James L. “Babe” Hallmark, longtime Tyler Junior College football coach and an All-Southwest Conference player at Texas A&M, passed away Thursday.

He was 86.

Hallmark served as assistant football coach for the Apaches from 1950-63 and as head football coach from 1963-69. He is a member of the TJC Sports Circle of Honor. 

He played for the famed A&M “Kiddie Corps” in the 1940s and led the squad to the 1944 Orange Bowl. 

“We lost a good friend today,” said Dr. Tim Drain, TJC athletic director. “Babe Hallmark served the black and gold for many years and was Coach (Floyd) Wagstaff’s right-hand man for many great football teams. Our thoughts are with the Hallmark family.”

Hallmark served as backfield coach for Wagstaff for 13 seasons before taking over head coaching duties in 1963. He led the Apaches to eight bowl berths and his coaching record was 148-60.

After retiring from coaching, he became general partner in Hibbs-Hallmark & Company until 1987. The Hallmark family was among the original founding members of Green Acres Baptist Church.

Hallmark was also honored by the 12th Man Foundation for his continued support of Texas A&M University. 

He was inducted into the TJC Sports Circle of Honor in 1998, the same year that Dwain Bean and Lawrence Strickland — former Apaches who played during Hallmark’s coaching days — were also inducted.

Hallmark was born in 1925 in Wellington. He was a star player at Kilgore High School. 

From there he went to College Station. Hallmark was a standout at Texas A&M, where he was an All-SWC selection at halfback in 1943. That team was known as Homer Norton’s “Kiddie Corps.” The average age of the Aggies, a freshman- and sophomore-laden team, was 17½ years old. 

He led the conference in passing yards and total offense that season. Nationally, Hallmark was third in passing and fifth in total offense that year.

He was a third-team All-American and led the Aggies to a 7-1-1 record and to the 1944 Orange Bowl against LSU. It is the Aggies’ only appearance in the Miami bowl. Hallmark was known as the “Babe” of the “Kiddie Corps.”

In a 2004 article, he told the Tyler Paper, “Everyone on our team was about like me. Most of the guys were 17 or 18. But we were one of the most unusual groups that I’ve ever seen. We were just a bunch of good-natured groups, wholesome guys. We’ve had several reunions and meetings over the years and I don’t think any one of us even smokes. It was one of the finest groups of fellas that you would ever want to meet. And it just worked out well for us.”

After graduating from high school in 1943, the star quarterback and halfback for the Kilgore Bulldogs hadn’t decided where to attend college, until A&M came calling. During the summer, Hallmark had a job cleaning the public swimming pool in Kilgore and he was taking classes at Kilgore College.

The Aggies had won the national championship in 1939 and had several strong teams in that era, but post-Pearl Harbor brought changes to the all-male military school.

Many of A&M’s upperclassmen were drafted into the officer training school. That included many football players. Only one varsity player from the 1942 season returned to play the following year.

The Aggies were so young, the press called the Aggies, the “beardless boys of Aggieland” and a “glorified high school team.”

Instead of foregoing the season as Baylor did that year, Norton went around the state in search of players, one of which was Hallmark.

The school newspaper also asked for volunteers and 130 players showed up for practice in late July.

When the 1943 season began, Hallmark was 17. With Hallmark directing the Aggies at quarterback and halfback, A&M opened the season with wins over Bryan Air Force Base and Texas Tech before upsetting LSU (in Baton Rouge, La.) and TCU.

Entering the showdown with Texas in College Station, the Aggies were 7-0-1. The tie came against North Texas Agricultural College (now UT Arlington). With the Southwest Conference title on the line, the Longhorns scored a 27-13 victory.

But the Aggies still went bowling, earning their first and only Orange Bowl berth.

In the Orange Bowl, Hallmark threw two TD passes (20 and 25 yards), but LSU prevailed this time, 19-14.

After returning from the Air Force, Hallmark lettered in 1946 and 1947.

During his days in the military, he played halfback and quarterback, leading his team to the Service Championship of the U.S.

After A&M, Hallmark had offers to play pro football from the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins. He played for the Redskins, but he injured his knee and decided to return to East Texas to coach the Apaches.

“It was a great 19 years (with TJC),” Hallmark said at his 1998 induction into the TJC Ring of Honor. “We were fortunate to have 17 of 19 winning seasons. I was fortunate to be associated with several people. It’s not the wins or losses that matter, but the people.”

Hallmark was married for 63 years to Nelleva Denton Hallmark, who passed away in 2007.

He is survived by his daughter, Connie Lee of Austin; grandchildren, Chris and Mallori Ramey, Brittany Ramey, David Estlund, Callie and Ty Neatherlin, and James Ty Ingram.

Visitation will be from 5:30-7 p.m. Friday at Burks Walker Tippit Funeral Home. Services are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the chapel of Burks Walker Tippit with Dr. David O. Dykes officiating. Interment will be at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Memorials can be made to Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County, 211 Winchester Drive, Tyler, 75701.


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