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A tribute to desegregation 53 years later: Gladewater Bears to honor the Weldon Bumblebees

The Gladewater Bears begin a new tradition this season to honor the all Black football team before desegregation.

GLADEWATER, Texas — It's a football game turned history lesson in Gladewater.

For the first time, the Bears are set to honor the Weldon Bumblebees by wearing their jerseys. 

Weldon was the city's all Black high school football team before Gladewater ISD desegregated back in 1969.

Head Coach Johnny Louvier was inspired by one of his past students to bring history to life.

"I don't think people in the community really realized all that this is," Louvier said. "We want to make it a tradition and just honor it every year. Our kids need to know about the tradition here, not only from Weldon but from past Gladewater players."

The late Coach Curtis Calvin Cooksey started the football program at Weldon High School in 1939 with only 15 players. That program reigned for 28 years, with just three head coaches in its history, including former Gladewater Mayor Walter Derrick.

Derrick coached legends, like former UT linebacker Stoney Clark, and although Clark played for the Bears, he is a direct descendant of history.

“My father played at Weldon High School," Clark said. "He was one of the last classes there. So I heard those stories growing up about how rigorous and how tough it was, and it also set a set of parameters for us to follow when it was time for us to get on the field.”

A history so rich, yet not far removed with current players still in direct lineage to segregation.

"I had two grandparents, they both graduated from Weldon," junior quarterback Kyron Wilson said. "It hits close to home with me, especially, you know, to try to go out there and represent the school they played so hard for. Before the schools were integrated together, all the Black students went to Weldon. It just means a lot to go out there and play for them knowing what they went through."

Weldon wasn't just the all Black high school football team, they dominated for decades. Eleven district championships and three time runner-ups to the state championship. 

Derrick led the Bumblebees to its third and final state championship game appearance in 1968.

"Growing up, the tradition was so big here," Clark said. "That's all I ever wanted to be. All I ever wanted to be was the Gladewater Bear."

The Bears are now beginning a new tradition, that goes well beyond the field.

"It's a real big honor playing on a team with different kinds of people," junior defensive end Israel Cerda said. "Just shows that it's a bigger purpose to playing together than just this game. We play as a team, it's a team sport, we're gonna win."

A moment to treasure forever, especially for senior running back Davaunte Adams able to begin a tradition in his final season.

"I wouldn't be wearing this jersey if they hadn't went through what they went through back in 1968," Adams said. "It's special."

This is the first tribute to Weldon but the team plans to make it a tradition every season from now on.

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