Austin College Pays Tribute To Past
There was a little bit of East Texas in Sherman over the weekend. Well, actually, make it a lot.
Several East Texas athletes were honored by Austin College on Legends Weekend 2011.
Gerald Blankenship of Bullard and Steve Burket of Tyler were inducted as individuals into the Athletic Hall of Honor, while the 1981 Kangaroo national championship football team was inducted as well.
Several East Texans were on the AC team that won the title -- including Tyler native Dr. Gene Branum and current Tyler resident and Kilgore native Rory Dukes. Branum and Dukes were inducted as individuals in the 1990s.
Athletic Hall of Honor inductees are selected from nominations made by members of the Austin College Alumni Athletics "A" Association. Inductees exemplify outstanding athletic ability, sportsmanship, character and integrity, and have brought great distinction to themselves and to Austin College.
The football squad was honored with a "Reunion of Champions" at the Wright Campus Center on July 15 and the individuals were honored at the "Legends Gala Dinner and Awards Presentation" July 16 at the Mason Complex.
Blankenship was a four-year letter winner on the Kangaroo basketball team and helped guide the 'Roos to a berth in the 1958 NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, Kan. After earning his business degree at Austin College, he built a career, and retired as director of purchasing at NEC America.
Burket was a four-year letter winner on the Kangaroo football team and a Gene "Duke" Babb Award winner as the team's Most Valuable Player. He was also a member of the 1962 All-Texas College Team and ran track for three years. Burket is a professor of government at Tyler Junior College, where he has been a member of the faculty for 45 years.
Both Branum and Dukes were members of the one of the top football teams in AC history and were also NAIA All-Americans.
Some of the other East Texans on the squad were Ricky Turner of Mount Pleasant, Eddie Shuttlesworth of Arp, David Simmons of Tom Bean who resides in White Oak, Mark Sartain of Anna now head football coach at East Texas Baptist University, Terry Mebane of Whitehouse who now resides in Bullard, John Henderson of Maud, Jerry Bob Pruitt of Hawkins, Freddie Wilburn of Sabine, Carl Oliver of Ore City and Marty Secord of Spring Hill.
The 1981 national championship football team was honored on the 30th anniversary of their achievement. The Kangaroos finished 11-1-1 and the team established records for most wins, longest winning streak (10 games), longest unbeaten streak (11) and most passing yards (2,736 yards).
Robert E. Lee High School 1978 graduate Branum, who resides in Harrisonburg, Va., helped the team gain the co-national championship. He booted a 57-yard field goal with just over a 1:22 remaining to help the Kangaroos tie Concordia (Minn.) College, 24-24, in the national title game. The championship game was played at Louis Calder Stadium on the Austin College campus.
The field goal broke the NAIA playoff record for distance and gave the athletics program what is to this day its lone national championship.
While Branum had the golden toe, the fleet-footed Dukes made his All-American honors at wide receiver.
"It was a great weekend," Dukes said. "We had 30 to 40 players come to Sherman."
Also, Dukes' backup at WR was current University of Southern Mississippi head football coach Larry Fedora, who was also in attendance.
Special guests at the Legends Gala were Mrs. Doak Walker, wife of the late SMU football great and Heisman winner, and members of their family. The third overall pick in the 1950 NFL draft and the 1950 Rookie of the Year, Walker also has a connection to Austin College as his father, the late Ewell Walker, was a four-year letter winner for the Kangaroo football team. Beginning his football career at Austin College in 1915, the elder Walker is a member of the Austin College Athletics Hall of Honor.
Doak Walker's Heisman Trophy was on display at the event.