By: Mary Lou LeCompte

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 19, 2021

Texas sports have enjoyed a national reputation since Texas cowboys became famous in the pioneer days of rodeos. Today the state is best known for its high school football, although other sports long preceded these. Eighteenth and early nineteenth century travelers left vivid accounts of the sports and amusements of Spanish Texas, but nothing about the activities of the Indians. Indians competed in sports with Anglos and Hispanics, or both. Subsequently, numerous racial and ethnic groups introduced their sports to Texas, but by World War I the Anglo majority had established hegemony and Texas sports resembled those of the rest of the United States. Texas high school football gained widespread fame for the fanaticism of its followers, the numbers of Texas players competing at colleges across the nation, and good press. For many years, Southwest Conference football also enjoyed a national reputation for excellence. As the conference declined, however, fan interest shifted to the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers of the National Football League. Those teams, along with the state's other professional franchises, generated over $250 million in 1992.

The most formalized Hispanic sport was the corrida or bullfight, which arrived in the New World with rules and rituals intact. Although it underwent many changes in New Spain, the bullfight retained its essential character and marked most fiestas and holy days. The Spanish governor of Texas issued a proclamation in 1810 that included specifications for the location of a bullring. Although outlawed by the Texas legislature in 1891, the sport continued to flourish along the borders well into the twentieth century. Cockfighting was also popular, as was horse racing. Of greatest interest to early Anglo writers, however, were the equestrian games and contests of charrería, the Mexican rodeo. Developed in conjunction with corridas and with ranching, the activities became a major pastime in Spanish Texas.

Anglo Texans, particularly the Texas Rangers, not only observed Hispanic sports but also participated. Rangers competed against Hispanics and sometimes Comanches in horse racing, bronc busting, roping, and the famous correr el gallo or chicken race. Other charro contests included riding bulls and wrestling bulls to the ground by grabbing their tails. Though bullfights and public festivals helped popularize these activities, their diffusion into Anglo culture was most rapid in the cattle business. As Anglo, Hispanic, and African-American cowboys worked the cattle and drove them to market, they adopted the lingo, skills, and sports of the vaquero, thus laying the foundation for American rodeo.

Horse racing, the first really organized Anglo-Texan sport, developed almost immediately after the Texas Revolution. By importing expensive horses and forming jockey clubs, wealthy citizens of the republic soon formed a racing circuit along the Gulf Coast. Velasco, Houston, and Galveston all had rather elaborate tracks where legal betting flourished. Tracks also operated in North and East Texas. As more and more affluent Texans imported and raised thoroughbred horses, however, increased state taxes on the animals made the costs prohibitive. Many tracks closed, and Texans turned their attention to the popular frontier-style match races, on which taxes had little impact. These short, two-horse road races, similar to the charro races, soon became the norm. In 1937 the legislature outlawed betting on horse racing in Texas, thus completely shutting down the remaining thoroughbred tracks, but not the breeding of fine horses. Assault, a King Ranch horse, won the Triple Crown in 1946.

Germans introduced gymnastics to Texas in the mid-nineteenth century through their turnvereins (gymnastics clubs). These organizations also provided community services such as volunteer fire companies and entertained both the public and themselves with elaborate gymnastic exhibitions. However, later generations of German Texans, though they enjoyed the social benefits of the turnvereins, lost interest in gymnastics, and many of the clubs took up bowling, which was already popular among other German-Texan organizations. They introduced nine-pin bowling, which continues in isolated Texas turnvereins today, but some of the group went on to organize the Texas Ten Pin League, which still regulates mainstream bowling in Texas. Like the turnvereins, the sokol, a gymnastic club brought by Czechs to the state, served a variety of other functions in the Czech communities. Unlike the turners, the sokols have remained true to their original mission and are engaged in gymnastics today. German Texans also formed Schützenvereine or shooting clubs, which sponsored the most highly organized of the many shooting contests around the state. By midcentury almost every community had some sort of gun club. Most held annual shooting tournaments and regularly scheduled matches against neighboring towns.

The exact date for the introduction of modern New York Rules baseball into Texas has eluded scholars for half a century. Games probably occurred before the Civil War, and clubs existed in Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio by 1867. Most early clubs grew out of other organizations such as hook-and-ladder companies or turnvereins. In Texas as elsewhere almost every community had at least one baseball club by the 1890s. Many Texas towns had three teams, one Black, one Hispanic, one White. Each played its counterparts in neighboring communities, but never one another. Recruiting of skilled out-of-town players became commonplace when winning surpassed camaraderie and social benefits as the primary goal. Even after the introduction of professional baseball, town teams prospered through World War I; thereafter high school and college teams gradually replaced them. Traveling professional athletes also entertained the public with contests and exhibitions of boxing, wrestling, weight lifting, and fancy rope twirling. Little is known about women's participation in any of these activities. There are a few records of women's baseball games in the 1880s, and by the 1890s sokols and turnvereins opened their gymnastics programs to women. Organizations such as the University Interscholastic League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the major leagues gradually surpassed local individuals and groups in organizing and conducting Texas sports. None of these organizations offered opportunities for women or African Americans until after World War II.

Texas high school and college sports began in the unregulated environment of the nineteenth century, and football soon proved to be king at all levels of competition. Texas high school players ultimately achieved a reputation that brought college recruiters from throughout the nation. During the twentieth century, big-time college sports came under the umbrellas of the SWC and the NCAA, while other schools formed their own conferences. The UIL attempted to control sports at the high school level, with mixed results. The biggest issues facing all these sports programs were academic integrity, racial integration, and gender equity, in that order. During the early years, high school football teams were often composed of semiprofessionals who represented their home town or neighborhood, with few if any high school students in the lineups. The UIL attempted to change that and provide fair competition for legitimate students. They faced a long struggle against overage students, questionable scholastic records, and all-out recruiting battles between towns. The UIL grew out of the 1913 merger of two organizations, and operated as part of the University of Texas at Austin. In 1919, the UIL inserted the word "White" in its membership standards. The following year Black teachers founded the Texas Interscholastic League of Colored Schools. In 1923 the TILCS came under the authority of Prairie View A&M College, thereby becoming the Prairie View Interscholastic League. By 1951 the UIL offered state championships in boy's track, football, basketball, baseball, and golf and in girl's basketball. The PVIL staged state championship games in football, basketball, baseball, and track. At its peak, the UIL enrolled 6,000 schools, the PVIL 500. After a protracted struggle, the UIL dropped the color barrier in 1965, and the PVIL ceased operations four years later. Under the leadership of Roy Bedichek, Rodney Kidd, Rhea Williams, and Bailey Marshall, the UIL grew to national prominence; today it enrolls approximately 1,100 schools and sponsors nine sports each for boys and girls, in addition to contests in other educational and cultural endeavors such as music.

Though college sports organizations also faced problems with eligibility and illegal payments, they lacked any real enforcement powers until the 1950s. Before World War I several prominent Texas colleges belonged to the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, which did little to regulate their sports. Rampant abuses led L. T. Bellmont, University of Texas athletic director, to contact his counterparts throughout the Southwest and ask them to help form a conference to raise the integrity of their programs and foster competition with teams from other conferences. Bellmont envisioned wide geographic diversity. Thus the original 1914 meeting to form what became the SWC attracted representatives from four states-Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas-although membership soon dwindled to two states. SWC schools won six national football titles. Coaches Dana X. Bible of Texas A&M and the University of Texas, W. M. (Matty) Bell of SMU, O. H. (Abe) Martin of TCU and Paul "Bear" Bryant of Texas A&M also gained national prominence and increased the conference's status. In the late 1960s, Darrell Royal of the University of Texas caused a national sensation with the introduction of the wishbone formation. An important element in SWC growth was its agreement in 1940 with the four-year-old Cotton Bowl game, whereby the conference champion became the host team. In the 1960 game Syracuse University defeated the University of Texas to capture the mythical national crown. That title was decided at the Cotton Bowl five times over the next eleven years. Eleven Heisman Trophy winners have played in the Cotton Bowl, including five Texans playing for SWC teams.

Two of them, Earl Campbell and Andre Ware, both African Americans, represented the vast change that began in 1964, when the first African-American athletes at the University of Texas competed in a track meet. The first football scholarship awarded a Black player in the SWC went to Jerry LeVias of SMU in 1968, and integration in the conference continued slowly thereafter. The battle for equality was not won when Congress passed Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, officially outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex in schools receiving federal funding. Women's leaders were quick to highlight the financial disparities in athletics, and officials faced a mandate to offer competition for women. Although the numbers of women's teams at all levels increased almost immediately, real equality remained a problem. In 1993, when Black athletes constituted a majority of the players in college football and basketball, Texas women were still appealing to the federal courts for equal access to intercollegiate sports.

The glory days of the SWC and its bowl began to wane in the 1980s. Problems exacerbated in 1987, when the NCAA shut down SMU's athletic program because of rule violations. To date, SMU is the only school to receive the "death penalty," although the University of Houston, TCU, and Texas A&M all received NCAA sanctions of varying degrees of severity. The resulting scandals hurt recruiting and the reputation of the conference, which the University of Arkansas quit in 1990. These events, along with changes in television policies relating to both professional and amateur sports, set off a chain reaction during the 1993–94 school year. Four SWC teams (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor) defected to the Big Eight to form the new Big Twelve Conference; the Cotton Bowl game went with them. Since the University of Houston expressed no interest in the SWC that remained, Rice, TCU, and SMU joined the Western Athletic Conference. The newly enlarged conferences are to begin play in the fall of 1996. Houston eventually joined with several other universities to form a new league, Conference USA. The old SWC was a member of NCAA Division I (I-A in football). Other Texas colleges formed their own conferences. Those affiliated with the NCAA are in Divisions I-AA, II or III, depending on size and athletics budgets. The smallest colleges belong to the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics. The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women began regulating women's sports in 1971 and continued for ten years. Women's and men's programs are now governed by the same agencies in each institution.

Texas colleges in all organizations and divisions combined have won twenty-one football crowns, while men's and women's teams combined have captured thirty-nine national track and field championships and twenty-six golf titles. At the opposite end, only three basketball teams, one men's (UTEP, 1966) and two women's (UT Austin, 1986, and Texas Tech, 1992), have captured an NCAA Division I basketball championship. The victory by the Texas Tech women, all but one of them native Texans, was the school's first national championship. Tech star Sheryl Swoopes set a record for the most points in an NCAA tournament game by a man or woman, and won five prestigious national awards including the Babe Didrikson Award and the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year prize. The 1966 men's champions from UTEP were the first team to start five African Americans (one Texan) in the title game. By defeating the all-White team from Kentucky, they helped end both segregation and racial quota systems in college basketball. The most successful college coaches and teams have included the University of Houston, with sixteen national golf championships, all coached by Dave Williams, and UTEP, with thirteen NCAA Division I men's track and field titles under Ted Banks. Abilene Christian University has won fifteen NCAA Division II men's and women's track and field titles. Texas A&I won seven NAIA Division I football championships between 1956 and 1979, six of them coached by Gil Steinke, whose teams also won thirty-nine consecutive games. Jim Wacker coached Texas Lutheran College to two football titles in NAIA Division II, and Southwest Texas State to two in NCAA Division II. Unlike the NCAA's Division I-A, where national polls select the football champions, those teams won their titles through championship tournaments. The University of Texas at Austin has won twelve men's and women's swimming championships. Alfred "Red" Barr coached SMU to a record seventeen SWC swimming titles, including fifteen in a row, and produced fifty All American swimmers and divers. Under coaches W. J. (Uncle Billy) Disch, Bibb A. Falk, and Cliff Gustafson, UT Austin teams have won sixty-two SWC and four NCAA baseball championships and made a record twenty-seven appearances in the College World Series.

Since World War II, at least eighty-one athletes who were either born in Texas or lived in the state at the time of their competition, have won Olympic gold medals. They represent eleven different sports, with track and field, the premier Olympic sport, having the largest number. The first famous Texas Olympian was Babe (Mildred Didrikson) Zaharias of Beaumont. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, she captured two gold medals and one silver and set a world record in the hurdles. Louise Ritter, a graduate of Texas Woman's University, won the gold medal in the high jump at the 1988 games and set a new Olympic record. Bobby Morrow of San Benito won more than eighty track and field titles for Abilene Christian College before capturing three golds at the 1956 Olympics. Rafer Johnson, a Hillsboro native, held several national and world records and won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Decathlon. He also had the honor of carrying the United States flag in the opening ceremonies in 1960, and lit the Olympic torch at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Fred Hanson of Rice University was world record holder and 1964 Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault. Randy Matson of Kilgore, Pampa, and Texas A&M, one of the all-time greats in shot put and discus, captured Olympic gold in the shot put in 1968. One of the youngest gold medalists was Johnny (Lam) Jones of Lampasas. By setting several records in UIL track and field meets, he qualified for the 1976 Olympics and was a member of the gold medal 4 X 100 relay team. Certainly one of the most famous American track and field athletes in recent memory is Carl Lewis. Although born in Alabama, Lewis ran track at the University of Houston and subsequently lived in Houston most of his adult life. At the 1984 Olympic Games, he matched the legendary Jesse Owens by winning four track and field gold medals. He took two golds and one silver in 1988 and two golds in 1992. During that time the Olympics dropped all pretense of amateurism, and sport made Lewis a wealthy man. David G. "Skippy" Browning, Jr., winner of eight AAU diving championships as well as the 1952 Olympic gold, was born in Boston and moved to Texas at age three. The two-time NCAA champion and three-time all American for the University of Texas died in a Navy plane crash at age twenty-five. Romanian expatriate Bela Karoli trained elite female gymnasts at Karoli's Gym in Houston. Already the coach of world and Olympic champion Nadia Comanechi in his home country, Karoli soon put Houston on the gymnastics map and revolutionized the sport in America. His most famous pupil, Mary Lou Retton, moved to Houston to train at his gym, and captured one gold and two bronze medals at the 1984 games. She became an overnight sensation and subsequently forged a successful career as celebrity and motivational speaker, while still living in Houston. Karoli produced many more preeminent gymnasts, including world champion Kim Zemeskal, a Houston native. He retired after the 1992 games. Although Zina Garrison of Houston teamed with Pam Shriver to win the 1988 Olympic gold in tennis doubles, Texas has never established a reputation in tennis. The most famous and successful Texas tennis player was Wilmer L. Allison, who competed from 1922 through 1936. He won one United States singles championship and, with partner John Van Ryan, captured two Wimbledon and two United States Open doubles titles and won fourteen of sixteen Davis Cup matches. Allison coached the University of Texas team for sixteen years. Texas was the site of the most famous tennis match in history, the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King at the Astrodome. Still considered a watershed event in the battle for women's rights, the contest attracted the largest television audience ever to see a tennis match to that time. King's victory before 30,472 spectators propelled her to the forefront of the women's movement.

All professional sports combined, from rodeo to auto racing, generated more than $800 million for the state economy in 1993. Texans have enjoyed notable success in individual professional sports like golf and rodeo, but despite having several teams in almost every American professional league, only two major Texas professional franchises, the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Rockets, can claim world championships. Texans have been active in organizing and administrating professional sports since 1888, when John J. McCloskey formed the Texas League of Professional Baseball Clubs, later known simply as the Texas League. Oilman H. L. Hunt was instrumental in forming the American Football League in 1960, as well as negotiating the beginning of the Super Bowl and the merger of the AFL with the NFL. Texas women were responsible for forming the two oldest organizations of female professional athletes in America, the Women's Professional Rodeo Association in 1948 and the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1949. Throughout the history of twentieth-century American professional team sports, new leagues have come and gone with depressing regularity, usually unable to compete financially with established organizations. Texas teams have played in most of these leagues, including the World Football League, the United States Football League, the World League of American Football, the National Women's Football League, the American Basketball Association, the Women's Basketball League, and the World Hockey Association. The state's newest professional team, the Dallas Stars, belongs to the well-established National Hockey League.

Baseball was the first modern professional sport in the state. Texas League baseball was the major professional sport until 1962. Future stars of major league baseball such as J. H. (Dizzy) Dean, Hank Greenberg, Carl Hubbell, Brooks Robinson, and Duke Snider played their minor league ball in the Texas League. In 1962 the National League Houston Colt 45's, now the Houston Astros, made their major league baseball debut, thus ending the Texas League's dominance. Ten years later, the American League Texas Rangers opened play in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers have never played for a title; the Astros reached the National League championship game in 1980 and 1986 but lost both times. The Astros recorded a significant breakthrough in October 1993, when they named Bob Watson their new general manager. Watson is the first Black in major league baseball history to hold that title. With the notable exception of pitcher Nolan Ryan of Alvin, few Texans have starred on major league baseball teams in their home state. Ryan set records for both pitching and attendance for the Astros and later the Rangers. When he retired in 1993 he was the all-time major league baseball leader in both strikeouts and bases on balls. His twenty-seven-year career is the second longest in the history of major American professional team sports. Only hockey great Gordie Howe played longer; Howe's thirty-four-year career included a brief stint with the Houston Aeros of the now-defunct World Hockey Association. Ryan appears destined for the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he will join at least eight other Texans. These include Andrew "Rube" Foster, the "father of Black baseball"; Joe Leonard Morgan, who played for the Astros from 1965 to 1972; and Frank Robinson, the first African American to manage a major league baseball team. Among major leaguers who played SWC baseball is former University of Texas All American Roger Clemens, who won the 1986 and 1987 Cy Young Award as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.

The first Texan to make a mark on professional football was Sam A. (Slingin' Sammy) Baugh of the Washington Redskins. Baugh first gained notoriety as the object of a high school recruiting war in the late twenties and starred for Texas Christian University in the thirties. In sixteen seasons as a quarterback he led the Redskins to two NFL championships and four divisional titles. Playing both offense and defense, he set many league records. He was elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Texans were probably not ready for professional football in 1952, when the Dallas Texans became the last NFL team to go broke. A more successful effort followed eight years later. The Dallas Cowboys of the established NFL and the Houston Oilers and Dallas Texans of the newly formed AFL began play in 1960. All three teams faced a struggle, but especially the Oilers and Texans, as Americans generally considered the AFL a minor league. That perception did not change until the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Oilers' greatest success came during the early years of the AFL. They took the league title in 1960 and 1961 but lost the 1962 championship to the Dallas Texans, who then departed for Kansas City to become the Chiefs. The Oilers lost the AFC title to Oakland in 1967 and after the merger appeared in the playoffs ten times without winning a divisional title. In 1993, after losing four of their first five games, the Oilers won eleven in a row to capture the AFC Central Division crown, but lost in the second round of the playoffs. They also gained national attention by signing 1977 Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell of the University of Texas. Campbell earned the first of three NFL Most Valuable Player awards in 1978, when he was also named Rookie of the Year. In 1980, he led the league in all four rushing categories. However, the physical punishment of being virtually a one-man offense took a rapid toll, and Campbell retired in 1986. He was then number ten on the all-time NFL rushing list; he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991. The Cowboys struggled at first but made their first Super Bowl appearance in a 1971 loss to the Baltimore Colts. The Cowboys won the title in 1972, 1978, 1993, 1994, and 1996. They also won the NFC but lost the Super Bowl in 1976 and 1979. The Cowboys have had only three head coaches, Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson, both Texans, and Barry Switzer. Landry, whose innovations include the shotgun formation, has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where more than twenty-five Texans are honored. The others include former Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, Super Bowl quarterback Roger Staubach, tackle Bob Lilly, and running back Tony Dorsett. Among the most successful Houston Oilers coaches was Andrew (Bum) Phillips, a veteran of twenty-three years of Texas high school and college coaching who led the Oilers from 1975 to 1980. Jack Pardee, Oilers coach in the early 1990s, was a product of high school six-man football and played his college ball at Texas A&M. He won championships coaching at both the professional and college levels before joining the Oilers.

Basketball has remained a minor sport in Texas, even though the National Basketball Association gained enormous national popularity in the late 1980s. The Rockets moved from San Diego to Houston in 1971 and twice played in the NBA championship series in the 1980s, but lost both times. They finally captured back-to-back crowns in 1994 and 1995. Neither the San Antonio Spurs, who joined the league in 1976, nor the Dallas Mavericks, begun in 1980, have won NBA championships. George Gervin of the Spurs won the NBA scoring title four times (1978, 1979, 1980, 1982). Moses Malone of Houston was the league MVP in 1979, and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994; Spur David Robinson won the title in 1995, although the Rockets downed the Spurs for the Western Division Crown.

Nothing in the history of Texas sports equaled the 1965 opening of the Astrodome for attracting national and international attention. The first facility of its kind, the Astrodome is home to the Houston Oilers and the Houston Astros. With the nickname "Eighth Wonder of the World," the Astrodome attracted crowds of visitors and spawned a series of imitators, none of which inspired comparable hoopla. It also revolutionized many sports through the introduction of Astroturf, an artificial playing surface. The Alamodome in San Antonio, home to the Spurs, began setting records almost as soon as it opened in July 1993. The July 25 figure-skating competition at the United States Olympic Festival drew 25,691 spectators, the largest crowd in the history of competitive figure skating.

Texans have played a greater role in the direction and leadership of rodeo than any other professional sport, and make up a significant number of hall of fame honorees. One reason is that rodeo is a native of the Southwest, with Texas the focal point, while most other major sports originated in England or New England. More Texans, at least fifty, are honored by halls of fame for rodeo than for any other sport. Only cowgirl Barbara (Tad) Lucas of Fort Worth, superstar of the 1920s and 1930s, has earned a place in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Prorodeo Hall of Fame, and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. William (Bill) Pickett of Austin, who invented bulldogging or steer wrestling around the turn of the century, is honored by the two halls for men. William T. Johnson of San Antonio was the most successful rodeo producer of the 1930s; he helped make rodeo a lucrative career for many athletes during the Great Depression. By World War II, another Texan, western film star Gene Autry, had assumed leadership of the sport, and brought it to new heights of popularity; he also greatly diminished women's competitive role. In response, several Texans, including Nancy Binford, Thena Mae Farr, and Margaret Owens Montgomery formed what is now the WPRA. This organization made women's barrel racing a standard event on the otherwise all-male Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour. Still, women's earnings fell far behind men's until the 1980s, when WPRA president Jimmie Gibbs Munroe of Valley Mills led a successful move for equal pay. Both the WPRA and PRCA had their headquarters at Fort Worth during the fifties, and today Texas is one of only three states that constitutes its own division within professional rodeo. Since official records began in 1929, Texas cowboys have won more than ninety world championships, including ten of the last twenty-four; 30 percent of the male and 10 percent of the female finalists at the last three championships have been Texans. None has been more successful than Ty Murray, a native of Arizona who later ranched and rode out of Stephenville, Texas. A six-time champion All Around Cowboy, Murray was the seventh and youngest man to reach a million dollars in rodeo winnings.

Two of the most famous golfers in American history are Texans, Ben Hogan and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. After her track and field victories in the 1932 Olympics, Zaharias won myriad amateur golf titles before helping form the LPGA in 1949. From that time until her death from cancer in 1956, she dominated the women's game. The LPGA tour has never again had a star of her magnitude. The "Age of Hogan" in men's golf paralleled Zaharias's domination of women's. Between 1948 and 1953 Hogan was player of the year four times, won a total of nine victories in the four major classics, and was the leading money winner five times. Lee Treviño, a Dallas native and the first Hispanic superstar in golf, won the United States Open in 1968 and back-to-back British Opens in 1970 and 1971. In 1992 he was player of the year and topped the money list in the PGA Seniors Tour, a lucrative venture that grew out of the Austin Legends of Golf tournament. At least ten Texas men and women have been inducted into the PGA or LPGA halls of Fame; Babe Zaharias has been honored by both.

In 1910 Galvestonian Jack Johnson became the first Black man to be officially recognized as the world heavyweight boxing champion. His victory sparked a racial backlash that resulted in his being sentenced to federal prison. Rather than face incarceration, he escaped the country with baseball promoter Andrew (Rube) Foster and became an international hero in exile. Johnson finally surrendered his crown to Jess Willard in a 1915 bout in Havana. No other Texan held the title until George Foreman, 1968 Olympic gold medalist, captured the crown in 1973. Foreman, who is best remembered for waving a small American flag in the Olympic arena following his victory, won the title from Joe Frazier in 1973. He lost it to Muhammad Ali in 1974, and retired to become a minister three years later. In 1988 Foreman returned to competition. He won twenty-five bouts before losing to Evander Holyfield in 1991, but by then he had launched another career as a television comedian and pitchman. At the age of forty-six, Foreman won the International Boxing Federation's Heavyweight title in November 1994 against Michael Moorer. On September 10, 1993, the Alamodome hosted 65,000 fans who witnessed a fight between Mexican national Julio César Chávez and American Olympic gold medalist Pernell Whitaker; each held a world championship in a different division. Although the fight ended in a draw, the crowd was the largest ever to see a boxing match in Texas and the largest indoor crowd in world boxing history.

Even in so-called minor sports, Texans have periodically surged to the forefront. Adolph Toepperwein, for example, set fourteen world records as a marksman and trick shooter between 1890 and 1929. He performed in vaudeville, toured the country for the Winchester Arms Company, and defeated many of the most famous shooters of his time, including William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody. Ad's wife, Elizabeth S. (Plinky) Toepperwein, was also one of the world's best shooters. Houstonian A. J. Foyt is the most successful driver in United States Auto Club history, with sixty-seven victories and seven USAC championships. He was the first four-time winner of America's top race, the Indianapolis 500 (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977), and the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and the LeMans races in the same year. In 1984 Corpus Christi native Terry Labonte won the Winston Cup, the championship award in stock-car racing. William Lee (Willie) Shoemaker of Fabens, Texas, is the most successful thoroughbred jockey of all time. In a career that spanned five decades, Shoemaker won a record 8,833 races. He won the Kentucky Derby four times (1955, 1959, 1965, 1986) and was the first jockey to earn more than $100 million in purses. He retired in 1990.

Texas sports have changed significantly since the Spanish ranchers brought their contests across the Rio Grande in the eighteenth century. Though gradual at first, change has come with increasing rapidity in the past twenty years. Professional sports have eclipsed amateur and school sports, while women, Mexican Americans, and African Americans now participate in almost every facet of Texas sports. The Alamodome has stolen the spotlight from the Astrodome and launched the Alamo Bowl, hoping to surpass the Cotton Bowl as the state's premier post-season football game, while the venerable Southwest Conference has ceased to exist. See also HORSE AND MULE INDUSTRY, MUSTANGS, QUARTER HORSE, TURNVEREIN MOVEMENT, and ROLLER DERBY IN TEXAS.

Arthur R. Ashe, Jr., A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African American Athlete (3 vols., New York: Warner, 1988; rev. ed., New York: Amistad, 1993). Jack Falla, NCAA: The Voice of College Sports (Mission, Kansas: NCAA, 1981). John Holmes, Texas Sport: The Illustrated History (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1984). Mary Lou LeCompte, "The Hispanic Influence on the History of Rodeo, 1823–1922," Journal of Sport History 12 (Spring 1985). Mary Lou LeCompte and William Beezley, "Any Sunday in April: The Rise of Sport in San Antonio and the Hispanic Borderlands," Journal of Sport History 13 (Summer 1986). David L. Porter, ed., The Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Baseball (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1987). David L. Porter, ed., The Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Basketball and Other Indoor Sports (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1989). David L. Porter, Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football (New York: Greenwood Press, 1987). David L. Porter, ed., The Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Outdoor Sports (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1988). The Sports Illustrated 1994 Sports Almanac (Boston: Little, Brown, 1994).

  • Sports and Recreation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary Lou LeCompte, “Sports,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 11, 2022,

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April 19, 2021

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