Chronicling struggles of 1950s black football players

Tim Delaney photo Gary Lott of Refugio holds a facsimile of a book cover in which his brother James and others are featured. The book is "Black Man in the Huddle" and it was published in September 2019.

REFUGIO – Time has a way of being left behind with new generations.

Gary Lott, 69, of Refugio, laments that young blacks are not aware of what the older generations had accomplished. 

Lott remembers the struggles blacks had integrating back in the 1950s and getting on all-white sports teams during high school.

He said he followed in his older brother James Lott’s footsteps.

The older Lott was one of the first blacks to play on the Refugio High School football team back in 1955 after the Brown vs. Education Board Supreme Court law came into being in 1954.

Now, a book published last month in September, titled “Black Man in the Huddle” and written by Robert D. Jacobus, chronicles those struggles of the first young black men to play football in a sometimes integrated situation and a sometime segregated/integrated game (one team is integrated and the other isn’t).

“My older brother started it. We followed in his footsteps,” Gary Lott said.

James Lott, now 82, lives in Palmdale, California.

But both Gary, and his twin brother Terry, played on the Refugio football team. Gary was a halfback and Terry was a running back.

“We are retired now,” Gary said.

He said he and Terry got a job in Colorado, and worked there 38 years before retiring.

Older brother James earned a degree in education and taught school. He was a school board member and a superintendent.

Then James taught black history for years at the college in Palmdale.

But his time playing for the Refugio Bobcats was tough, according to the book.

Refugio integrated when it closed Barefield (an all-black school) after the Supreme Court decision.

“Four African Americans from Barefield ended up playing for Refugio in 1955: running back James Lott, lineman Kennard Rydolph, guard Murray Wills and halfback Johnny Youngboood.”

The first fully integrated game pitted Robstown vs. Refugio.

“The Refugio Bobcats ended up beating Robstown on that historic night 28-7, en route to a perfect 10-0 regular season,” the book stated.

James Lott was the star running back for Refugio. 

“He ran for 116 yards on 13 carries and scored three touchdowns in Refugio’s 27-18 win over Sinton on Sept. 16,” the book stated.

“Although Lott later scored six touchdowns in a game against Yoakum and five in a game against Beeville, Lott was left off of the all-state teams at the end of the season.”

In the book, James Lott commented that Refugio could have been the model for an integrated school.

“Everyone – kids, teachers, coaches, administrators – embraced it,” Lott was quoted in the book.

But some things remained and lost their significance.

Gary Lott said he couldn’t believe Robstown kept their “Cotton Pickers” mascot.

“Worse is the Refugio High School fight song – a Confederate song,” he said.

He recommended the book for everybody to learn the struggles that went before.

“A lot of these kids around here ... they don’t even know,” Lott said.

Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the  Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@my