Bellaire High School head football coach Jeff Walker has been chasing former Depression era football star Jack Chevigny for six years. Compelled to tell his inspiring story, Walker set out to write Chevigny’s biography and met surviving family members and friends, who taught him what made Chevigny a living legend.
Chevigny embodied charm, charisma, athleticism and love for the game. Women loved him. Men idolized him. The players he later coached meant the world to him.
World War II came, and he was too old to enlist, but he did anyway. Chevigny refused to sit and watch “his boys” go overseas while he served as head football coach in the U.S. Marine Corps, so he went to the Pacific with them – and he never returned.
In March of 2008, Walker will tour the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima where Chevigny, along with thousands of young American men, was killed in battle.
“I want to experience it, I need to smell it, taste it,” he says. “I need to be there.”
Walker was one of the 100 teachers in the state who received a 2007 grant from Fund For Teachers, a national non-profit that bankrolls educators in pursuit of independent studies to travel and conduct further research.
In addition to Iwo Jima, the grant will send Walker to Guam, which he hopes to link with BHS’s social studies and history department. Walker wants to create an exchange student program or a student blog to enhance dual learning experiences.
Seeing so little history about Chevigny on the Internet immediately sparked Walker’s interest and led him to apply for the grant. On the Web, he discovered only that Chevigny once coached The University of Texas’ football team and resigned after an unsuccessful tenure.
“He has been shortchanged in history,” Walker says, as Chevigny has been remembered on some web sites as the only coach in UT history with a losing record. “Being a coach and a history teacher, I know that you legacy isn’t just numbers. It’s something you can’t describe. I felt called to bring him back as he was in 1945-a hero. In 2007, he was a guy who lost a lot of games.”
Chevigny circa the 1920s was a different story all together. During a legendary 1928 Notre Dame vs. U.S. Army game, he scored the tying touchdown and proclaimed, “That’s one for the Gipper,” as he led his team to victory.
The game is frozen in time in Walker’s office, home of the frayed scrapbook pages that Chevigny’s late sister compiled throughout his football career, some that read, “Notre Dame Conquers Army.” Each newspaper article is dominated by pictures of a dapper-looking Chevigny and a proud Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.
Chevigny later attended law school and coached the UT and the U.S. Marine Corps football teams, all the while remaining a B-list celebrity.
At 38 years old, Chevigny could have avoided going to war, but Walker says, “he felt like he was not doing right, that he should be with his boys.”
As a result of his research, Walker met George Franck, an inductee of the College Football Hall of Fame and 1940 All-American who served alongside Chevigny in World War II. Franck told Walker how he saw Chevigny’s final moments in a sand hole on Iwo Jima’s volcanic beaches.
Walker says he hopes Chevigny’s biography will reinforce the notion that cross-generational sacrifices were just as prevalent in World War II when comparing other stories of heroes and heroines who came of age in that era.
“The courage [Chevigny] had-he was an iconic figure of the greatest-of-the-great generation,” he says. “He did something I don’t know I could have done.”
As Walker gingerly unfolds Chevigny’s last letter written to his family, where the handwriting is faded but still legible, Walker’s enthusiasm for his subject seems more palpable than ever. His curiosity, determination and resourcefulness culminated then, as he possessed the most personal mementos of a sports figure long gone, but not soon forgotten.
Walker has written several coaching textbooks in his 22-year career. A Louisiana native, he came to Houston four years ago as assistant football coach for the BHS Cardinals. Since then, he taught various school subjects ranging from English to science, but his favorite, naturally, is history. He currently teaches U.S. History Since Reconstruction.