Special to the Standard-Times
This is the second of a two-part column about Texas 6-Man Hall of Fame coaches Roddy Maddox and James Low, who -- along with their dutiful newspaper correspondent Rita Boultinghouse -- formed the trinity of Cherokee High School football from 1973-2000.
Roddy Maddox posted a 38-1 record, won two six-man state championships and was the state runner-up the other time in his first three seasons as a head coach with the Cherokee Indians from 1973-75.
The Cherokee Home for Children, located just north of town, had played a role in the Indians’ football success. Several athletes came from the home during the 1970s, including Manuel Beltran, a senior in 1975 who later was among the inaugural class of three players inducted into the Texas 6-Man Hall of Fame.
But in 1976, things began to change.
“The kids from the home had been like regular kids through 1975,” said James Low, a 1966 graduate of Cherokee High School and Maddox’s assistant coach from 1975-2000. “Those kids were orphans or wards of the state. They might come to the home at age 3 and stay until they graduated from high school.
“Around 1976, the state changed how they did things, and they weren’t placing as many kids at the home. The home went to more private placements with kids. They might be there for a year or less before they were moved to another home. Some would go back home and live with their families,” Low said.
The result was less stability for the kids and Cherokee ISD.
“Look, this is about the kids, not our football program,” Low said. “Moving them around more didn’t just affect them athletically, it affected them academically, too.
“At first, most of those kids lacked structure and discipline in their lives. Most would adjust and come along. We were helping develop their character as well. It was frustrating to see progress in all those areas, then see them leave.
“Athletically, you’d work with a kid to the point that you were counting on him, then he was gone,” Low said.
The last great player of that era from the home was Micheal Briseno. In 1978, he led a scrappy, hard-nosed Cherokee team to its last state championship to date. Most observers suggest the 1978 Indians weren’t as talented as the 1973 and 1975 champions, but they were just as determined. They grew up watching the Indians win state, and simply thought it was their job to do the same.
After a 44-34 loss to Paint Rock in the second game of 1978, Cherokee won 11 consecutive games to claim its third state championship in six seasons.
Briseno, a senior running back and captain, played fast and tough despite being only 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds. Quarterback Stephen Nowell and center Bobbie Broyles also were captains. End Troy Boultinghouse played through the season despite a rib injury.
Cherokee won hard-fought games against Milford, 23-19 in the semifinals, and South Plains entry Cotton Center, 29-27 in the state final.
“They were mentally tough, and they just refused to get beat,” Maddox said of the 1978 Indians. “If we had played Milford 10 times, we might have won half of them. If we had played Cotton Center 10 times, I don’t know that we’d have won five.
“When we played Cotton Center in Abilene, it was 17 degrees with a 30-mile-per-hour wind. Our kids basically ignored it. Theirs wore heavy coats and had heaters on their sideline. That’s what I’m talking about being mentally tough.”
As the decade ended, the dominance by Cherokee and Marathon in the 1970s gave way to later six-man dynasties like Fort Hancock, which won five state championships from 1986-1991, and Richland Springs with eight titles from 2004-2016.
Even though the state titles in Cherokee dried up after 1978, Maddox and Low kept the Indians in the playoffs on a regular basis. In 1979, 1985, 1989 and 1992, Cherokee advanced to the state quarterfinals. In 1994, the Indians advanced to the regional round after an 0-3 start.
“It wasn’t that we went completely out of sight,” Low said. “It’s just that the program was so good in the ’70s. If you win state, you have to have a certain amount of luck, and you can’t have the wrong thing happen at the wrong time.”
The loss that still stings Maddox and Low most is a 70-68 setback to Panther Creek in the 1992 quarterfinals. Cherokee had beaten Panther Creek 26-14 in the season opener, and the Indians led by 24 points at halftime of their quarterfinal rematch. Panther Creek rallied and eventually won after a blocked extra-point kick.
“We scored 10 touchdowns and they scored nine, but they made eight of their extra-point kicks and we made 4 out of 10,” Maddox said. “Our kicker had hurt his knee during the game, but he didn’t tell us.”
Cherokee’s sting worsened when Panther Creek won state two weeks later by ending Fort Hancock’s run of 70 consecutive wins and four state championships.
“Basically, we just ran out of kids,” Low said of Cherokee’s football fortunes in the 1980s and 1990s. “Our classes were heavy on boys there for a while, but that eventually evened out. The kids still worked as hard and tried as hard. We just didn’t have enough of them.”
Rita Boultinghouse – who, like Maddox and Low, grew up in Cherokee – began keeping statistics for the football team and reporting the Indians’ games to area newspapers while in high school in the early 1970s. She left home to attend college at Angelo State and for her first teaching/coaching job at New Braunfels High School for three years.
She returned to Cherokee in 1981 as a teacher/coach and resumed her role as statistician and newspaper correspondent. She routinely reported Cherokee’s games to the San Angelo Standard-Times, Abilene Reporter-News and Austin American-Statesman.
Even on most road games, Boultinghouse figured up the stats after the game and usually called the newspapers while the coaches and players were eating their postgame meal. During that era, it usually meant finding a pay phone.
“She helped a lot of kids get their names in the newspapers,” Maddox said.
It was a labor of love for Boultinghouse, who taught biology and served as the Cherokee girls’ basketball coach and P.E. teacher.
“I just liked being on the field,” she said. “Those were wonderful times. I liked to see and listen and hear everything. I can still hear Roddy calling, ‘28 option’ or ‘35 sweep.’ ”
Boultinghouse eventually began taking photos at Cherokee games for the San Saba and Llano newspapers. She delegated stat-keeping duties to her students.
Maddox, Low and Boultinghouse all say they appreciated their unique circumstances. All three wanted to return home to teach and coach. All three were able to coach in their hometown for most of their careers and retire on their own terms. That isn’t always the case for coaches.
“I know I made some dumb decisions over the years, but the people overlooked it,” said Maddox, now 76. “We were fortunate to be here and go along for the ride.”
Boultinghouse said, “When you’re able to do what you love, there’s a passion wherever you are. But it’s a different passion when you go home and it’s your people. It’s really special.”
In general, fans in Cherokee were supportive and understanding that state championships were rare accomplishments.
“If there were any issues between Roddy and anyone in town all the years I was here, I was not aware of it,” Boultinghouse said. “I don’t know of anybody in town who didn’t respect Roddy enough to trust his judgement.”
Hall of Fame awaits
Maddox and Low knew it was time to retire in 2000. Maddox, who had coached the offense for 28 seasons, retired from everything at the school. Low, who had coached the defense for 26 seasons, retired from coaching. He continued to teach math for eight more years.
“I still enjoyed being around the kids, but I just didn’t want to do it anymore from noon to midnight,” Maddox said.
Low, now 70, said, “I knew it time to retire when, during practice, I thought of something else I’d rather be doing.”
Boultinghouse stopped keeping stats and calling in games in 2000 when Maddox and Low retired. She continued teaching at Cherokee until 2011. She currently is a substitute teacher at San Saba, but she still takes photos at a majority of the Indians’ football games.
Maddox, Low and Boultinghouse all still live in Cherokee.
A year after Maddox retired, the Texas 6-Man Hall of Fame wanted to induct him. He agreed – as long as the hall of fame agreed to induct Low with him. Maddox and Low were the second and third coaches inducted into the hall of fame. They went in four years before Jack Pardee.
Maddox’s 215-83-6 record still ranks eighth on the six-man list for career coaching wins. Not bad for someone who began as Cherokee’s peewee coach. Cherokee’s record with Low as assistant coach was 190-82-6. He is the only career assistant coach in the hall of fame.
Boultinghouse had one bit of unfinished business. After the two coaches were inducted into the Texas 6-Man Hall of Fame in the summer of 2000, she wanted to recognize them locally. Neither Maddox nor Low would hear of it so Boultinghouse tricked the two coaches.
“At our homecoming football game, they usually drive the queen and the sweetheart around the field in a convertible,” she said. “We talked Roddy and James into driving the convertible that year (2000). James drove and Roddy sat in the passenger seat.
“They couldn’t get away so while they drove around the field, the public address announcer read off their accolades and that they’d been inducted into the hall of fame. They were good about it. That was a pretty good feat to recognize them without them knowing about it.”
A feat worthy of a fitting finale for Cherokee’s football trinity.
Mike Lee writes a high school football column during the season. Contact him at [email protected].
READ RELATED STORIES