The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By David Stevens

Gentleman athlete worth remembering


April 22, 2018

Courtesy photo

The 1951 Mule Train annual was dedicated to one of Muleshoe's favorite sons.

MULESHOE — Everyone in Muleshoe knows David Wood.

He's the retiring high school football coach who led the Mules to their first state championship in 2008 and averaged almost nine wins per season for 21 years.

That's why the school district this month announced it was adding Wood's name to the place most of Muleshoe gathers on fall Friday nights — "David Wood Field at Benny Douglas Stadium."

But who remembers Benny Douglas? We're not even sure how to spell his name — school annuals show Douglas, the sign at the football field reflects Douglas, but relatives spell their names Douglass, and it's Douglass on Benny's gravestone in the Bailey County Cemetery.

Only a few old-timers remain to tell his story.

Bill Aylesworth met Douglass when they were Muleshoe classmates in third grade in 1941. That was the year Aylesworth moved to town from Amarillo.

"It's been a long time, but the main thing that comes to mind is that he was a gentleman from the time he was a little boy," said Aylesworth, now 85 and living in Clovis.

"We were not real close buddies, but I knew him really well. His daddy had the Case tractor house (in Muleshoe) for many years. He was a good student. He made good grades. And he was quite an athlete."

The athletic skills made Douglass known beyond the community where he lived his entire too-short life.

"Ben Douglas in the line and Ed Nickels in the backfield were outstanding for Muleshoe," the Lubbock Avalanche Journal noted in its coverage of a 1949 football game in which Sudan beat Muleshoe, 15-0.

Coach Woodie Green said Douglass, a junior, played more minutes in the 1949 football season than any other member of the Muleshoe Yellow Jackets.

"He played end and was developing fast. He was an outstanding basketball player, too, and ran the half mile in track, taking part in the district and regional meets," Green said.

The coach's comments were published in the Muleshoe Journal on June 1, 1950, as part of a news report announcing Douglass' death at age 17.

Douglass and two friends were returning to Muleshoe from a trip to Clovis when their vehicle collided with one coming from the opposite direction on Highway 84 at West Camp Road, reports show.

The wreck happened about 12:30 a.m. on May 28, 1950.

Everyone in both vehicles suffered serious injuries. Douglass, a passenger, died at the scene.

Jerry Hicks, a former Bailey County sheriff who wrote a book about historical crime and tragedies in the region, noted that "Highway 84 was a narrow two-lane pavement" in 1950.

The driver at fault in the accident was not clear from newspaper accounts, and not important 68 years later.

What seems significant today is that Douglass had touched enough lives that the community decided to name its new football stadium in his honor.

The 1951 Mule Train — the school annual — was dedicated to the young man "who served his high school well and took part in all he could — giving of his best."

The yearbook staff wrote Douglass was "Quiet-reserved-beloved by all who knew him ..."

His popularity was also evident in the previous year's annual, which devoted several pages to students it recognized light-heartedly for skills ranging from best dancers and most curious to best eaters.

Douglass was recognized for "Best Line," likely a reference to his ability to, um, articulate interest in getting to know classmates of the opposite sex.

"I never saw him hit on any girls," Aylesworth laughed, "but yes that's probably what it meant. He was certainly friendly, to everybody."

Muleshoe High School students for decades have known "Douglas" only as the football stadium's namesake. And "the Ghost of Benny Douglas" has been blamed for mischief and the unexplained at the high school since his classmates graduated and mostly moved away.

As the community honors another athletic legend in Coach Wood, this seems a good time to note that Douglass was a real person as well: forever a young gentleman, and gone too soon.

David Stevens is editor of Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: [email protected]


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