ROTAN, Texas — For 66 years, Rotan had a steady presence with their football team: William Henry Govan. 'Mr. H' as he was often called wasn't a coach or a player, but the team trainer, water boy and father figure.
“He was just, he was ours," said Dale Cox, a current Rotan teacher and former Yellowhammer football player when Mr. H was with the team. "By the end I can remember there were times when he would shake our hands across the line on the kickoff lineup and he had gotten so slow that sometimes the referees were fussing and fuming. But it didn’t matter. He was ‘H’ and everybody knew it and the game held and the game waited.”
Mr. H was at Rotan's first game back in 1923. His more than six decades with the team and love of the town earned a renaming of Rotan's football stadium to 'H. Govan Memorial Stadium.'
“I use it a lot when I talk to the kids, about commitment," said Dale Means, the Rotan Head Football Coach. "He was so committed. He was still standing on the sideline right up until he died. He was 91 and still making trips with the team. Didn’t have to be. Wasn’t getting paid.”
The late community legend was black and faced no shortage of racial discrimination over his time in the Big Country. But Govan never appeared to let it get to him, and always kept a positive outlook.
“We didn’t think about it at the time but looking back now, he was a great thing for race relations," said Cox. "We all just, ‘This is just H’. We didn’t think about color of his skin. It was just ‘H’. And I think that’s a good thing. When somebody is so kind-hearted and so involved that you just don’t even think about things like that particularly in that time period when it was a problem. That’s a great move forward. He made it just by the sheer force of his personality. And the fact that he was above that so he wanted us to be above it too.”
Decades after Govan has been gone, the community of Rotan has done anything but forget about him. And now a new generation learns about him as well.
“In a time when color was big time," Means said to his middle school history class. "Where color was important to 95 percent of people in the United States. H. Govan never saw color.”
There was a memorial erected outside the stadium when Mr. H was still working with the team in 1983 in his honor. Those that knew him and even those that didn't, learning through stories, continue to recognize the importance of what he means to Rotan.
“He made us all see that we’re all the same," said Cox. "There was no difference in one color or another.”
“He just said that’s the way it is," said Means about the discrimination Govan encountered. "But it doesn’t have to be. We can change it. And that’s such a great message for today. We don’t have to be this way but we have to change it within ourselves before we can change it with anybody else.”