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.

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.}

Looking for Love – UTEP’s 2019 Football Sked

UTEP football schedule 2019

If UTEP football schedules had you wincing and peering between your fingers, take heart. The 2019 slate just released late last week is the most equitable, even-handed slate in years.

The schedule features six home games, six road trips, with no meat grinder at Oklahoma for a quick payday. Look within the line items and you will find the following:

(*) No road trips on consecutive weeks. Given the sprawling geography of Conference USA in three time zones, this should be a relief for the players, coaches and us railbirds. Score: One + for UTEP.

(*) Of most importance, perhaps, is two open dates – Sept. 14 and four weeks later on Oct. 12. Nothing wears down a team, especially one in the rebuilding phase, more than eight or nine games in a row. This should give Dawn Hearn’s training staff something of a break. Maybe it will hold down on the budget for aspirin and wrapping tape.

From Oct. 19 through Nov. 16, the Miners play five straight weeks. This should be doable, notably for a team looking to put an emphatic stamp on the ’19 campaign.

The team closes out with a 40-mile roadie to Las Cruces to play the N.M. Aggies, then a home game vs. Rice on what will be senior day. With emotional families in the stands, outbound players such as Kai Locksley, Derron Gatewood and other Miners will want to max out with a positive curtain call. Score: Double ++ for UTEP.

(*)With or without a healthy Alan Bowman at QB, Texas Tech will likely be better in the fundamentals of blocking and tackling now that Kliff Kingsbury was fired and somehow landed the NFL Cardinals’ head job. Matt Wells is the new man in charge in Lubbock. You may recall 2014 when UTEP lost the New Mexico Bowl, 21-6, to a well-drilled Utah State team coached by the same Matt Wells. Score: 1 slight minus for UTEP.

Before you start heaping praise on first-year Athletic Director Jim Senter for his skillful scheduling, you might save those bouquets for other things he and his staff are doing well. Instead, look back and say thanks for departed A.D. Bob Stull and his capable lieutenant Chris Park, now at Washington State.

Save for the details within C-USA, these schedules are built years in advance. — By Mark S. McDonald, executive editor