Toughing it out: Texas Wesleyan female football coach takes the field

Texas Wesleyan

Texas Wesleyan University Football

The Texas Wesleyan University Football team kicked off its first season in 76 years in September, playing in the Central States Football League. The Rams went 0-11 for the season.

For those who say women aren’t tough enough for football, Texas Wesleyan volunteer assistant football coach Marjorie Lewis has a story.

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“The first day of spring practices, I was helping a couple other coaches set up the ball machine. The first — seriously, first – ball that shot out of the machine came toward my right. I reached out to tap it to me when it took an odd bounce and snapped the tip of my right index finger,” she recalled.

“I knew it was broken before I looked at it. When I looked, the break was confirmed. My finger tip was dangling. I didn’t want to tell anyone, so I threw practice.”

Once practice ended, she jumped into her car, still feeling energized and ecstatic about being on a football field for the first time as a coach. She drove straight to the emergency room and got a splint that she’d wear for eight weeks.

“A heck of a way to start, but the guys couldn’t believe it the next day when I told them I had broken it BEFORE I threw practice,” she said.

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And so started a historic career as Lewis, 60, is the first female coach in the history of the Texas Wesleyan Rams football program. Her career might have started sooner had the program not lain dormant for 76 years, but it was actually another woman who did work as an assistant coach years ago at another school that inspired her.

“What prompted me to volunteer at Texas Wesleyan University was research I had done over a number of years about a woman who coached football in Brownwood during World War II. Her name was Tylene Wilson, and when I discovered I could not write her story – it has been lost to time – I decided to memorialize what she did by writing a novel based on her true story,” said Lewis, a former sportswriter.

That novel, When the Men Were Gone, was recently sold to Morrow/HarperCollins publishing company. It is based on Wilson’s days as the head coach of Daniel Baker College.

It was while writing and researching the book that Lewis became inspired.

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Many years later she heard of Texas Wesleyan’s return to college football. About six months after Wesleyan made its announcement last fall, she reached out to volunteer.

“The initial reactions from the coaches and players were favorable,” Lewis said. “I’ve always been comfortable with the team, especially with defensive backs position coach Quincy Butler. He’s been fantastic. I can easily see him as a head coach,” she said.

Butler is a former player with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, it was a connection with the Cowboys that also got Lewis started on her way to someday being a coach. She spent three decades as a sportswriter covering the team. Her sportswriting experience includes stints at both the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News.

“I was still in my 20s when I was assigned to the beat. I’ve covered the Super Bowl, the Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears in London, years of training camp, and many, many college and high school football games, among a number of other sports,” she said.

Lewis was also very familiar with Texas Wesleyan before taking the job. She has endowed the Marjorie Herrera Lewis Speakers Series at the school since 2015 with featured speakers such as former Dallas Cowboy Daryl “Moose” Johnston and local author David Thomas. Her goal is to give students at the school opportunities to enhance their education in mass communications.

Born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lewis comes from a family of athletes. She is the oldest of five children — four girls and a boy.

“My parents, William and Corine Herrera, are both sports fanatics. Pictures of my parents’ dating were almost exclusively taken in a gym,” she said. “My father played baseball for Saint Mary’s College of California before getting his dental degree from Northwestern University. He played high school football, baseball, and basketball.

“He taught me a lot about sports, but primarily baseball. My mother played basketball as a young girl. She is the one who initially passed along her love of football to me, although it didn’t take long for my father to jump onboard. She’s 86 now and would still love to suit up. My father is 90 and can still throw a mean fastball.”

By the time her little brother came along, Lewis was already entrenched as the family athlete. Not much was available to girls sports-wise in the 1960s and 70s, but she found ways to compete nonetheless.

“When I wanted to compete in the Soap Box Derby, I was told I couldn’t because girls were not allowed,” she said. “With no need to build a car, I put the tires back on my bike.

“I played every sport available to girls in high school, though none at the varsity level. There was no such thing as varsity for girls.”

But she still played at every opportunity. She played basketball, softball, flag football, tennis and volleyball. She also competed on the bowling club and the ski club because school let out early on Fridays to hit the slopes.

“Any excuse to get out of typing and shorthand classes,” she joked.

At Wesleyan, Lewis’ responsibilities this season included charting for defensive adjustments. She was also assigned to work on the field with defensive backs. She also helps out with academics — she has a master’s degree and a master of fine arts degree and is on the adjunct faculty in the media arts department at the University of North Texas.

She loves working with students on time management and tutoring, she said. For example, she recently spent part of an evening tossing a baseball with a football player at the team cookout before sitting down with him to brainstorm for an assignment he was beginning.

“She was a very valuable resource for our student athletes as far as their academics and laying out long-range plans,” Rams head coach Joe Prud’homme said. “Marjorie gave our athletes a sense of long-range goals and planning.”

Lewis has been married to her husband, Chuck, since 1981. They have two adult daughters, Monica and Katie, who are very supportive of their mom’s decision. “It was a family affair with my sister’s family in attendance, as well,” Lewis said. “A number of friends attended, too.

“When we played at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, the stands were sprinkled with my older sister, a number of cousins, my aunt and some high school classmates (St. Michael’s High School, class of 1975). My entire family has been so supportive of my coaching endeavor.”

And yes, Lewis is proud to see herself as an example for other women to challenge themselves.

“I hope that because of my gender and my age, that women of any age see that it’s never too late to do something new,” Lewis said. “It might not always be easy, especially when entering what’s traditionally been male territory, but it can be accomplished.

“Just being a part of a football team has been a wonderful experience, but because this is an historic season, it’s even more special. To be a part of building a foundation is incredible. I can’t help but think of what it will be like 10 years down the road when this team gathers for a reunion. What will their foundation have built? It’s exciting.”