La Marque, Texas is somewhat legendary to those who follow high school football in this state. The Cougars made 11 straight trips to the playoffs starting in the mid-90s, and they won five state championships during that eleven year run. Once upon a time this town was called Buttermilk Junction, but since changing the name to La Marque they’ve won a total of ten state football championships. In fact, there are ten flag poles beyond the north end zone at Cougar Stadium – one for each title. I know all this because I took a tour of La Marque Monday with the Rangers new manager, Jeff Bannister. Bannister loves to talk about La Marque football…you see his dad was the first coach of the Cougars starting back in 1970.
Jeff could not be more proud of the man who started that tradition at La Marque, and when I asked him how much of who he is as a coach, and who he will be as a manager comes from his dad, he said simply, “All of it.” He went on to give examples, like the time the elder Banister told his son, then a junior in high school, that he was not going to make the varsity football team. Jeff couldn’t believe his ears. His dad was the coach and he couldn’t make varsity? Of course deep down he knew he was more dedicated to baseball anyway. He was one of those kids who stated at a young age that he was going to play in the big leagues, and he never shied away from the dream.
Banister was born in Oklahoma, but he was quick to point out that he, “got to Texas as quick as he could.” He was about seven when the family relocated to La Marque. As we toured this rural community about fifty miles south of Houston, he showed us all his favorite spots including his elementary school. His recess there coincided with the high school athletic period, so during recess Jeff would always run across the street and hang out with his heroes, the Cougar football team. He showed us Leo’s Drive-In, once owned by his best friend’s mom. Jeff would walk to the drive-in for, “the best burgers in town.”
We also stopped at the Bobby Beach Little League Complex in La Marque. It’s a three field complex built in the 70s to honor the memory of Bobby Beach, who died during a little league game. The fields are run down now, but to tour them with Banister is to feel the joy he felt as a kid when he “spent every day of the summer here.” One of the fields had covered bleachers and and a 185 foot fence in left. As we stood there reminiscing, Jeff said he could still hear the cowbell that one lady rang loudly every time he hit a ball into the back yards beyond the left field fence.
The current Banister home in League City, TX is full of boxes now, as the family is moving north to Arlington. But Jeff Banister wanted us to see where he grew up. He wanted us to know how proud he is of La Marque, and how proud he is of his dad. Rangers fans are going to love this guy. He is just like many of you are…real, down to earth, and proud to be a Texan.