SAN ANTONIO – Charles Callahan started working at Alamo Stadium on game days during football season in 1971, the same year he joined the San Antonio Independent School District as a teacher and coach at Irving Middle School.
“That’s when Coach Carroll was living,” Callahan said, referring to late SAISD assistant athletic director Henry Carroll, who supervised the district’s middle-school coaches. “He’d give all the middle-school coaches a chance to make a couple more quarters by coming out here and helping out.”
Forty-five years later, Callahan is still working his part-time gig at Alamo Stadium. He was a teacher and coach in the SAISD for 38 years before retiring in 2008. If you’ve ever been to a football game or track meet at Alamo Stadium in the past four decades, chances are good you’ve caught a glimpse of Callahan.
Callahan, 67, has handled a variety of duties at the venerable “Rockpile” since he joined the game-day crew as a fresh-faced 22-year-old rookie coach.
“I was at the band gate for years,” Callahan said. “Then they asked me if I wanted to do something different and I said, ‘Well, I’ll do the players’ gate.’ They’ve had me just about everywhere. I’ve always told them to put me where they need me.”
Callahan even was in charge for a few years of allowing access to the Alamo Stadium press box and seating in the two sections that flank it.
Callahan said the high point of working at Alamo Stadium all these years has to be the Chili Bowl, the annual game between inner-city rivals Fox Tech and Lanier that always drew big crowds. The teams met 67 times before the Chili Bowl was discontinued after the 2009 game, when Fox Tech dropped football because of a dwindling enrollment.
The first Chili Bowl was played in 1942, a year after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II. The game was played for 66 consecutive seasons after a one-year hiatus in 1943.
“That was an unbelievable setting every year,” Callahan said. “It was a nightmare, in a sense, because there were a lot of people on both sides who wanted to cross over and sit on the opposite side. They had a little bitty gate in the middle (of the south-end zone seating) where you could kind of control it. But then there was no gate. That made it tough.
“I really do miss the Chili Bowl, but I can see why the district got rid of it. They just didn’t have enough kids at Fox Tech to keep playing football. It’s too bad because that’s one game people always looked forward to every year.”
Callahan also was at Alamo Stadium when Roosevelt beat Flower Mound Marcus for the Class 5A Division II state championship in 1995, completing a 16-0 season.
“That was something,” he said.
Callahan was succinct when he was asked what keeps him going back to Alamo Stadium each season.
“The kids,” he said. "The players."
Callahan still runs into players he coached at Irving and Emerson Middle School, which later was renamed Wheatley Middle School, during his long career.
“They just give me a hug,” he said. “Some of them tell me, ‘I didn’t have a dad and you took me under your wing.’ I appreciate that. Most of the kids I coached went to Fox Tech and Highlands.”
Born and raised in San Marcos, Callahan was a standout high school and college athlete himself. He won the 440-yard dash at the Class 3A state track meet as a junior and senior at San Marcos in 1965 and 1966.
Callahan was also a halfback and safety on the Rattlers’ football team. San Marcos lost to Palestine in the 1964 Class 3A state final, and fell to Bridge City in the 3A state semifinals a year later.
“They don’t coach these kids today like we were coached. If they did, well, no comment,” Callahan said, chuckling.
Callahan’s earliest memories of Alamo Stadium date back to the early 1960s, when he was a face in the crowd at Wheatley High School football games. Wheatley competed in the Prairie View Interscholastic League, which governed extracurricular activities for the state’s predominantly black high schools.
“I remember they played their games on Wednesday nights,” Callahan said.
Alamo Stadium, which opened in 1940, was closed during the 2014 season while it underwent a long-overdue, multimillion-dollar facelift. It reopened to much fanfare last August.
“This is a great stadium,” Callahan said. “Like the movie said, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
After graduating from high school in 1966, Callahan ran track at Trinity for one season before completing his career at Southwest Texas State, now Texas State, where he was one of the best quarter-milers in the Lone Star Conference. Still an avid track fan, Callahan has worked at the UIL Region IV 6A and 5A boys and girls meets since they were moved to Alamo Stadium in the 1990s.
Callahan said being at Alamo Stadium on a Friday night when the weather turns cooler is always special.
“It really is,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
He would know.
(© 2016 KENS)