ANGLETON — When Michael Hurd decided to write his book “Thursday Night Lights,” chronicling black high school football in Texas, he had a lifetime of contacts and memories to work with.
It was just a matter of organizing it and putting it all into words for the former sportswriter for the Houston Post. The finished product chronicles the history of the Prairie View Interscholastic League, which governed academics and athletics among black high schools for half a century.
Hurd was in Angleton on Thursday to talk about the book and his experience writing it at the Brazoria County Historical Museum.
The PVIL was the black school version of the University Interscholastic League, which governed white high schools during the PVIL and now oversees all Texas high schools.
“I feel like I had been writing since adolescence because I grew up with it,” Hurd said. “I started my journalism career at the University of Texas. Being a sportswriter, every time I would cover a game, I would look to to see if there were any players from the Prairie View Interscholastic League schools.
“It stayed on my mind for the longest time. I finally said, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this.’ I attended a PVIL Coaches Association Hall of Fame banquet. It was a group of former black high school coaches and players. That was in 2007 and I was overwhelmed because it was such a positive thing, such a good thing, all of these guys finally getting some recognition. So when I went down to write it, it took me about three or four years off and on.”
Much of that time was spent traveling around the state, talking to former players and coaches and collecting artifacts.
A graduate of Houston Worthing, a PVIL school at the time, Hurd went on to UT. He left before completing his bachelor’s degree, but returned to Austin to receive it after his time at the Houston Post.
At the Houston Post, he covered small college football, primarily the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which was made up of Texas’ black colleges. That beat produced his first book, “Black College Football: 1892-1992.”
While he has written a few other books as well, none are as extensive as Thursday Night Lights. Because he was a witness to much that he wrote about, the story of the PVIL and segregation involving Texas high schools and high school football was a natural topic.
“I grew up on the fringes of the end of segregation and the the beginning of integration,” Hurd said. “Every school I attended was segregated, all black students and faculty, administration and all coaches and athletes.
“My first exposure to high school football came as a student at Worthing in southeast Houston, cheering for the mighty green and gold, Worthing’s colors. Back then, I never really new about the PVIL.”
The PVIL ran from 1920 to 1970 and produced not only college standouts, but NFL stars as well.
Jerry LeVias played at Beaumont Hebert High School before breaking the Southwest Conference’s color barrier at SMU. Eldridge Dickey was a fantastic quarterback. Temple Dunbar had “Mean” Joe Greene, a defensive force who would become a household name in America in the 1970s while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At one time, the most-attended high school sporting event in the country was a PVIL game. The rivalry between Houston’s Yates and Wheatley drew standing-room-only crowds every Thanksgiving Day when they would meet on the field.
At its peak, the PVIL more than 500 member schools, Hurd said. Only eight of those remain, four in Houston.
“The league created passionate school rivalries and enthusiastic competition that featured outstanding students,” Hurd said.
Hurd’s book is loaded with stories about the PVIL and its players, including how even if a black school had the money for an overnight trip for its football team, it wouldn’t be able to pull it off. The black schools in West Texas faced extremely long road trips, and booking a hotel was not an option because the hotels in the majority of the towns didn’t accommodate minorities.
Players would get back from games at 4 or 5 a.m. and be in class a few hours later.
As the 1960s came to a close, so did the PVIL. As schools in Texas became integrated, the black schools began to shut down. The integrated schools were members of the UIL and there was no need for the PVIL anymore.
But it is an important part of Texas history and Hurd hopes the legacy of the league and its players and coaches lives on through his book.