A Legacy Of Love
The 2022 high school football season in the area saw several champions crowned in Duncanville, DeSoto and South Oak Cliff, each making their own bit of history. Other programs had memorable seasons in their own right, including the Midlothian Panthers winning a dozen games for only the second time ever and for the first time in nearly four decades.
But one champion stands above all. Sadly, Clif White wasn’t around at the end of the season – at least not in physical form, he continues to be very much alive in the hearts of the many people he affected.
The heart he touched the most, even long before becoming ill, was that of his wife, legendary softball pitcher Meagan Denny White. As she bravely battled through an emotional first season as a widowed mother of two small children, Maverick and Riggins, she shared memories of Clif with Focus Daily News.
By now, most anyone who keeps up with high school football in North Texas – and even many who don’t – know his story. He battled a rare form of cancer, continuing to work as an assistant coach with the Midlothian Panthers through a 7-0 start to the season before succumbing to his disease just hours after celebrating his 37th birthday.
A Cinderella Season With A Bittersweet Ending
Were it a movie the Panthers would have gone on to finish 16-0 and win the first state championship in program history. In real life, however, their season ended when the eventual state champion Aledo Bearcats rallied in the final quarter for a 27-21 victory.
While it was a loss, this game was important in the legacy of White because it showed the widespread impact he had. While it was a necessary step to another state championship for the Bearcats, there must have been a certain bittersweetness in the conquest.
“My gosh, so many Aledo coaches and many others reached out,” said Meagan. “It just makes me so proud of him. I’ve had people from all over the world contact me. He’s gone global.
“I’ve always known how wonderful this man is. But now, people who have never met him know what a strong Christian man he was.”
White was a shining symbol of strength. At a time when he could have decided he just didn’t have the strength to keep coaching, he did the opposite, he fought through all the bad feelings that come with cancer, all the weariness and fatigue – physical and mental. He was there for his players to see what a fighter really looks like.
Panthers Put Up A Fight
“No doubt he’s inspired everybody in our program, and continues to do so,” said Panthers coach Doug Wendel. “He loved the Panthers as much or more than anybody ever has.”
The Panthers played what must have been their hardest game of the season on Oct. 21, knowing the next day they would lay their beloved coach to rest. But if there was ever a game they were not going to lose, it was this one as they held off upset-minded Lake Belton 39-37.
Call it cliche’, but of course Clif was watching and there’s no doubt he was proud of that performance and every game the Panthers played all season.
“Those kids had just lost their coach. They were the epitome of what it was like to fight like coach White,” Meagan said. “His spirit lived through them.”
The Panthers would go on to finish 12-1, matching the 1984 squad for the best record in team history.
A Community That Rallied
Not only did he inspire the players, he inspired an entire community. They rallied around coach White like Bedford Falls and George Bailey, though in the end they couldn’t come to his rescue.
“Everything the Bible says about the community, they embody to perfection,” Meagan said of Midlothian. “Wow! With a capital W!”
This was 9-year-old Maverick’s first year to be old enough to go on the field with his daddy. Even after his father’s passing, Maverick would continue to be a regular visitor to the Panthers’ locker room.
“We would be so honored if they would let him continue to do that,” Meagan said. “That was Clif’s dream, to coach his son.”
While there was no magical end to the season in the form of a state championship, Meagan said there was – and is – still plenty of magic and inspiration in Clif’s story.
“I’m telling you, this is fit for a movie,” she said. “No one is going to forget what the Midlothian Panthers and Clif White did.”
Area football playoff recap
A dozen area teams advanced to the postseason in 2022. Of those, 11 won at least one playoff game.
Here’s a recap how each fared:
Class 6A Division I
Duncanville (15-0) – The Panthers won their first state championship since 1998 and the first ever for coaching legend Reginald Samples, defeating nemesis Galena Park North Shore 28-21 at AT&T Stadium. North Shore had defeated the Panthers in the state finals three times in the previous four seasons. With the victory, coming after DeSoto’s title earlier in the day in Division II, the Panthers and Eagles became only the third pair of teams from the same district to win state in the same season. The Panthers also finished the season ranked seventh in the nation.
Waxahachie (10-3) – The Indians advanced to the third round of the playoffs and posted their best season since going 12-1 in 2009.
South Grand Prairie (6-6) – In the most interesting of seasons, the Warriors overcame an 0-5 start to win six straight and advance to the second round of the playoffs before falling to state semifinalist Prosper.
Class 6A Division II
DeSoto (14-2) – The Eagles made history twice, first as mentioned previously with district mate Duncanville and also by making Claude Mathis the first black coach to win a 6A state championship. They capped their season with a 42-17 victory against Austin Vandegrift at AT&T Stadium. The Eagles ended the season ranked No. 21 nationally with their only losses coming to Duncanville and No. 8 Baltimore St. Francis.
Mansfield (7-4) – The Tigers made their first playoff appearance since 2017.
Class 5A Division I
Mansfield Timberview (13-1) – The Wolves posted the most victories in team history and advanced to the state quarterfinals, the second longest playoff run ever. They spent most of the season ranked No. 2 in the state, eventually falling to No. 1 Longview, which then fell to Aledo in the state semifinals.
Midlothian (12-1) – The Panthers matched the best record in program history, advancing to the third round before falling 27-21 to eventual state champion Aledo.
Red Oak (9-3) – The Hawks rebounded from a 2-8 record in 2021 to reach the second round of the playoffs, their fourth postseason appearance in five seasons.
Lancaster (9-3) – The Tigers’ three losses were to 6A Division II semifinalist Denton Guyer (14-1), 5A Division I semifinalist Longview (14-1) and 5A Division I regional semifinalist Frisco Reedy (12-1) in overtime. Among their victories en route to a second-round playoff appearance was a 21-3 win over 5A Division II repeat state champion Dallas South Oak Cliff.
Class 5A Division II
Midlothian Heritage (11-2) – While much attention was given to their crosstown counterparts, the Jaguars compiled one of the best seasons since beginning play in 2015. After dropping the season opener to Stephenville, they reeled off 11 straight victories before being ousted in the third round of the playoffs by South Oak Cliff 33-27 in overtime.
Ennis (6-6) – The Lions were 2-5 after seven games, then won four straight to move to the second round of the playoffs before their season was ended by state quarterfinalist Melissa.
Mansfield Summit (5-6) – Though they were the lone playoff team from the area not to win a postseason contest, the Jaguars gave South Oak Cliff all they could handle before the Bears escaped with a 12-7 victory. This was also Summit’s fourth straight playoff berth.