Advance copies of a book about two of El Paso’s greatest high school football teams have arrived in El Paso and the book is a stunner.
Titled “Shakin’ Down Irish Thunder,” it’s written by former Cathedral High School football star Joe Shepard, who played on one of those two great teams. It’s full of facts, photos and newspaper clippings.
Austin High is El Paso’s only high school football team to go undefeated. Twelve years later, Cathedral High came up with a team so outstanding many regard it as that school’s greatest.
But here’s the most fascinating part. An El Pasoan named Jim Wardy was the key man in both instances!
AUSTIN HIGH finished the 1937 season with an 11-0-1 record. However, fate was to deny the Panthers, coached by W.A. “Chule” Milner, the Texas state championship.
District champion Austin beat Abilene 3-0 on Pat Lowry’s field goal in bi-district play and tied Wichita Falls 7-7 in the quarterfinals. Wichita Falls, however, advanced on most penetrations inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, 3 to 2.
Quarterback Jim Wardy passed to Dewey Fitzgerald for Austin’s only touchdown and the Panthers came within a foot of winning the game in the final seconds. With less than a minute to go, Wardy found Fitzgerald running wide open down the field. He threw the ball and it was just a foot beyond Fitzgerald’s reach.
Wardy also did the punting and set up the Panthers’ only score by kicking the ball out of bounds on the 4-yard line.
JIM WARDY is the only high school quarterback in El Paso to go through a season undefeated. And what he did as a coach at Cathedral High School 12 years later made him a true legend.
When he returned from military service in 1948, he learned that Austin High School was looking for an assistant football coach. He applied, and surprisingly, was turned down. Cathedral High was looking for a coach at the same time and happily took him on as head coach.
Cathedral, being a private school, was usually no match on the gridiron for the bigger public schools that then included Austin, Ysleta, Bowie and El Paso High. It didn’t take long for Wardy to change that.
He opened his second year of coaching in 1949 playing at Wink High School, which at that time was a state powerhouse.
Wink was opening a new stadium and had scheduled a celebration after the game, counting on its team whipping Cathedral. But the Irish beat Wink, 13-0.
IT WAS NO FLUKE. In its next game, Cathedral faced Wardy’s former team, Austin High School. The Panthers, needless to say, were prohibitive favorites. Cathedral thumped them 21-0 and one can only guess what a sweet thing that was for Wardy, who had been turned down for the Austin coaching job.
Austin wound up with a 7-3 season record, won the district title and defeated Lubbock, 38-12, in the bi-district playoffs. Cathedral finished with an 8-2 record.
Since Austin and Cathedral both wound up with only one loss in city play and Cathedral had beaten Austin, the city championship was awarded to Cathedral.
That year is still regarded Cathedral‘s greatest football season.
YOU’LL FIND many more details about those two great teams in Shepard’s book. I thoroughly enjoyed it since those two teams are included in a book I am writing on the history of El Paso sports.
By the way, there’s a bit more to the Wardy legend, who was the uncle of Joe Wardy, the former El Paso mayor.
Jim Wardy also coached basketball at Cathedral, and in the spring of 1950, he coached the Irish to the state basketball championship of the Texas Catholic Interscholastic League.
Then strangely, he resigned after coaching only those two years, went into business and died at a comparatively young age, reportedly of a heart attack. What great memories he left us.