Part 2 - Bonham football coaching history – and a national tragedy
By Ken Porter
Jan 10, 2023
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Football was beginning to gain traction in the 1920s and 1930s when modern transportation became affordable for more families.   It takes spectators for any event to become an attraction and more sports fans could travel to neighboring towns to support their local teams.  But the logistics of getting an entire team to an event at the same place at the same time was still a challenge.

My dad, Forrest Porter, played football for Bonham during the 1931 & 1932 season.  He didn’t talk much about his experience other than he and others hitchhiked to most games unless they were lucky enough to catch a ride to the game in the Risser family Cadillac who also had sons on the team.  My grandmother told me the only game she attended he got knocked out.  My dad never mentioned the coach by name but said he was a no-nonsense man that expected the best and had the respect of every player on the team.  And he also quoted the coach with words that stuck with me,  “I’ll never say anything to any of you boys that I wouldn’t say in front of your fathers…”.

I later found out that this coach was Keifer (K.L.) Strickland. Strickland, like most successful coaches, had the technical ability to coach but was a liaison to the community for the passion of sports and football.  And he connected to the boys that wanted to put forth the effort to build a winning program even though most of the boys were still walking or riding horses to school. And many were working in the fields when they weren’t in school. Education was important to Strickland and he knew that a winning football program elevated the pride of the entire community. Parents encouraged their kids to be a part of the team with Strickland as a mentor.

Coach Strickland’s began his head coaching career in Bonham in 1929 with a 4-5-1 record. But quickly developed into the strongest program in the area and tied for a district championship by 1933. Many of the players from the 1931-32 team had attracted the attention of college scouts and were offered scholarships including my father though he developed scarlet fever and did not graduate. Strickland’s teams were so successful that the community agreed to build a stadium that would not only seat 1,500 spectators but also have lights for night games. And high fencing around the entire stadium so admissions could be charged.

 - 1932 Bonham Warriors with Coach Strickland (top left) -

High school football had given the small area towns something to look forward to on each Friday night during a time that often looked otherwise bleak. Not to mention bragging rights. It was big enough of an attraction that the fans from Paris organized to charter a train to carry fans from Paris just to see the Friday night game against Bonham.

Bonham finally won its first outright district championship in 1935 under Strickland. Bonham was growing and the high school was burgeoning with just over 500 students.  This meant that Bonham high school was about to move up from Class B to Class A with larger schools in 1936.

Measures were taken to assure Bonham would not lose ground in the football program.  Strickland was relieved of his head basketball coaching responsibilities to focus on football.  He was moved to the junior high to begin teaching the junior high kids along with incoming freshmen and sophomores in the fundamentals of football. Several coaches and teachers were moved around to prepare for the move into the larger conference, including the girls basketball coaching responsibilities which were re-arranged.

-1932 Article from Bonham newspaper discussing the staff re-assignments to adjust for Class A football-

And even more interesting one of the teachers, Mr. Tate, was assigned the task to recruit boys and girls from the rural schools around the county who would be interested in playing sports for Bonham.

But in 1936, for the first time since Strickland’s initial season, Bonham had a losing year 3-6-1 in football. Strickland was a competitor, and it didn’t set well with him. But the success of the small-town team from Bonham had gained a lot of attention across north Texas and Dallas. As did Strickland’s coaching success.

Strickland had become Bonham’s winningest coach at that time. And is still one of only 4 Bonham coaches to win over 65% of their games for coaches that coached at least 4 seasons. He was offered a great opportunity at Sunset High School in Dallas. After paying his gratitude to the team and local supporters he accepted the position and moved to Dallas.  Players wrote public letters of support for Coach Strickland and how he had impacted their lives well beyond football.  A true role model.

Before Keifer Strickland had arrived to coach at Bonham he was an “All Southwest Conference (SWC)” basketball player for the Baylor Bears. He was their star point guard and leading scorer in 1927. Baylor was being touted as the favorite to win the SWC conference championship with Strickland leading the charge.

On January 22, 1927 the Baylor basketball team set out for Austin on their first road trip to test their skills against the Texas Longhorns. There was heavy rain with limited visibility. The bus loaded with players and a few students was within a few miles of their destination when they reached Round Rock and crossed a set of railroad tracks. The bus driver did not see the approaching train which was making up lost time at 60 mph until the bus was straddle the track. The bus driver gassed the bus and swerved to the left but the train caught the rear corner of the bus.

Ten of the 21 student-athletes, coaches and fans on the bus were killed.  Keifer Strickland was on that bus but escaped with minor injuries. The Bears cancelled the remainder of the season in order for the university and student body to recover.

It was the first major national athletic tragedy of this proportion. The headlines were plastered across major newspapers across the country. And Keifer Strickland is forever a part of that historic event. There is no record of Coach Strickland being associated with this tragedy during his time at Bonhi. But there sure are a lot of accolades tossed his way while in Bonham for his leadership, moral fiber and development of young men.

For those familiar with the Baylor campus there is a large memorial that pays tribute to the “Immortal 10” dedicated to the memory of each of the 10 athletes that died that day in Round Rock. The railroad crossing where those died later became the first railroad overpass in Texas as a result of the tragedy.  And the overpass bridge is memorialized also with a large plaque of the “Immortal 10”.

Each Baylor homecoming basketball game is dedicated to the memory of the “Immortal 10” and on January 22 the names of the 10 are displayed on team jerseys.


1927 Baylor basketball team who became known as “The Immortal 10.” Keifer Stickland is seated bottom row 4th from left.



 - Bus prior to accident –


Remains of the bus after the impact of the train.  Tragically, one of the men from nearby Taylor who heard of the crash and came to help found his own son, Ivy Foster, Jr. on the bus, killed in the crash.



“Immortal 10” memorial on Baylor Campus