The algebra teacher was in a coaching class all by himself

GAZING AT HIS GATORS:  Lee Hedges, shown awaiting his Captain Shreve players to complete warmups at a practice early in his tenure as the Gators’ head football coach.

In his 1981 book, Jerry Byrd’s Football Country, the late Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame journalist, renowned statewide for his high school sports expertise, wrote about Captain Shreve football coach Lee Hedges. Byrd’s son, Jerry Jr., shared that story Sunday in the wake of Hedges’ passing.


From an opponent’s viewpoint, some of the most intimidating sights in the sports world are Earl Campbell breaking through the middle, Terry Bradshaw in the pocket, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar getting the ball inside or Jack Nicklaus lining up a putt.

But nothing will put a lump in the throat of a high school football coach in North Louisiana faster than looking across the field at a slump-shouldered, bespectacled algebra teacher with a clipboard in his hand talking to his quarterback.

Even before he got his 25-year plaque from the Louisiana High School Coaches’ Association in July of 1981, Lee Hedges was in a class all by himself.

As the head coach at three Caddo Parish high schools, his teams had won 184 games. No other coach had ever won that many games in the top classification of the LHSAA.

The only Shreveport coach who ever came close to that was Hedges’ own coach at Fair Park High School, F. H. Prendergast. In 23 years as the Indians’ head coach, his teams compiled a 154-78-13 record.

Hedges’ record would be even more impressive if you threw out two seasons in which he was starting from scratch at brand new high schools. In the first year of Woodlawn’s existence, the Knights were 0-9. Captain Shreve was 1-7 in its first year. Hedges’ team averaged eight victories per season in the other 23 years.

His first team, the 1956 Byrd Yellow Jackets, reached the state finals. So did the 1965 Woodlawn Knights quarterbacked by Terry Bradshaw. The 1973 Captain Shreve Gators, state championship with a perfect 14-0 record, were the first of three Captain Shreve teams with perfect records. The 1974 team extended the Gators’ winning streak to 24 games before falling to Southwood in the state playoffs. The 1980 team was also 10-0 in regular-season play.

He was in the playoffs more often than Tom Landry. After the 1980 season, his teams had been in the playoffs 15 times in the previous 19 years. Two of the teams that didn’t make it had 8-2 records. The only time he didn’t come close in those 19 years was Captain Shreve’s first season, when the Gators weren’t eligible anyway.

Lee Hedges was not a holler guy. He couldn’t make an emotional dressing room speech if he wanted to. He was a teacher who prepared his students for each week’s test, figuring adrenalin would take care of the rest in due time. He was not a strict disciplinarian. Even during the crewcut era, when emulating Vince Lombardi was the “in” thing for football coaches, Hedges was as low-key as a librarian. Players from two generations, black and white, responded to his coaching because they respected his knowledge and teaching ability, and loved him as a man.

Hedges would be a winner at any level of football. Nobody did a better job of analyzing game films and matching his team’s strengths against the opponents’ weaknesses. If you let your slip show, Lee Hedges was going to see it.

In his last year as Woodlawn’s head coach, Hedges went into the 1965 season with no returning starters on offense and only one on defense.

That fall, although he was still using the Wing-T, Hedges learned that one pass from Terry Bradshaw to Tommy Spinks produced the same result as a dozen off-tackle plays and a couple of quarterback sneaks. He had coached outstanding quarterbacks before, including Billy Laird and All-Stater Trey Prather at Woodlawn. But with Bradshaw throwing the football, the goal line was never far away. That team gave Woodlawn its first victory over Byrd and rolled on to the state finals before bowing to Sulphur, 12-9, on a rainy State Fair Stadium field.

The following year, he gave college coaching a try as an assistant on Joe Aillet’s Louisiana Tech staff. But when Captain Shreve was opened in the fall of 1967, Lee Hedges was its first football coach.

By that time, the wide-open, pro-type passing game that Fair Park started in 1964 had created a Frankenstein monster at Woodlawn High. With Joe Ferguson, the Knights didn’t worry about establishing their running game. They came out of the dressing room throwing the football, regardless of field position. Ferguson rewrote the national high school passing records, and still holds the mark for career attempts.

In the 1968 Woodlawn-Captain Shreve game, the Gators controlled the football twice as long as Woodlawn had it — but Ferguson still passed the Knights to a 25-0 victory.

A year under Aillet, who had pioneered the pro-type passing game in collegiate football, had taught Hedges a few things about throwing the football, too. In 1973, he had weapons to make Captain Shreve a “get rich quick” team. With Joel Thomas throwing to Carlos Pennywell and Rod Foppe, the Gators had an average winning margin of 26 points per game.

“Nothing comes easy,” Lee Hedges told his players. “If you’re going to do something, do it the best you can. And if you set a goal or play a game and then get beat or fall short and you know deep inside yourself that you’ve done the very best you could, then hold your head up high.”