Freddie Camp knows his part in black history isn't apt to land a place in any textbooks. But Camp is nonetheless gladdened that he was the first black starting quarterback for a Gilmer High School football team, way back in the autumn of 1972.
Nor was that his only first. After that, he noted, he became the first black head football coach since integration at any Upshur County high school (Big Sandy); as well as the first head baseball coach of his race at a school in the Dallas suburbs (at Garland ISD). "For some reason, I guess I just step in these roles," said Camp, now Chapel Hill ISD's middle school athletic coordinator.
He lives in the West Mountain community near Gilmer, and is in the midst of a coaching career that has now spanned about 30 years. He's coached with such luminaries as former National Football League players Drew Pearson, Dick Nolan and the late Dee Mackey.
Mackey was an assistant coach in Gilmer when Camp was in high school.But Camp was a ways from achieving all that when he got the stunning news 32 years ago that he was going to play starting quarterback for the Gilmer Buckeyes.
Here's his account of how that came about: Despite Byrd's declaration, Camp said, he and his teammates didn't know who was going to start the season opener at quarterback here against arch-rival Gladewater until "right before we walked out, (and) started the ball game.
And how did Freddie react to the news? "First thing (that) went through my mind. (was) ‘Oh, hell.'
"I wasn't scared of the fact of the competition, (but) that's when it really hit me: How are people going to accept this?"
However, once he got to playing, "I forgot about it then. . . I concentrated on not making any mistakes."Coaches "trusted me, so I had to get the job done." Gladewater triumphed that night, but the Buckeyes mustered a 5-5 season.
And there was one particularly Magic Moment. Camp had begun doing a dance when he'd score a touchdown. When the Jefferson Bulldogs came here to play the Buckeyes, the Bulldog backers hoisted a banner declaring CAMP WILL NOT DANCE TONIGHT. Gilmer won, 41-0.
Camp said he felt no special pressure at being the first starting quarterback of his race at GHS, and that he doesn't recall hearing any racial slurs after landing the job.
"It never did bother me" that he was the starter, he said. "It bothered some other people."I imagine there were some (slurs) said. I never heard any," said Camp, who expressed surprise he didn't.
Camp said there were only three black starting quarterbacks in the area — Gladewater's Hughes Watson (who later coached at Gilmer), and one at Jefferson.
But "I guess the people of East Texas had finally gotten used to it (black starting field generals)."Camp recalled that his black teammates were "real happy and supportive" of him. He said they asked "Do you feel strange?", and he replied, "No, it doesn't bother me."
And how does Freddie Camp feel today about his experience as a Gilmer trailblazer?
"I guess I never really think about it till someone actually mentions it," said Camp.But, he said, he's proud of that long-ago role. "It's an honor to have," he said. "You're a part of black history."