From “rocking it out” in the Teepee to celebrating victories week after week, the ‘50s marked Tyler Junior College’s dominance in sports as well as its new-found love for rock n’ roll.
TJC alumnus, Nancy Lunceford was right in the middle of all the hype. She said the school’s enrollment was about 400 students with about 40 teachers, all proud-spirited and full of excitement.
“The school was so small that there was a lot of school spirit,” said Lunceford. “We students would stay out late after games and go to class early the next day.”
Lunceford was also an Apache Belle and strongly supported the sports teams at TJC. In fact, she had a rather close connection with one of the players on the football team.
“I met my husband at TJC,” said Lunceford. “He was the captain of the football team, then later went on to play for Baylor, followed by the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL.”
TJC alumnus Gene Staples was also apart of TJC’s dominant decade of sports. He played wide receiver for the Apaches and contributed to their 12-0 season that led to a National Championship.
“Our school had an enrollment of 2,200, when I went there, and the other team’s school had 44,000,” said Staples. “We had a lot of talent, though, and Coach Floyd Wagstaff was a winner.”
Staples said that Coach Wagstaff was the head coach who started a winning tradition that brought more and more students to TJC to play sports.
“In 1951, Coach started winning championships in basketball and football, and players started coming,” said Staples. “It was always my dream to play for TJC.”
Staples said that the staff of TJC was very beneficial to the success of the sports programs.
“Our teachers really special people, we had a close relationship with them,” said Staples. “When my teammates would have trouble with grades, Coach Wagstaff would help them get into major colleges.”
According to Staples, school spirit was abundant at TJC. They had creative ways of supporting their players as well as a strong tradition.
“We had a light that burned bright at our school, and when we would win, the light would burn yellow for that week. It burned yellow all season long,” said Staples. “We also had great pep rallies and bon fires where we got to know everybody.”
For Lunceford, rock n’ roll was the start of a new lifestyle. She and other students became addicted to the new genre of music.
“Sometimes we would skip class, go to the Teepee where we could dance and do ‘The Jitterbug’ to rock n’ roll music,” said Lunceford. “It was so new and different that we wanted to hear more of it. Nothing we had heard ever came close to rock.”
Although Lunceford and her classmates were often “rocking it out,” they were far from wild and out of control.
“The women weren’t allowed to wear pants, so we wore dresses and heels and men wore suits and ties,” said Lunceford. “Nobody ever complained about dress code because we just wore the appropriate clothing all the time.”
In addition, Lunceford and her classmates had not yet picked up the habits that so many students today have a problem with.
“Times were good throughout the country. There wasn’t so much drugs and drinking,” said Lunceford. “We didn’t have to wear lanyards either. We didn’t have anything like that.”
Lunceford described her years at TJC as a simple and innocent time, and Staples said that TJC never left their hearts.
“TJC meant so much to us that we all wanted our kids and grand kids to go there,” said Staples. “We had a ‘50s reunion September of 2010 and everyone still felt the same way about the school.”