Uvalde's 1972 state champ football team reunites to relive 'magical' season 50 years later

In the wake of tragedy, the reunion is "a ray of sunshine in the darkness."

September 4, 2022, 6:01 AM

UVALDE, Texas -- As cheers roared through the stands of the Honey Bowl Stadium in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday night, it was a flashback 50 years in the making for some men on the sidelines.

PHOTO: The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News
PHOTO: The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News

Before May 24, the most memorable event in Uvalde was winning the 1972 high school football state championship. The teenagers became local celebrities, and this weekend, those champions, now in their late 60s, returned home to Uvalde for a 50th anniversary celebration.

PHOTO: Members of the 1972 championship team reunite at Uvalde’s first home home of the season, Sept 2, 2022, Uvalde, Texas.
Members of the 1972 championship team reunite at Uvalde’s first home home of the season, Sept 2, 2022, Uvalde, Texas.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News
PHOTO: Students of Uvalde High School class of 1972 reunite.
Students of Uvalde High School class of 1972 reunite.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News

The tight-knit championship team grew up together, from grade school to high school, '72 player Buck Lanning told ABC News.

"We had a real good class. ... We were running the same plays and same program that we'd been doing since junior high," Lanning, 67, said. "We didn't have any real stars. Uvalde had just a real good set of athletes -- every position we had good players."

PHOTO: Buck Lanning of the 1972 championship Uvalde football team takes the field on Sept 2, 2022.
Buck Lanning of the 1972 championship Uvalde football team takes the field on Sept 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News

He stressed the team's camaraderie, recalling a time he got into some youthful trouble, and the coaches wanted the mystery culprit to "fess up."

"I didn't fess up. And they're like, 'Alright, the whole team is gonna run punishment drills.' The whole team were in punishment drills for me," he said.

Lanning said the coaches told them, "Until we get the culprit on this, we're gonna run every day."

PHOTO: Undated photos of the 1972 Uvalde football team.
Undated photos of the 1972 Uvalde football team.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News

Uvalde:365 is a continuing ABC News series reported from Uvalde and focused on the Texas community and how it forges on in the shadow of tragedy.

Years later, Lanning said the coaches told him they were impressed that the boys were "willing to sacrifice for each other."

Lanning called the '72 season "magical," and said they "played some real good teams."

PHOTO: Members of the 1972 championship team reunite at Uvalde’s first home home of the season, Sept 2, 2022, Uvalde, Texas.
Members of the 1972 championship team reunite at Uvalde’s first home home of the season, Sept 2, 2022, Uvalde, Texas.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News

Carla Hamilton Gerdes of the class of '72 was on Uvalde's dance team.

At the championship, she said, "The first time we went onto the field in Austin -- Memorial Stadium -- our mouths hung open. To be in something that huge was amazing."

After the win, "We were all down on that field -- it was one big ol' party!" Gerdes said.

The 1972 team was honored during halftime at Friday's high school football game, the first home game of the season.

PHOTO: Members of the 1972 championship team reunite at Uvalde’s first home home of the season, Sept 2, 2022, Uvalde, Texas.
Members of the 1972 championship team reunite at Uvalde’s first home home of the season, Sept 2, 2022, Uvalde, Texas.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News
PHOTO: The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News

"For those guys to come back and talk to our kids -- and a bunch of them still live in the community -- they're just great guys," current Uvalde football coach Wade Miller said. "We want to honor them and play well."

On Saturday, the '72 champs served as Grand Marshalls of Uvalde's Palomino Fest parade. Then came their biggest event of the weekend: a replay of the championship game at the Uvalde High School auditorium. Players brought their wives, children and grandchildren to experience the "magic."

PHOTO: Families watch the Uvalde 1972 football championship at the Uvalde High School auditorium Sept. 3, 2022.
Families watch the Uvalde 1972 football championship at the Uvalde High School auditorium Sept. 3, 2022.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News
PHOTO: The 1972 state championship Uvalde football team reunited at Uvalde High School Sept 3, 2022.
The 1972 state championship Uvalde football team reunited at Uvalde High School Sept 3, 2022.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News
PHOTO: Relatives of Uvalde high school’s 1972 football players check out archival photos Sept, 3, 2022.
Relatives of Uvalde high school’s 1972 football players check out archival photos Sept, 3, 2022.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News

Randy Gerdes of the '72 team didn't have to recount the historic season to his wife -- she lived it. Becky Gerdes, who was on Uvalde's drill team, has been with Randy since high school. The couple has two children and four grandchildren. She said she encouraged her husband to come back to town for the reunion.

PHOTO: Families watch the Uvalde 1972 football championship at the Uvalde High School auditorium Sept. 3, 2022.
Families watch the Uvalde 1972 football championship at the Uvalde High School auditorium Sept. 3, 2022.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News

The nostalgia brought a heartwarming reason to smile in the wake of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School that claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

"It's still hurting me every day," '72 football player Carlos "Charlie" Ramos said of the massacre.

PHOTO: Carlos "Charlie" Ramos of the 1972 championship Uvalde football team takes the field on Sept 2, 2022.
Carlos "Charlie" Ramos of the 1972 championship Uvalde football team takes the field on Sept 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News
PHOTO: Charlie Ramos, member of the 1972 state champ Uvalde football team, pictured in an undated photo.
Charlie Ramos, member of the 1972 state champ Uvalde football team, pictured in an undated photo.
Emily Shapiro/ABC News

One of the children killed at Robb, 10-year-old Tess Mata, was a family friend, he said.

"But we've got to continue, we’ve got to be strong and we’ve got to keep going," 69-year-old Ramos said.

PHOTO: The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News

Ramos, who still lives in Uvalde where he owns an auto body shop, said football taught him to not be afraid of a challenge.

"It's an encouraging game. It's a challenging game. You got to be smart and physical," Ramos said. "I've had some difficulties and I just kept on going, and think I've done pretty good."

PHOTO: The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
The Uvalde High School Coyotes played and won their first home game of the season in Uvalde, Texas, Sept. 2, 2022.
Kat Caulderwood/ABC News

Lanning added, "Our coaches commanded a lot of respect. You had to work hard. ... It carried through the rest of my life. It was ingrained."

Through tears, Lanning said he hopes the reunion is "a ray of sunshine in the darkness."

ABC News' Kat Caulderwood contributed to this report.

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