Editor’s note: Billy Crawford is a local historian and Leesville High alum who works with the Leesville Daily Leader to provide historical pieces. This article was written in honor of the Wampus Cat’s history-making 2018 football season.
I recently visited with Coach Causey. He mentioned he enjoyed reading history, something we share in common.
This conversation gave me the incentive to research and share past Wampus Cat football teams that won a district championship.
The first of these teams to be highlighted is the 1963 team.
Wampus Cat fans that have followed the teams over the years generally agree that the 1963 team (class of 1964) was the first Leesville High School (LHS) team to win a district football championship, at least in recent memory.
During the late 1950’s and early ’60s the Pineville High School Rebels, who were in the same district as the Cats, had one of the most successful football programs in central Louisiana.
They had been the 3-A district champions each year since 1959. The Cats had been district runner-up to the Rebs.
Their winning streak ended in Wampus Cat Stadium on an October night in front of an overflow crowd.
It was a thriller of a game.
The Cats were behind 19-14 in the fourth quarter after leading 14-0 in the second quarter. The Cats were a well-coached, veteran and determined squad that rallied to win the game.
The final score was Cats 21, Rebels 14. It was the first district loss for Pineville since 1959.
There were high expectations for the ’63 team, but those expectations did not come overnight.
Several factors led to the team’s success, and it was quite a journey to reach that point.
Many of the Junior and Senior players had been playing together since Junior High, coached by school principal C. A. Hughes.
In the summer of 1961, Fort Polk reopened. Students of military and civilian personnel families began arriving, filling up the community and local schools.
Many were excellent athletes that joined the athletic teams, including this ‘63 football team.
After completing the district schedule, the final game of the season was the traditional scheduled non-district game against the arch-rival DeRidder Dragons.
It was Leesville’s year to host the Thursday night game.
The November 21, 1963 Leesville Daily Leader reported that “Coach Cecil Doyle disappointed a record-breaking crowd by holding out regular players.” The Dragons reported they were “hampered by injuries.”
Many thought he was holding them out, forsaking a perfect season record, in preparation for the bi-district first-round state playoffs against the Wampus Cats the following week.
The Cats won the game easily 28-6. Captain R.J. Fertitta accepted the L.S. Hooper trophy after the game.
Leesville’s win over DeRidder won them the district championship, but it would not be long until the Dragons had their revenge.
The next week the Cats and Dragons met again for the first round of the state playoffs.
The game was delayed a day when President Kennedy was assassinated on the original game day.
During the playoff game, DeRidder played with all of its starters and the Cats lost 34-19.
The 1963 Leesville Wampus Cat football team is one to be remembered and celebrated as the 2018 Wampus Cats enter the first round of the playoffs tonight.
Author’s note: This article is written in remembrance of Paul Nicholas and John Martinez star players on the Wampus Cats’ 1963 team who would later give their lives in military service in Vietnam.