Coach Gayle Sessions reminisces on her 34 years teaching/coaching in Devine

The sign is still in her yard as of 2023, Coach Sessions said. It is an old Devine street sign that players had borrowed and repainted. They had gone to state that year so each side was lettered with accomplishments. Cindy Hundley may have been one of the players who put it there in 1973, she adds.

An icon in Devine, we hope you enjoy this interview with Coach Gayle Sessions as she shares treasured memories of her 34 years teaching and coaching in Devine with Devine News columnist Kathleene Runnels . She talks of tales starting back in the 60’s when Devine schools “had no air-conditioned classrooms or gym, square dancing was a class, and there was still a designated smoking area for students at school.”
“In the fall of 1964, Carolyn Williams was hired as the Arabian Basketball Coach, and I came with her to coach at Devine Jr. High. Marvin Gustafson, legendary and Hall of Fame football coach, was the athletic director. Ralph Rice was superintendent and hired me over the phone. The junior high was in the “Green Alamo,” today’s VFW building.
It was a culture shock, coming from Tennessee with its green yards, gardens, and tall trees. I found out the hard way that you don’t go barefoot in the South Texas brown grass in 100+ degree weather! I could easily have packed up and gone back to Tennessee. Instead, it was 34 years later that I did return to take care of my aging parents. Why did I stay? It was the PLACE, the PEOPLE, the PROFESSION.
The PLACE, Devine, a small, rural, tight-knit community had a general store – Loggins and Lilly – with a motto “Everything from a rat skin to a ranch.” What more could you ask for? The school was known for its small town athletics and academic excellence. It had very few discipline issues and excellent community support. All South Texas knew how successful the football and basketball programs were under Coach Gus, and the girls’ basketball team had won the state championship two years earlier.
The PEOPLE were friendly, welcoming, and eager to help me adjust to different surroundings. My very first day at the junior high, Neva Muennick Saathoff, an 8th-grade athlete, offered to take me to the cafeteria, and on the way said, “Don’t worry; Devine doesn’t have knife fights in the school like they do in San Antonio.” Wow! That made me think!
Carolyn Williams met Mrs. Gene Ward, a high school teacher, who immediately invited us to her home to meet her daughter, Betty, a former Arabian who was on the 1961 basketball team that finished 3rd in State. We became great friends, and Betty, for many years, wrote all our basketball articles for the Devine News.
Imogene McAllister Tschirhart was a 7th grade athlete my first year, and I became friends with her parents, Alda Rose and Walter. We were often invited to eat with them on Thanksgiving or other special occasions. They became “my second family.” Walter was our summer league softball coach. He was tough and did not give us any slack. His favorite saying was “AGAIN,” and our first team was the DEVINE NUTS, and later, the ROADRUNNERS.
During those years, we had adults from Poteet and Jourdanton, mixed in with some talented younger Arabians. We won two State Softball Slow-pitch titles and qualified to Nationals. But, school was about to start, and we could not leave.
Imogene was the Tschirhart’s oldest daughter, and of course she played for me. Then she went into coaching at Medina Valley, and even beat me! So, I hired her to help coach the Devine Fillys. She stayed in Devine long after I retired and was responsible for much of the Arabians’ successes through her early indoctrination while they were in 7th and 8th grades.
Denise McAllister Boehme never had any other coach but me (poor girl) because she went to high school the same year that I went. She became a teacher, an elementary principal, and, last I heard, was still helping in the MVISD system.
Theresa, the baby McAllister, was born when Imogene was a 7th grader. When she was a youngster, she told her mother she was worried that if she played high school basketball, they might squash me in the huddle. She became a coach and just recently retired as Superintendent of Jourdanton ISD.
Some other former players that also became coaches were Diana Rohmer, Cindy Hundley, Marley Fewell, Debbie Shields, Samantha McClure, Sherry Head, Sandy Beck, Holly Graham (who went on to coach at several universities), Shana McGinnis, Terri Wells (DHS volleyball coach and recently retired as Girls Athletic Coordinator), and I only wish I could remember more.
In 1966 I met Don Sessions at an end-of-the-year basketball party. He was helping BBQ, imagine that! We married in 1967, and since he was a Texan, Devine definitely was now home.
My PROFESSION was teaching. In the late 60s, there were no air-conditioned classrooms or gyms. I taught tumbling and square dance in the “should-have-been-condemned” basement in the Green Alamo. Women teachers were required to wear dresses to school and to games. There was even a designated smoking area for students. The buses were governed and could only go 55 mph. Volleyball and basketball were the only UIL sports for girls, and basketball only in junior high. There were no cell phones, game films, college sports for girls, summer leagues, no all-weather tracks, and the girls played half court, 3-on-3; not full court, 5-on-5. Until Title IX in 1972, I had late basketball practice starting at 5:15 every day.
I started teaching at Devine High School in 1967 where many lasting and treasured friendships began. The staff had Christmas and end-of-the-school year parties, often at our house. Don cooked lots of briskets and taught many his technique. The parties might last so long that Don and I would go on to bed and leave our company outside in our yard. When Bob Bendele became principal, he wanted to cook and host the end-of-the-year get-together. That was certainly great with me!
We played Secret Santa games at Christmas. I have and still decorate at Christmas with a dinner plate that has a Christmas snow scene painted by English teacher, Kathleene Runnels (who began the Secret Santa tradition).
I was so impressed with the first prom decorations I saw. The theme was Las Vegas, and they painted and placed a huge mural of the Las Vegas skyline in front of the entire bleachers at the old high school, now the intermediate school. Then I remember that our old gym floor was warped and never the same after a prom waterfall leaked onto and under the wooden floor.
Often the class sponsors tried to out-do the decorations from the previous year. That was extremely hard to do, following my group of sponsors. We had Joyce Bendele, DHS art teacher, in charge of art and decoration ideas, JoAnn Lindsey (HomeEc teacher) for food, and Phil McAnnely for props. The rest of us did what we were told. Our proms were, in my opinion, spectacular.
Does anyone know of another school in which parents host an Around the World party for graduating seniors? For years, the last stop always had a swimming pool. After all the wonderful food and activities, some sponsors ended up being thrown into the pool. I always took as many seniors in with me as I could!
Spending a week with the seniors on their senior trip to Colorado was challenging and required several days of rest afterwards. We left at 4:00AM for a 2-day school-bus ride to Colorado Springs. I saw my first dust storm in the Texas Panhandle, snow on Pike’s Peak, the Royal Gorge, the Garden of the Gods. We tried to keep the seniors very busy, and the responsibility always kept me alert.
In my last 15 years, Bob Bendele was our high school principal. He emphasized values that I also believed: “Take pride and do your best in all activities at DHS.” He disciplined us when needed but he treated us like we were his brothers and sisters. He was amazing!

My PROFESSIONAL PASSION was coaching. In the 60s, no large schools in San Antonio played girls basketball. It was played only in small, rural schools. Devine was even Class AA. There was no 3-point shot; no AAU travel or elite teams, no individual paid instructors. A few girls shot a jump-shot and the euro step was not even thought of and would have been a walking violation. The defensive players never practiced free throws because when they were fouled, the coach was allowed to let her best offensive shooter to shoot for them. Imogene Tschirhart made 30 free throws in one game; that was common. Girls played half court, and the three offensive players stayed on one end while the defensive players advanced the ball up the mid-court line after a steal, rebound, or missed shot. No player could cross the center line. Our uniform shorts were very short – both the boys’ and girls’ – and the Dilly Queens wore skirts with shorts underneath.
Only the District Champion advanced to the playoff Bi-District game. The winner went straight to the Regional Tournament, and the four Regional winners went to State, where we were assured of two games. Winners played the championship game, and the losers played for 3rd place.
I became the Arabian Coach in 1967-68, and we lost our first four games but ended up playing at the Regional Tournament at Kingsville A&I, now A&M. Their old gym was so small that the defenders had to back up 3 ft from all out-of-bounds lines to allow the offense room to pass the ball inbounds.
In 1970, we went back to Regionals with a super exciting one-point victory, 70-69, over Canyon of New Braunfels, a much taller and more talented team. It was an unexpected win. Then we lost to Calallen for a second year in the finals.
In 1972, we lost to Calallen for a third time in the Regional finals. This Arabian team was loaded with talent from both the senior and junior classes. We were experienced, gutty, and probably my best team so far. I took this loss personally, which is never a good thing. They were a special team, and after that loss, I did not praise them as I should have. I sure tried later to let them know how proud I was of them. Glenda Robertson Lehnhoff, who just recently died, was senior on that team.
Maybe the 1973 team was motivated by those Calallen loses, as that year we won our 1st Regional Championship! We were going to State! It also helped that Calallen was now in Class AAA. But, getting there was still heart-stopping. We had won Bi-District, 64-62 over Boerne and had to come from behind in both Regional games to beat George West by one – 55-54, and then Granada, 52-42.
Not knowing any better, I allowed the UIL to make our lodging arrangements. We stayed in the oldest hotel in Austin with all its antique furniture and no place to park the bus. Don was driving all our bus trips, so he had to park and walk a half mile, back and forth, each trip.
At the State Tournament, our excitement met reality. We played undefeated Midway Waco, by far the best team in any classification in the state. Immediately we knew we were in trouble when 5’5” Clara Campsey’s jump shot was aggressively blocked by the 6’2” defender! In fact, they had three players over 6’ tall. Our tallest player was Diane Rohmer Patton at 5’9”, maybe! A unique thing about that team was that all four seniors had Marie as their middle name: Diane Marie Rohmer, Donna Marie Sollock, Clara Marie Campsey, and Emogene Marie DuBose. They were the “Maries of ‘73” playing in our first trip to Austin.
We made it to the State Tournament four times total. Our second trip again was not easy. We beat Hays Consolidated in overtime, 58-53. They missed a wide-open lay-up with seconds left that would have won the game for them. At Regionals, we nipped Palacious by 2 in the Regional finals. In our State game, we were trailing Abilene Wylie late in the game and needed to foul intentionally but make it not look intentional. Our guards were in foul trouble, so I put in freshman Tina Morris. According to her story, she was scared and did not understand what I meant when I said, “Push her.” So she did! The Wylie player went flying across the center line, and we were called for an intentional foul. So, they shot and got the ball back. But, that was not why we lost the game. We just did not shoot very well, and I had a sick player trying to play in the very hot, old Gregory Gym. Abilene won 69-54.
Our third trip to the State Tournament was in 1987 and was our best chance to win a game. We had talent, plus height, which was unusual, with 6’2” Holly Graham, Melissa and Theresa Haglund, point guard, Tracey Fewell, and a host of other talented players. But, we could not overcome the efforts of Sweeney and lost, 60-51.
Our last trip was 1989 when we, once again, had two nail-biting games, the first with Liberty Hill. We won 52-51 on a lay-up by Vanessa Lorraine with four seconds left to play. The final game was a rematch with Jourdanton and their star player, 6’1” Beth Burkett. We were equally matched teams. We had split in District play with them and were fortunate to have won Regionals in overtime, 56-54. In the State Semi-finals, we lost to power house Canyon Eagles from the Texas Panhandle by 40 points! That was painful!
We had a disappointing loss in our last trip to the Regional Tournament in 1992. However, the Area game just before was one of the best. We were losing by 5 points with 1:21 left in the game. Their fans started singing the “Na, Na, Na, Na, Good-bye” song to us. But “the fat lady had not sung yet, as Holly Sadler made a steal and an unbelievable save. She passed to Annie Martin, who scored. Annie followed up with two more baskets after we stole a pass and intercepted an inbound pass. We won 54-53, much to the disappointment of the Edna fans.
Bill Bain today will sometimes remind me of the win over Medina Valley when we went into our 4-corner stall for almost the entire game. Mandy Davis Cross, the assistant principal of Ciavarra Elementary, was the point guard in that game and loved to run the stall.
Terri Caldwell Wells, a former Arabian on the 1977 State qualifying team, came back to Devine to take over our volleyball program in 1982. Within a few years, her program was the envy of South Texas. She won back-to-back State Volleyball Championships in 1987 and 1988. Nothing is more exciting than winning it ALL! Stacy Hamilton Sparagna expressed that excitement well after our win; she did a back flip in her volleyball uniform on the court in front of all those fans. Good job, Stacey!
I started the girls cross country, track, and softball programs and had the pleasure of coaching all of them in the first seasons. I was the only girls coach in the program until 1980. So, I had to coach cross country and track. I did not know anything about track fundamentals, so I ordered a track book. The girls laughed (of course, behind my back) when they saw me reading the book at practice. Does anyone remember those old, gold, fuzzy track warm-ups? Yuck! With no money budgeted for track equipment, we even picked up aluminum cans to raise money. We had a dirt track as long as I was coaching in Devine; so, we had to roll, water, and line the track before every meet. Coach Glenn Randow taught us how to run an efficient meet, so people liked to come to Devine until other schools started getting all-weather tracks. Kayci Waters was our first State Track Champion, winning the 3200 meter run three times in a row, 1995-96-97. She was State Runner-up also three times in the mile (1600 meter) run in 1995, ’96, ’98.
We started softball in 1994, and I chose to coach the team with Don assisting. During the Christmas holidays before the first season began, Don, Jim, and I set all the fence posts in concrete, and several parents helped the school build the backstop and today’s dugouts. We were having a great season when, just before our 1st playoff game, our star catcher, Erica Ramos, was killed in a car accident. That was the worst of times. But, somehow, we pulled it all together with Brianne Obaya filling in as our catcher, and we made it all the way to the State Tournament. In our first game at State, we came from behind to win the game in the top of the 7th inning. Leah Lorraine got a critical hit into right field to aid in that victory.
The next morning, we had a big lead over Belleville early, but they kept cutting into our lead. We were up two, with one out in the 7th inning, when Belleville, with two runners on base, got a hit to the outfield. One run scored when the throw to home was late. But, quick-thinking catcher, Brianne Obaya, threw to third base to tag a runner who was making a wide turn at third. That was out number 2. In all the confusion, the Belleville coach decided to steal third as we were getting ready to give the ball to our pitcher. Alert Traci Steele saw what was happening and took the ball from Leah Lorraine Land and dove in a cloud of dust to make the tag for the 3rd out. We won 9-8 and were going to play in the Championship game. We were all celebrating wildly. Does anyone remember Coach Wells’ reaction as she was trying to find someone to hug and couldn’t? That was funny! Our luck ran out as we lost 9-2 in the Championship game.

Other fun times were team overnight camping trips to Con Can, Christmas parties at my house, and end-of-the-year parties with my brownies and Don’s brisket. We had to make our own money in order to give the players gifts. So, besides collecting aluminum cans, we ran the volleyball concessions stand. I always gave all Arabian athletes a small Christmas gift such as an Arabian key chain. At first I gave my seniors a charm with their name and uniform number. On the back was engraved their team accomplishments. Later, I changed it to a big plaque with their pictures in each sport they played, and I listed all their individual and team accomplishments.
I loved filming and creating the Sports Banquet Highlight film. It was so much work, before the time of computers. But, the athletes looked forward to seeing it, and I loved doing it for them.
An old, concrete City of Devine street sign appeared in my yard, lettered with our championship accomplishments in 1973. It is still in my yard. I have had to repaint it several times. I’m still not sure who borrowed it and gave it to me!
Some of my players loved to toilet paper the big oak trees in my yard. It happened so often that one year Don told me I had to put a stop to it or at least slow it down. I got permission from the parents of those I thought were the ring leaders to toilet paper their rooms. So, while I had them at practice, some friends went to their houses. They not only papered their bedrooms but emptied their dresser drawers. Their clothes and toilet paper were hanging from light fixtures, curtains, door knobs, drawer knobs, lamp shades, bed posts, and any area you can imagine. It was a mess, but their parents thought it was hilarious as they watched the clean-up.
Before Don and I were married, he got on our bus as we were leaving for Jourdanton for a game and announced that he had an engagement ring for the winning coach. No pressure? We did win by 3 points, beating coach Carolyn Williams, my close friend.
In 1978, I got to coach the very last 3-on-3, half court game in Texas. It was the summer before we started playing 5-on-5, and I was coaching the All-Star game at the Coaches’ Clinic. We were severe underdogs, but we snuck out a win. It was an exciting night as my parents had come from Tennessee to watch me coach.
The year I retired, the San Antonio Basketball Officials honored me by dedicating their roster book to me. There was an official who looked like the actor, George Jefferson. I was invited to their dedication meeting, but I was already coaching in Tennessee and could not be there. Neva and Jim went for me and told me later that they had a very cute skit with George Jefferson and me in my rocking chair in the Devine gym. I still regret that I could not attend.
Several coaches I hired are still coaching or teaching in Devine. Over 40 years ago, I hired Candi Darnell to help in basketball and to coach tennis. She is presently the middle school principal and still coaching tennis. Shana McGinnis Beaty, a former Arabian, helped coach in the middle school for years and is still teaching. I talked Gary Schmidt into helping me, and he coached several years after I retired. Jim, who is now Athletic Director, is still coaching the Arabians. I hired him in 1997-98, my very last year. People come to Devine and just want to stay. I sure understand that!
What a pleasure to coach Holly Graham. She was voted South Texas Women’s Sportsman of the year in 1998 and Most Outstanding Female Athlete in the Greater San Antonio Area. Shaquille O’Neal, Shaq of the NBA, was the male winner that same year. Holly got a 4-year scholarship to the University of Texas, and, after her volleyball season ended, she played basketball for Jody Conrad for the last half of the season.
I was blessed to be a part of the evolution of women’s college basketball from the 3-on-3 game to the fast-paced full court fame of today. Today’s players are highly skilled and talented.
Some pioneers in this development were Sue Gunter, LSU and Stephen F. Austin coach, Jody Conrad from the University of Texas, and Pat Head, the Summitt, Tennessee, coach. In the early 70s, they were fighting for equal rights for women in sports. Finally, with the passage of Title IX, equal opportunities for women, the college game grew by leaps and bounds. Now, women get college scholarships, play for the WNCAA championship, and the best, can play in the WNBA.
Sue Gunter came to Texas the same year we came. She really wanted to coach women’s college basketball when there were no opportunities. So, she did! I was a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University, and Sue put together an “Intramural travel team.” We put our number on a “T” shirt, drove our own cars, and paid all our expenses. She was a tough coach and had one rule I always remember: “You had better be in control all the time that you are in the game; if not, you are coming out, and you had best be in control when you come to the bench.”
I played and coached against so many notable players and coaches. Cathy Self Morgan, a former Jourdanton Squaw, won Seven State Championships and 1,170 games. She had the record of the longest winning streak, winning 105 games. That streak was broken in the State Championship finals.
There was WNBA player Clarissa Davis from John Jay High School and Nell Fortner, today’s Georgia coach and former ESPN commentator. Nell is from New Braunfels.
Leta Andrews, coach at Grandbury, Texas, may still have the record nationally for the most high school victories, 1416.
Joe Lombard won game #1000 in the State Championship finals. He has 1379 wins.
Since retiring, I just enjoy watching games with daughters of former players: Sandy Wilkerson Beck’s Willie Jo; Nicki Malone Taylor’s Allyson and Sierra; Shannon Marsh Ramirez’s Kailee and niece Oakley; Imogene Tschirhart’s Kara and Karla; Kelly Hellums’ twins, Megan and Brooke – also Arabians. Brooke won the Tennis State Championship. Dawn Hoog Zapata’s daughter, Jordon; Monica Ybanez’s Yessika. Joselyn and Jillian Cuajardo’s Aunt Maria was a player for me. There are so many more I wish I could name. But, it is time to get this to the Devine News and KK DuBose Calame, who is also a former Arabian, with daughters who played.
So, thanks to all former Arabians for the memories, and good luck to the future and present ones.
By the way, if you are thinking Coach Sessions sure has a great memory for details, NO! But I sure have great scrapbooks!