Sherman’s ‘Skinny 20’ turns 50

It’s been 50 years, but the legend of the 1962 Sherman football team is still fresh in the minds of many fans who grew up in that era.

That Bearcat squad was the only one to win a district championship during a dry period that lasted from the previous Bearcat title in 1954 to the next one in 1976. It was Sherman’s first championship in Class 4A, which was the highest classification in Texas at the time.

To Bearcat fans of that vintage, they became enshrined in lore as the “Skinny 20.”

That team, coached by Dave Smith, went a perfect 6-0 in District 7-4A, clinching the trophy with a 12-6 win over Highland Park.

David Duke, who today operates the scoreboard at Sherman home football games, was a senior halfback on the 1962 squad.

“They started calling us the Skinny 20 my junior year,” Duke said. “But we got skinnier, and fewer, my senior year. We were all pretty small. There wasn’t anyone of any size on the team. Most of the linemen had to strain to pick up the bags.”

Duke said the group played together from eighth grade all the way until they graduated.

In the spring of 1962, the Bearcats were introduced to Smith, who was Sherman’s third head coach in as many years.

“Coach Smith held an open air meeting at Bearcat Stadium for all the parents,” recounted Terry Green, who quarterbacked the team. “He introduced the new coaching staff and explained his philosophy about football and how he would handle their sons. I don’t remember everything he said, but I do remember and will never forget one comment he made, ‘I will treat your sons with respect and never say anything to them that I wouldn’t say in front of their fathers.’ Believe me, that statement held true throughout the year.”

The backfield consisted of Green at quarterback and Duke, Johnny Griffin, and Dick Ellis in the backfield.

After grueling spring and fall practices, the Bearcats opened 1-2-1, with a tie against Gainesville, a win against Durant, and losses to both Tyler Lee and Tyler John Tyler. “John Tyler beat us up so badly that we could not hardly eat our meal after the game,” Green said.

Back in those days, Class 4A was today’s equivalent of 5A. The schools the Bearcats competed against — Plano, Richardson, Garland and Mesquite — all had just one school.

Then something happened. The Bearcats shut out their first district opponent, Mesquite, 13-0. Then they shut out Denton, 29-0. For the final six games of the regular season, all district games, the Bearcats were the ones doling out the punishment.

The 1962 Cats were not big at all, with a starting offensive line that averaged 170 pounds, with the heaviest being 173, but Green said he could not remember one time he was touched on Sherman’s side of the line during district play.

One of the starting halfbacks, Griffin, weighed 134 pounds, but one day in practice, Green said, Griffin ran head-on into middle linebacker Joel Brame, who later played for the University of Texas, and left his helmet with a dent in it.

“We just thought we were supposed to win,” Duke said.

Beating Highland Park that year was special. Sherman won in 1962, beating the Scots, 12-6, in a game that shocked Dallas Morning News sports writer Bob Galt. “Logic told you that someone was pulling your leg,” Galt wrote at the time. “What you saw bordered on the ridiculous.”

That group of athletes enjoyed the rarity of beating Highland Park two times in their high school careers. In the 1960 meeting, Highland Park led 20-0 with seven minutes to go before Sherman rallied for a 21-20 victory.

“It was the first time I ever saw adults just boo-hooing,” Duke said.

After the 1962 win over Highland Park, the Bearcats advanced to the playoffs as District 7-4A champions, but lost to Lufkin the following Friday, 15-6.

Some of the Skinny 20 have passed on. Lineman Bobby Norrell succumbed after a battle with cancer in 2009, and Izzy Aleman, another member of the team, died in 2010.

But a number of team members still live locally and support the Bearcats. Duke, who served in the armed forces during the Vietnam era, said he hasn’t missed a Sherman football game since 1980.

After coaching at Sherman, Smith went on to become a head coach at SMU and Oklahoma State as well as in the Canadian Football League. Smith died in 2009 at age 76.

Joe Boring, who was an assistant coach under Smith, replaced him as head coach in 1963 and stayed for two years, but couldn’t replicate Smith’s success, finishing 3-7 each year. Boring later became an assistant coach at SMU and had more success as head coach at Garland High, winning 58 games in 11 seasons, and later coached at W.T. White in Dallas.

Other coaches of that era went on to great things. Warren Harper, who preceded Smith as head coach, coached at the University of Oklahoma, as well as assistant coach Billy Michaels.

“I was lucky to play for pretty good coaches, and I had a different set of coaches my sophomore, junior and senior years,” Duke said.