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Hayden Fry Leads Odessa High to 1st Football State Championship in 1946

Hayden Fry Leads Odessa High to 1st Football State Championship in 1946

10/17/2023 - On a recent trip through the western part of Texas, I ended up in Odessa, which I remembered was Hayden Fry's hometown, but I wasn't quite sure about the entire back story about his life in Texas.

I was inspired to do some research, and wanted to share one of his great accomplishments as a high school player in Odessa, since we already know most of his coaching accomplishments.

He was born in Eastland, Texas, but his family moved to Odessa when he was in the 3rd grade for better job opportunities for his father. Unfortunately, his father would die of a heart attack when he was 14, so he had to grow up and mature quickly. He was elected senior class president and 'best all-around boy' in 1947.

You can read a lot about his childhood in Eastland and Odessa in his 1999 autobiography, "A High Porch Picnic"

Going into his senior season, Fry was the starting quarterback and played safety on defense, and the Odessa Bronchos (not a misspelling) were an early favorite to win their first state championship based on the returning players from the year before. The real reason they were projected to be good was because 13 players (including Fry) dropped a required English class, and that meant they couldn't graduate in 1946 as planned, so they had to stay until the Fall of 1946 to complete the class, getting an extra season of football.

Odessa coach Joe Coleman ran the T formation, which was an innovative offense at the time. It involved a lot of ball faking (including hiding the ball under the jersey) to keep the defenses off balance, and Hayden did that really well. His nickname was "Crazy Legs" but he doesn't know why he got that nickname (according to his autobiography), as he said he was not a very good runner.

A newspaper article about Hayden called him a "rangy youngster with big hands and a strong throwing arm, built just right to handle the ball under the center."

Despite the high expectations, the Odessa team met them all by rolling through their schedule undefeated and shutting out 8 of 13 opponents. They earned their their way to the state championship game in Austin at the University of Texas' Memorial Stadium on December 28, 1946.

In the championship game, they played the Thomas Jefferson Mustangs from San Antonio, which was much closer to Austin than Odessa, so they had a disadvantage. However, the Odessa fans are very loyal, and about 8,000 fans made the 400 mile trip. The game was one of the most highly attended high school game, with over 40,000 fans in attendance.

The Bronchos won 21-14 to win its first state championship (their only title as of 2023). All the schools were combined into one class back then, not based on school size like it is now, which makes Odessa's championship even more impressive.

RB Byron "Santone" Townsend threw the lone completion for Odessa, a 17-yard TD, and also rushed for 124 yards on 27 carries including the decisive final TD. He was the best player on the Odessa team, and he went on to play at Texas.

You can see a few plays of the game on YouTube, including a play where Hayden gets beat on a long pass play.

As for Fry, he completed 0-3 passes in the game, but managed the "attacking T" offense with smooth handoffs and decisions, which is what he did so well all season long. He also returned a punt 16 yards to set up the decisive 3rd TD, and rushed for 38 yards on the ground.

You can read more about the game results here >>>

They also had an unusual stat: they never had a turnover all season. They did fumble a few times, but never lost the fumble, or threw any interceptions. That is really hard to believe!

Fry earned All-District 3AA first team honors and was named 3rd Team All-State.

Here is a summary of their undefeated season:

Regular Season
9/13/46 vs Lubbock, W 13-0
9/20/46 vs El Paso, W 26-0
9/27/46 vs Hollis (Oklahoma), W 40-7
10/4/46 vs Abilene, W 26-12
10/11/46 vs Big Spring, W 12-0
10/18/46 vs Amarillo, W 26-13
10/25/46 vs San Angelo, W 64-0
11/11/46 vs Sweetwater, W 33-13
11/16/46 vs Lamesa, W 35-0
11/28/46 vs Midland, W 55-0

12/7/46 vs El Paso Ysleta, W 27-0
12/14/46 vs Wichita Falls, W 21-0
12/21/46 vs Dallas Highland Park, W 31-13
12/28/46 vs San Antonio Thomas Jefferson, W 21-14 (State Championship)

After high school, he attended Baylor as a QB, where he lettered 4 years, but had limited playing time.

At 23 years old, he joined Odessa High School as backfields coach for 3 years, then took over as head coach for 3 years while teaching history class.

His coaching record was nothing stellar. He was 17-13 as Odessa head football coach from 1956 to 1958.

1956: 4-6-0
1957: 7-3-0
1958: 6-4-0

In January 1959, he resigned to accept an assistant coach postition at his alma mater, Baylor.

A few other interesting facts:

The book "Friday Night Lights" was made about Odessa Permian High, which opened in 1959, the year after Fry coached his last season at Odessa. But that book and movie (and TV show) will give you an idea how important football is in Odessa.

When we played in the 1995 Sun Bowl in El Paso, I knew that game meant a lot to Coach Fry being "back home," but now I realize that any area in West Texas is considered home. They often played teams as far as El Paso, even though it was about 300 miles away and there were less highways back then, which would take them all day to travel to get there, and all night to get back home.





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Hayden Fry Leads Odessa High to 1st Football State Championship in 1946 - Summary of Iowa football and basketball games