BLESSING IN TEXAS – Blessing, Texas has few of the assets and amenities enjoyed by La Conner. But it does have, which La Conner sorely lacks, the open space it developed into multi-purpose, sprawling Heffelfinger Memorial Park.                  – Photo courtesy of Karla Reynolds
BLESSING IN TEXAS – Blessing, Texas has few of the assets and amenities enjoyed by La Conner. But it does have, which La Conner sorely lacks, the open space it developed into multi-purpose, sprawling Heffelfinger Memorial Park. – Photo courtesy of Karla Reynolds

La Conner has many blessings – a temperate climate, its location along a saltwater channel and near the mouth of a scenic river, conifer forests and views of snow-capped mountains. 

What’s lacking, however, is available land to develop spacious multi-purpose public parks. 

By contrast, the small community of Blessing, Texas is beset with brutally hot, humid summer weather, is nearly 20 miles from the Little Colorado River and almost 25 miles distant from Matagorda Bay, has no mountains and the nearest thick woodlands is a palm tree farm 15 miles to the east. 

But what it does have, thanks to a seemingly endless land base, is a sprawling park that is equal parts open green space and modern youth sports complex. 

Heffelfinger Memorial Park, named for the nation’s first documented professional football player, is a point of pride in the rural Gulf Coast town, which covers some two square miles and is home to about 300 households. 

The Heffelfinger venue features well-maintained youth baseball, softball and soccer fields; areas designated for football practices; a large open grassy play area that includes a steep climbing hill, lighted tennis and basketball courts, a gazebo, picnic tables, restrooms and a long, looping walking/jogging trail marked by a series of arched pedestrian bridges. 

La Conner, on the other hand, has seen its limited recreational space reduced this year: The sale of the almost two-acre Hedlin’s Ballfield off Maple Avenue and the site’s subsequent conversion to a subdivision and smaller public park area kicked off a sustained controversy. 

Yet in Blessing, Heffelfinger Memorial Park remains a focal point for a graying community – one with less than half its households having children under 18-years-old. Nor is Blessing affluent. An estimated 25 per cent of its population lives below the poverty line. 

Still, at one time, it was thriving railroad town. 

The story goes that Blessing was established on land owned by South Texas cattleman Jonathan Pierce. His and the town’s fortunes improved with arrival of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad. The rail line gave a relieved Pierce a way to ship his cattle. 

One not so small detail remained. The town had no name. Pierce suggested it be named “Thank God,” but postal authorities deemed that somewhat blasphemous. The more suitable “Blessing” was substituted. 

The town’s post office opened in 1903, two years after Pierce’s daughter, Grace, married former Yale gridiron star William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, who stood 6’-3” tall and was described as “205 pounds of football fury.” 

Heffelfinger was an All-American lineman under legendary Eli coach Walter Camp and his Yale teammates included the famed Amos Alonzo Stagg. Following his college graduation, Heffelfinger took a railroad job in Omaha, Nebraska but continued to play amateur football with the Chicago Athletic Association. 

In 1892, Heffelfinger was granted a leave of absence to join his Chicago teammates on a six-game swing through the Northeast. During the trip, he was enticed by a $500 offer from the Allegheny Athletic Association to switch teams. 

Allegheny’s money was well spent. 

During the game in which he suited up for the Pittsburgh area team, Heffelfinger forced a fumble, scooped up the ball and rambled 35 yards for the game’s lone score. 

Heffelfinger’s “contract” didn’t surface for more than 80 years. That’s when the Pro Football Hall of Fame received a handwritten accounting sheet showing the Allegheny Athletic Association had paid a “game performance bonus” of $500 to Heffelfinger. 

That documentation is now referred to as “pro football’s birth certificate.” 

Blessing residents say Heffelfinger’s fans included future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, despite the fact “T.R.” graduated from Yale’s archrival Harvard. They claim Heffelfinger and Roosevelt collaborated to change football’s rules to make it a safer sport. Those revisions included requirements that players wear helmets and pads. 

Heffelfinger went on to coach football at the University of California, Lehigh University and the University of Minnesota. He also edited “Heffelfinger’s Football Facts,” an annual booklet featuring football history, rules and statistics along with professional and college team schedules. 

In addition, he entered the political arena twice in the 1920s, losing primaries for Congress in his home state of Minnesota. 

“Politics,” Heffelfinger rued afterward, “is tougher than football – a whole lot.” 

His lament is one that La Conner council candidates this election year, given a host of thorny issues to tackle, might well relate.