West Orange, Texas – One of the most difficult decisions a person must make when they love what they’re doing is when to shut it down and call it a career.

Dan Hooks has contemplated that dilemma for the last decade or so, but just couldn’t step over the line and decide that the time has come.

Last Friday started off just like any other final school day of the week, except that right after Coach Hooks cleared the sleep from his eyes, he felt like the time was right, after discussing it with members of his family.

The 72-year-old dean of Texas high school football coaches informed the administration of the West Orange-Cove ISD that after June 30, 2011 his well-deserved retirement from West Orange-Stark High School would become effective.

Besides everyone in his family believing the time was right, the school district also threw in a tasty carrot of its own in the form of a 10 per cent bonus on his annual salary, which was upward of the $80,000 plateau.

I was fortunate enough to be covering local sports since before the two schools (Lutcher Stark High School and West Orange High School) merged to become West Orange-Stark High School. So I’ve covered the entire head coaching career of Dan Ray Hooks and even when he was an assistant to the first Mustang head coach Steve McCarty in 1977.

Hooks became the Mustangs’ head coach when McCarty left to be closer to his hometown of Nacogdoches in 1981 and became athletic director at Stephen F. Austin University.

Since that time, all Hooks has done was win 17 district championships, two Class 4A state championships, was the state champion runner-up twice, posted a 277-71-2 record for a .795 winning percentage—the best in the state over the last half-century—and a 37-19 record in the post-season.

Hooks also had eight undefeated regular seasons including the 15-0 record when the Mustangs won the state championship in 1987. And to top it all off, he probably was the only person in the world who was able to coach  football games in a stadium named after him.

Hooks stepped into a unique situation when he came to West Orange-Stark High School. A majority of the youngsters hopeful of being a Mustang football player already had a good work ethic passed on from a parent or another member of the family who had gone through the program.

In addition Hooks has helped turn thousands of boys into men through his football program, with hundreds able to reach the next level as college football players.

Kevin Smith played on three Super Bowl winning teams with the Dallas Cowboys, Chris Cole played several seasons with the Denver Broncos and Earl Thomas just finished his rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks.

Several of Hooks’ assistant coaches and a few of his former players went on to make a name for themselves as high school football coaches.

In all those years, I’ve always gotten to visit with Coach Hooks whenever I needed some copy. And believe me, he would give you all you asked for and then some. It was like a sportswriter’s dream come true.

It didn’t matter if the same question had been asked 20 times before I asked it, Coach Hooks would answer it like it was the first time he heard the question.

I remember quite a few years ago after the Mustangs finished the regular season and were getting ready for the bidistrict playoffs asking Coach Hooks when it would be convenient to get a scouting report on the first playoff opponent.

“Why don’t you come by tomorrow morning when we’re going over some of their game films,” he responded. “That way you can see some of the formations, plays and defenses they run.”

That invitation began somewhat of a ritual that lasted through last season about me going to the Mustangs’ field house the morning after the last playoff game to get a scouting report on the next foe. We were both superstitious enough to believe this ritual was the key to the Mustangs’ playoff successes.

Back in the late 1970’s and 80’s when I was still a young adult, we were allowed to use the West Orange Junior High gymnasium on Monday and Wednesday nights for open volleyball.

Somebody put some heat on the school board at the time that we should be charged a user’s fee and Hooks came to our defense and said that we had permission to use the facility for free under a “grandfather’s clause.”

Today there are a bunch of senior citizens very thankful and in good health because of the exercise we got playing volleyball twice a week for so many years.

Whoever follows Coach Hooks as the new Mustangs head football coach will be filling some gigantic shoes. I only hope that this person is already very familiar with the West Orange-Stark Mustang football program.

KWICKIES…Sunset Grove golfer Steve Toal recorded his second hole-in-one in less than six months when he aced the 143-yard Par 3, No. 12 hole using a seven iron last week. He was presented a check for $200 by the Men’s Golfing Association for being an MGA member making a hole-in-one.

Orange’s Brittney Scott closed out a brilliant four-year career at the University of Houston by scoring a team-high 24 points in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament’s opening round Sunday that was won by West Virginia 79-73.

The Lamar baseball team overpowered Central Arkansas 15-5 in the rubber game of the three-game series Sunday improving their record to 16-7 for the season and 5-1 in Southland Conference action. The Cardinals hosted Rice Tuesday in a 6:30 p.m. game at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont.

Former Texas A&M and Kentucky head basketball coach Billy Gillespie was hired by Texas Tech last weekend replacing Pat Knight, who was fired earlier this month. Gillespie was fired in 2009 after his Wildcats went 40-27 in his two seasons, but failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years. He agreed to a five-year contract with the Red Raiders.

Several NFL teams are making their employees take pay cuts and work furloughs because of the owners’ lockout of the players. However Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair says he will not do that unless games are canceled and the team has to refund money for tickets and then he said he’ll look at it.

All the No. 1 seeds except Pittsburgh made it to the Sweet Sixteen round of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Pitt probably did it to themselves by committing a foul in the final second of a game that was tied 70-70 and losing by a point to Butler. The Texas Longhorns were bounced Sunday by Arizona 70-69 thanks to a couple of missed calls by the refs in the final 15 seconds. I still like Kansas to defeat Richmond and the winner between Virginia Commonwealth and Florida State and make it to the Final Four and then win it all!!!

JUST BETWEEN US…For the 100th anniversary of the University Interscholastic League two high school basketball teams were honored at this year’s state tournament—the 1961 Wheatley and undefeated 1961 Buna teams. Every member of the Buna team was present in Austin including former Orange County coaches Melvin Ellison and Jimmy Burke.
Other members of the Buna team coached by the renowned M. N. (Cotton) Robinson were seniors Ellison, Burke, Gary Stancil, Billy Kirkpatrick, juniors Raymond Cleveland, James Simmons, Pete Hillin, John Allen Hatch, Herbert Ross and senior manager Mac Gibson.