Coach Wyatt – what he has given to West Point

Some times an exception must be made – Coach Hugh Wyatt has given West Point and Football players across our Nation a special recognition –

It is not just sought in the Football Team Members but every Army Team and in the Corps of Cadets itself. The Criteria represents the devotion to Duty desired in every Graduate.


The Black Lion Award was established in 2001 to honor the memory of Major Don Holleder, former West Point All-American who died in combat in Vietnam in October, 1967, and the men of the 28th Infantry – The Black Lions – who died with him that day.

The Black Lion Award is intended to go to that football player on his team – every high school, middle school and youth football team in America is eligible to participate – 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.”

It all started when a high school coach in Washington state, Hugh Wyatt, turned to legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik for advice. Not to the coach himself, but to his book, “You Have to Pay the Price,” written in 1960 with Tim Cohane.

“Early in my coaching career,” said Wyatt, “I was looking for help wherever I could find it, and I found a lot of wisdom in Coach “Earl Blaik”‘s book. I was especially impressed by the story of his move of “Don Holleder” to quarterback.”

Don Holleder was an All-American end as a junior, but when his coach asked him made the switch to quarterback as a senior, he agreed to do so, foregoing any chance for national recognition.

“I vaguely remembered “Don Holleder” as a player, because I was a high school senior in 1955, when he was a senior at West Point, and one of the things that helped convince me to go to Yale was Yale’s 14-12 upset of Army that year. I figured. ‘If they can beat Army, they must be pretty good!’

“Years later, I was re-reading Colonel Blaik’s book, and this time, the chapter on “Don Holleder” really hit me. This time, as Paul Harvey would say, I knew the rest of the story. There I was, reading about how he gave up his chance for All-American glory for the good of his team, but this time, I knew how Don Holleder’s life had ended, how as Major “Don Holleder” he’d made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of another team. I read it over and over, and got rather emotional. I read it to my wife, and she got emotional, too.

“I thought, ‘Wow! This is what football’s supposed to be about! This is what we constantly preach to our kids, and here’s a guy who did it! And not once, but twice!”

Thinking that other coaches might also find the story inspiring, Wyatt rewrote it, and posted it on his Web site.

Before long, he’d heard from two men, two Black Lions, who had served with Don Holleder in Vietnam. One of them was Tom “Doc” Hinger, the medical corpsman in whose arms Holleder died; the other was retired Brigadier General Jim Shelton, a fellow officer at the time who had been called on to identify Major Holleder’s body.

(Jim Shelton played college football at Delaware, and in his book about his Vietnam combat experiences, he tells of a pre-season scrimmage between Delaware and Army in 1955, in which he played linebacker and had to tackle Holleder. “It was a punishing task,” he remembers. “He gave no quarter.”)

Wyatt said that after getting to know Hinger and Shelton better, he proposed an idea to them: an award for young football players, to honor the Black Lions and Don Holleder, with emphasis on Holleder’s example of leadership, courage and unselfishness.

“I wouldn”t have thought of it if I’d never met them,” Wyatt says. “I was in awe of their devotion to the memory of the men they’d served with. These two men have lived full and successful lives, but you get the sense that every step of the way, they’ve been living on behalf of other men, who fell more than 40 years ago.”

Hinger and Shelton approved of the idea, and helped obtain approval from the 28th Infantry Association, and more important, from Major Holleder’s widow.

By sheer coincidence, the Black Lion Award was established in 2001, the 100th anniversary of the forming of the 28th Infantry Regiment, the famed Black Lions of Cantigny, the first Americans to see combat duty overseas, in World War I.

Coaches electing to participate in the Black Lion Award program are required at the end of their season to choose one player from their team who best measures up to the criteria of the award, as exemplified by Don Holleder:

leadership, courage, devotion to duty, self-sacrifice, and – above all – an unselfish concern for the team ahead of himself

they then submit a letter of nomination, explaining how their nominee has measured up to the award’s criteria.

The award itself consists of a certificate suitable for framing, and a Black Lions regimental patch. It is mailed to the coach, who is asked to explain its significance when presenting it at the team’s awards ceremony. Many teams custom-mount the certificates on impressive-looking plaques. (Each certificate is personally signed by General Shelton, who serves as Honorary Colonel of the 28th Infantry Regiment.)

(The patch was not part of the original award, but was included after numerous parents of winners, having seen similar patches on jerseys in the Army-Navy game, inquired about purchasing one. Some teams mount the patch on the plaque along with the certificate, while others give it separately to the winner. More than one patch has been worn with pride on the player’s jersey the next year.)

There is no cost to teams to participate in the program, although coaches are asked as a matter of honor to inform their players of the meaning of the award and of the men it honors. The cost of administering the program is defrayed by private donations.

Says Wyatt, “It really is a great way for a coach to recognize the sort of player that every coach wants on his team, and it’s also a wonderful way to honor and remember brave Americans. There’s no better way for us to keep the memory of a brave man alive than by encouraging our young people to be like him.

“The best thing about it from a coach’s standpoint, I think, is that a lineman has as good a chance of winning it as a back, and a non-starter has as good a chance of winning it as a star. It’s not intended to go to the Most Valuable Player, or the Highest Scorer, or the Leading Tackler – although those one of those guys might win it, too – and it might not even go to a starter. It’s meant to go to the sort of kid America needs more of.”

Many teams have contacted an active serviceman or veteran in their area to present their awar, turning the occasion into a great way to recognize and honor veterans, as well as a way for today’s youngsters to meet, first-hand, men who have served their country.

Says Wyatt, “If you doubt that America is still turning out great kids, you have only to read some of the letters of nomination we receive. At the end of the season, I print a bunch of them and share them with my friends in the Black Lions, and with Major Holleder’s family.

And if you wonder whether the program is having an impact on youngsters, Wyatt offers as evidence one of many letters he receives, this one from a dad in Texas. As a seventh grader, his son had won his team’s Black Lion Award. But as an eighth-grader, he ran up against much bigger kids, and had to struggle just to make the team.

His dad wrote to tell about the day his son learned he’d made the cut:
Don’t you just love it when you tell your kids something like “work hard, and it will pay off” and it actually happens?” My hat’s off to the Coaches – I understand why he had a hard time crackin’ the starting line-up because of his size – but they actually allowed his work ethic, tenacity and even a little skill to influence their decision. Good for them, and good for him. I was so proud of him when I picked him up Monday night because I know how hard he’s worked, and I let him know as much – I SWEAR – he told me – “I’m a Black Lion, dad – I couldn’t quit”. I’m teary eyed just writing the words. No kidding. Scott Barnes, Rockwall, Texas.

Hundreds of teams, from first grade to high school, have taken part in the program in its short existence, and in 2004, the Army Football Club, the association of West Point football letter winners, elected to present the Black Lion Award annually to a member of the Army football team. The first Army Black Lion was defensive end “Will Sullivan”, of Atlanta, Georgia.

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