By Will McClure
On January 18th, the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame announced its inductees for the 2017 Hall of Fame class, with the formal ceremony taking place Monday, May 1st at the Abilene Convention Center. Among the seven individuals in line for this prestigious honor is a name that is familiar to the citizens of Stamford in former SHS head coach Larry Wartes. Wartes is currently one of three Stamford head coaches to have led the Bulldogs to a State championship along with Gordon Wood, whom he coached under, and Wayne Hutchinson, and will be the third Stamford head coach to be inducted to the Hall of Fame after Wood and Bill Anderson. With his posthumous induction a few short months away, we take the time to look back on the life and career of former Stamford coach Larry Wartes.
Born August 30, 1929 to W.O. and Audley Wartes, Larry Wartes had a lifelong love of sports. After his family moved to Amarillo when he was 12, Wartes would eventually join the Maverick Boys Club in 1943 and attend Amarillo High School where he played basketball and led his team to state tournaments in 1946 and 1947. Wartes received a basketball scholarship from Hardin-Simmons University where he played on the baseball team as well. It was there that he met his wife, Lera Joyce Hale, whom his married on March 22, 1951 at Calvary Baptist Church in Lubbock. Shortly after graduating from Hardin-Simmons, Wartes began his coaching career in 1951 in Meadow, TX. Wartes then made the move in 1955 to Stamford to become head basketball coach and assistant football coach under Coach Gordon Wood.
"I could tell he had a winning attitude the first time I met him," said Wood in his autobiography, Coach of the Century. "That was when I interviewed him in my office during the summer of '55...During the '54-'55 school year, Wartes coached at Stanton, Texas, but he was looking for something better. After we talked, I was so impressed I insisted he meet with L.W. Johnson, Stamford's superintendent. Superintendent Johnson was similarly affected by the young coach's credentials and charismatic personality. He gave me his blessing to hire Wartes." Although Wartes impressed both Coach Wood and Superintendent Johnson, he was hesitant to commit to Stamford at first for two reasons, one of which concerned his status as head basketball coach.
Wartes knew that Wood loved basketball and had coached the team to three district championships, leading other coaches to warn him that Wood would constantly interfere. Coach Wood assured him that he would let Wartes coach in his own style. Wartes was also concerned with the salary offered by Stamford, which would be $200 less than he would have received from Hamlin. Wood told him that if he were only in coaching for the money, then he would need to quit coaching, telling him that money should be the least important thing on his mind but he'd rather he measure how happy he would be by the team's chances of winning. After Wartes said that he would take a couple of days to think about it and left to return to his home in Abilene, he only made it to Anson before calling Wood to accept the job. Coach Wood commented that hiring Wartes was one of the finest decisions that he had ever made, saying that Wartes made him a better coach.
Wartes' first year at Stamford proved to be a historic one for the Bulldogs as they would go undefeated that season to clinch their first State championship, followed by a second the next year. Wartes would help continue the Bulldogs' success on the basketball court with two more district championships, with the Bulldogs only losing one district game in the 1955 season. After three years as assistant coach, Wartes ended up taking over for Coach Wood who left at the end of the 1957 season, but would not disappoint in his very first season, going 13-1-1 to capture Stamford's third state championship in four years, repeating the feat in 1959 for Stamford's fourth and last State championship for over 50 years.
Wartes kept his optimistic attitude throughout the rest of his tenure at Stamford, asking for the support and encouragement from the community for the team. In 1963, before their season-opener against Quanah, Wartes said, "Don't criticize the boys. Any mistakes they make are human. If you want to criticize anyone, criticize the coaches. They get paid to take it...Criticism hurts the boys. They put in long hours working out and put their whole heart into the game." Wartes' leadership would help the Bulldogs earn two more District and Bi-District titles along with a Regional Championship in 1964 before he would leave Stamford after the 1966 season.
After Stamford, Wartes moved to Hereford, TX in 1967 to take over as athletic director and head football coach, soon becoming assistant superintendent in 1971 and holding the position until his retirement in 1988 with a football coaching record of 97-47-4. Wartes was inducted into the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Honor in 1975 as well as the Hardin-Simmons University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.
Outside of coaching, Wartes served as a deacon, Sunday school teacher and on other church committees for First Baptist Church in Hereford for more than 40 years, maintaining his friendly, optimistic, and charismatic personality no matter who he met. Coach Larry Wartes passed away at the age of 80 on September 1, 2009 in Hereford.
And so, with over 20 years as a coach, Coach Larry Wartes let his love of sports shine during his 11 years at Stamford, seeing the Bulldogs to four State championships as an assistant coach as well as a head coach. Even though Coach Wartes is no longer with us, his impact on the Bulldog program will never be forgotten as he joins his fellow coaches Gordon Wood and Bill Anderson as he takes his rightful place as part of the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
Editor's Note: A special "thank you" goes to Sandra Rhea and the Stamford Cowboy Country Museum for help in the gathering some of the information for this story.