Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Busy Saturday in Carthage

I've been on the road the past few weeks delivering Texas State Historian programs to a variety of groups around the Lone Star State. I finally returned home to Carthage on Thursday evening, August 10, but a couple of key events awaited the State Historian.

This weekend the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Carthage museum. Tommie Ritter Smith, a relative of Tex Ritter, obtained a large cache of memorabilia from the family in the 1990s and launched the Tex Ritter Museum in the Panola County Chamber of Commerce building. With community cooperation she expanded the museum to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, soon housed  in a superb new facility. Carthage is a fitting home for the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, because Panola County is the only county in the United States with two natives - Tex Ritter and Jim Reeves - who are members of Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame. The charter inductees in 1998 were Tex Ritter, Jim Reeves, Willie Nelson, Gene Autry, Cindy Walker, and Joe Allison.
With Tommie Ritter Smith
Pat Browning at his historic log cabin
The 20th Annual Texas Country Music Hall of Fame Weekend included the John Ritter Tribute Showcase on Friday night, August 11, the Tex Ritter Roundup on Saturday morning, the annual Texas Country Music Hall of Fame Induction Show on Saturday night, and a Sunday morning cowboy church service. It has been my privilege to serve as a board member since the museum's inception, and each year I write the biographical sketches of the new inductees for the program.

But on Saturday afternoon I had another engagement as well. For the past nine years a hamburger social and two-hour coaches' interview program has been held on the Saturday just preceding football season. The event is sponsored by Pat Browning, longtime coach and administrator in Carthage, and by Jerry Hanszen, owner of KGAS Radio, which broadcasts CHS Bulldog football games, as well as the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame Weekend programs. This annual event is held at Pat's 19th-century log cabin in the country. 

KGAS Sportscaster Larry Allen with former coach Benny Mitchell

During this nine-year period, Coach Scott Surratt has led the CHS Bulldogs to five state championships, including three in a row: 2008-2009-2010, as well as 2013 and 2016. Coach Surratt was at Pat's cabin, along with members of his staff, numerous coaches from other high schools, and former coaches. Early in my career I was head football coach at Anna High School and at Waskom High School, so I fell into the former coach category. 
On the air with Clay Ilo

But I also was asked to lead off the two-hour broadcast with a historical segment on Texas high school football. I was delighted with the assignment, and I brought leather helmets, ancient jerseys, and other display items, since the program was being videotaped. Part of my historic focus was upon the coaches who have won three consecutive state championships: there are only four, besides Coach Surratt who, with five state titles, is rapidly attaining legendary status. I was followed on the broadcast by Coach Andrea McCray of Panola College, whose volleyball team was ranked Number One in the nation throughout most of the 2016 season.
Coach Amber McCray and two of her Panola Volleyball players

An hour after the broadcast I headed for the Carthage Civic Center, where the 1,900-seat auditorium was sold out. Again it was my pleasure to reminisce for a moment over KGAS Radio about the past 20 years. I visited with Tommie Ritter Smith, and I had a quick hello with Linda Davis, a graduate of Carthage High School who was in my class at Panola College, before moving to Nashville to begin a stellar career in Country Music. A Grammy-winning singer, Linda was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
There was a sell-out crowd at the Carthage Civic Center

Tracy Byrd, a 2015 inductee, was emcee for the night, and he opened the show with a terrific singing performance. Another featured performer was T. G. Shepard, who also introduced his talented wife, Kelly Lang. Tracy Pitcox of Brady was presented as 2017 Disc Jockey Hall of Fame Inductee. In Brady Tracy owns Heart of Texas Records, Heart of Texas Recording Studio, and Heart of Texas Events Center - where I was invited to present a State Historian program in 2013. The 2017 Pioneer Award was presented to Mo Jelandarzedah, owner of Mo's Place in Katy.
Linda Davis
Emcee and 2015 Inductee Tracy Byrd
Tracy Pitcox

The 2017 Hall of Fame Inductees were Bobbie Lee Nelson, a gifted pianist who is the older sister of Willie Nelson and who tours and records with Willie, and Kenny Rogers. A renowned performer, Kenny has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, he starred in several TV movies as "The Gambler," and the list of his musical awards is staggering. In 2016 he launched The Gambler's Last Deal, a farewell tour in which he is accompanied onstage by lovely Linda Davis. Kenny's performance electrified the Hall of Fame crowd.  

TG Shepard and Tommie Ritter Smith
Bobbie Lee Nelson
The Gambler's Last Deal

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