1954 Clovis Story, Part 1

by Dan Ford

PART ONE

Introduction

The NMHSAA (forerunner to the NMAA) was established in 1915 when schools got together to organize a statewide track meet and establish eligibility rules for competition. The Association was formalized in 1921 but did not have a staff or exclusive employees. The President was elected each year at the teacher’s convention. He was usually a Superintendent from Roswell, Albuquerque, or Santa Fe. He was paid just enough to cover expenses. Finally, in 1950, the member schools voted to hire an Executive Secretary, one fondly called the “czar” by the media. The first ES was Morris Ward. Paul Deaton, longtime principal from Roswell, was President of the NMHSAA and seemed to carry more weight than Ward in those early years. But Deaton died suddenly in January, 1951. In March, 1952 Ward resigned after two years. This time the Association got serious about hiring a full-time czar to deal with all manner of high school sports. His name was U.G. Montgomery. He had grown up in Des Moines, NM (near Clayton), taught and coached at Logan, Monument, Eunice and was Assistant Athletic Director at Hobbs before accepting the position to run the NMHSAA. “Monty” Montgomery took a $2,400 cut in his annual income to take the tedious job of administering high school activities, simply because he loved sports. He was allowed to complete the year at Hobbs but then moved his office to Albuquerque where he headed the organization for over 20 years. His immediate contribution in 1952 was to publicly endorse a playoff system that would provide an unquestioned champion in football. There would be many more controversial decisions.

Below is the story of one such controversy, possible the biggest and most contentious. The story is taken from newspaper articles, of which there are numerous, regarding the individuals and the events surrounding the Clovis story in 1954. Even today there are those who may take exception to these facts as the newspapers displayed them. If contrasting opinions never made it out of the coffee shop and into print, it is not relayed in this article. Here is the story of Bob Dugan and Milton Barron, two extraordinary athletes for the Clovis Wildcats.

Clovis1954.jpg
Milton Barron, Sr; Bob Dugan, Jr; U. G. Montgomery

How it All Started

Rules of eligibility in 1954 were strict and very direct. A player had to live with his parents or guardians and had to live within the district to be eligible. Transfers were scrutinized and each year the NMHSAA dispensed justice on a common sense basis. Players who transferred within the region were frowned upon. Any exceptions required a petition and approval by the Association.

Clovis always had a competitive football program. They had won or shared seven state mythical titles prior to the official versions starting in 1950. While still a quality program, they had been overshadowed by Carlsbad and Hobbs in the early 1950s. But 1954 was going to be their year. The Wildcats had two quality players in the backfield; Junior tailback Bob Dugan and a senior 200-lb fullback named Milton Barron.

 

The season got off to a great start with a win over Littlefield,TX (18-7) and Barron rushed for 150 yards in 23 carries. They beat Tucumcari in week two (40-0) with Dugan gaining 142 yards. Barron had 101 yards in 17 tries.   Another star of the team was senior lineman, Jack Bresenham, the co-captain of the team and the son of Floyd Bresenham. The elder Bresenham was the Vice President of First Federal Savings & Loan, a civic leader and Chairman of the local Rotary Club in Clovis. More about Mr. Bresenham later.

The Tucumcari game was on Friday, September 10, 1954. School would be starting that week. On Sunday Mr. & Mrs. C.T. Dugan, Bob’s parents, left for Midland,TX where Mr. Dugan had the promise of a temporary job from a relative and some recuperation for Mrs. Dugan who had battled failing health for four years and had a bad spell in August. A lower elevation would help. The Dugans had been Clovis residents for Bob’s entire athletic career.

On Monday, September 13th Clovis Athletic Director Bill Stockton was asked by CHS Principal Dave St. Clair to write to the NMHSAA about Dugan’s eligibility which Stockton promptly did. Before the week was out, Stockton received a reply from Montgomery. He referenced the specific rule that addressed the situation. Bob was no longer eligible if “his parents moved out of the district”. According to school officials later, they made a loose interpretation of the rule. The Dugans had intended to only be gone a couple of weeks. They still had a rented house in town and hadn’t really “moved out of the district”.   The administrators made no attempt to follow up with the Dugans to verify that they had returned or when they might. They included Superintendent Travis Stovall in the conversation. A more proactive effort would be to petition the Association for Bob’s eligibility and Montgomery would later say that it would likely have been approved. Case closed … if they had done it.

Week three (9/17) was a trip to Texas powerhouse Dumas. The Wildcats blew a nice lead and gave up three TDs to the Demons in the fourth quarter but still tied at 18. Barron led the charge with two of the three Clovis scores.  They continued to roll with wins over Coach Pete McDavid’s Albuquerque Bulldogs (27-0) in which Dugan had three interceptions. Then came Carlsbad. The Carlsbad game was particularly important because the Cavemen were also undefeated and favored to win the tough 2AA District in 1954. The game was close and Carlsbad was actually dominated statistically in a 7-7 game late in the third quarter when Bob Dugan raced 73 yards for the go ahead touchdown. Clovis would prevail, 20-7.

In those days an Associated Press (AP) story was written for all statewide newspapers for Monday publication. You can find the exact article in a dozen New Mexico newspapers describing the high school football weekend just past. The article of October 3, 1954 carried the headline “Clovis, Highland Share Top Spots”. It went on to say they were the best teams and were destined to meet in the state championship game. The article said,

   “Bob Dugan finished off the Cavemen in Clovis with a 73-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter that broke the hearts and spirit of Ralph Bowyer’s Carlsbad crew.”

In Albuquerque, the New Mexico High School Athletic Association Executive Secretary read the AP article in his paper (probably the Albuquerque Journal) and recognized the recently familiar name … Bob Dugan.

The FIRST Penalty

If you believe in omens, here’s one for you. At the very moment that Bob Dugan ran 73 yards for the go ahead touchdown against Carlsbad, Clovis head coach Phil Harmon collapsed on the field and was taken to the hospital. He was released with the diagnosis of a stomach disorder. He would say the next week that he was okay but still in some discomforting pain.

His pains were nothing compared to those inflicted on all Clovis citizens and especially those named Stovall, St. Clair and Stockton.

Montgomery investigated the situation and immediately pronounced Dugan ineligible. The Executive Secretary believed the Dugan family had left town before school even started. They had the utilities turned off and moved their furniture into storage. It sure didn’t look temporary (it was never revealed publicly where young Bob was actually living). When the parents of an athlete no longer resided in the school district, he was no longer eligible. Monty sent a scathing letter to Stockton reminding him of their earlier communication in which the ES said Dugan would be ineligible. The penalty was generally quite harsh in such cases but Monty allowed the Wildcats to continue playing football, but without the services of Dugan. More importantly, Clovis had to forfeit its games to the three state opponents. Montgomery’s public statement condemned Clovis High for not becoming familiar with eligibility rules and petitioning the Association before the season started. Feelings in Clovis were hurt. Other parts of the state were outraged mostly because of misunderstandings about the action. Montgomery also faced a curious reaction from within the NMHSAA. The controlling executive council that he answered to felt Clovis should have been made an example of and dealt with more harshly. With public sentiment on one side and his employer on the other, Montgomery didn’t know which was the rock, and which was the hard place.

When Monty announced his decision on October 8th, the Dugans were still living in Midland. Mr. Stovall graciously fell on the sword and took the blame, going out of his way to exonerate St.Clair and Stockton. He said they would accept the punishment, suspend Bob Dugan for the rest of the school year and learn from the experience. Students threatened to strike and walk out of class.   Citizens circulated petitions for Dugan’s reinstatement, claiming definition of “residence” was unclear. Bob Dugan’s father wrote a letter to the newspaper explaining his actions and laying the blame at the feet of the Clovis administration.

On the other side of the debate, anti-Clovis factions from around the state were wondering why the NMHSAA would be so lenient. Las Cruces had ineligible players just a few years earlier and not only was the school sanctioned from the Association for a year but the coach was fired. Farmington was suspended from playing any New Mexico schools in 1931 for an overaged player. St. Michaels had chosen to play in a post-season Catholic national basketball tournament in 1940 against the wishes of the NMHSAA and was expelled for one year, forcing the Horsemen to play an ambitious parochial football schedule into Colorado, Texas and Arizona.

Coincidentally, and to confuse the whole argument, a basketball player from Clovis was also involved. And his issue was just settled as this one was being born.   Bob Martin, a resident of Texico, was in school in Clovis and intended to play basketball for the Wildcats. The Texico superintendent notified Mr. Stovall that Martin lived outside the Clovis district and that an appeal should be filed. It was and the NMHSAA allowed Martin’s eligibility based upon approval by both the Clovis and Texico administrations. Some Clovis folks saw this as similar to the Dugan ordeal. It was approved on September 22nd just before the Dugan issue surfaced. The elder Mr. Dugan raised the point in his newspaper letter, wondering why his son was singled out and the Texico boy was allowed to play.

In the following two weeks the issue simmered but started to lose its momentum. Montgomery was still under pressure from both sides. Without Dugan and with the distraction, the Wildcats lost to upstart Artesia (12-0) and were essentially eliminated from district contention (only the league champ went to the playoffs). And in the American justice system there is no “double jeopardy” …. or is there.

(Part 2 will appear tomorrow)

 

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2 thoughts on “1954 Clovis Story, Part 1

    • As mentioned in the introduction to the article about Milton Barron, everything in the story is from the newspaper articles without benefit of any interviews or other sources. It is the story as the world received it in 1954. Nancy was born at the beginning of her father’s senior year in school and was only four when he died in an unfortunate car accident. No doubt her information on the story is from relatives and friends close to the events. That being said, I found myself heartbroken for the Barron family and grieving for the short and tragic life of a small town boy. He seemed to lack the guidance a boy needs and was taken advantage of by those who had little regard for his future and his life. I would love to meet Nancy and hear about the other half of the story. – Dan

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