Jack of all trades, “Mr. Offense” fondly remembers Cowley
If you ask some people in Oklahoma what they know about Bill Hackathorn, some will say he ran the largest Bass tournaments in five states in the 1990’s. Others might say they remember he drove sprint cars around Oklahoma and Kansas back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Others would say they remember seeing him on TV every 4th of July serving as a Pyro-technician for the fireworks shows for the City of Tulsa.
Still, others might remember Bill as an attorney in Tulsa who was involved with several serious trials, including murder trials, in the 90’s. Then there are those who would say they see him now and then singing and playing guitar with buddies in Jam sessions around various towns. Some would say he was that guy in Owasso, OK, who spent five or six years building the little league program from nothing into one of the largest in Oklahoma, coaching Flag and Tackle Football, all ages of baseball, basketball, and even a season as a boy’s gymnastics coach.
All of those would be true, and they would all be talking about the same person. However, none of these things constituted Hackathorn’s true profession of aerospace.
In fact, those he worked with for 40 years in aerospace would say he worked in just about every aspect of aerospace while he was doing all these other things, including coaching, running Bass tournaments, and attending Law School at night at Tulsa University.
Bill worked for McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and currently for L-3 Communications in Waco Texas, where he is a Subcontract Manager for various military aircraft programs. He is known as an industry expert in advising and assisting small businesses in steps to become Government Contractors.
But to those who were in Cowley County in 1971 and 1972, before there were cafeterias or dorms or new apartments around the campus, there are memories of maybe the best football team Cowley ever fielded, and they can tell you exactly who this Bill Hackathorn was. He was “Mr. Offense.”
During his time at Cowley, Mr. Offense lost only one game as the Tiger starting quarterback. He was in the top-5 quarterbacks in the nation in total offense and passing and was consistently at the top of the conference charts during his sophomore season. Former Tiger head football coach Ben Cleveland said Bill was among the best passers he ever coached, and that he was a sleeper. Ben said at his own retirement dinner, at which Hackathorn was a featured speaker that he never did understand how Mr. Offense ended up at Cowley instead of Oklahoma, Kansas, or Notre Dame. The answer to that was really fairly simple. Prior to coming to Cowley, Mr. Offense played defense.
Bill Hackathorn grew up on a farm in northeastern Oklahoma, at a place called Round Springs Hollow, and attended one of the last of those small two-room schoolhouses, with 35 kids in the first through the eighth grades. He would throw anything and everything, from rocks to any kind of ball he could find. When his school was closed, he had to move to a little larger school for eighth and ninth grades, where there were just enough boys, 13 to be exact, to have a football team.
His Coach at Jay Junior High School, Charlie Cooper, taught Bill a very important part of football. Discipline. He never forgot it, or Charlie, and he played every down of football while there, and fell in love with the sport. Offense, defense, he didn’t care – he just loved playing.
Then, he and his two brothers from divorced parents, moved to Tulsa just as it was time for Bill, or “Hack”, as they then began to call him, was ready for high school. From the smallest school in the state to the second largest high school, Tulsa’s Will Rogers High. In two years, he went from having three kids in his class, to Rogers High, where his class included over 1,100 students. He didn’t care, because he was going to play football.
When he moved to Tulsa and became a Rogers Roper, he was ready to show them that Charlie Cooper had sent them his best football player. But there were so many players that he got lost in the numbers and could not do anything to stand out because of the talented players it seemed at nearly every position.
Then, during the spring of his senior season, Tulsa University’s quarterback, Rick Arrington, came to Rogers High to do his practice teaching. He would be there one semester and because most of the quarterbacks were playing baseball, Bill ended up with most of the spring working one-on-one with Arrington. Rick left after spring drills and started at quarterback the next four years for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL.
“He taught me things about being a quarterback that I had no idea about,” Hackathorn said. “He taught me how to throw passes of different types and how to make fakes that really fooled someone.”
During his senior season he worked his way up to the back up quarterback position. Then came one game when the team got a comfortable lead and they put Bill in the game at quarterback - instead of on defense, where he played a few plays as a junior.
He played one quarter, threw for almost 200 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a two point conversion.
“Everybody said I might even take over the number one quarterback job at the second largest high school in the state,” Hackathorn said.
Then came the next Wednesday in practice, when he was practicing punting as the second string punter, and he suffered a rotator cuff injury that ended his high school career.
After contemplating a career flying fighter jets in the Navy, Hackathorn’s friend, Dave Eslick, had just finished his freshman year playing football at Cowley and talked his buddy into joining him at the school.
“I never thought seriously that, after my less than stellar high school career I would really be able to play more football,” Hackathorn said. “The city was great, the school was great, the professors were real people and I loved them all.”
Hackathorn immersed himself in the college experience, playing football and baseball, while singing and acting in school plays. He was listed in Who’s Who Among Students in American Jr. Colleges and was put on a committee for community liaison for the college.
He has fond memories of playing for Ben Cleveland, who was the head coach of the Tiger football and baseball teams.
“Benny was great - A man of complete integrity,” Hackathorn said. “I was very lucky to know him, to have played football and baseball for him, and to have him care about me. I probably ate dinner at his house more than any player who was there during my time. His entire family was wonderful and I remember thinking that he was the kind of father I hoped to be.”
During Hackathorn’s freshman season with the football team, Cowley was losing to Coffeyville 7-0in front of a large homecoming crowd. With time running out in the game and starting quarterback Rick Cleveland barely able to walk due to a nagging foot injury, Hackathorn was summoned to go into the game.
“Ben patted me on the shoulder and said, “You can do this.” He actually looked like he believed it and I was hoping to get very lucky and not let him down,” Hackathorn said.
With the ball at the 45-yard line, Hackathorn lofted a pass down the sideline to teammate Bob Tucker, who went up high to catch the ball over two defenders and raced the last 10 yards for the touchdown.
Cleveland informed Hackathorn to attempt the two-point conversion after the score as the Tigers wanted to win the game in regulation.
Hackathorn took the snap and threw a pass to slot back, Randy Watson, for the two-point conversion, which lifted Cowley to a thrilling 8-7 win. The victory helped set the tone for Hackathorn’s sophomore season.
As a sophomore, Hackathorn took over as the team’s starting quarterback and led Cowley to a record of 8-2. He led the conference in passing and total yardage and was named Second- Team All-Conference as Cowley finished ranked in the top-10 of the national poll.
“Under Ben Cleveland, I became a quarterback,” Hackathorn said.
Shortly after graduating from Cowley and taking a full scholarship at Northwestern Oklahoma State in Alva, Hackathorn’s stepfather passed away from cancer.
“My mom suddenly needed me, so things became tougher to be the student and the football player I wanted to be there,” Hackathorn said. “I did not have the family I knew at Cowley.”
His mother passed away shortly thereafter and a back injury forced him to leave the game of football.
He went on to work at McDonnell Douglas and Boeing and came back to Tulsa where he ended up marrying his first wife, Cynthia. The couple was married for 28 years and had two children, Dusty 32, and Brady 27.
After 10 years at Mc- Donnell Douglas, Hackathorn began attending night school at Tulsa University to obtain a diploma as a Juris Doctor. He handled all sorts of cases and is still an active member in good standing of the Oklahoma and American Bar associations.
However, he currently writes contracts to buy airplanes and to buy things that are put into planes so our service people have the very best equipment possible. He also helps small businesses get started in the defense industry.
“I use my legal experience and training in my job, which is all about writing and executing contracts,” Hackathorn said. “I cannot tell you how much some of these contracts are worth, but it is in the hundreds of millions of dollars and I deal with customers and suppliers all over the globe.”
A few years back, Hackathorn reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Debbie, who is involved in the same line of work. The two are now happily married.
“When we ran into each other again after about 30 years, it was interesting that we were both doing the same kinds of things,” Hackathorn said.
The couple resides in Waco, Texas and hope to someday retire back around Tulsa.
“Maybe even around Dewey, Oklahoma, where an old friend, Ben Cleveland, waits for me to come go fishing with him,” Hackathorn said.