Panthers was a result of a ground game that featured speed and quickness, but it was likely “Panther Pride” that had just as much, if not more, to do with the victory. That sense of pride was prevalent throughout the school and extended beyond those walls into the community in the racially segregated 1960s.

“It did something for the school and for the city of Lubbock,” said former Dunbar administrator, the late Virgil Johnson, in an interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “It pulled the city together. It created a lot of unity and pride within Dunbar and the community. We were close knit as a team, as a faculty and as a community.”

Dunbar, though, had some other factors that weighed heavily in their favor in seeking the state crown. The Panthers were in the state championship game for the second straight year and there was certainly a bit of atonement that was in the minds of the returning players in 1963. The 1962 team had lost 40-6 to Wharton Training School, so the ’63 bunch was determined to avenge that loss.

There were a lot of returning starters off the 1962 squad and that certainly helped the cause. But, Dunbar faced many teams with future superstars, including “Mean” Joe Greene, who went on to a NFL Hall of Fame career in addition to both Ronnie and Don Shanklin, who were two other standouts later in the pro ranks.

In the game itself, the Panthers' defense dominated the first half, forcing four turnovers - including interceptions by Howard Hall and Eugene Cleaver and a fumble recovery by Bobby Hudspeth that halted a Washington second-quarter drive at the Dunbar 15. Meanwhile, the Dunbar offense scored twice in the first quarter. Quarterback James McCormick threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to end Billy Jones, fullback Joe Newman scored on a 3-yard run and the 13-0 lead stood up through the half.

The team from down south obviously had a bit of trouble adjusting to the cold weather and conditions as the Panthers enjoyed their home field advantage early on. But, Conroe Washington quarterback Paul Gipson's short TD pass put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard late in the third quarter. Dunbar halfback Eugene Cleaver's 14-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter offset a 24-yard TD burst by Gipson late in the game, and the Panthers hung on for the five-point victory.

''They had developed that winning spirit; that's what made them as good as they were,'' said Lubbock ISD Hall of Honor member Curtis Gibson, an assistant on head coach James Hillyer's staff who coached many of the same players to a state basketball title in 1965.

Also on that coaching staff was Lubbock ISD Hall of Honor member, Louis Kelley, who later became Dunbar’s head coach before building his successful program at Estacado. Kelley had admired the Dunbar program when he played against earlier Panther teams while at Abilene Wilson.

Dunbar, in fact, likely was Lubbock's best high school football team during that championship season. But integration was still several years away, and the Panthers never got a chance to play Lubbock High or Monterey. The Panthers often scrimmaged the two other Lubbock schools in basketball and competed against them at track meets. But integration didn't come to the football field until it was too late for Dunbar's state champs.

That championship, though, continues to be a brightly shining symbol of Dunbar High School and the “Panther Pride” that exuded from those hallowed hallways of the early 60s.
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