1973 Gators were more than just a football team

Published 8:00 am Thursday, August 30, 2018

On the long list of year-by-year high school football records, the 1973 Vicksburg Gators stand out. They’re the last undefeated team in school history, and also the last state championship team.

They’re one of the most remarkable teams for other reasons, as well.

There has been a Vicksburg High School, in some form or fashion, for more than a hundred years. Whether it was Carr Central, Cooper, Bowman or Temple, it was always colloquially referred to as “Vicksburg.”

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In 1973, however, there was finally an actual Vicksburg High School. It was formed by integrating the city’s white and black schools. Other cities went through the process with mixed results, and it wasn’t entirely clear how it would work here. Both the white and black communities were giving up their traditional arrangements to tread uncharted waters.

Houston Markham, Jr., who had led Temple’s football team to three Black Big 8 championships, was the man tasked with making at least part of these seismic shifts go smoothly. He was named the merged Vicksburg High’s head coach and immediately made clear to his players how things would work.

“When they came over, the first meeting we had I made sure to tell them all I was going to work them like dogs. It was going to be no white or black boys. They were all going to be football players,” Markham said. “And it worked out beautifully. Everything we didn’t have, came from over there.”

Vicksburg’s two halves, white and black, came together to form a winner. The new Gators won 10 games in a row to start the season, then tied Greenwood 7-7 in the Red Carpet Bowl that served as the Big 8 title game. A vote of the state’s sports writers gave the state title to Vicksburg.

Along the way, the Gators served as a model for the community. Rather than racial tension, a sense of cooperation and togetherness was created that spread across the city.

“It helped the city and it helped the school,” Markham said. “They saw we were getting along, and winning makes a difference.”

Thursday at 6 p.m., Markham and one of the members of the 1973 team, Michael Dottorey, will be inducted to the Vicksburg Warren School District Athletic Hall of Fame at the Vicksburg Convention Center. It’s learn about the history of the era, and meet the people who made it possible.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor at The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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