Bill Hart Is Still The King!…RC

“Lord I can still remember, the way things were back then
In spite of all the hard times, I’d live it all again
To hear the Texas playboys and Tommy Duncan sing
Makes me proud to be from Texas where Bob Wills is still the king”

I’m sure everyone recognizes the above stanza from Waylon Jennings’ Country and Western hit song: Bob Wills Is Still The King. As I’ve said a dozen times or so, I grew up in tiny Roaring Springs Texas just as you come off the Caprock from the big city of Floydada. And my hometown is 36 miles south of where Bob Wills grew up in Turkey, Texas. They still have Bob Wills Day in the old high school there in Turkey……………

And Roaring Springs is some 80 to 85 miles east of Lubbock where Waylon Jennings was once a DJ on the C&W station KLLL atop the Great Plains Life Building there in the Hub City. So my attraction to this song has a two pronged reach…

Now you may be asking who Bill Hart is and what does he have in common with Bob Wills or Waylon Jennings. Well at a very young age when I started reading the sports page of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal from front to back on a daily basis, there were two writers for the AJ who were as good as there has ever been.

One of those was a man named Burle Petit and the other was Bill Hart. Petit’s column was titled Notes, quotes, and comments from hither and yon and scattered between the dots. That is where my title: Scattered Between The Dots originated. Bill Hart’s column bore the title of Hart’s Beat…………………….

Between those two guys the Texas Tech Red Raiders and every high school in the Lubbock reading area had the best coverage imaginable. Their reporting was both accurate and entertaining. Each column always had a unique quality that became the trademark of these ultra-talented writers……………….

Burle Petit has been retired for some time after a long and rewarding career with the Avalanche Journal. He, at one time, wrote the Texas Tech section for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, better known as the Bible of football in the state of Texas. The last time that I saw him was at Bill’s retirement party in his hometown of Baird. I felt honored to be at the same event with these two legends of sports writing in this state…………………..

But for me Bill Hart will always be the King. I do not have exact dates and times as to when and where his career took him. I just know that when I came back to the Big Country to coach at DeLeon in 1977 he was writing for the Reporter-News. I just know that I could hardly wait for the morning paper to see what Bill was going to report on, for any of the area schools or one of its athletes or coaches. No one, and I mean no one, covered high school sports like he did……………………….

The best thing about him was that he was so personable and he made any kid or coach feel really special during the interview. And then when the article came out in the next day’s paper it was so professional and personal at the same time. And as I said earlier, each article had a unique feel to it………………………..

Since he lives in Baird and did so while working in Abilene, his beat was usually the schools east of the Key City. So while I was at DeLeon I got to know him on a very personal level. We became friends and remain so to this day. Even though he never let it show, I could feel the partiality that he had for the Bearcats.

He had followed them through their championship year of 1975 and then again during their runner-up year in 76’. Like so many others at that time, he was highly impressed with the coaching of both Jack Waggoner and Grady West and the hard-nosed style of the Bearcats……………………

In the fall of 1978 DeLeon was taking on the Dublin Lions coached by the unpredictable Bill Bryant in what was dubbed as the Central Texas game of the week. The game was also being touted as one of those headliners in the Harris Poll which almost every football coach read religiously every week. At DeLeon we felt confident but certainly not assured of anything. We needed an edge!

When Bill came to interview Grady West before going to Dublin to interview Bryant, we talked him into picking Dublin in his Friday morning predictions to which all coaches in the Big Country paid attention. He did just that and when we showed the sports page to our kids they were in a lather just as we had hoped. DeLeon won 35-6………..

Bill was mostly assigned to the big games east of Abilene on Friday nights. When I became the head coach at Comanche in 1993 he usually covered our game with DeLeon because that game was rarely a blowout and featured one of the great rivalries anywhere in Texas. When he came he would take notes during the game and use his typewriter (yes I said typewriter) to prepare his article for the Saturday morning edition.

Many times I would be ready to leave for home on one of those Friday nights and would look up at the press box and he would still be there typing away. I would go up for a visit until he left. I loved those visits because we are talking about a man with an amazing memory. We would talk about games from many years before and he could recall names, conditions, plays, mistakes, highlights, or anything else that occurred. I don’t know his age at the present time but he can still do that very readily…………………..

While his reporting during football season was phenomenal I’m not sure that his best work wasn’t done during track season; especially at the state meet. There could be a hundred or more kids from the Abilene area competing and he would somehow seemingly have a picture or a quote from either the athletes or their coach. Back when I first started going to the state meet, it was held in then Memorial Stadium and now DKR Memorial Stadium. There was nothing better because most of the Abilene area coaches sat in the stands across from the finish line and it was like one big family.

Bill would make his way up there after being down on the infield interviewing kids and making them feel very special, and it was as if he were the favorite relative when he came up in the stands. Everyone loved, respected, and adored Bill Hart…………………….………

In 1998 my relationship with this wonderful man got personal. My daughter Megan had been diagnosed with cancer on the same day that I found out that I would be terminated as the head football coach at Comanche. I would have really been down had it not been for the fact that I needed to stay positive for Meg. She would go through a year’s worth of chemotherapy and radiation fighting that dreaded monster. Her chemo treatments were so intense that either her Mom or I would stay with her through the nights.

One night during the month of October she was having a really tough night and between throw-ups she would tell me how worried she was about being able to play basketball. And at this time I was going through my first football season in 27 years without being on the sideline and it hurt. I looked at Megan and said, “Hey when basketball starts I’m going to ask Bill Hart to come and do a story about you and your journey through all this.”

She looked at me and asked, “Do you really think he would do that?” To her, Mr. Hart was a celebrity and she also knew he was held in the highest esteem in the Clifton household…………

Bill came and did an outstanding story on her with several pictures. That story ran not only in the Reporter-News but was picked up by other newspapers across the state. We would have friends from all across Texas sending us that article. It was submitted in a contest by the American Cancer Society, I think, and was voted second best in the state. In our minds it was number one just like the man who wrote it and just as I knew, it lifted our entire family’s spirit……………

Meg and I attended a banquet honoring him that was held on the campus of Abilene Christian. As usual the man of the hour made Meg and me feel like we were the honorees. He was and is so very unselfish. Later as he was struggling with his own health, I visited Megan at McMurry, where she was a freshman, and told her that Bill was in the hospital. She would have it no other way than for us to make a trip to see him. Once again he didn’t want to talk about his health, only hers as he still does when we have any type of communication…………

This Hall of Fame writer, yes he was inducted into the Big Country Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, still writes an article in every Sunday’s Reporter-News. It is still the best simply because with that remarkable memory of his he will remember a name of a former athlete from this area and will begin his column with: What ever happened to                      and then give their name and school. I promise that he could tell a story about that athlete. Not only are his columns so well written and accurate, they are fun to read. Every now and then he will have to skip a Sunday because of health problems and when that happens I almost go into withdrawals…………..

When I first got to college I started out in journalism and did so because I wanted to be like Bill Hart. My desire to always be involved in sports through the coaching profession lured me away from a life of sports writing. But just being able to call Bill Hart a special friend because of my coaching profession has been as rewarding as anything that has happened to me in the occupation that I so loved.  Everyone should not only be so lucky but so blessed.                                                                                                                                                                             “I grew up on music that we called western swing                                                                          It don’t matter who’s in Austin, Bob Wills is still the King.”

As for sports writers, it don’t matter who’s in Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio,  or any other metropolitan area:

Bill Hart Is Still The King!

About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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