- Wheat Middle School
District Receives Memorabilia From 1959 Football State Championship
Left tackle Richard Ottinger may not have been credited with any touchdowns during his playing days with the Jackets.
But the 1961 graduate has just scored a big one for Cleburne in his timely contribution of football memorabilia from the historic 1959 season. His gift to the district, which includes his jersey from the Breckenridge game, coincides with the 60th anniversary of Cleburne’s 1959 state championship.
Now a sales executive residing in Richardson, Ottinger came across the keepsakes from his four years in CHS football while cleaning out the garage. His donations also include the University of Texas Interscholastic League medal—still in its original case—awarded to Ottinger and his 1960 teammates when they competed at the state semi-finals.
While the district has been blessed with donations of letter jackets and sweaters from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the ‘59 championship trophy and team photo are the only relics from that milestone in Cleburne football—until now. Ottinger’s contributions, for the time being, will be added to the collection displayed at the CISD Central Offices. Many of the items will eventually be relocated to the new CHS and Jeff D. Cody Arena when the construction project at the campus is completed.
“I’m so glad these are things the district was willing to take—and wanted,” Ottinger said. “They’ve been in a dark closet for years. It wasn’t common to get your football jersey to keep. But the state championship game was our last for the season, and Coach (Brooks) Conover’s last game with Cleburne and he told us to keep them. I think the last person to wear my letter jacket was a high school girlfriend.”
While going through a wooden box, Ottinger found the UIL medal, his letter sweater from his freshman year at CHS and a beanie from his freshman year at Texas Tech. He also uncovered chin straps from his football helmets, lovingly set aside by his mother.
“This was stuff of mine that my mom had saved,” he said. “I was surprised to find the chin straps. I took them to show the guys at work. When Cleburne played at home, kids would come on the field at the end of the game and ask for our chin straps, which we would give to them. I remember when I was in junior high, we’d wait under the goal post at Jacket Stadium and pull down the streamers at the end of the game. It was a big deal.”
Football was indeed a big deal for Ottinger, whose love of the game began in fifth grade as a member of the C.C. Cooke Wildcats.
“The fifth grade was the first time you could play organized football through your elementary school,” he said. “I was a big enough kid in fourth grade that the coaches would tell me they were ready for me to come play football.”
Ottinger’s donated football photos include his sixth grade season at Cooke, where he is pictured with teammates Charles Skiles, Connie Reese, Jimmy Key, Stewart Jones, Ronnie Sanford, Alvin Black, Bobby Grigsby, John Swygert, Roy Higgin, Glasco Doyle and Coach R.G. Boles. Many on that team went on to contribute to the winning heritage of Yellow Jacket football.
Ottinger continued on with football through Fulton Junior High and into high school, coached by Aulton Durham as a member of the 9th grade team. He played on the B team as a sophomore, ending with two years on the Jackets A team as a junior and senior.
“I liked football—in that day and age, if you could play football at all, that was what you did,” Ottinger said. “It was part of who you were at Cleburne High School. I was 6’2 and 205 pounds. That was a pretty good size for that time. Robert Finklea was my closest friend and teammate all through high school, but everybody on the team was pretty close.”
“Every Saturday, I would go to the barber shop to get my flat top trimmed,” he said. “Everybody there wanted to talk about the game from the night before. As a player for the Jackets, that was special for me. It was my first taste of recognition.”
Ottinger played on some Jacket teams, and with some Cleburne players, that earned lots of recognition.
“The 1958 Jackets went to the state semi-finals, so coming into ’59, we had a good team,” he said. “Timmy Doerr was quarterback and David McWilliams was our center. I’m sure our coaches, and those around the state, foresaw good things for Cleburne. We still had a good nucleus in the 1960 team and went to the state semi-finals, under Doyle Weldon, who was our new head coach.”
In addition to treasured memorabilia from the ’59 season, Ottinger also has some treasured memories, which were shared between teammates at the 2019 CHS House Reunion, in which the state champions were honored.
“I didn’t realize it had been 60 years since the championship game until I received a letter about the House Reunion,” he said. “When I realized that, thoughts and memories came back. I admit I got a little sentimental. We had a lot of fun at our 50th team reunion. Coach (Hugh) Higgins was still alive, and it was great to see him. When I was a junior, he was also driving to law school at Southern Methodist University. He was a very intense coach.”
Highlights from the ’59 season, for Ottinger, include the trips, which ranged from long school bus rides to taking the train.
“We traveled a lot that season. I remember our Cleburne bus driver was named Zeke and he drove all the game buses,” he said. “We actually took the train to Galveston when we played La Marque. It was special for the team to do that.”
The most memorable road trip was to Breckenridge for the championship game—where the Jackets met the Buckaroos on their home field.
“When we arrived in Breckenridge, they were having a parade for their team,” Ottinger said. “We could see the stadium from the bus windows, but they wouldn’t let us through. Coach Conover planned on us getting their early enough to get settled well before game time. Delaying us like that definitely fired him up.”
“David McWilliams was our team captain and had been selected to give us a pep talk,” Ottinger said. “He was a great player and a proven leader even at that age. When it was his time to talk, all he said was ‘I don’t have to say anything. You all are ready.’ That meant a lot to us. In those few words he made us feel we were ready to take the championship and didn’t need a special speech to inspire or motivate us. We were already motivated.”
At the end of the game, the score was tied at 20-20 and Cleburne found itself sharing the state championship title for the second time in school history. In 1920, the first year a state football championship game took place, Cleburne ended in a 0-0 tie with Houston Heights.
“Ending in a tie was not what you would want,” Ottinger said. “The bus ride back was not as joyous as it was going to the game. But as we got just outside Cleburne, the players at the front of the bus began to shout ‘look there.’
“Cars were parked on both sides of the highway with their headlights pointed toward the road—it seemed like for miles,” he said. “It made me feel like what we did was a great thing after all. After that, we felt like a rock band on tour. We went to all the civic group meetings and churches as a team. I had a chicken dinner at least once a week.”
Jackets Head Football Coach Casey Walraven was on hand when Ottinger came home to Cleburne, with treasures in hand. In the 2018 football season, Walraven had two stars included in the helmet design for the varsity team in honor of the 1920 and 1959 state championships—and the players responsible for the stars.
“It is amazing to get to see a Cleburne jersey from the 1959 state championship game, let alone have one for our archives,” Walraven said. “I had never heard about the tradition of the chin straps and that was really cool. We are very proud to have two state championships in our football heritage, but would really like to add a third. Things like this are reminders to our players, and to all of us, of what has been achieved by Cleburne High School football—and can be achieved again with hard work and dedication.”
Ottinger doesn’t get back to Cleburne too often. Shortly after he graduated, his family relocated, with his parents eventually retiring in Whitney. Following his enrollment at Texas Tech, Ottinger spent two years in the U.S. Navy, serving as a hospital corpsman in hospitals and on ships during the Viet Nam War.
“I still enjoy football, and play fantasy football with a group of guys,” he said. “And I check on the Jackets from time to time. I always hope they have a good team each season.”
“I remember people telling us that the championship game would be something we would always remember,” Ottinger said. “That’s not something that sinks in--as being real--when you’re 16 and 17. But what they said was true. In fact, it’s been something all of us from that team have remembered--for 60 years.”
Cleburne Head Football Coach Casey Walraven holds up a football jersey worn in the 1959 state championship game by Richard Ottinger, right, who has donated several items from his seasons with the Jackets to the CISD archives. Ottinger’s contributions also include his letter jacket and a University of Texas Interscholastic League medal awarded to members of the 1960 state semi-finalist team.