After decades of domination in multiple sports, how do you begin to encapsulate almost a century of Refugio athletics?

One group of town sports historians will begin this journey in 2021, attempting to put together the pieces of a wide Refugio sports puzzle via the Refugio Sports Hall of Fame. The inaugural class was chosen at a meeting last month with the Refugio Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, headed by Billy Swinney and Gary Bellows. Out of around 200 possible candidates for the accolade, 54 have been chosen for the honor.

“A lot of people don’t really realize some of these people that Refugio has produced have just been amazing,” Swinney said. “Refugio is a different type of animal than anywhere else. It’s like it’s been a farm for athletics.”

In advance of the Refugio Bobcats’ 90th football campaign this fall, Swinney and his team decided to create the hall of fame as a way to broaden the wider knowledge base of Refugio fans the world over. Football was a key portion in the selections, but Swinney wanted all athletic talents to be recognized.

“That way, people around Refugio can see all these fantastic people that have been through our system since the school started,” he said. “People don’t realize, we had a state badminton team. We had state divers, we had swimming in Refugio back in the 1930s and 1940s. They don’t realize that we’ve had athletes who have blown people away.”

The rollout of the inductees will not be in one big chunk, as Bellows explained.

“I know a lot of towns have one, and we’ve (never had one) ... we’re gonna come forward with one every week, announce the winner,” he said.

The selection committee has set several eligibility guidelines for inductees to get it “right,” as Swinney says. Players must have graduated three or more years before consideration for the hall, and no active Refugio players will be inducted. Coaches will be considered if fully retired, but the committee gives consideration to active coaches who have been at the high school level as an assistant or head coach for a minimum of 10 years. Full teams were also considered for the first class, eligible if the accomplishments of a single season occur three or more years before nomination.

Athletes who excelled in multiple arenas were also given high favor amongst the committee.

“What we’re looking for are people who excelled in four sports, maybe two or three, more than one sport,” Bellows said. “Or someone who went on to college, excelled in college, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Also able to be chosen are “contributors,” which is a more subjective honor by the committee based on “significant contribution” to Refugio sports. This includes film gurus, photographers, public address announcers, and other faculty.

“It’s just something to keep the history alive,” Swinney said. “These kids who are doing the stuff now (are going to know) how they got there, why they have a fanbase like they do. You go to any other small school in south Texas, you’re not going to see 8,000 people at a football game on a Friday night, except for Refugio.”

That passion is what Swinney calls the “magic of Refugio,” something he wishes to capture in the hall of fame endeavor. Swinney said that Refugio’s dominance in athletics over the years isn’t magic, though, just a combination of willing athletes and caring coaches.

“The coaching staff is committed to making every kid better,” he said. “It all starts when they’re kids. People ask all the time, why does Refugio have such a good football team? Well, these kids are running with a football when they can first walk. They’re competing under a lot of the same coaches they’re gonna have in high school.”

Players, coaches and other contributors have come together to create an aura of excitement around the program, he explains.

“The kids want to be a Bobcat. Little kids, that’s what they marvel. They don’t marvel about the Cowboys, they don’t marvel about pro sports, they marvel about the high school teams. They want to be excellent at it, they want to be a performer at it, I think that’s the magic of Refugio. I think that’s why Refugio has become so dominant.”

With the first selection process out of the way, Swinney now gets to work on his weekly rollout of inductees. He will be creating a special artwork for each new honoree, highlighting the accomplished athletes with his own unique flair. 

Eventually, he says, he would like a more permanent spot for his hall of fame creations.

“The long-term plans are to be able to display them somewhere,” he said. “I work with (Superintendent Melissa Gonzales) at the school quite a bit, and hopefully that will give us a place to put artwork on the walls, lining the hallways, whatever. Somewhere where people can see these.”

As for his hall of fame plans once the Class of 2021 is inducted, Swinney hopes to keep the hall a yearly tradition. For the inaugural class, though, Swinney and his committee have paid special attention to Refugio history.

“We’re looking at many attributes for these people so it’s right ... this is not like a popularity contest,” he said.

•tleffler@mysoutex.com•

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