Corpus Christi Miller football championship blanket, 1960

Head coach’s integration efforts applauded by President Obama

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By Tom Wancho, Exhibit Planner

The Corpus Christi Miller Buccaneers made history when they beat Wichita Falls for the Class 4A football title on December 17, 1960 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. At the time, racism and ethnic discrimination were prevalent in Texas high school sports, but Pete Ragus was a progressive head coach who pushed for his players’ civil rights. To show its support and appreciation of Coach Ragus, the high school presented him with this championship wool blanket.

In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ended segregation for African Americans, and the integration of public schools in Texas slowly followed. Corpus Christi was one of the first school districts to integrate. Football coach Pete Ragus did his best to make his racially diverse team — 18 Anglos, 17 Hispanics, and six African Americans — feel like a truly integrated family. His players understood that their ability, and not their race, would determine their roles on the team. 

“Everyone said that you couldn’t win with Hispanic players,” Ragus recalled recently. “Our quarterback, Ramón Gonzalez, was 5’ 10” and weighed 126 pounds. We called him ‛Bird Legs.’ We coaches prepared the team, but Ramón spoke to the team before games. He called the plays during games. It was so much better for the players. They were the guys who had to go out and play. It added to their confidence, knowing that if they executed the game plan, we had a good chance at winning.”

African American running back Johnny Roland was the team’s best player. After graduating from Miller, Roland accepted a scholarship to the University of Missouri and later played eight years in the NFL. He reflected back on Ragus’s legacy. “During the early days of desegregation, when you had three races coming together, he had the perfect temperament and the perfect aptitude to be a leader and a molder of men.”

Pete Ragus influenced fans of the team as well. Paul Warnke, the son of Corpus Christi school board member Harry Warnke, was an eight-year old who attended Buccaneer games during the 1960 season. In April 2016, Warnke wrote President Obama in hopes of gaining recognition for what Ragus had accomplished. 

“Coach Ragus, the team and community were in the trenches of the integration movement like Dr. Martin Luther King. In today’s political chaos maybe we need this story to be told in order to redirect our moral compass.” Paul Warnke in letter to President Barack Obama

“After I wrote my letter I saw a PBS program on how many letters the White House receives each week," Warnke said. “Tens of thousands of letters, faxes, and e-mails arrive each day and only 10 make it to the President’s desk for him to read. I told my wife, Letha, ‛No wonder I haven’t received a reply.’”

But in early August an envelope listing 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. as the return address arrived at the Warnke residence. The letter, addressed to Coach Pete Ragus and signed by President Obama, was forwarded by Warnke to Ragus, who now lives in Lubbock.

“Excelling in athletics takes talent, grit, and determination, and it’s clear the passion and tireless dedication you have poured into your work continues to inspire those around you.”President Barack Obama in letter to Coach Pete Ragus

“It was overwhelming, beyond belief,” said Ragus when he received the letter. “If someone had asked me to write down four or five things that would happen to me in my life, I would not have even included receiving a letter from the president of the United States on my list. The key to all this is Paul Warnke and that team.” 

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Corpus Christi Miller football championship blanket, 1960 Artifact from Corpus Christi
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