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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

1940 Orange Tigers had new stadium but coach resigned

 

Last updated 9/5/2023 at 8:41pm

Bill Stark served as a captain and running back for the Orange Tigers in 1940. His twin brother, Homer, was also a team captain. They were the sons of H.J. Lutcher Stark. Their mother, Nita Hill Stark, had died the year before. Their father was the patron of the Bengal Guards Girls Drum and Bugle Corps and announced the group at numerous events, including the Sugar Bowl and the Chicagoland Music Festival. Stark in this undated photograph posed with two of the young mascots for the Bengal Guards.

The 1940 high school football season here was supposed to be a great one with a fancy new stadium for Orange High, but it ended up a strange one. After two games, the coach was gone and so was the director of the famous girls drum and bugle corps.

And all events came about because of the late H.J. Lutcher Stark, patron of Orange High School and the University of Texas. Stark, a native of Orange and an heir to the great Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company, was a local leader and donor, plus served on the University of Texas Board of Regents from 1921-1945, with 11 years as chair of the board. Orange High was later named in his honor.

Former Stark High quarterback Joel Robins, now retired as a chemical engineer, spent years working on a history of Orange high school and youth sports. He recounted information about the 1940 season in his book "Tiger Tales," which is on sale at Heritage House Museum. The museum also has a sports exhibit, called Team Spirit, on display for the next three weeks.

Stark was accustomed to giving away money and running things, not only in Orange, but at the University of Texas, where he is given credit for giving the team the Longhorns name back in 1911 when he was a student serving as team manager. As a graduate, he led the drive to build Memorial Stadium at UT.

Stark also used his money and influence across Orange. One of his legendary projects was sponsoring the Bengal Guards Drum and Bugle Corps for girls. It was started during the Great Depression and he not only paid for the girls' instruments and uniforms, he bought them clothing and paid for private transportation.

For boys, he sponsored the Lutch Stark Boys Band and the Bengal Lancers marching band. By 1940, the boys had Frank Hubert from the University of Texas as director. Hubert went on to become superintendent of the old Orange Independent School District and later Texas Commissioner of Education.

Back in 1940, Stark was ready for a grand opening of the new $50,000 Tiger Stadium off Green Avenue and 15th Street. The amount would be $1.1 million today, according to the U.S. inflation calculator.

Orange had its first lit football stadium in 1935 when it acquired used stands from Texas A&M and set them up at an area of West End Park, by the high school. Stark had helped to build the baseball park at West End and attracted the St. Louis Cardinals to have spring training here in 1921 and 1922. The 1935 football stadium was named Howell Stadium, in honor of local architect and building Thomas Howell, who was president of the school board at the time.

The 1940 improvements included a special field that was mounded in the middle to allow drainage. Grandstands were expanded to seat another 3,600 people. The stands included a custom area for the Bengal Guards and Bengal Lancers. Those stands were wider and allowed students to place bandstands. A ramp was built up to the band section so they could march up and down easily.

Another highlight of the stadium was a press box with private bathroom built above the top of the stands on the home side.

Also, the field had lights that reached 150,000 kilowatts. It was renamed Tiger Stadium for the school's mascot, the Bengal Tiger. Stark was said to send his own landscapers to the field every day.

The first look the public got of the new stadium was on September 5, when the town welcomed the director of the Chicagoland Music Festival. The Bengal Guards girls had traveled there on private train, paid by Stark, and performed before 100,000 people at Soldiers Field a couple of weeks earlier. The director and his family came to Orange to present the group with the large trophy for its prize at the festival.

Robins wrote that Stark also bought new uniforms for the team to play at home. They were white with orange numbers and an orange star on each shoulder.

His twin sons, Bill and Homer, were seniors in 1940. The University Interscholastic League had set an age limit for high school players the year before that would have made the twins ineligible. However, Stark, who had once helped set up the UIL, got the rule changed. The two served as captains for the Tigers.

The Tigers lost their first game to Conroe in September as a number of fans traveled to the came on a special train scheduled to run from Orange to Conroe.

Then the big home opening game for the new stadium with the debut of the uniforms came. The Tigers beat Vinton.

After another loss on the road, the Tigers came back to Orange to prepare for a big home game against Goose Creek. Carpenters even worked to add another 500 seats to the stadium.

And then, something happened. Stories vary on whether Coach Dexter Shelley had the team practice on the new field or whether he let the boys play in their new uniforms. Whatever happened, Stark got upset.

Shelley officially resigned before the Friday game, though some say Stark fired him, even though Stark was not on the school board and held no place in the school administration. Stark also ordered that the Bengal Guards and Bengal Lancers would not wear their uniforms to the game.

The late Homer Stark nearly 60 years later said he and his brother told the coach it would be okay for them to practice on the field.

Students at the high school held a strike against the school because of the Shelley decision. The Tigers were left stunned by losing Shelley, who had been a star player for the Texas Longhorns and likely came to Orange with encouragement from Stark.

Orange High lost the home game to Goose Creek. On the Monday after the game, Shelley said he did not ask for the student strike and he voluntarily resigned. He also left for an extended vacation. Within a few weeks, he had opened an insurance agency. A few years later, Shelley was elected to the school board.

The Orange ISD school board met a few days after the Shelley resignation, but four of the seven members were absent. However, Stark's first cousin, Edgar Brown Jr., appeared before the three remaining members. "It is inappropriate to have bickering back and forth and confusion about authority. No individual has a right to control parades and school activities."

Within a couple of weeks, the school had another resignation as the Tigers were ready to host the Port Arthur Yellow Jackets. Mrs. Smitty Hustmyre, director of the Bengal Guards, resigned. Later, she said Stark had changed one of the drill team's routines during a practice.

Years later, when Mrs. Hustmyre was a widow, she married widower Edgar Brown Jr.

The Tigers ended up with a losing season, though Bill and Homer Stark played well.

Within a couple of years, the lights at the stadium would not be used. After the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, the next few seasons had afternoon games. Lights were banned at night because of the possibility of an enemy attack. German U-boats were in the Gulf of Mexico at the time.

 

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