Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of the When Marion Played Sports series. Click the link to see all the articles in the series.
By Jackie Hunt
Special to The Gazette
The doors to Marion Industrial High School closed for a final time at the end of the 1958-59 school year. Students who had studied and played in the cluster of buildings and grounds that made up the campus were all being transferred to Farmerville to attend the new Eastside High School. The new school featured three rectangular buildings; one each for high school, middle school and elementary.
In addition to the state-of the-art classrooms, the high school offered individual wall lockers, a modern kitchen/cafeteria and sports facilities that former MIHS attendees could only dream of. Instead of packed dirt basketball courts, the Golden Lions now Demons had a shiny new gymnasium capable of seating several hundred spectators in which to play.
The new school was a serious upgrade. The music department now offered a chance to participate in a marching band. That, too, was a jump from the one person drum section that urged the Golden Lions to fight and fans to cheer.
Along with the new and better environment that Eastside provided, came the task of integrating schools that had long been rivals into cohesive athletic teams. That task fell mostly on the legendary Dave Crawford. Coach Crawford, a former star baseball player at Grambling, took over what would today be called the athletic director role. The tall, sinewy Crawford coached the baseball and boys’ basketball teams alone but put together a talented coaching staff for football that came with years of experience.
That football staff consisted of John Q. Watley, an industrial arts teacher who had won a state championship while coaching at Marion Industrial, Edward Moore, C. H. Jackson, who succeeded Crawford in 1969, James Crawford (no relation) and R. C. James, a local businessman and volunteer. James Crawford was the first and only white person to coach at the school.
The new school’s added student count, while a true progression, had the adverse effect of moving the school into the same playing class as larger powerhouses such as Richwood and Richardson from the Monroe area, Lincoln Parish, Morehouse Parish and others. Through the early years of foundation building, Eastside managed to do one thing consistently…beat Westside.
While the “other” school dominated Eastside on the basketball court behind the talents of a guy who was really, really good…I think his name was Willis Reed, the combination of talent from Union Parish Training School, Marion Industrial and Lane Chapel managed to win their first football meeting. That win turned into a streak of eight straight until the Demons finally fell to their rival Tigers 12-7 in 1968.
The first grid-iron success in came 1966 as the team earned a play-in game vs Richardson High for the district championship. The West Monroe juggernaut, led by future Dallas Cowboys star Billy Joe Dupree, managed a 14-6 win over the Demons after battling to a 7-7 tie earlier in the season. Eastside was clearly the next best 2A team in the state as Richardson went undefeated to easily win the 2A championship. The play-in game placed Eastside and Grambling College linebacker Ralph Wayne in star status as he piled up 20 tackles in the loss.
The 1968 team, although shamed by the Westside loss, won their final four games to gain the school’s first play-off appearance. That season ended sadly when the Demons lost 21-20 to a Tallulah McCall team they had earlier beaten 34-6. The tragic loss set the stage for the historic championship run in 1969. (Next week)
Local Marion stand-outs from those years include RB George Harvey Washington, FB Elton McElroy, End Lavelle “Sonny” Braggs, QB James Taylor, DB Harvey “It” Dixon, and WR David Lee. In addition to Wayne, Elmer Atkins and Earnest Waters (both running backs) went on to play college football.
The Traylor brothers, Earl and George, Lonnie “Noodie” Jaggers and Lee are a few who left their prints on the basketball court. There were certainly many others. These boys and men laid a 10 year foundation for a success story capped off by the 1969 Demons.
Next: The Team Nobody Believed in.