George Powell, an employee with Clovis Municipal Schools, cuts grass on Thursday afternoon at Leon Williams Stadium as Clovis football players John Props, right, and Terrance Walker walk to practice. (staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
Steve Graham took over a Clovis High football program in 1959 that had suffered years of mediocrity. By the time he retired as athletic director 26 years later, he had helped turn Clovis into one of the premier programs in the state, a lofty status it still maintains today.
As a tribute to his contributions and those of former coach Dunny Goode, a moment of silence will be observed during tonight’s season opener against Las Cruces Mayfield at Leon Williams Stadium.
The Wildcats are one of eight area football teams that open their season this week hoping to reach the playoffs, which start before Thanksgiving and stretch into November.
Graham, a bomber pilot in World War II who served 11 years as head coach of Clovis High then 15 years as athletic director for Clovis schools, died of cancer in July. He was 83. Goode died earlier in the summer. He was 74.
In his first year as coach for Clovis High, Graham started a week-long preseason training camp and helped organize the Wildcat Booster Club, according to an article that appeared Aug. 27, 1961, in the Daily Oklahoman. Before coming to Clovis, Graham spent 12 years as athletic director in Weatherford, Okla.
By his second year as head coach for Clovis High, Graham led the Wildcats to their first official state title.
“When he came in, he could see right away we needed local business to get behind sports, the town behind the football team,” said Ellison Green, who played under Graham his senior year on the 1960 state championship squad. “The day we won the championship was the first time I ever saw the entire stadium filled.”
During his 11-year run as head coach for Clovis High, Graham’s record was 76-35-5.
“I think that he built the foundation that we’ve been living on,” said CHS athletic director Dale Fullerton, who was hired by Graham in 1974 to coach football at Marshall Junior High.
Carmen Graham said her husband of 61 years was interested in all the sports in the program succeeding.
“You would think as a football coach, that would be his priority,” Fullerton said. “He cared about every program and wanted every program to be successful.”
Part of his success as a coach can be attributed to how well he treated the players, Green said.
“I think Steve was the kind of coach we weren’t used to,” Green said. “He treated us like humans, not animals.”
Green remembers the first Wildcat football game played under Graham. When the squad came into the locker room after the first half they were greeted with a tub full of ice-cold Coca-Colas, a refreshing change from the days when their coach would discipline any player discovered drinking a soda.
Carmen Graham said the 1960 state championship victory was surreal. They had already organized a Thanksgiving dinner for the coaches and the wives , but last-minute heroics by the opposing team almost ruined the meal.
“It was Thanksgiving day, and we played Farmington here. In the last part of the game the Farmington quarterback threw to a back, and he fell down or something, and didn’t score,” the Clovis resident said. “We were ahead and we won the game. It was unreal to be state champions.”
Steve Graham played sports at Southwestern Oklahoma State University from 1940 to 1942 until he joined the Navy as a pilot for 40 months, his widow said. According to his obituary, he served 17 of those months in the South Pacific as a bomber pilot.