Thursday, May 11, 2017

A proud legacy: Bossier High football

(Fourth in a series)
     It has been nearly 70 years since Bossier High School truly was a football powerhouse, but the Bearkats play on.
     There is a history of success -- 36 state playoff appearances, 19 district championships, two state titles and  one near-miss, hundreds of players who went on to college football, and a few who made it in the pros.
     Plus, coaches who stayed for a decade or two.
     Today's kids probably have no idea -- unless told -- that Bossier ruled the state in 1942 and 1948 (Class A) and arguably the best Bearkats team of all, 1950, was an unlucky runner-up.
     Those of us who are "baby boomers" most remember Bill Maxwell's 10 years as head coach (1954-63), which produced some tough and talented Bossier teams, winning records in all but one year, and district titles in 1955 and '59.
     Success has come in bunches since then; four times (1975-76, 1985-86, 1999-2000, 2011-12) the Bearkats won district titles consecutively, each under a different head coach -- Jim Coleman, Dick Concilio, Billy Don McHalffey and current coach Michael Concilio (Dick's son).
     Things are more difficult these days with a smaller enrollment and, thus, fewer players. But as has been the case since the recorded beginnings of Bossier football -- 1926 -- pride remains in wearing the kelly green and white uniforms.
     And who knows? Some day there might another player such as Gene "Red" Knight or Joe Reding or Tony Moss representing Bossier football.
    We cannot do justice, nor do we have the space, to list all the outstanding players in Bossier football history, not even all the All-State selections. But just a sampling ...    
     Let's start with running backs. Obviously, I was not around when "Red" Knight played, or when Tony Montalbano and Don Millen teamed up in the 1950 Bossier backfield, and I wasn't yet a fan when future Bossier Parish district attorney/judge Henry Brown was the Bearkats' star back in 1958.  
     But I remember Neal Prather and Joe Reding in the early 1960s, and Hal Fulghum, Charlie Lewis and Jimmy Blackshire in the early to mid-1970s, and then Tony Moss in the early 1980s.
     My opinion: Tony Moss was the most sensational Bearkat, period, the most exciting. (If someone wants to correct me or update me to cover the 30 years since I left Shreveport-Bossier, please do so.)
     But Knight in 1942 was the star back of head coach Ben Cameron's team that completed a 12-0 season with a state-championship victory (27-12 against DeQuincy).
Gene "Red" Knight, at LSU
      Knight went on to be LSU's star back and punter during and right after the World War II years. He played in the famed LSU-Arkansas "Ice Bowl" (New Year's Day 1947) on a snow-covered Cotton Bowl field in Dallas, a 0-0 tie in which LSU had 15 first downs and Arkansas one, and LSU failed to score on three drives inside the Arkansas 10.
      Knight was drafted -- in consecutive years, no less -- by NFL teams.
      The "golden era" of Bossier football came at the end of the 1940s. The 1948 team, with Loy Camp as head coach and Randel Kirkland as his assistant, won the state championship with a 9-2-1 record, beating Reserve 21-0 in the final game.
      Many of those athletes, coached by Kirkland, were responsible for Bossier winning three consecutive state track and field titles (1949-51).
       The 1950 football team scored 522 points, nearly 35 a game -- astounding for that era -- and won 13 games. Montalbano and Millen were a fabulous 1-2 running punch, scoring 159 and 154 points, respectively.
       (Millen would become a longtime Bossier High assistant coach, head track coach, and then football head coach for four years -- 1987-90.)
       But those 'Kats faltered twice, losing 13-7 to Haynesville and, after three playoff victories, the state championship game to Baker 7-6 -- a bad-luck game. Baker's only points came when Bossier's QB, back to pass, lost his grip and a Baker defender picked up the ball and ran it in.
       For much of the 1950s and early 1960s, the Bill Maxwell coaching era had a stable set of assistant coaches -- Chuck Birtman, Billy Hudson, Bobby Ray McHalffey and, for a short time, Joe Murry. 
       All-State players included guard Rupert Procell (1956-57), Brown ('58), tackle Robbie Hucklebridge (1959) and Prather ('63). 
       Other stars were running back J.W. Slack (1955),  lineman Richard Enis (1958), the Reding brothers -- Dick at end (Bossier senior season,1961), Joe at linebacker/offensive tackle and then fullback (senior, 1963), kicker-end Wayne Walker (1961), and tight end Robert Hamlett (1964).
       Slack and Enis went on to star at Louisiana Tech; Dick Reding and Walker at Northwestern State; and Brown, Hucklebridge, Joe Reding and Hamlett became LSU Tigers.
       Nealan Prather -- later Dr. Neal, an internal medicine specialist in Bossier -- and Joe Reding made for a talented pair at Bossier High in the 1961-63 seasons. Both had matured early physically -- the joke about Prather was that he was 16 but looked 25 -- and had been sensational even in junior high (Prather at new Greenacres, Reding at old Rusheon).
      They were impactful even as sophomores at Bossier, but despite consecutive records of 8-3, 9-2 and 7-3-1, the Bossier teams they led fell short of the playoffs.
       One memorable Bearkats player of the late 1960s was the madman linebacker, Joe McNeely. He was a good high school, a rough character willing to fight (ask Airline High people). And he improved as a college player, leading several outstanding Louisiana Tech teams in the early 1970s, earning some All-America honors ... and enhancing his reputation as a wild-and-crazy guy. 
       Randy Walker (senior season, 1969) followed his brother as a standout punter for Bossier and Northwestern State. Both Walkers were drafted by pro teams and played for a year or two -- Wayne in the American Football League, Randy with the Green Bay Packers (NFL).  
       But the best Bossier kicker -- punter and placekicker -- was Jerry Pope (1970-72), who went on to set records at Louisiana Tech. He also was a star on the powerful Bearkats baseball teams in 1971-73.
       So were Don Smith, an All-State linebacker in 1972, and Bill Bowman, quarterback of the '72 football team which, with John Thompson as head coach, went 9-0 in district and 11-2 overall, losing in the Class 3A state semifinals.
       Three years later, with longtime assistant Jim Coleman moving up to head coach, the Bearkats went unbeaten again in district (6-0), 10-2 overall and had a 1-2 punch to equal Montalbano-Millen.
       Charlie Lewis, at tailback, was fast and powerful; Jimmy Blackshire, at fullback, was a brute and an even better linebacker. Both made All-State and then played at Louisiana Tech.
       They were helped by tackle John Watson, who made All-State in 1976 when Bossier repeated as district champ.
       In 1980, Mark Bass was an All-State linebacker who went on to play at LSU.
First with Bossier High, then at LSU, Tony Moss
was a sensational player.
       Tony Moss wasn't big by football standards, 5-foot-8, maybe 160 pounds, but it was his elusiveness -- he could sidestep would-be tacklers or spin away from them -- that set him apart.
        Unlike the previously mentioned pairs of backs, Moss was practically a one-man team, a real threat on kick returns, and Bossier tried to get the ball to him nearly every offensive play because he was so dynamic.
      In 1982-84, he ran for more than 3,000 yards as a Bearkat. A star in other sports, too, he was the Shreveport Journal High School Athlete of the Year in 1984-85.
      Maybe, as offenses opened up, formations spread, and smaller backs become more a trend, he could have played running back in college. But at LSU, he became a wide receiver -- and a two-time All-SEC selection. By the time he finished, he was the third-leading receiver in school history (132 catches, 2,196 yards, 16 touchdowns).
      Billy Don McHalffey, who had been a football and basketball player at Bossier High in the late 1960s into 1970, became head football coach in 1991 after 15 years as an assistant.
      The Bearkats made the state playoffs each year of McHalffey's 16-year head coaching tenure -- the best seasons were a 10-1 record in 1999 and 10-2 in 2001 -- and three times won at least two playoff games.
      Michael Concilio succeeded McHalffey, starting with the 2007 season, and the best of his nine years as head coach was 2011 (10-2 record).
      Winning has become more problematic the past few years. But the Bearkats will keep trying, keep competing. It is tradition.
      For some of the great names and teams in Bossier City history through 1982, here is a link to a Shreveport Journal story written for a special section that year.


  1. From Pat Booras: In 1981, I covered (for the Shreveport Times) the first high school regular-season game Tony Moss played for Bossier High. He was 15, as the starting QB as a freshman. He was amazing, almost unstoppable. The defenders are still trying to get a hand on Tony to try to make a good tackle on him, that night and many more games thereafter.
    At LSU, he was an amazing playmaking flanker and receiver.
    Make a guy miss (the tackle) -- that was Tony Moss.

  2. From Scott Pohlkamp: Tony Moss was also quite a threat on the baseball diamond. Deion Sanders-type speed on the basepaths.

  3. From Tommy Youngblood: You know one of the biggest wins for me at Fair Park was beating Bossier in '64. They were a pretty good team and I think we beat them easily. I met Bob Hamlett that weekend at a recruiting trip we both made to LSU. He was a really good guy, as was Joe Reding.

  4. From Louis Cascio: Really enjoy your Once a Knight postings. The articles on Bossier High were especially interesting to me for several reasons. Although I attended Jesuit, I grew up and lived in Bossier City. As a young kid, I knew more about Bossier High standouts like Neal Prather, Joe Reding and Bob Hamlett than I knew about St. John's/Jesuit. Also, in 1965, I played on the Bossier Dixie League World Series Championship team. I was so close to my Bossier baseball teammates that I told my Dad that I didn't want to go back to Jesuit for my sophomore year(Dad won that discussion!). And finally, you noted that my brother-in-law, Mark Bass, was an All-State linebacker and future LSU Tiger. Keep up your great work.
    PS, also the article on Tony Papa was tremendous. Best high school football player I ever saw.

  5. From Ellace Bruce: I really enjoyed the blog on Bossier football. I had the pleasure or misfortune of playing against them from 1947 to 1950. They were much larger school than Vivian (High). The games were never close. Played against Don Millen in '50.
    Then we were classmates and teammates at NSC (name of the school, Northwestern State College, at that time).
    I remember listening to Bossier's 1950 state championship game.
    There were others that were not mentioned in your articles who were also teammates from those years: Dudley Downing (center); Jerry Epperson (defensive end) and Jim Chapman (fullback).
    Then while coaching at Oak Terrace, the home of the Trojans, we played Greenacres and Rusheon, [the two Bossier City junior high schools]. Good memories and some heartbreaks.