Football: Black Lion Award given in honor of first LA coach

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By The Staff

Los Alamos High School Athletic and Activities Director Vicki Nelms and head football coach Bob Scott have announced that the Hilltoppers are instituting The Black Lion Award, effective the 2009 football season.

Los Alamos High School will be the third school or team to institute the award.

The Black Lion Award was established in 2001. The award honors the memory of Major Don Holleder, U.S. Army and former All-American football player at West Point, who died in combat in Vietnam on Oct. 17, 1967, and the men of the 28th Infantry – the Black Lions – who died with him that day.

Initiated by Washington veteran high school football coach, Hugh Wyatt, in cooperation with former members of the 28th Infantry, the Black Lion Award is intended to go to that football player on any coach’s team, who in the opinion of his coach “best exemplifies the character of Don Holleder: leadership, courage, devotion to duty, self-sacrifice, and – above all – an unselfish concern for the team ahead of himself.” Every high school, middle school and youth football team in America is eligible to participate.

According to a biographical essay by Hugh Wyatt for the Black Lion Award program, Holleder played varsity football with West Point’s nationally-ranked 1953 and 1954 teams on both offense and defense.

In 1954, his junior year, he earned All-American honors.  

Before the start of the 1955 season, Army coach Earl H. “Red” Blaik concluded that none of the players competing for quarterback had sufficient leadership skills to achieve the team’s objective. He asked Holleder if he “would agree to be my quarterback,” a position Holleder had never played in high school or at West Point. He and Blaik knew if he accepted he would be giving up the opportunity to achieve the rare feat of being a two-time All-American at Army, yet Holleder agreed, a decision both knew would provoke controversy.

Holleder, however, led the Army team to a 6-3 record that season, including a major upset of a strong Navy team.

Holleder, as a Major 12 years later, gave his life for men in the 28th Infantry’s 2nd Battalion, near Ong Thanh, Republic of Vietnam, when he overheard a radio call for help to rescue and evacuate fellow soldiers wounded and pinned down in an ambush.

The helicopter pilot landed an aircraft. Holleder proceeded on foot to assist, and was mortally wounded by an enemy sniper.

The award will be given at Los Alamos each year in honor of coach William D. McWilliams, Jr., the Hilltoppers’ first football coach and athletic director.

McWilliams arrived at Los Alamos in May 1946 as the high school was preparing to graduate six students. He coached football, basketball and track beginning in the fall of that year, while laying the foundation for the Hilltoppers’ athletic programs of today. The high school graduated 10 students in 1947.

Because the fall’s Northern Rio Grande Conference football schedules were already set, he was unable to enter the Hlltoppers in conference play that season.

Before football practice and the fall semester began and the school’s green and gold colors could be selected, he accelerated purchases of off-the shelf equipment in order to field the school’s first football team in state interscholastic competition.

The Hilltoppers completed their first season, winning statewide recognition with an 8-0 record.

Under McWilliams, the Hilltoppers won the 1947 conference championship with a 7-1 record and in three seasons earned a record of 19-2-2.

Planned to be an annual award for the Hilltoppers’ varsity football player meeting the Black Lions Award’s criteria, the first player selected to receive recognition will be announced at the High Schools Awards Assembly, scheduled for 7 p.m. May 27.

McWilliams son Bill McWilliams plan to attend the ceremony in May with his wife Ronnie.