Floyd Betts was not the first coach at Temple High School when he was brought onto campus 100 years ago, but he was the first to be hired to do just that.
Before Betts’ arrival, coaching duties were handled by administrators. Jim Head, the school principal at the time, served as a coach for a decade until it became time to bring in someone who could devote his full attention to the burgeoning sports climate in Temple and throughout the state.
While it’s the 100th anniversary of Temple hiring its first full-time coach, it’s also been a century since the Wildcats became known as the Wildcats.
Mascots have provided an identity to teams of all sports at all levels since there have been team sports. But it wasn’t automatic in the first quarter of the 20th century. High school teams were primarily known by the name of the town or school. Now, when new schools such as Lake Belton High School are becoming established, a mascot is among the first things to be determined so that colors and trademark logos can be rolled out and factored into the construction and marketing process.
Officials representing Lake Belton, which is set to open next fall, settled on Broncos after multiple committee meetings and public opinion sessions. Such a process was not so much the case in 1919. Schools had been in place for years without a mascot.
Every school, if it can be unearthed, has a story about the origins of its mascot. Some are entertaining to the point of folklore while others came about unexpectedly without much ado.
The latter defines how Temple became forever known as the Wildcats.
Betts served as the head coach for football and other sports from 1919-1922 before leaving to start the football program at Dallas Highland Park. which means he was on the ground floor of two of the top three winningest programs in Texas history.
While in Temple, Betts is solely credited with making Wildcats the mascot. It evolved from an otherwise innocuous need to put an emblem on blankets and to keep up with the Joneses next door. Not long before, Belton had adopted Tigers as its mascot.
In a 1950s-era interview with longtime Telegram sports writer Woody Montgomery, Betts revealed how Temple’s mascot came to be.
Blankets were something of a forerunner to letter jackets and many of the schools presented them to players as gifts at the end of the football season with winter approaching. Following the 1919 season, Temple officials wanted to do the same for their athletes. The school didn’t have the funds to do so, but a pitch was made to local businessmen to contribute, which they did.
“When I went to order the blankets they had to have an emblem,” recalled Betts, who after five stellar seasons at Highland Park later went on to become president of Port Arthur College and then director of continuing education at SMU. “So as Belton was called the Tigers, I decided to have a Wildcat put on our blankets. And Temple teams have made the name Wildcats well known in the state.”
Obviously, it caught on, even though it was an off-the-cuff response to a blanket manufacturer and to Temple’s closest rival. The original Waco High, another huge Temple rival, also was the Tigers. So, cats were cool in 1919.
Betts not only created the Wildcats name, but built Temple’s first true football stadium, Woodson Field. The Marlin native taught English and physical education classes during the day, coached football and other seasonal sports after school, and looked after injured players at night. Betts and his P.E. classes in 1920 used their class time to build the stadium on land donated by D.R. Woodson with it later being named for Woodson’s late son.
Having a coach devoted to athletics vastly increased the participation. It couldn’t have hurt, either, to have a mascot name to entice the desire to play. Betts only had 12 players out for football in his debut season. By the time he exited about 100 come out to play and junior high programs were in place at Reagan and Central. Betts’ four Temple teams went 29-6-3.
The precise birth date of Temple becoming known as the Wildcats — and Belton turning into Tigers for that matter — is unclear. No matter. Neither Willie the Wildcat nor Tigo the Tiger are any worse for the wear 100 years later.