Ronnie's Adventures

 

Many of you who were not around here in the later 60's and 70's did not see what Thomas Jefferson Yellow Jacket football went through.  They were still winners in the mid 60's and early 70's.  In fact they had a great team in 1970 coached by Smitty Hill.  But sometime in the 70's they hit rock bottom.  

Ronnie became coach of Vidor and in one year they were winning.  But naturally his heart was in Port Arthur.  The procession of coaches had transformed the Jackets into jokes.  Ronnie came in and in one year had them winning, in two years they were champions and state finalists.  Above all, like these articles say, they were EXCITING to watch.  The PA News sports editor frequently brings back his articles and here are some...

This first one was written just after the devastating loss for the 1980 State Championship.  It pretty much tells the complete story.....

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PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

December 2, 2010

Permian Mojo only explanation for TJ not finishing 15-0

Best of West for Friday, December 3

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

— Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was first published in the Port Arthur News on Dec. 21, 1980

Whatever Mojo's mystical powers are, they were never more effective than during the second half of the 5A state championship game in Texas Stadium Saturday afternoon.

With Thomas Jefferson on the way to blowing out the Panthers as unceremoniously as it had done previous playoff foes Aldine, Stratford and San Antonio Holmes, the game took almost an inexplicable turn toward the West Texans late in the third quarter.

A bitterly disappointed TJ coach Ronnie Thompson labeled the transformation turning a 19-7 Jacket lead into a 28-19 Permian triumph as a "switch in momentum."  But it was more like black magic or divine intervention.

Permian was hanging on the ropes ready to go belly up, when evil forces seemed to get in the way of the Jacket knockout punch.  After closing the first half by scoring on their final two possessions, TJ opened the third period in the same devastating fashion.  But look what happened.

• After driving from their 26 to a first down at the Permian 26, the Jackets came up empty on an end zone interception.

• After roaring to a first down at the Permian 11 the next time it got the ball, TJ was foiled by a dropped pass in the end zone, then a missed 27-yard field goal that would have opened a 22-7 lead.

• Then, after Permian had regrouped and closed to 19-14, a fumbled punt with 7:22 left opened the door to the winning touchdown.

To properly appreciate how completely out of the game Permian was, as things started going haywire, consider that the Panthers had been outgained 258-76 when Marty Tatum's field attempt sailed wide left with 2:26 to play in the third period.

Not only was Permian unable to stop TJ from moving the football up and down the field, it was having trouble getting back to the line of scrimmage. With Brent Williams leading a savage TJ defensive charge, the Panthers netted minus 17 yards on the five possessions following their initial touchdown.

"We had them right where we wanted them, but we didn't put them away when the opportunity was there," reflected Thompson sadly.  "I guess the most appropriate thing to say is that Permian didn't roll over when things looked worst.  It just played that much harder. Give them some credit."

And, when they were finally able to get the faintest whiff of a third state championship, the Panthers reacted like sharks to the smell of blood.  On its game winning, 44-yard touchdown drive, Permian simply blocked TJ like nobody has all season. The Panthers would not be denied.

Still, because of the way the Jackets dominated for so long, and because of the type of mistakes that allowed Permian to come off the deck, this is a defeat that will not easily be swallowed or forgotten.  The state championship was there for the taking and the memory will be a haunting one.

To Thompson's credit, he took great pains to assure the blame for defeat was not placed at the feet of a handful of individuals. Quite properly, he didn't fault Todd Dodge for a drive killing interception, Robert Smothers for a dropped TD pass, Tatum for the missed field goal or Rick Wyble for his fumbled punt.

Hopefully, Jacket fans will be as compassionate.

"We don't have any scapegoats," asserted Thompson.  "A number of things could have happened to change the outcome.  We didn't make the super catches we've been making all year; we didn't take advantage of our chances to score; and we didn't stop them when we had to. 

“We won 14 games as a team; today we lost one as a team.  Our kids gave everything they had, and will live with the outcome."

Wide receiver Brent Duhon may have wrapped up the situation even better than his coach.

Duhon, who played perhaps the finest game of his star-spangled career, said:  "We can't stand around and keep our heads down. This team turned TJ football around 100 percent. It's back to the way it used to be  now. We wanted this one bad and we didn't get it, but I'm mighty proud of what we accomplished."

It is a thought which should be shouted from rooftops in Port Arthur and accepted with a degree of appreciation throughout District 22-5A and the Golden Triangle.

This was a team that gave a community needing a rallying point something it could unite behind.  They did it with flair, a sense of excitement seldom seen on the schoolboy level. Long after the unhappy memories of Saturday, Dec. 20, finally fade, their records and achievements will live on in the record books.

The shame of it is, this team was so close to seizing a niche in history as one of the greatest teams Texas has ever seen. They were within 14 minutes of a devastating 15-0 run to the top prize in schoolboy football  — the Texas 5A championship.  But one bad quarter should not tarnish their memory.

"I've never been so disappointed," said Thompson softly.  "This group of kids has given so much.  We came so far from being a 1-9 team two years ago.  It's hard to believe it ended like this. I really didn't think anybody could beat us.  We're not state champions on the scoreboard, but this team is No. 1 in my heart."

TJ had everything but Mojo. In retrospect, that's the only sensible explanation.  And the curse was upon the Jackets long before kickoff time.

Dallas' temperature, for instance, was 40 degrees colder for the title game than it was on Thursday.  The night before the game TJ's players were forced out of their usual routine when their bus driver got lost, then the cafeteria that was to have fed them closed. The team didn't get fed until it was supposed to be in bed.

Laugh if you want, but that damn Mojo was the difference.

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PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

July 1, 2010

Thompson’s touch erases nightmares for Jacket football

Best of West for Friday, July 2

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Aug. 14, 1981.

What seemed for the longest time like a never-ending nightmare, an annual fall flight into a chamber of horrors, now seems like little more than a bad dream.

After nearly a decade of turmoil, a period when one of Texas’ proudest schoolboy traditions took more abuse than Hugh Hefner at a feminist convention, Thomas Jefferson’s football program is once against the picture of health.

The lengthy period of convalescence is history.

When head coach Ronnie Thompson assembles his troops for the season’s first workout Monday, they’ll come together as a team once again expected to be a force in the state playoffs. Depending on the poll of your choosing, the Jackets are rated anywhere from No. 1 to No. 8 in the state.

More than anything, the transformation at TJ is a tribute to Thompson. He not only guided the Jackets from the outhouse to the penthouse in two years, he did so in the most crowd-pleasing style imaginable. Seldom has any team been more fun to watch than the one wearing maroon and gold last year.

To be sure, Thompson was blessed with a fair share of quality athletes. A Duhon and a Dodge, a Smothers and a Holloway, don’t come along every year. But the tipoff to what he’s accomplished is that the Jackets could lose four players of that caliber and still be so highly regarded.

At this time a year ago, when Texas Sport and Texas Football magazines came out projecting TJ into the state finals, a lot of people laughed. After all, this was a team coming off a 6-4 season. A year earlier they were 1-9. It was not difficult finding skeptics willing to scoff at the idea the Jackets would even be 22-5A champs.

Now, however, the barrage of pre-season superlatives finds few doubters. Even with the heart of a 14-1 state finalist team headed for the University of Texas to try and help save Fred Akers, the Jackets are legitimately labeled a power.

They are overwhelming favorites to repeat in rugged 22-5A, something which hasn’t been done since 1977.

The bottom line, of course, is that Thompson’s erected the foundation for a program that’s just starting to reap dividends. What should be a rebuilding year isn’t because good players, indoctrinated into the present system, are ready to step in.

Instead of going back to square one, as they were forced to do so many times during the coaching turmoil of the 1970s, TJ athletes will be running the same plays, following the same philosophies for the fourth consecutive year.

No longer do the Jackets have to give their rivals a head start, while everybody becomes familiar with yet another system.

That all important continuity, which was jeopardized when it appeared Thompson would join Akers’ staff last spring, looks secure for the immediate future. Although there are some administrative problems which arouse his ire from time to time, the District 22-5A Coach of the Year professes to be happy with his present location.

“This is where I need to be right now,” he asserts. “This is where I want to be right now. If I wanted or needed to get out, I could have. I’d like to keep the door open with the University of Texas. Like I said last spring, it’s one of the few places I’d consider leaving Port Arthur for.

“But at this point in time I’m only thinking about the program here.”

The program he currently oversees is one that’s 180 degrees from what he inherited in the spring of 1978.

“It’s so much different it’s hard to describe,” he nods. “Our success has changed the attitude of the players 100 percent. The first group wanted to win, but didn’t know what it took. Now our players expect to win and know what it takes.

“They believe in themselves and they believe in each other, which is something that didn’t exist in the beginning. They know how hard you have to work to get on top, and they know you have to work harder to stay on top. They push each other. That’s what happens when you get the taste of being a champion.”

The public, it would appear, is as excited as the players. Their appetites whetted by 14 straight victories and a near miss in the state championship game, Jacket fans have been inquiring about season tickets since last spring. When the ticket sale began a couple of weeks ago, the lines were predictably long.

Thompson, who understands football fans are prone to jump off the bandwagon as quickly as they jump on, says he’s not concerned about the lofty expectations, nor the pressure of being the 22-5A favorite and a possible state finalist. To the contrary, he claims to relish the spotlight and all that goes with it.

“I know our fans are thinking big,” he said. “I’m sure they expect to remain excited about this team. That’s what we need. This town went too long without a team to get excited over. I’m sure if something goes wrong, some people will abandon us. But the real fans won’t. And we’ve got a bunch of them.”

All of whom, it might be added, don’t suffer through fall nightmares any more.

Sports editor Bob West

 

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"Another One" Bites The Dust

Thompson reaches end of line

A true Port Arthur original, Ronnie Thompson, officially retires at the end of the month as Memorial's athletic director, completing a legendary career in coaching.

It has been ahead of its time at times. It's been disappointing and depressing at others. It always has remained as fun as Ronnie could make it, whether in Garland, the Golden Triangle or the gaudy state powers in Austin and College Station.

Ronnie revolutionized the passing game in the state of Texas during the 1970s. His 1980 Port Arthur Jefferson Yellow Jackets electrified the masses unlike probably any other Golden Triangle high school football team in modern history.

It's not that Todd Dodge and Brent Duhon's Yellow Jackets were more successful than some of the champions from West Orange-Stark, Port Neches-Groves, Beaumont West Brook or Nederland. It's the way they were so successful at throwing the ball and entertaining their public.

Those head-turning times of 1980 arguably represent Ronnie's highest pinnacle on the field. The Port Arthur native's highest plateau off the field arguably occurred when Dave Campbell's 2006 Texas Football magazine recognized Thompson's impact on the sport in its annual feature article.

Ronnie was ambushed by the article just as much as he was this week when friends, and staffers in the Port Arthur ISD zapped him with back-to-back retirement parties on Wednesday and Thursday night.

"I had no idea," Thompson said Friday morning, as he attended the first-ever Jamaal Charles-Danny Gorrer Youth Football Camp. "Even my own wife (Karen) betrayed me. I had no idea. There were dozens and dozens at my house last night.... So much for quietly riding out into the sunset."

PAISD Schools Superintendent Dr. Johnny Brown and Thompson both realized Memorial's need for a new, younger head football coach as Thompson neared his 65th birthday in Jan. 2009. It's uncertain whether Thompson's athletic director position will remain in existence, because the PAISD has hired Andre Boutte as executive athletic director since Thompson's appointment.

"I'm so grateful for the ups and downs," he said, as he received a No. 25 camp jersey from Charles and Gorrer. "This is fantastic. I appreciate what you guys are doing for all the kids here... No. 25 was my last playing number."

From critical game-turning Longhorn play calls in the Cotton Bowl, to merely turning around a lifeless Yellow Jackets program, with the strains of “Another One Bites The Dust” blaring all the way to the 5A state championship game in 1980, Thompson did it his way with a terrific loyalty to Port Arthur.

Will Ronnie's aerial-minded monster grow bigger? Or will there always be a need to run the football and stop the run? Only the future rules, regulations and fan interest can tell us for sure.

"I'm pretty sure they asked the same question in 1904 when Henry Ford came out with the automobile," he said.

That's Ronnie in a nutshell, right there. Humorous. Funny. Intelligent with perspective... and don't forget, a Port Arthur original.

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Memorial's Thompson to step down as Titans' head coach

MIKE TOBIAS
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR December 18, 2008 06:36 pm

Ronnie Thompson, head coach of the Memorial Titans and former Thomas Jefferson Yellow Jackets head coach, has decided to step down after three seasons at the helm.
Thompson compiled a 13-17 record at Memorial, bringing his total coaching career record to 106-100-3.
He brought the Titans to the playoffs two of his three coaching seasons.
Thompson's most significant coaching moment occurred when he took the Yellow Jackets to the 5A State Finals in 1980, a team that was led by current North Texas head coach Todd Dodge at quarterback.
Stay with the Port Arthur News for continuing coverage of this story.
mtobias@panews.com




Memorial High School head coach Ronnie Thompson confirmed his decision to step down as the Titans' head coach via phone call Thursday afternoon. The Port Arthur News

 

 

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Ronnie in his element, where he needs to be on a football night.  Opening game, 2007 season.

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Ronnie on the sidelines doing what he does best during Memorial's

best game of the year, winning a co-championship

 

Same game, Ronnie with Jerry Kidd and his granddaughter

 

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A TJ group picture at a recent Memorial Titan game at "Jacket Stadium"

 

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Former Thomas Jefferson head football coach Ronnie Thompson was named the Memorial Titan’s new head coach during Thursday evening’s PAISD board meeting.


By Dave Rogers - The News staff writer

Ronnie Thompson is getting a shot to prove he can go home again.


For the second time.


Thompson, 62, who played football for Thomas Jefferson a year ahead of Jimmy Johnson, returned to his alma mater for a four-year stint as coach and led TJ to the 1980 state championship game.


Now he'll be back again at Memorial Stadium, this time as head coach of Port Arthur's consolidated Memorial High, thanks to Thursday night's hiring by the Port Arthur school board.

"I don't know him well at all, but I'm going by the better judgment of the superintendent and the interviewing committee," board president Julia Samuels said after the meeting.


"We want a winning program and we want to bring pride back to the athletic program of Port Arthur. From the recommendation, it seems like this coach will be able to do it."

Reached by telephone at his Port Arthur home Tuesday evening, Thompson said, "I'll tell you what, it's fantastic. It's just a resurgence of energy, emotion and love for my hometown.

"I've got players down there (at Memorial) who played for folks I coached. It's just a heavenly connection in a combat zone."

Asked what he meant by the use of the term "combat zone," Thompson said he was talking about the rugged nature of football.


"Football, it's a very hostile sport," he said, "but you (meaning Thompson) have coached some fathers, you've got some other kids who have kids down in the (Memorial subvarsity) system, you understand the town."


However, the new coach clearly has some fence-mending to do and unlike most Southeast Texans, this has nothing to do with Hurricane Rita. With the famously-feuding school board members showing uncommon harmony and offering no negative votes to the recommendations by interim superintendent Jim Weeks of Raymond Polk as new Memorial High principal and Thompson as its coach, the evening's big split was left to the district's patrons.

The hirings brought a round of applause from at least half those present in the half-filled board meeting room at the Stilwell Center.

"I think Ronnie Thompson is a good coach," said James Zeno, father of Titan wide receiver Brian Melonson. "We've got to give him a chance. He took Todd Dodge and them to state."


Memorial High quarterback Davon Lewis didn't share that opinion. "I quit!" he shouted as he and teammate Michael Haines led a stream of about a dozen and a half grumbling adults out of the meeting.


It seemed most of them wanted Port Arthur's interim AD, ninth-grade coach Michael "Shane" Sinegal, to be Port Arthur's next coach. Lewis, a senior-to-be whose preseason knee injury former coach Dean Colbert cited as a big factor in Memorial's disappointing 2-5 record of last fall, was expected to be the school's top signal-caller next fall.

"They should have picked coach Sinegal," Lewis said. "Coach Sinegal's been in Port Arthur for a long time.

Thompson ain't even got a winning record. Thompson is what, 4-16, going to the playoffs four times in 15, 16 years?

"And coach Sedberry (Bryan High coach Marvin Sedberry, another finalist for the job), he coached for 18 years, something like that, and he went to the playoffs 12, 13 years. They should have picked somebody else."
Lewis continued his tirade in front of television lights and cameras. "We ain't going to fourth period (football's off-season period). He's going to get tired of us not going to fourth period," the teenager vowed.
He also said "They better find a quarterback for the summer (7-on-7 competition), because I know I ain't playing quarterback." But Lewis stopped short of saying he wouldn't play for Thompson.
"I'm still lifting weights," he said. "Because if he's still here by the time the season starts, I'm playing."

Haines had a different complaint. "They should have kept Dean Colbert," he said. "Dean Colbert was the best thing that happened to Memorial."

Thompson (whose 16-year high school head coaching record is over .500 at 83-72-3) didn't seem perturbed when the players' comments were relayed to him. "Young kids can be led down the wrong path easily," he said. "That's all there is to it."

Sinegal and Thompson are both members of Port Arthur's city council.


"These kids look up to Shane. They love him," Thompson said. "Young kids have emotions, they have feelings. Lord, if that's the last statement they're going to make, I'd be shocked. It's just another day in a young guy's life."

Thompson says he wants to meet with holdover members of Colbert's Memorial coaching staff before naming a coaching staff. He said he sees a place for Sinegal, though, if Sinegal agrees.
"I've talked to the superintendent about it," Thompson said. "I've got some ideas. He seemed to like them, but I haven't talked to Shane. I've got to get with Shane. It's going to be a two-way street."
The new coach said his plans are to meet with Memorial's players as soon as today.


"I want to try to get with them (Friday) if I can. We've done lost enough time already," he said.

Besides Sinegal, others interviewed for the job include Sedberry, who has a 134-89-2 record (and 15 playoff appearances) in 20 seasons; Diboll coach Finis Vanover (115-110, six playoff appearances in 21 seasons); and Pflugerville Connally defensive coordinator Doug Wood.


Thompson has put his teams into the state playoffs on four occasions, going 4-3-1 in postseason play. Two of those playoff teams came before 1982, when only district champions reached the postseason.


Vidor had lost 42 games in a row when Thompson led them to a 5-4-1 record his first year on that job, 1975. TJ had not won district since 1970 when Thompson took over in 1978 and coached back-to-back district champs a couple of years later.


TJ went 8-2 in 1977, but coach Bob Burris got homesick for Oklahoma and took senior-to-be quarterback Mike Phipps and Phipps' coaching dad with him.


Thompson tried two seniors at quarterback his first season before finally settling on a sophomore at the end of a rocky 1-9 campaign. That sophomore, Todd Dodge, quarterbacked a 6-4 TJ team in 1979, then led the No. 1-ranked Yellow Jackets to the Class 5A title game in 1980, a loss to Odessa Permian.

 

 

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Of interest to those of you out of the area..... our classmate Ronnie Thompson has been selected for a distinct honor.  As you can see he is joining some pretty select company, including some other TJ coaches.