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Features

December 10, 2012

The story of ‘Fighting Joe’ Hamrick

player under coach Henry frnka left lasting legacy of his own

GREENVILLE — From state championship to national championship

When asked to rank Greenville High School football teams, coach Henry Frnka’s 1933 state championship team inevitably tops the list.

Frnka instilled in his players a desire not only to perform well on the field, but in life as well. One of those players was captain and guard of that famed championship team, and went on to be an award winning coach like his mentor, join the armed services during World War II and become an ordained minister. His name was Joseph Leonard Hamrick Sr.

Hamrick played guard for the high school team from 1931 to 33, and attended Northeast Oklahoma Junior College after graduation. He was elected captain of the Jr. College football team the following year, but he instead elected to accept a scholarship to play for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. in 1936.

Hamrick was a blocking back for the team and was given the official nickname “Fighting Joe” when they claimed the national championship in 1936.

The legend of the last Woodchuck

The Hunt County native was now looking for work, so he went with his sister and her husband to a pastor in Fort Worth who was well known for predicting the future. If people had a question, they were asked to attach a quarter to a piece of paper and write their question down.

“I see a man with horned-rim glasses, smoking a cigar and offering you a job,” the pastor told Hamrick. “And I see you pouring over figures.”

Hamrick went to his home in Winnsboro where he received a knock on his door one afternoon. He opened to find the superintendent of Winnsboro ISD standing on the porch, wearing his horned-rim glasses, smoking a cigar and offering him the coaching job for the Winnsboro High School football team and also be a part-time math teacher.

Hamrick coached the team to a winning season in 1940, and was well known and beloved throughout the small town.

Things changed in 1941, when he felt a need to join the Texas Army National Guard in May of 1941, just seven months before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Hamrick knew his team would be distraught, so during the Oct. 17, 1941, game against Mount Vernon, he made a surprise visit to the newly named Red Raiders team, which was trailing at the half.

As the players were waiting for the second half to begin, a large figure dressed in an Army uniform walked up and silently shook each of the players hands before leaving. Looking back as he walked away, he said in a soft voice, “Fellows, you can do it.”

The final score of that game: Winnsboro 20, Mount Vernon 14.

Love at first sight

Hamrick was called up and stationed in Oregon to guard the West Coast from possible infiltration by the Japanese.

While he was stationed there, he attended a party thrown by a lady who empathised with the soldiers who were far away from home. On walking up to the door, he saw a young woman pinning names on men as they came in.

“You see that woman there,” he said to his fellow officer beside him. “I’m going to marry her.”

Hamrick spent the evening playing Ping-Pong and getting to know his new friend, the future Mrs. Audrey Hamrick. They began dating soon after, were engaged after three weeks and married after three months.

Three Valley ‘Coaches of the Year’ are selected

After the war, Hamrick took his wife and two children, Joe Jr., 4, and Jeneane, 2, to the Texas Valley where he was head coach of the Donna Redskins high school football team.

During his five-year stint as head coach, Hamrick led his team to several district titles, and was named coach of the year in the late 40’s. Hamrick added to Trinity staff

Hamrick was asked to be assistant coach of Trinity University in 1952 by his Greenville teammate W. A. McElreath. Hamrick coached there for one year before leaving to be the head coach of the Harlingen, Texas high school football team, where he would stay as head coach until his oldest son, Joe Jr., graduated high school in 1961.

In his years as head coach, Hamrick was named ‘Coach of the Decade’ in the Texas Valley.

Pastoral credentials

On July 23, 1961, Hamrick became an ordained minister and lived in Sulphur Springs for eight years before moving back to his birthplace in Winnsboro in 1971, where he led the preaching at Hopewell Primitive Baptist Church. His favorite hymn, “O for a Closer Walk with God,” is still sung in remembrance of him within the small church doors today.

Hamrick preached for more than 20 years, before his heart began to fail.

A legend passes

On Dec. 21, 1987, the longest night of the year, Hamrick died at 74 years

of age.

Three months prior to his death, Hamrick lived to see what he said he was longing to see before he died.

On Aug. 15, 1987, Joseph Hamrick III, son of Joe Hamrick Jr., was born. I am that grandson.

Before his death, Hamrick, like his mentor Frnka, left a lasting imprint on the field and off, that is still felt to this day.

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