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11/04/1999  Schulenburg falls from peak to pits  Football

Nov. 4, 1999, 10:16PM

Schulenburg falls from peak to pits

Program ends '90s with 0-9 mark

Copyright 1999 Houston Chronicle

SCHULENBURG -- Everywhere you go these days, someone wants to tell you what to do to avoid getting bitten by the Y2K bug, ranging from stocking up on water and batteries to withdrawing money from the bank.

Although the Y2K craze is a recent phenomenon, the Schulenburg Shorthorns must have known something long before anyone else. The Shorthorns entered the final high school football season of the 1900s having stockpiled more than 100 wins this decade, securing their place in history as the state's top Class 2A program of the '90s.

It's a good thing the Shorthorns enjoyed such dominance during the '90s, because the decade's final season has been full of shortcomings.

Schulenburg will be looking to avoid its first winless campaign since 1959 when the Shorthorns (0-9) meet Nixon-Smiley tonight in their regular-season finale.

From the friendly folks at Frank's Restaurant to the school campus itself, everyone in this tiny town 95 miles west of Houston along Interstate 10 wants to know what's wrong with the Shorthorns.

"It's an honest question," coach Don Wild said. "Look at the Denver Broncos. They were Super Bowl champions last year and are struggling this year. I don't have a problem (with the question); it's expected. People want to know why is there a fall in Schulenburg, and it's just been a number of factors."

In addition to a rash of injuries that depleted their roster, the Shorthorns have had to deal with losing their star running back, who quit the team, and the embarrassment of having to forfeit a game after 15 players were suspended for drinking alcohol at a party.

Schulenburg entered this season with a 103-19 record this decade, including a perfect 45-0 mark in district play. The Shorthorns were trying to become the first team in state history to play an entire decade without a district loss and snap Sonora's record of 46 consecutive 2A district wins in the process.

Now the goal is to simply finish strong.

"We've got a good group of kids," Wild said. "Being (0-9) we still have fun practices and kids still get after it. If you were to talk to any of our opponents, we may not have the best athletes but we will get after it for 48 minutes and we've continued to do that through (nine) consecutive losses."

Coming off a 6-5 season in 1997 and a 7-4 campaign in 1998, the Shorthorns appeared to be a lock for their 13th consecutive playoff berth this year as Wild welcomed back 16 lettermen, including five starters on offense and six on defense.

But things went awry from the first day of two-of-days when a starting receiver was lost for the season with a stress fracture and a defensive back moved away. Wild has been plugging holes ever since.

The Shorthorns are down to 14 players who began the season on varsity, and have called up nearly the entire junior varsity, prompting Wild to cancel the JV schedule earlier this season.

"We thought this year we had a chance to go three, four or five rounds into the playoffs, and that's what makes this so tough," he said. "Sometimes you could see a downfall coming, and we didn't see it. We had a couple of quarterbacks ready to go and an all-state running back returning that gained 1,500 yards in seven games last year, and we were ready to get after it. Things just didn't take place for us the way we'd like, and now we're kind of on a downskid."

The Shorthorns have had four stress fractures and four surgeries that have ended players' seasons. But the biggest blow came when all-state running back Clarence Irving quit the team after a dispute.

"It's hard to say what's happening, what's going on, why we're 0-9," senior tailback/linebacker Blake Vecera said. "We've been through a lot the whole season with injuries, losing our starting senior tailback, and other things have made it kind of rough. We had problems, but everybody's playing their hardest and still trying to get through it."

After a season-opening loss to Hallettsville, several players participated in a party the following day where alcohol was consumed. The players later admitted the wrongdoing at the urging of their parents, and Wild suspended 15 of 23 varsity Shorthorns. Not wanting to use subvarsity replacements, the team had to forfeit its game against Smithville.

"It wasn't something where I went and asked each kid if they broke team policy," Wild said. "Some of the parents came to me and said, `My kid broke team policy,' and then the other ones that were involved decided that they had too much character to let the other kids take the blame for something they were involved in."

Close losses to Flatonia and Rice left Schulenburg at 0-5 entering district play. Rival Weimar then beat the Shorthorns 14-12 to open district and snap their 45-game league winning streak. Schulenburg has since lost to Shiner (37-0), Bloomington (33-14) and Yorktown (28-14).

"We had a lot of pressure on us to keep the district win streak and beat Weimar," senior linebacker/center Mike Davis said.

The pressure in Schulenburg stems from an incredible run of success in the '90s in which they won at least 14 games four times and captured two state crowns.

"It's always been when you're growing up you're going to be part of the Schulenburg Shorthorns and carry on the tradition," Vecera said.

The Shorthorns lost in the state semifinals in 1991 to finish 14-1. They then went 31-1 and won back-to-back state titles in 1991-92. They made it to the quarterfinals in 1993 (9-4), lost in the championship game in 1994 (15-1) and went back to the quarterfinals in 1995 (11-2).

"This community is obviously used to winning after 12 straight years in the playoffs and a couple of state champions," Wild said. "There's some people in town that are a little bit disappointed, but the majority of the people in our community understand the game of football and understand what it takes to win. This team had been through so much adversity, it's just been a real struggle to match up against some of the teams we've been playing."

Superintendent Mike Bonner, who was born and raised in Schulenburg, understands how important winning is to the community.

"They're not upset over the effort the kids are giving," he said. "Any time something adverse happens, everyone looks to place blame, but the bottom line on all of this is we've got to sit back here and accept reality. I'm a firm believer that the coaches are doing the best job they can do, and these kids are giving every bit of what they've got."

No matter what happens tonight, the Shorthorns appear poised to bounce back in 2000. The number of players in the program is as high as it was during the early '90s, and those JV players thrust into action this year will be that much better prepared for whatever they come across next season -- on or off the field.

"The kids have responded well to much of the adversity we've had this year," Wild said. "It would've been pretty easy for them to throw punches at the coaching staff and blame it on somebody else besides themselves for what's happened, but we haven't seen that. All we've seen from our kids is support and hard work, and that, as a coach, makes you feel outstanding. Sometimes with a lot of adversity good things happen."

Schulenburg in the '90s
Year Overall District Result
199014-15-0Lost to eventual state champ Groveton 41-36 in semis.
199116-05-0Won State title over Albany 21-0.
199215-15-0Won State title over Goldthwaite 35-20.
19939-45-0Lost to Freer 27-13 in quarterfinals.
199415-15-0Lost to Goldthwaite 20-16 in title game.
199511-25-0Lost to Refugio 27-18 in quarterfinals.
199610-15-0Lost to East Bernard 21-14 in first round.
19976-55-0Lost to Ganado 28-21 in first round.
19987-45-0Lost to Brookshire Royal 53-39 in first round.
19990-90-4Snapped 12-year playoff run

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