Cats from the Past
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Oct. 2, 2004 - None of the four have played a sport for Sulphur Springs High School in more than 20 years, but their legacies remain.
Four former Wildcat legends will be inducted into the SSHS Athletic Hall of Fame in three weeks, marking the first time in six years that membership to the Hall has been opened.
Seventies icons Jerry Dabbs, Keith Gray and Gary Franklin will join record-setting quarterback Cody Vanderford from the early '80s as the 2004 class that will be inducted before kickoff of the Wildcats' first home district game against Greenville on Oct. 22.
All of the living 34 current members of the Hall have been invited back for the ceremony and pre-game reception that will begin at 6 p.m. in the SSHS cafeteria.
Three of the inductees will be present for the ceremony at Gerald Prim Stadium - Vanderford is head coach at Flower Mound High School and will be at a game that night - in which they will be presented with a plaque and collared shirt.
They will be the first inductees since Bill Palmer (class of 1925) went into the Hall in 1998.
A committee of seven former Wildcat athletes, chaired by Stacy Cody, selected the four after nominating about a dozen men and women for the honor. The decision to have the ceremony at the first district home football game, rather than during the traditional all-sports banquet, was made for reasons of time and also so that more Wildcat fans could be in attendance to honor the inductees.
Dabbs, Gray, Franklin and Vanderford all made an impact on several Wildcat sports.
As one of the premiere defensive linemen in the country as a senior, Dabbs was a larger-than-life presence on the football field.
He was a Prep All-American, Blue Chip recruit, All-State defensive lineman, team MVP, District 7-3A Lineman of the Year, and recipient of 18 Division I college scholarship offers before he graduated in 1976. The who's who of university recruiters was a roll call of top 20 teams: Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC among others.
Dabbs decided on the University of Oklahoma and coach Barry Switzer, where he was to join the All-American Selmon brothers as the backbone of the Sooner defense.
But, he never made it to Norman.
On the opening kickoff his senior homecoming game against Mount Pleasant on Oct. 10, 1975, Dabbs lowered his head and blasted kicker Wilson Renfroe in one of the most violent collisions in Wildcat lore.
The impact broke the fourth and fifth vertebrae at the base of Dabbs' skull, momentarily paralyzing him and putting him in Baylor Medical Center for a month, where he had to learn to walk again.
It ended his dream of playing college football, but it didn't dim the respect of those around him.
"His name was one of the first ones I heard when I came to coach here," said former SSHS head coach and current assistant principal Chuck King. "He was the standard for excellence."
Dabbs, the son of Birdie and the late H.V. Dabbs, still lives in Sulphur Springs, where he owns his own concrete business. He has three children.
Go into the weight room at the SSHS field house and coaches will tell you that there are a couple of track and field records that seem untouchable. They both belong to Gray.
Though he graduated in 1976, the same year as Dabbs, Gray's school records in the shot put and discus have stood the test of time.
As a senior, he not only won the state shot put championship with a throw of 62 feet, 3 inches, he tied the Class 3A meet record with that toss. He then went out and won a silver medal in the discus with a throw of 175-5.
Those marks still stand as school records.
As a junior, he was the regional discus champion and placed fifth at state. His sophomore season, Gray won the district discus title and placed fourth at regional.
His performance landed him a scholarship to the University of Arkansas, where he continued excelling on the collegiate level.
Gray was also a starting lineman for the Wildcats in football, but he is best known for his track and field accomplishments.
He currently lives in Sherman.
Franklin was the epitome of the all-around athlete before graduating in 1978, not only lettering in but excelling in four sports and earning 13 total letters.
He was a four-year starter on the Wildcat baseball team, earning All-District honors each year. As a senior, he was first team All-District both ways - running back and defensive back - plus he won the school's Fighting Heart Award, and was the MVP in football.
Franklin also lettered three years in basketball and three in track.
He accepted a scholarship offer from North Texas, where he played defensive back and was back-up kicker. In college, he played against NFL-bound Jim Kelly, Jim McMahon, Craig James and Eric Dickerson.
Franklin now lives in Grand Prairie, where he and his wife, Darcell, have three sons, the oldest of whom plays varsity football for South Grand Prairie High.
His favorite memories of SSHS are a 21-13 comeback win over state-ranked Gilmer his sophomore season when he scored his first varsity TD, and beating Carrollton Newman-Smith 40-8 as a senior.
He is a personnel manager for LNR Logistics and coaches peewee football in his spare time.
Vanderford has made a name for himself wherever he has been.
At Sulphur Springs, it was mostly as quarterback for the Wildcats, though he performed exceptionally well in other sports as well.
His senior year at SSHS, he stepped out of the shadow of legendary Jordan Stanley, who graduated the year before, by setting school records for most passing yards in a season, most attempts, most completions, most yards in a game, most attempts, most completions and highest completion percentage.
He was the district's Offensive MVP in football, plus received All-District honors as point guard in basketball and as catcher for the baseball team.
Vanderford then received a scholarship to Southern Arkansas University, where he started at quarterback for the Muleriders for three years and set numerous school records there.
He went into coaching after graduating from SAU, and joined former SSHS graduate Que Brittain at Flower Mound Marcus, where Vanderford was offensive coordinator when the Marauders won the state 5A championship in 1997.
He became head coach of Flower Mound High School when it opened in 2000.