Many folks would spend those Saturdays watching the Connors State College Cowboys hit the gridiron. And while the program itself never achieved on the field greatness like its older and bigger cousins, it did turn out its share of standout individuals who showed that success in athletics isnt always about wins and losses on the field.
A group of about 50 of those former Cowboys gathered for a reunion on the CSC campus Thursday to help mark the 50th anniversary of the final year that football was played on the Warner campus. The reunion was the brainchild of Connors athletic director Bill! Muse.
Earlier this year we were attending the funeral of Harold Cagle, one of the Cowboys football coaches during that era, and a lot of the former players were there and thats kind of how it all got started, said Muse.
There isnt much really known about the Connors football program. No one at the event was sure when the program started (there is a photo showing the 1920 team), what kind of records they had or any statistical information.
Muse sees the event as an opportunity to hopefully gather some of that lost information from the folks who were there and to begin preserving some of the stories and information about the football program.
Among the success stories both on and off the field for Connors was Dan Sullivant. A multisport athlete, Sullivant came to Connors in 1955.
He joined the Marines the following year and then returned to Warner in 1958 where he became a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American while also playing baseball and setting conference track records in the shotput and javelin. He finished his college career at Northeastern State University and then went on to a highly successful high school football coaching career at Okmulgee that included a state championship in 1975 and membership in the Oklahoma Coaches Association and Connors Hall of Fame.
His on-field success and friendships from the Connors days carried over into his coaching career at Okmulgee.
I was fortunate to have good athletes and good coaching staffs at Okmulgee, said Sullivant. But I also took a lot from what I learned under coach (Tom) Johnson at Connors. I also ran into a lot of guys who I played with that were in coaching as well like Bobby Jack Dunlap who coached at Muskogee and we developed a pretty good rivalry over the years.
Pete Evans is another of those names from the Connors football past and, like Sullivant, is a member of the Connors Athletic Hall of Fame. Due to a leg injury his freshman year in 1955 he missed most of that season and it affected his play during his sophomore year as well.
Evans had a chance to continue playing at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri Southern) with the help of Coach Johnson, but instead opted to just be a student at Northeastern State. And, like Sullivant, most of his success occurred following his playing days as he got a degree and went into coaching with successful stints in Kansas before returning to Warner to be an assistant coach and teacher under Cagle in the schools final years of football.
In 1969 he went back to high school coaching where he had great runs at Warner, Ketchum and Chouteau before retiring after 39 years of high school coaching. Evans noted that playing at a program like Connors, while maybe not glamorous, instilled a solid work ethic in a lot of young men of that era.
Theres something about going to a school like this where you have to do some extra work to win that taught me a lot when I started coaching, said Evans. I just kept telling myself to keep working and dont give up and youll get to those places where maybe the facilities will be better and that hard work will pay off.
Perhaps Sullivant best summed up the important part that junior college programs like Connors played.
The junior college football program meant so much for those young athletes who needed one or two more years before they were ready to go to a four-year program, said Sullivant. Many of those guys I played with did go on to bigger schools but I think the fellowship and friendships we made at Connors was what it was all about.
Reprinted from the Muskogee Daily Phoenix. – By Nick Hampton Phoenix Correspondent.