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The Hornets, champions of the 1964 Pony League division, pictured before their fifth straight victory of the year. From left to right, front row: Larry Manjang, Charles Callihan, Ronnie Burleson, Ronnie Cheatham and Samuel Johnson. Second row: Johnny Burleson, Vernon Williams, Tommy Jackson and Johnny Bratton. Back row: Coach John Odem, Royce Holmes and Coach Alonzo Hardge Jr.  Daily Record file photo

‘Remembering Hardge's Hornets’

Black History Month
Sunday, February 10, 2019

The San Marcos Public Library and the Calaboose African American History Museum are hosting a Black History Month program that will tell the little known history of the Hornets, a Pony League baseball team that finished undefeated in the 1964 season, and Coach Alonzo Hardge that got them there.

Dr. Elvin Holt, director of the Calaboose Museum, has researched and interviewed members of the team in his effort to preserve San Marcos’ sometimes poorly-recorded African-American History.

Holt first heard about the Hornets years back during a Dunbar Ex-students Association reunion. Several of the reunion attendees stopped by the Calaboose African-American History Museum after the event and browsed the photographs and memorabilia.

“They were looking through some photos of the colored school and they became very animated when they were looking at the sports photos,” Holt said. “They began to talk about the 1964 season because they were some of the teammates from that season.”

Holt was overhearing what they were saying, and gathered little pieces from their story. Years later, Holt contacted Johnny Bratton, a 1964 Hornet team member, and they started communicating back and forth.

“I would send questions and he (Bratton) would answer questions regarding the team,” Holt said. “I think their story needs to be documented because it was a life-changing experience for them, they got the kind of notoriety they would have never received elsewise.”

The Hornets were an all Black Pony League division team that was organized in the 1950s by Reverend I. H. Pierce of Jackson Chapel. They weren’t associated with the African-American school in Dunbar neighborhood, but they borrowed the team name “Hornets.”

“In 1964, they played 14 games and they won all of them – it was phenomenal experience for the community because this was in the days where things were still pretty segregated,” Holt said.

Though San Marcos schools had integrated by 1955, the Black community was still separated often culturally, and sports teams still retained some racial lines. The Hornets didn’t enjoy some of the amenities better funded teams enjoyed. They wore plain white pants and T-shirts with simple caps, instead of custom jerseys and athletic wear. And they were transported in the back of Hardge’s pickup truck to and from games.

“They were always operating on a shoestring, they didn’t have sponsors or anything like that,” Holt said. “They would go to Seguin and Luling and all these communities to participate in a pickup truck, and that was their transportation.”

But the Hornets played against white teams in the area regularly and, according to Holt, some friendships between the teams grew out of those games.

“Even though they were opponents, they made friends across racial lines and they are still friends 50 years later; these elderly men are still friends,” Holt said.

Holt said the story of the undefeated Hornets is worth recollecting because they represented much more than a baseball team.

“They were representing more than just a baseball team, and this is always true in African-American history, there is always a larger meaning behind whatever achievements they make,” Holt said. “So the African-American community was caught up in this success that this team seemed to be destined to make. And after every victory, the team felt more pressure because they didn’t want to lose and disappoint their community and supporters, so it was quite a remarkable 14 games for them.

According to Holt, when the Hornets practiced at the old Dunbar school – that served as the African-American School during segregation – cars would be parked all around the school and people from the community would be watching and cheering them on even during practice.

“It became almost a community effort for them to represent Dunbar.”

Bratton told Holt, that Coach Hardge was an inspirational coach; he was the one that gave them the inspiration to keep going and not to fear loss.

Lucious Jackson, born in San Marcos in 1941, went on to become a member the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won the gold at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Photos courtesy of Dr. Elvin Holt

Hardge’s obituary, published in the San Marcos Daily Record on Oct. 7, 1997 talks about his work with Black little league teams.

“During the 1950s, when his community was divided along racial lines, Mr. Hardge served as coach for the San Marcos citywide, black little league baseball teams. Under his leadership, his teams won numerous honors and awards.”

Hardge, at the age of 18, was drafted into the U.S. Army, and served with distinction in Europe during World War II, Holt thinks it was Hardge’s discipline and perseverance that helped earmark the 15 and 16 yearold boys of the 1964 Hornets to become successful.

“Mr. Hardge was in the Army, so I think that’s where he got his sense of discipline, order and perseverance and he shared that with his team,” Holt said. “Most of the men in that picture (top photo) went on to be successful and I think the discipline that they learned from Mr. Hardge contributed significantly to that.”

Several surviving members of the Hornets will be present to share memories of Coach Hardge, the 1964 season and San Marcos at that time.

Brenda "Tiger Lady" Bell (left), a San Marcos native that went to become a championship boxer.

Holt will also touch on other members’ of the San Marcos African American community that went on to achieve athletic excellence – including Chicago American Giants Negro league baseball player James Brown, NBA player and a member the U.S. Olympic basketball team that won the gold at the 1964 Summer Olympics Luscious Jackson and gold medalist in the men's high jump at the 1996 Summer Olympics Charles Austin, as well as championship boxer Brenda Bell.

“I think this history is important because it can inspire people to strive for very high goals, not to settle for the mediocre, but to pursue the highest goals,” Holt said. “I mean who would’ve thought that those little boys could play 14 games and win every one of them – I’m sure they were shocked themselves – but nonetheless it is possible.”

“Remembering Hardge's Hornets” will take place at the San Marcos Public Library on Feb. 21 from 6 to 7 p.m. For more information all the library at 512-393-8200.

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666