When Fred Moore High School closed in 1968, football became filled with lessons more important than how to score points and win games.
With Denton’s student population merging into a single high school with one set of colors and one mascot, the education in the classroom and on the football field would mold the foundation of Denton High and resonate with those who are proud to wear purple and gold.
Friday’s homecoming game for the Broncos was a celebration of the tradition and heritage of the school and its football program, and their role in desegregation during a turbulent time in the country’s history.
Former running back Don Woods, quarterback Leslie Varner and coach Bill Carrico were honored before the game for their role in the city’s transition, and for them it was a family reunion.
While they may not have the same blood flowing through their veins, Carrico said it didn’t take long for the team to become a family when the Broncos first practiced with both white and black players more than 40 years ago. It started with the clashing of shoulder pads.
“Fred Moore was closed,” Carrico said. “The kids had to go to Denton High School and they didn’t know what was happening. They had to get used to each other, and it didn’t take long because once they hit each other — and knew that they were equal — there were no problems. One day, one of the black kids came out and hollered ‘black power’ and coach [C.H] Collins said, ‘There’s not any black power. There’s not any white power. There’s only going to be purple power.’ And that pretty much solved it.”
Carrico, who had a storied career with North Texas as a player alongside teammate Abner Haynes, was Denton’s offensive line coach for 14 years before serving as an assistant principal and athletic director at Denton.
He shared the field with best friend Collins, the Broncos’ defensive line coach and former head coach at Fred Moore, and Denton coach Jerry Hutchins.
Collins and Carrico developed a special friendship. They knew the responsibility they had to bring the team and city together, and for them it started by preaching the importance of becoming a family, earning an education and life after football.
“We just hit it off immediately,” Carrico said. “We strived to teach them education, education, education. They can’t eat a football forever. I just tried to show them how to live and face whatever came up. If it was right, do it — if it wasn’t, don’t do it. I just tried to live it and show them that’s basically what you’re going to face.”
Varner was Denton’s first black athlete to receive a Division I scholarship and was the first black quarterback at UNT. He led the Broncos to their best season in 43 years when the team won the bi-district championship in 1972, and to him Carrico was more than a coach, mentor or teacher.
He truly did practice what he preached.
“Coach Carrico is like a father to me,” Varner said. “He fed me, he clothed me, he took me home — he and coach Hutchins. Carrico went through some of the same things with desegregation at North Texas, so when we came here, he had already gone through that so he was able to relate to what we were going through. He welcomed us with open arms.”
Varner has followed through with Carrico’s message, as his nonprofit youth basketball organization, the Elite Youth Association of Texas, prepares student-athletes to utilize their gifts on and off the court.
Woods, who graduated from Denton in 1969, played at New Mexico Highlands University before being drafted in the sixth round by the Green Bay Packers. After being released in training camp, he was picked up by San Diego early in the 1974 season and won the 1974 Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
He played seven seasons in the NFL and finished his career with the San Francisco 49ers.
He also had high praise for Carrico, lauding him for his ability to see the true colors inside of people instead of qualifying them by skin color.
“Coach Carrico is a hell of a man,” Woods said. “When we were all black teenagers, he didn’t see color. He just saw kids. And he’s been true to that ever since we met him back in 1968 up until now. He and coach Collins worked very well together. He would try to help anybody that he could, especially kids coming from a disadvantaged situation.”
The stressing of the value of an education especially rang true with Woods, as he earned a master’s degree in special education and went on to teach special education in Albuquerque, N.M., for 17 years after he retired from football.
“Football to me was pretty much a stepping stone to being successful,” Woods said. “A lot of times these athletes put so much into athletics, they really have nothing else to fall back on. For me it was a matter of going to college, being a good student, getting a degree and coming back to be a contributor in the community and the school system.”
Woods, Varner and Carrico certainly made their impression on Denton and its football program. To Varner, what took place on the gridiron and in a tiny fieldhouse without junior varsity locker rooms started to hit him when he saw newer additions to the school.
“We didn’t realize back then how we were bonding the city at a crucial time, but now we can see the importance that we had on it,” Varner said. “The coaches treated us like we were their own kids and they didn’t see a color. It was an integral part in Denton’s history.”
As for Carrico, seeing his former players and family in the home that he helped build was another reminder of why he got into coaching.
“You spend your life helping kids, and you see them grow up to become good men,” Carrico said as he pointed to his chest. “It helps your heart.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.