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Tributes: Okmulgee's Jim Thomason was a successful football coach

by Scott Munn Published: March 3, 2014

A farewell to people with Oklahoma ties who enjoyed the game day experience:

•Okmulgee native Jim Thomason, 85, died in Abilene, Texas. Thomason retired as an elementary school principal, but he had a notable career in athletics. He starred on the football and basketball teams at Holdenville High School, and then played football and ran track at East Central University in Ada. Thomason finished a Master's degree in education at Oklahoma, and then spent 1951-57 as an assistant football coach at Ada High. He moved to Texas, where he spent 11 years as an assistant at Dumas and 12 seasons as head football coach at Gainesville High. Thomason guided Gainesville to state championships in 1974, 1976 and 1978. Including his tenures at Ada and Dumas, he was a part of 10 state title football teams. He also coached the Texas squad for the 1977 Oil Bowl All-Star Game against Oklahoma.

John Dunaway, 88, of Midwest City was a three-year football letterman in the late 1940s at the University of Central Oklahoma. Nicknamed “Runaway Dunaway,” he went into the coaching field, spending time at Harding, Shawnee, Classen, Northeast and Midwest City high schools. Dunaway retired as an administrator in the Mid-Del school system.

Herb Copeland, 73, of Bella Vista, Ark., was a longtime dirt car racer. He had multiple victories at State Fair Speedway in Oklahoma City, Tulsa Speedway and tracks in Lawton, Muskogee, Dallas, Wichita and his native Dodge City, Kan. Copeland won a National Championship Racing Association title and twice triumphed at the Hutchinson Nationals, once regarded as the biggest sprint car event of the summer. He drove for many car owners over a 20-plus-year career, including Carroll Nance, whose state-of-the-art racers were recognized by fans as being white with a red No. 1. One of Copeland's landmark victories came in 1983 on Oklahoma City's half-mile oval, when he captured the inaugural NCRA vs. USAC Challenge. The $8,000-to-win race attracted drivers with Indianapolis 500 experience.

Darrell Hill of Yukon starred in football and wrestling in his native Kansas. He was an All-State lineman while helping Topeka High School win the 1951 state title. That same school year, Hill was state wrestling champion at heavyweight. He received a football scholarship to Wichita State, playing all four years and helping the Wheat Shockers win the Missouri Valley Conference championship twice. Hill was an all-conference offensive tackle, before going on to coach high school football and wrestling in Kansas and Oklahoma. Hill advanced to administration and was superintendent of Yukon Schools when he retired after 40 years in education. On the side, he refereed wrestling for OU, OSU, other Big Eight schools and NCAA tournaments. Hill battled congestive heart failure for 18 years before his death at age 80.

Jack Davis, 96, of Ryan played for Union Valley High School’s state tournament basketball team in 1936. He went to work for Ashland Oil, which required a move to Illinois. Recreation time was spent playing softball and golf. He pitched St. Elmo (Ill.) to a men’s state championship, and he aced nine holes in golf.

• Tulsa native Nancy Bragg Witmer, 87, was a Hall of Fame trick rodeo rider. She performed all over the country and was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, although her career ended by age 30 due to injury. While in New York for a rodeo at Madison Square Garden, Witmer did a radio spot with baseball legend Babe Ruth. She raised three children and remained a horsewoman, twice winning the world champion cutting horse title.

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by Scott Munn
Sports Assistant Editor
Scott Munn joined The Oklahoman/Oklahoma City Times sports staffs in October 1982. He spent a year as a formcharter, three years on the desk and 16 as a reporter. Scott has spent the last nine years as an evening assistant sports editor. Scott's...
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