Thursday Night Lights and the Prairie View Interscholastic League, Football at Black High Schools in Texas During Segregation, 1920-1970

As the all-white University Interscholastic League (UIL) was building its Friday Night Lights brand, its mirror organization, the all-black Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL), thrived in the shadows playing its games primarily on Thursday nights. The UIL edict was that its membership was open only to “any public white school.” This panel will discuss how, for fifty years, the PVIL became a vibrant league that quietly produced an inordinate amount of outstanding coaches, all-star players, and dominant teams. Products from the league included nine players who would become members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including: “Mean” Joe Greene (Temple Dunbar), Ken Houston (Lufkin Dunbar), and Dick “Night Train” Lane (Austin Anderson).

Session Chair

Michael Hurd is an author and historian, and the former director of Prairie View A&M University’s Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture. A Houston native, he graduated from Evan E. Worthing High School, a PVIL member, is an Air Force Vietnam veteran, and a graduate in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a former sportswriter for The Houston Post, the Austin American-Statesman, and USA Today. His third book, “Thursday Night Lights, The Story of Black High School Football in Texas” was named by Texas Observer magazine one of the 30 best books about Texas for the 2010-2019 decade and was included in the Houston Chronicle’s list of the “30 Most Essential Books About Texas.” He is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

Presenters

Robert Brown is chairman of the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Assn., based in Houston. The group works to keep alive PVIL history and recognize through its annual Hall of Fame Banquet players, coaches, and others who participated in the PVIL experience. Brown attended and played football at LaMarque Lincoln HS, and is a former head coach at M.C. Williams High School in Houston.

Eddie L. Henry, Jr. is the Recording Secretary for the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Assn. From 1959-1961, he was a scholar-football athlete at PVIL member Phillis Wheatley High School in Houston’s Fifth Ward. He played twice in the “Turkey Day Classic”, the annual Phillis Wheatley-Jack Yates rivalry game, and was a 4A All-State linebacker and guard. In 2017, he was honored as an inductee to the PVILCA Hall of Fame.

David O’Neal, Jr. was an all-state baseball player at Galveston’s Central High School from 1963 to 1966 and also contributed to the success of the 1963 state championship football team and the 1962 state championship baseball team at Central. He was also the first black baseball player at the University of Houston (1966). He has served on the Galveston Independent School District school board for 21 years, and is chairman of the African American Heritage Committee. He has also been inducted to the PVILCA Hall of Fame.

Thurman Robins is the author of “Requiem For A Classic,” which covers the history of the football rivalry and PVIL showcase game, “The Turkey Day Classic” played between Yates and Wheatley high schools in Houston. For many years, throughout the 1940s-1960s, the game was the largest attended high school sports event in the country. Mr. Robins, who attended Yates, is a retired educator whose career spanned more than 40 years. He has published four books and has been inducted into four halls of fame, including the PVILCA.

When 10:30am Thursday, February 29, 2024