October 25, 1982 12:00 PM

When the Kountze (Texas) High School football team beat the Woodville Eagles five years ago, 7-2, it was neither much appreciated nor particularly savored. That, in retrospect, was a big mistake. The next week, the Lions, the pride of the tiny lumber mill town of 2,716, lost. And then went on to lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose…53 straight times, to establish the longest high school football losing streak in recent history.

Like all losers, they lost in all manner of ways. They were nipped 7-6; they were drilled 99-0, moving the coach to flee town the next day. They were awful beyond atrocious. But they had hope. In 1979, a diehard fan gave the school a victory bell to ring after winning. Silence. Three years ago, townsfolk launched a “We’ll be there when the victory comes” campaign, complete with bumper stickers. On the stickers, Kountze was misspelled. “That was typical,” says Booster Club President Ed Bumstead, “of the way things have been going around here for a long time.” Like everyone else, Bumstead gritted his teeth and went on hoping.

Portents were not bright for this year’s homecoming game. It rained on the parade, the scoreboard shorted out and a hand-painted paper banner ripped before the players could run through it on their way to the field. And Don Elliff, 33, the fifth Kountze coach to suffer during The Streak, watched his Lions battle Kirbyville High scoreless all evening. Then, with less than a minute remaining, Kirbyville fumbled, Kountze recovered, and, hallelujah, senior Wally Whisenhant booted a 28-yard field goal. Final score: Kountze 3, Kirbyville 0.

An estimated 1,300 Kountze faithful poured onto the field, finding this even more fun than double-stamp day at the Brookshire Brothers Grocery. Elliff, overcome, fell to his knees in tears. “My mind just went blank,” he said later. “I couldn’t help myself.” He wasn’t the only one. Somewhere, off in a corner, hope must have been dancing a jig.

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