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Stephen F. Austin State University

The Last Football Sweetheart (October 2011)

The Last football Sweetheart

By Deborah Burkett

Hundreds of schools were established in east Texas before the Civil War; Lon Morris alone still exists and is the oldest two year college in the entire state. In 2009 the institution marked its 100th anniversary as a junior college in its current location in Jacksonville, Texas.

In 1912, President M.L. Lefler expanded curricular activities. He organized the first choral group, drama club and interscholastic athletic competition; all became regular features of campus life under the leadership of this president-coach. Dr. Lefler also established an athletic association, the Bearcats, to coordinate the various sport teams. He took the entire student body on regular out of town trips for college basketball and football games! The Bearcats were east Texas football champs their first season in 1913 and twice state football champs in the early 1930s under the direction of coach Arch Pearson.

Through the years financial problems were an issue for the school. In 1940 lack of funds called for creative thinking; money was raised and with the extra funding school opened that fall but football was not so lucky!

Upon then President Peeple's recommendation, the college trustees discontinued football hence the current slogan, "Undefeated since 1940!" With much anticipation football was reinstated at Lon Morris in 2009-10 and Coach Johnny Richey leads this historical Bearcat team.

Naomi Murdock has the distinction of being the Last Football Sweetheart at Lon Morris. She was selected for the honor in 1940. The accompanying photograph provides evidence that Naomi was the epitome of the phrase 'beauty and brains'. Born on a farm near Palestine and reared in Rusk, this small town east Texas girl touched everyone with her winsome smile and endearing personality.

While attending Rusk High School in 1938, Naomi was selected as a Jacksonville Tomato Festival Princess and later after graduation she entered Stephen F. Austin as a freshman. There she was named, along with three other girls, Freshman Beauty. Transferring to Lon Morris College, Naomi really blossomed.

At the time, Zula Holcomb Pearson was drama teacher and Zula's husband, Arch Pearson was a coach. Inspired by Zula, Naomi became a drama and speech major and soon starred in a one act play entitled "Sound and the Fury". She and other members of the drama department traveled East Texas and under Zula's direction the play was a hit everywhere it was staged.

After Lon Morris, Naomi continued her education and ultimately received a Master's Degree in Education from SMU and taught in the Garland school system for more than 30 years, with an additional five years spent as a Master Teacher.

Naomi married Josh Trotman and together they had two sons; one a Marine who served in Vietnam and was a member of the helicopter crew who evacuated the personnel from the US Embassy during the fall of Saigon. The other son became an accomplished professional photographer.

When interviewed by phone in 2009, from her home in Dallas Naomi remembered her days at Lon Morris College, "Lon Morris was a wonderful institution in the 1940s; still is... So glad to see it growing and I believe current students who attend the college will be blessed. I know I was …"