James “Junior” Black will be the first to tell you he wasn’t the best player on the 1948 Ball High football team, but he holds a milestone no other Golden Tornado will ever be able to duplicate. On Sept. 17 of that year, facing crosstown rival Kirwin, Black scored the first touchdown in the new Public School Stadium, known today as Kermit Courville Stadium.
GALVESTON — As work crews spruce up Kermit Courville Stadium for Ball High’s football home opener Sept. 5, it’s difficult to imagine there was ever a time when the stadium was brand new.
After all, the stadium is 66 years old, but the player who christened what was then known as the Public School Stadium by scoring the new field’s first touchdown remembers it well.
Ball High offensive end James “Junior” Black entered his senior season in 1948 with a new stadium to be proud of. Before Public School Stadium was built, fans sat on old wooden bleachers to watch Ball High football.
“Seeing that old wooden stadium and then seeing this, I was just so proud of this school,” Black said. “It was before its time. You don’t even see some stadiums this good now.”
Black said even for the Golden Tornadoes players themselves, the hottest ticket in town before Ball High’s new stadium was built was football games at Central High, the island’s all-black school in the era of segregation.
“Man, they were good,” he said. “When we didn’t all have 50 cents to pay to get in, we’d give one guy 50 cents, and he would go to the far end of the fence where there was a policeman to keep people from climbing over. He would climb over the fence real slow and let the policeman catch him, and while they were catching him, about 10 of us would run in to get into the game. Then he would still have his 50 cents to buy a ticket to get into the game.”
The first game
The Golden Tornadoes played the first game in their new stadium Sept. 17, 1948, against crosstown rivals Kirwin High, an all-boys Catholic school that would eventually be consolidated with two girls Catholic schools to form O’Connell in 1968.
“It was a friendly rivalry,” Black said. “When the game was on, we’d try to beat them and they’d try to beat us, but we were all good friends. We’d play, and then that night we would get them to come to our school dance, if they wanted to.”
Although the Tors held a significant numbers advantage over the Kirwin Buccaneers, getting ready to take the field for the first time at a new facility fueled the typical pregame anxiety.
“I don’t care who you are, you’re always a little nervous,” Black said. “You’re always worried before the game starts, or at least I was.”
But when it was game time, with the fight song and home fans’ cheers filling the atmosphere, the anxiety melted away.
Black didn’t consider himself to be the team’s primary offensive weapon. He called teammate Marcus Bowman the more talented of the two starting offensive ends, and said fullback Tommie Ward could run through a brick wall.
So, after the Ball High defense forced the Buccaneers to punt from their own 9-yard line and the Tors took over on the Kirwin 30, the go-to guys worked the ball down to the 6-yard line
With the Kirwin defense paying heavy attention to the Tors’ other offensive options, Black was left with one-on-one coverage, where quarterback Robert “Sonny” Tevault found him with a perfectly placed pass.
“Bowman was our best end; I was OK,” Black said. “They wanted him to come down there and draw them off. I went down and just cut off into the end zone. More than likely, (the defense) was looking at him. I had a guy behind me, but Tevault threw a pass just right over my shoulder.”
Black ran a short distance into the left corner of the stadium’s north end zone for the historic 6-yard touchdown reception. The extra point sailed low, leaving Ball High with a 6-0 first quarter lead after its second possession of the game.
The Tors would go on to win the first game at the new stadium, 32-0, over their rivals.
In a home game later in the stadium’s inaugural season, one of Black’s favorite moments of the year came when his no-nonsense head coach Bill Bush had a rare break in character after the team’s biggest win of the season.
Bush, who died in December 2012 at age 101, was all business on the sidelines and came to work impeccably dressed in a suit, tie and Stetson hat.
“He wasn’t a coach that would yell at you, but when he said something, he was firm,” Black said. “He was such a firm coach, we called him ‘Mr. Bush.’ We never called him ‘Coach Bush.’”
Down 14-12 to the state’s top-ranked team, Port Neches, with 90 ticks left on the clock, Ball High scored three touchdowns to rally for the win. The final score of the game came on a Black interception return.
“Usually, when we had a good game, he’d say, ‘nice game, boys,’ and walk off,” Black said. “This time, he looked around and said, ‘nice game, boys,’ and then grabbed that hat and hollered, ‘yahoo!’ I think we could’ve beat Notre Dame right then.”
Black would miss the final two games of Ball High’s season with a foot injury, and without Black in the lineup, the Tors would fall to favored Baytown with the district championship and a trip to the postseason up for grabs.
The team’s season ended there. After that, Black would go on to play football at Lamar then settle down with a wife, family and career.
The memories of that special season have lasted a lifetime, though, and Black’s place in Ball High history will last forever.