1969 Natchitoches High team forms bond well beyond the football field

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Jim Bruning was the head coach of the State Champion Natchitoches Central Chiefs

Weightless Wonders reunite

By LeRon Massey, Times intern

1969 was a year full of surprises.

The Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for their 11th championship title. The University of Texas Longhorns beat the undefeated Arkansas Razorbacks in a “Game of the Century.” Some 250,000 marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War. Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated as the 37th President of the US.

More importantly, Natchitoches High went undefeated and won their first ever football state championship.

In 1969, it was decided that Natchitoches High and Natchitoches Central would combine student bodies and staff and become one school. The coaching staff and players agreed on one thing. They would be the first team to bring a football championship to Natchitoches. The late Jim Bruning was the head coach and the team was known as “Jim Bruning’s Weightless Wonders.” They won games against Mansfield, Jonesboro-Hodge and Winnfield in convincing fashion only allowing a total 19 points.

Throughout the season the team never scored under 20 points except for one game. Many of the players played both offense and defense. The players and coaches became more than just a team. On the field they were teammates, battle partners and warriors.

Off field they were more than that. They were friends. They became a family. One thing that is different about this team is the friendships they formed. The 1969 championship team is so close that once a year they meet to reconnect and reminisce about this great achievement.

The players were very close in high school and after graduating, things did not change. “We were a very close team and we formed friendships that lasted for a lifetime,” said Floyd Antley who was a starting defensive back. The reunion is mostly of the seniors and the coaching staff. Some of the members come from Houston, Dallas and Baton Rouge. Each year they meet on Toledo Bend and stay from Friday until Sunday.

“This is something that we do every year and it has stuck with us,” Joe Beck Payne said. The reunion started as a one-time thing, but it quickly became an annual event. Through the years, the number of those attending has lessened. “Now that we’re so old, some people don’t want to drive that far,” said Payne. This team was unlike any other team that year. Not only did they have good athletes at every position, they had speed and intelligence.

Floyd Antley, left, and Joe Beck Payne were on the 1969 Natchitoches High State Championship football team. The team has an annual reunion at Toledo Bend.

They were able to recognize when a game plan wasn’t working and made the adjustments on the field to help them win the game. A few went on to play at the collegiate level. This team will continue to meet every year to celebrate not only a championship tittle but also their friendship.