Ross Moore & Wayne Vandenburg – Two Historic UTEP Sports Figures Still Strike a Chord

By Mark S. McDonald, Under-qualified but unrelenting UTEP correspondent

Once in a great while, a UTEP post strikes home, triggering unpredictable reader reaction. It recently happened, not once, but twice — with a flurry of comments on former Miners track coach Wayne Vandenburg and the late trainer, Ross Moore. Here are nuggets from the mine shaft:

(Editor’s note: In spite of his national championships and immense popularity with Miners fans, unconfirmed word on the street has it Vandy spent himself into trouble with UTEP administration. A rapid-fire talker, Wayne reportedly was prone to running up massive phone bills while jabbering to his talent scouts in Europe. Such irony. Today, Wayne could recruit the same great athletes, using email, not telephone, at minimal expense.)

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From pole vaulter Dennis Sledge:

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Wayne Vandenberg, left, with his brother Russ.

“He was a complex guy as a coach, he was upbeat, made you feel important, like you were his best friend. But Wayne was very principled. There was a line you didn’t cross.

“I enjoyed competing for him, wish I could have been a better producer. He was generous with me. I was really disappointed when he was fired my junior year. I was working on the decathlon and hoped to concentrate on it my senior year. But two of our other pole vaulters left when he was fired and I had to concentrate on the pole vault, since they didn’t have decathlons in every meet.”

Sledge on UTEP’s world-class athletes recruited by Vandy:

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UTEP’s Kidd Field was once a national stage for track & field events.

“(The late) Paul Gibson (of Carlsbad, N.M.) was probably the best athlete I was ever around. His best friend, Fred DeBernardi was another great athlete. Often after they had completed their workouts for their events they would run 40-yard dashes against each other. It was always close and occasionally Fred, at 6-7, 265, would win. I really liked both of those guys.  Fred was at the reunion and is still like a big ole kid.”

(Editor’s note: Fred DiBernardi was a freak of nature. Tried out for football one year, and suited out like Gorgo. Think Bob Lilly, only taller. When we reported in August, every team member had run the “Bobby Dobbs Mile” for time. Backs ran with backs and receivers, linemen ran with linemen. “DeeBo,” as we called him, cruising effortlessly with the backs and receivers, towering over the smaller guys while matching them stride for stride. Unfortunately, DeeBo’s unmatched size-speed package did not translate to the gridiron. His incredibly strong body, could not overcome weak football fundamentals.)

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Reader Marilyn Cromeans is a Miner forever and the daughter of our late trainer Ross Moore:

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The late Ross Moore, trainer extraordinaire.

“Dad’s 108th birthday was (recently). I know he loved you guys. He had a name for everyone. I miss him and my mother so much.”

(Editor’s note: Your note got me to thinking about your father and why he meant so much to me and my UTEP teammates. It’s puzzling, really, because when it came to social graces, Mo treated us like crap. All of us. Mo called most athletes “peckerhead.” I was a two-year, senior starter, and Mo still referred to me as “freshman.” The note of disdain was so noticeable, he almost spit the words on the floor. As if I were a tropical disease. But I think that beneath his crusty exterior, there were two things Mo could not hide — without question, he knew what he was doing, and, deep down, he cared about us athletes. He was giving us what we needed to succeed. To me, that’s what made the old buzzard great.As his daughter, you miss your father. You know how I still feel about the guy. Just guessing, but I think plenty of Miners forever miss Ross Moore, too.”)

 


 

Mark McDonald is a UTEP journalism grad and two-year letterman in football. His new non-fiction historical narrative traces college football and American culture back to the 1960s. To order Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons ($30 plus S&H), visit the website BeyondTheShootout.com.

 


 

Where Texas Western Led, Others Followed — Miner’s New Book Chronicles UTEP’s Historic Stake in American Culture

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By Mark S. McDonald Sr., Totally Self-Serving Miner Forever

Sixty years of living and football, plus two years of research and writing, just washed up on my doorstep today. A 5,213-pound package containing 1,500 copies of my baby. You may recognize it as my new release: Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, a historical account of the Arkansas – Texas game for football’s national title, and what happened afterwards. Answer: Plenty.

There was love, marriage, kids, car wrecks, cancer, busted businesses, all this amidst the Vietnam war, race riots, assassinations and the intersection of television with college sports. It’s a big, big story, told in 160,000 words, more than 100 photos, several cartoons by Bill DeOre, and captured in a large format. UTEP is part of the story, too.

Chapters on Julius Whitaker of the University of Texas and Jon Richardson of the University of Arkansas breaking the color line in 1970 would be incomplete without the back-stories of Texas Western’s earliest black athletes. Thanks to retired El Paso sportswriter Bill Knight and his institutional memory. And here’s a toast to the likes of Nolan Richardson, Charlie Brown, Fred Carr and Charlie West. You bold Miners, during the mid-1950s and early ’60s, led the way.

With support from coaches and staff at my alma mater, you nudged all-white athletic programs elsewhere toward racial integration. Good on you, fellas, and thanks, from all of us Miners forever. It could not have been easy, but it was your time and it was the right thing to do.

{McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year letterman in football. To order his new book, visit <BeyondTheShootout.com>, or send $35 to: Dust Devil Publishing, 2206 Country Club, Midland, TX 79701. Allow three weeks for delivery.}

Vandy Still a Dandy — Hall of Fame UTEP Coach in Full Stride

By Mark S. McDonald, undocumented UTEP railbird

Wayne Vandenburg was on fire the other night, poking at a plate of enchiladas at a Permian Basin café, serving up 55 years of UTEP athletics for dessert.

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“Vandies Dandies” were an enormous draw to home meets in the late 1960s.

Vandy came to Texas Western from the University of New Mexico to coach the track/field and cross-country teams. He was 24. From 1968-72, with the young firebrand leading the way, the Miners were spooky-good:

  • One national team title, a runner-up and numerous finishes among the top seven;
  •  57 NCAA all-Americans;
  •  2 world-record holders and an Olympic champ.

Now 77, going on 38, Vandy had started this busy day at his home near Dallas. Making his way west on the interstate, he stopped for meetings in Weatherford, Abilene and Odessa. Next morning, he was headed for Monahans, then driving back to Dallas. Between incoming phone calls from friends and his real estate investment business office in Chicago, the Miners Hall of Fame coach conducted a memory-walk … back to one of those UTEP/Southern Cal/Oregon triangular meets … world-class athletes in competition … the roar of the Kidd Field crowd bouncing off the mountains and rumbling against your chest.

Wayne is one of those rare guys who can go full blast into any project, at any time, and never once question his own choices. Most guys like that are insufferable. A two-legged jackass. Case in point: Baseball manager Billy Martin. And that new senator from New York appears to have the same toxic blend of arrogance and ignorance. Not Wayne Vandenburg.

Full of energy and optimism — to go with contacts far and wide — I always thought Wayne would have been the ideal athletics director, at a time when UTEP was growing. Who better to capitalize on the 1966 national basketball title and the ’67 bowl victory over an SEC team? Instead, fate went against my wishes, and against Wayne Vandenburg.

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UTEP Hall of Fame track coach Wayne Vandenburg — forever an optimist and a Miner forever — is always looking up.

Vandy in 1970 embraced the very UTEP black athletes he released. Several Miners planned to boycott, in support of protests against racial discrimination nationwide. Vandy sympathized with the message but not the means, and fired them all. Bam. There went UTEP’s chance for another track/field championship.

But a few years ago, the tracksters of yesteryear gathered for a reunion, former athletes coming back to El Paso from hither and yon. Hugs and laughter all around, with nary a word of angst to be heard.

In a two-way show of loyalty so rare today, Miners with retreating hairlines and advancing waistlines still love Wayne Vandenburg. Can you blame them? What’s not to love?

McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year starter in football. His 350-page, fully-illustrated historical narrative, entitled Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, covers the aftermath of the epic Arkansas vs. Texas football Shootout of 1969. Cost is $29.95 + shipping. For convenience of credit card, visit BeyondTheShootout.com.}  

No Plus for the Miners — What ESPN’s New Deal with the Big 12 Does for UTEP and Conference USA

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By Mark S. McDonald Sr., undocumented college sports railbird

In case you missed it, cable sports gorilla ESPN just drove a $40 million wedge between NCAA haves and have-nots. Specifically, the network signed an agreement, beginning this year, for ESPN+ to deliver Big 12 football and basketball games on its online subscription streaming service.

This is new revenue for the Big 12, over and above its other TV contracts. Meanwhile, UTEP and Conference USA gets left holding the bag. Follow:

UTEP’s share of C-USA’s five-year deal CBS Sports currently brings in about $200,000 a year. A fraction of the Big 12 booty. North Texas Athletic Director Wren Baker last year said the league is looking for broader distribution and more cheese. Jolly good, amigo, but this latest news leak means the Big 12 lurches ahead. How?

Athletes thrive on two things — playing time and attention. The deal brings no new exposure to C-USA, only to its regional recruiting rivals.

Say, you happen to be a flagship running back from Dallas who wants to perform in front as many people as possible. Or, a power forward from Houston. All things being equal (in your young mind), you sign with a Big 12 school, not UTEP or Rice or La Tech. In basketball, the NCAA’s big cigars have already blown a cloud of smoke in our faces.

Tournament Selection Committee the past six years has relegated C-USA to one-bid status, where only the league champion makes it to the Big Dance. Even that single number is conducted off-Broadway.

Last month, C-USA champ Old Dominion was DOA, buried with a No. 14 seed. The Monarchs did what was the NCAA required of them: They lost in the first round, to Purdue. So what of UTEP?

History tells us UTEP has a winning past. I cling to that lifeline for the very oxygen I breathe. But owing to money, the Mountain Time Zone and empty seats, we know winning in El Paso is a challenge. So, we turn to UTEP’s fresh-faced leadership for optimism.

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Heather Wilson

Unlike a couple dozen idle sign-carriers with more spare time than free thoughts, I’m dialed into performance. The here and now. My spies tell me Heather Wilson is blessed with keen intellect and carries impeccable credentials. Fifty-two years ago, UTEP gave opportunity to a 6-2, 210-pound lineman who had played only one year of varsity football. I hope Wilson gets her chance, too.

Ditto for new-ish A.D. Jim Senter, plus two revenue-sport coaches going into their second seasons – football’s Dana Dimel and Rodney Terry in hoops. Time for all Miners to strap in tight.

Any UTEP climb back to national relevance will be daunting. ESPN did nothing to make it easier.

Mark McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year starter in football. His 350-page, fully-illustrated historical narrative, entitled Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, covers the epic Arkansas vs. Texas football Shootout of 1969 and chaos in America. Copies available in late April 2019. For convenience of credit card, visit BeyondTheShootout.com.

Caution UTEP Miners — Tech fans carry a torch for their team

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Texas Tech fans in Lubbock last Saturday decided a post-game victory celebration was not complete without destroying a car.

By Mark S. McDonald, A.K.A. “Mr. Manners”

It’s been awhile since long-suffering UTEP basketball and football fans have had much to celebrate. Perhaps we could take a lesson from our neighbors in Lubbock.

Last Saturday night after Texas Tech beat Michigan State to reach the NCAA men’s basketball championship game, Hub City hooligans “celebrated” by taking to the streets. Results were oh, so West Virginia Mountaineer-like.

A blazing couch … car flipped on its noggin, set afire … scooters in flames … police fogging an estimated 1,000 people with tear gas.

Question to Miners: How does one set fire to a scooter? Seriously.

At Texas Technological, is Scooter Burning 3101 taught in freshman classes? Or is it a grad-level course?

Classy, Red Raiders, so very classy.

It’s one thing to lose with grace and dignity – as shown by the riot and property damage and 23 arrests in East Lansing after Michigan State lost. Tech people need to learn how to win. As the late Texas Longhorn coach Darrell Royal told his players in my book Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons,“act like you have been there before.”

Fact 1 — UTEP fans boo the opponents when they take the field at the Sun Bowl. It embarrasses me, and pisses me off. Knock it off, you mullets. Booing a bunch of 19-year-olds working their way through college is bush league. It’s college football, not pro wrestling.

Fact 2 — Texas Western (now UTEP) in 1966 became the last Texas school to win the men’s basketball title. We should be proud of it; I know I am.

Fact 3 — On Monday night, many UTEP Miners on Monday were rooting for Tech to lose to Virginia, so as to protect this long-held distinction.

Fact 4 — If TT had won, I was already planning a fresh T-shirt design, featuring a cartoon by artist-friend Bill DeOre (he’s the Tech boy who illustrated my book). Dig this: A stylized Miner with his hand extended to a masked marauder. Text: “Welcome to the Club, Amigo. Been waiting on company since 1966.”

Fact 5 — UTEP football plays TT at Lubbock next September. Miners will come in as an underdog, but I think my proposed T-shirt would have been a big, big winner among tailgaters in the stadium parking lot. Don’t you?

As for wearing a derisive T-shirt to jeer Tech fans, vayan con cuidado. Y’all, go with caution. People in Lubbock know how to set fire to your scooter.

[McDonald is a UTEP grad and two-year football letterman with a West Texas home surrounded by Tech people. His new book on the 1969 Arkansas-Texas Shootout for the national football title, set against political and social chaos in America, arrives in two weeks. Advance copies available by visiting BeyondTheShootout.com.]

On the Menu: Car Wash, Strong Coffee, Weak B.S. and a Mountain Lion to Go

By Mark S. McDonald Sr., Undocumented Miner of Yesteryear

In mid-January, an Austin-area man reported seeing a mountain lion walk across theMountain_Lion_D_Sweetman_small front yard of the family’s home near Leander. The animal wascaught on the door bell camera, disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. (Hold the yawn.) A cougar in 2017 was sighted in a residential back yard in the Montana Vista neighborhood of El Paso, during daylight hours. Escape from the local zoo?

Even that one doesn’t compare to the 2011 incident in which a rogue mountain lion was shot twice with tranquilizer darts, with plans to remove it to the nearby Franklin Mountains. When the lion still tried to elude Parks & Wildlife staffers, they shot the animal dead. That- 102-pound male lion was taken a long field goal from downtown El Paso, at H&H Car Wash.

 

Haddad

Where else can you get a car wash, a plate of migas, strong coffee and weak B.S.? All courtesy of the owner, crusty Maynard Haddad, 85, quite possibly the most loyal UTEP Miners fan in … um … in captivity.

 

 

 

Faithful UTEP Stalwart on the Mend

Miners Are Forever:Marilyn Cromeans copy

Always enjoy reading your thoughts, Mark. I had emergency back surgery on Feb. 19. Two vertebrae had twisted together and closed my spinal cord. Was in rehab for three weeks, and it will be a slow and long recovery, but I’m a little mobile with a walker. I need a good trainer! — Marilyn Cromeans, El Paso

{Editor’s Note: The writer of this notecould look far and wide and not find a better trainer than her own father. The late Ross “Mo” Moore was a nationally recognized athletic trainer who served the Miners for decades. A regular at UTEP home contests, Marilyn Cromeans is a longtime leader in the Women’s Auxillary of the University of Texas at El Paso, which generates scholarships for UTEP coeds. Marilyn, no doubt, is a Miner forever.}

Winchester Shoots His Own Ammo

lance winchesterBy Mark S. McDonald, Undocumented UTEP Magpie

In the mid-1960s, former Texas Western Coach Bum Phillips moved from the border to Port Neches-Grove High, where son Wade was a promising sophomore linebacker. There is another, little-known sidebar to the Phillips connection in UTEP football history.

The Phillips’ 1963 PN-G team met Beaumont South Park for the district title. South Park trotted out a sophomore LB of its own. If you could ID scrappy Lance Winchester, who later played next to legendary Fred Carr on UTEP’s 1967 Sun Bowl champion, move to the head of the class. {Actually, if you can do that, I worry about you.}

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Today, Lance Winchester practices litigation law in Austin, Texas.

Winchester’s off-beat intellect was beyond the grasp of UTEP coaches. When Lance would skip a mandatory study hall for more entertaining pursuits in town, he would create lame excuses in handwritten notes. The recipient, Coach Y.C. (Ready-Ready) McNeese was so moved, he would make Lance run extra Sun Bowl stadium steps. Started calling him “Shakespeare.”

Back then, the nickname puzzled Winchester’s teammates. Today, Lance — an honor grad from UTEP and the Michigan School of Law — still makes up his own dance steps while practicing litigation law in Austin.

Fred Schwake: A Semi-Hidden Jewel

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A trainer at Texas Western the year the Miners won the national basketball championship, Fred Schwake now runs an antique shop in the West Texas town of Ballinger.

By Mark S. McDonald, Certified UTEP Miners Railbird

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” so the saying goes. You couldn’t tell it by Fred Schwake. He doesn’t seem to know the difference. Nor does he much care.

The former UTEP athletic trainer runs One of a Kind Unique Antiques in Ballinger, where his shop between Abilene and San Angelo trades in everything from jewels to junk. Schwake learned at the knee of legendary Miners trainer Ross Moore, then went on to serve as trainer for the Atlanta Falcons and later the San Francisco 49ers. Since leaving the NFL, his goal has been simple: Buy low, sell slightly higher, amuse his friends. He specializes in aging signs, but cannot vouch for their accuracy. Even one his own signs could be called into question.

“The Best Kept Secret in Texas,” declares one prominent sign facing one of the few main streets in Ballinger (pop. 3,767 in 2010 census). This is a gross exaggeration, of course, especially since the Abilene paper recently ran a major feature, with photos, on Schwake and his kitschy business.

What is indisputable, however, is Freddie Joe, as friends call him, is the only antiques dealer in Runnels County to be in the National Basketball Hall of Fame. Schwake taped the ankles of Jim Barnes, Bobby Joe Hill and Nevil Shed for Coach Don Haskins when the legendary Miners of the 1965-66 season won the NCAA University Division Basketball Tournament by defeating the Kentucky Wildcats, 72-65. As March Madness begins this week, the Miners remain the only team in Texas to have won the NCAA national D-1 title.

 

Fred Schwake
A loyal UTEP Miner, Schwake shows off his license plate to salute his friends and classmates on the 1966 championship basketball team.

Tough But True — Don Haskins Treated All His Players the Same — Like Crap

By Rex Miller, Texas Western & UTEP Historian

My associations with Hall of Fame basketball coach Don Haskins consisted mostly of watching his practice sessions. At Memorial Gym on campus where the Miners practiced, I once sat with (Western Athletic Conference basketball official) Moose Stubing.

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Hall of Famer Don Haskins, meaner than an ex-wife, a Miner forever.

“There’s Stubing up there,” Haskins rumbled, pointing to the stands at the time-honored campus facility. “He’s the only one I know who combs his hair with a towel.”

Just then The Bear unleashed a tirade, yelling at his players that they were so messed up the looked like a “Chinese fire drill.”

(Editor’s note: It should be noted here that the better the player, the more likely to draw the wrath of Don Haskins. Those close to the program knew that only Haskins’ bark was larger than his bite. Not even the likes of Tim Hardaway and Nate “Tiny” Archibald, two UTEP legends on the way to NFL stardom, were immune. While privately hugging his players in love, The Bear would castigate them all as “playing like a sack of cats.”

The contributing writer is true orange, loyal to the University and to many friends in West Texas. Watch this space for Rex Miller’s original illustrations, found nowhere else by “Miners Are Forever.” Next: An insider’s view of UTEP legend James Forbes, who played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team and still coaches kids in El Paso today.

And while I have your attention, be sure and check out our brand-new Facebook page here.)