Carter case still relevant, a quarter century later


While perusing the recent issue of Texas Football, I happen to catch David Barron’s “quick hitter” pieces which take a look back at what was big in Texas Football 25 and 40 years ago.

Couldn’t help but notice the “Carter’ Ups and Downs” story from 25 years ago, telling how Dallas Carter actually won the 1988 Class 5A state championship, but was stripped of the title after grade tampering and a theft ring that landed 10 Carter players in jail.

What makes this story more relevant is that H.G. Bissinger chose the 1988 season as the subject of his now-legendary book, Friday Night Lights.

He halted the flow of the book to insert a chapter about the Carter case, partly because, it was the Cowboys who knocked his Odessa Permian subjects out of the playoffs.

Working for the Associated Press at the time, that’s all I did for several months was cover the Carter case at the Travis County Courthouse.

In the chapter in Friday Night Lights dealing with Carter, Bissinger mentions watching an Associated Press writer scribbling away in his notebook.

That reporter was me.

The case, came about because Carter’s star player Gary Edwards changed classes in the middle of the semester and went from failing to passing.

It started out at the district committee level, then to the UIL before their lawyers figured out this needed to be moved to a real courtroom.

On top of the grade changing, there were charges of burglary against a dozen or so players.

Basically what was happening was, the fellas were traveling to Austin to appear in court during the day and pretending to be solid citizens with suits and ties on. Then, when they went back home to Dallas, they were robbing and stealing anything they could get their hands on.

I’ll never forget the cast of characters in the drama at the 200th District Court.

I felt so sorry for the teacher who refused to lie and change the grades and was just trying to do the right thing. He was prosecuted as diligently as the school and the players.

I was outraged by the utter lack of control by the school’s administrators, who were put in a position of responsibility and failed those students miserably.

The lawyers—state attorney Kevin O’Hanlon and defense attorney Royce West.

O’Hanlon used a common sense offense and a slice of country humor to present his case to the judge.

West used the publicity in the case to successfully run for the Texas senate, where he has been since 1992.

Texas Monthly has called West “one of the most powerful people in Texas politics” and “10 best legislators” in Texas.

O’Hanlon has his own firm now.

I sat in disbelief as the evidence piled up against the school, while Judge Paul Davis—on the bench for 21 years—ruled in the school’s favor.

Ten Carter players were eventually convicted and sent to prison for armed robbery and a variety of offenses.

According to Barron in TF, Edwards has written a book on the subject and hopes to have it published and maybe made into a movie.

One day not long after the case was finally settled, I was covering a UIL meeting and Director General Bailey Marshall motioned me over to his office and showed me a cardboard box sitting on his desk.

He busted it open, revealing a state championship trophy.

Carter had sent it back and I got a scoop that appeared on the front page of the Dallas Morning News the next day.

Like a lot of things I have written about lately, I can’t believe it’s been that long ago.

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2013-06-27 digital edition

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