This is going to be a long and rambling story. Some of it may be new to many of you, but I just wanted to get it down on paper as I decide to close a chapter in my life.
When I started ranking six-man football teams during the 1993 season, I never imagined that 28 seasons later I would still be doing it.
I did not come from a six-man town. Heck, the high school I went to was always in the largest UIL classification, save for my senior year.
I did not play high school football. I played one season of sixth grade football, but was disillusioned as a skinny, yet fast wide receiver and defensive back in the days before wide open offenses. I played tennis for a school that finished 3rd, 2nd, 6th and 2nd in the state in my four years and was good enough to play in college. I even played one year of high school basketball, but never football. The football was awful at my school, despite being the place to be on Friday nights.
I was a math nerd and proudly so. I traveled across the country while in high school to attend conferences and compete. I wasn’t great, but was good enough to be on a team that won the 1982 National Championship in Computer Programming the summer before my senior year.
But I was a sports nerd as well.
I attended 41 games the first two seasons the San Antonio Spurs were in the ABA. I went to every event my school played in. In college, I would travel to nearby college and high games of interest, including travelling around the country to attend the NCAA Basketball Tournament and several Final Fours. My parents took me to see Pele when he came to town. I even won the ‘Guess the Attendance’ contest at the very first professional soccer game in San Antonio, winning myself a Hertz rental car for the weekend at age 10.
But I always loved high school sports.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in San Antonio where the newspapers covered high school sports better than almost any city in the state. I say newspapers, plural, because I am old enough to have grown up when there were two.
It was not uncommon for me to jump in the car and drive to catch a random basketball or football game if I read something about it in the paper. Heck, I remember being in Austin for a tennis tournament and talking our coach into taking us to see Houston Kashmere play at the 1980 state tournament. We also used to walk through the gates to the stadium after state tennis to watch the UIL Track Meet. Remember, at that time, the varsity tennis courts were attached to the south end of what was Memorial Stadium back then. In college, I drove to catch the eventual state champions and 40-0 Houston Madison Marlins win the Regional title at Hofheinz Pavilion. I also used to be a regular at the UIL Class A, Region 4 Basketball Tournament in Brenham on the Saturday when the champion would have to win a pair of games to advance to State.
So when you love sports and math, you naturally end up gambling and that’s where the story heads.
A college roommate was a big chess player and I learned about the ELO Rating System. He had also heard that you could apply the ELO system to Major League Baseball and use it for gambling. We thought we’d give it a go, but after two days trying to get scores in the old Undergraduate Library at UT (which is now called the Flawn Academic Center), we gave up.
And that was that until 1993 when I was accepted into a graduate program at UT for Mathematical Statistics. I was obsessed with rating systems and at that time, Jeff Sagarin was the only game in town. His ratings were published in USA Today and I had some ideas and wanted to learn more.
It was also around that time I met a software engineer and told him about my idea of developing a rating system. His advice was that if I did not do it soon, I was never going to. His company sold software compilers so he gave me a free copy and I was off to the races.
But there was one problem, I needed something to rate.
After looking around, I realized there were only 80-something teams playing six-man football, so I figured I would start there. At worst there’s only 40 games a week. Also, nobody else was ranking six-man teams. There was The Harris Ratings, but Mr. Harris only worried about 11-man teams.
In that first year, I started accumulating scores and working on the rankings. It was difficult and slow, but I eventually got them all. Getting all of the scores was not simple. I was also running rankings and spreads, but not sharing them with anyone.
I have family who lived near Panther Creek and one of them came with me to the 1993 state championship in Big Spring between Dell City and Panther Creek. She was actually a senior at St. Stephen’s in Austin, but grew up with the guys on the team. We weaseled our way onto the field. I was carrying a folder with my rankings and my cousin had my camera and was shooting photos of the game.
While on the field, I ran into Tommy Wells. Right then and there, I offered him full access to my rankings (for free), which I showed him, but he declined. I was confused. It was only later when I realized what a mess his entire operation was.
Tommy is a legend. His early preseason magazines were amazing, but everything he did outside of that was questionable. By 1995 he was unfortunately irrelevant.
When 1994 came around, I continued trying to do my rankings. Late Sunday or early Monday, I would fax the rankings to newspapers around the state. Several were using them in their previews for games and a few others would publish a top-10 and the teams in their area.
I would travel to game on Friday nights, carrying a folder of rankings. People were friendly and know when you are not from around there. Conversations would strike up and I would hand them a copy of the rankings.
That’s what happened one night in Zephyr when I was attending a game. I was handing out my rankings when someone told me a team from Colorado was going to play in Gordon the next day. So of course, I found a place to spend the night near Brownwood and drove to Gordon the next day to catch the legendary Revere v Gordon game that was the precursor to teams from out of state to play teams from Texas, other than the occasional New Mexico skirmish in the South Plains.
That was also the year I met the guys at the block plant in Strawn. Terry and Doug were a pair and the block plant was the unofficial center of the universe for six-man information at that time.
Another major milestone occurred in 1994 as well. During week eight, a major storm rocked through parts of Central Texas on Friday night. I believe I was at the Zephyr-Sidney game, where there may have been a slight delay due to high winds and rain. There was also reported tornado somewhere on the other side of Brown County but we were not in the path.
The next morning, I was trying to track down scores. In those days, after you exhausted the AP results in the newspaper, you had to start making phone calls. Nobody would be at the newspapers just yet, so you relied on the old coaching directories. I was living in San Antonio at the time, but was in Austin that day, when I somehow got a hold of someone in the Bynum fieldhouse. I asked about their score and they said they game had been postponed due to the heavy rain and they were going to play it in a few hours.
So, I hopped in my car and drove to Bynum to watch them play Milford.
Coach Gilmore’s Milford team, which would eventually reach the state championship game that year, would blow out Bynum and score just about every time they touched the ball, but it was someone I met on the sideline who changed the path of what I was doing.
At one point before the game, I had my manilla folder of rankings and district standings and was sitting in the metal bleachers trying to not too out of place. As I glanced through my folder trying to update the district standings from the night before, a gentleman asked me what I had.
I showed him my folder and he was utterly amazed. I had my rankings, the district standings for every district and every score from the entire year. Being located off I-35, they would only see the Waco-area standings or if someone worked closer to Fort Worth, a few districts around there out of that paper.
He gathered a few people and they talked about all of the districts ‘out west’ where nobody really knew who was going to make the playoffs.
The gentleman told me I should make a newsletter and I scoffed. I had zero interest in doing something like that, but the idea stuck inside my head.
I drove home to San Antonio later that evening. At the time, I had left my teaching position in Austin and stopped graduate school to work for two smaller businesses that were starting. In days where there wasn’t much work, I was substitute teaching.
One day that following week I realized what the gentleman at Bynum had said to me could possibly be a good idea. The school where I had left had asked me to teach the journalism/yearbook class the previous year so I was familiar with PageMaker and had a copy on my computer.
Within a day I had created a brief newsletter that had my rankings, all of the week 8 scores and the current district standings. I put a bland masthead on it and called it “The Huntress Report”. I took it to Kinko’s and had probably 100 copies printed on double-sided 11” x 17” paper, so it would fold into a four page newsletter.
That Friday I travelled to Mullin for the May-Mullin game. At the time, Mullin was undefeated and ranked #1, while #6 May was 7-1, with their only loss to #4 Zephyr. Mullin had outlasted Zephyr, 48-46, in week six.
I got to the field early and placed a few copies in the press box. Little did I know it would be life-changing.
The cheerleaders were in charge of selling programs at the gate while people paid their admission to the game. I asked if I could sell my newsletter at the same time and was given the ok. Within a few minutes, people started requesting my newsletter with their programs. Apparently, they were listening to the pregame from a radio station from Brownwood that was in the press box and had seen it.
I sold quite a few copies that night, probably breaking even on gas money and printing, but more importantly, I met Phil Watts.
Watts was the magnanimous owner of KIX 104.1 in Brownwood. It was actually two stations, KXYL-FM (104.1) and KXYL-AM (1240). An alum of legendary Odessa Permian, Watts had just acquired the stations and loved his football. An insurance and benefits planner, Watts threw himself into the football scene that was dominated by the other stations, who owned the rights to Brownwood and Goldthwaite.
Smaller schools were going to be his target. It also didn’t hurt that his daughters attended Mullin (I believe one transferred to Zephyr for a bit as well). So, every Friday night he would have a crew at a smaller A or AA school and he would lead a crew at a six-man game.
Throughout the rest of the 1994 season and 1995, I would do morning radio interviews with people at his stations on Friday mornings. Whenever I would show up at a game they were doing in Central Texas, Phil would give me a headset radio and a microphone so I could do sideline interviews. I was his ‘Ahmad Rashad’.
Some of the best times would be when we would do a live post-game call-in show from the Super Walmart in Brownwood. This would be after a playoff game and we would stay on the air until around midnight. A few times the Watts would have stay at their home so I wouldn’t have to make the drive home so late.
By 1995, I was doing live ‘hits’ on several radio stations around the state weekly. I was also making appearances on the Fox Southwest show, High School Extra Live. I would be driving home from a game and would pull over at a pay phone and call into the show.
In ’96 I bought my first cell phone. Anyone who knows the history of Central Texas cell phone coverage knows how spotty that could be. I would have to find a hill or town where the coverage was good near the time they wanted to call me and wait.
Also, during this time, the newsletter would take the form of random colors. This was because I had stepped up to offset printing. At first, I would just get it printed in black, but that seemed boring so I started getting it printed in whatever was the ‘free color of the day’. Some of them were almost unreadable (red and lime green). Others like blue, maroon and dark green were better.
In those days I would mail the subscriptions out on Tuesday night after they returned from the printer. I would also send copies to random schools around the state to sell. I usually sent them to the head coach or cheerleader sponsor, so they could pass them out or sell them and keep all of the money.
The website was started in 1995 as well, but in a very limited capacity. I would only update rankings and scores a week behind, so that it would not cut into those who had subscriptions to my newsletter. It also had that super long URL. That horrendous URL was famously shortened to one with a tilde in it, but still atrocious. That all changed when I finally registered sixmanfootball.com.
Those early years in the 90’s were fun and loaded with stories.
There was the time in 1994 when I travelled almost 1400 miles to attend four playoff games in one weekend. This included one of the coldest games I may have ever attended, the Amherst-Samnorwood game in Silverton on Thursday, Panther Creek-Mullin in Early on Friday and Gordon-Covington in Hico on Saturday. I also caught a private school playoff game in Mineral Wells that Saturday afternoon and did a radio call-in show in Brownwood Friday night.
All of that is fun and there are literally hundreds of stories from that era, but times change and so do lives, especially when this is not your full-time job.
There were times I almost quit it all. Most notably was as we headed into the 1999 season.
Life was changing. I had moved from being a teacher to working as Sports Information Director and Athletic Facilities Coordinator at Trinity University. In addition to whatever my ‘real’ job was, I was also freelance writing and trying to put together the newsletter.
I had begun transitioning everything to being solely on the website. By the 1998 season, this was complete. The grind of trying to print a newsletter was as time consuming as it was not profitable, so the change made sense.
So, in mid-August of 1999, the rankings were still not posted. Several coaches and fans contacted me and provided some words of encouragement. Later that week I got everything back in order.
The last ten years have been a blur.
More and more programs have been coming into existence as schools and communities are discovering six-man as a viable way to continue (or return to) football.
The game was growing, coverage was growing and my family was beginning to grow.
I took a job at one point within the University of Texas Athletic Department that required me to stop writing about specific players because they are considered ‘recruitable athletes’. That significantly changed the way I ran the website and forced me to stop writing for Dave Campbell’s.
I also started to attend fewer games in person. This was in part to a busier work schedule and also trying to attend or coach my kids’ games on the weekend. Time has just become more precious to me and my family.
It is why today I announce that I will no longer be working on the website, compiling scores or posting rankings.
What does that mean for the website? I am not sure.
There is no specific plan at this time about what will become of the site or the rankings. I have discussed selling the website several times and was in talks again just prior to COVID in the Spring last year, but nothing was finalized.
I just know that the time has come to move on.
It’s been hard running the site, year after year, on my own and to the standard I tried to maintain. My personal goals and responsibilities have changed dramatically.
When I started doing this, I filled a space and gave a platform for small town teams to be recognized. Luckily, there are plenty of options out there and much more coverage for six-man than many could’ve dreamed of in 1993.
I have also made so many friends and acquaintances while on this journey. I cannot possibly thank all of the coaches, fans and colleagues by name. Just know that I really enjoyed our time together. People opened up not only their lives, but sometimes even their homes to me.
One of the biggest honors I have ever received was being inducted into the Texas Six-Man Coaches Hall of Fame as the first non-player, non-coach. I keep that plaque next to my work desk and will treasure it forever.
Thank you for spending some of your time with me. I will be forever grateful.