WEST RUSK, Texas (KETK) – West Rusk ISD is starting a new tradition to honor their past.

Starting next year, the athletics department will have a special jersey with the number 37. It will be worn by a member of the football team chosen weekly by the coaching staff.

The number 37 gets its significance from a natural gas explosion in 1937, known as the New London school explosion. Almost 300 people were killed and only about 130 students escaped serious injury.

According to the athletics department, the purpose of the jersey is to “keep the kids of this generation knowing what happened” that day in 1937. The announcement was met with lots of support from the community on Facebook.

“We want those chosen, to understand the effects this school has on the community. Represent us well.”

West Rusk Athletics

The idea originated from Miles Toler, a local graduate and sports broadcaster. An inspiration behind this idea was the 12th Man jersey at A&M.

The Texas State Historical Association has a record of events from that time, recalling what caused the explosion and the impacts of it.

Lemmie R. Butler, instructor of manual training, turned on a sanding machine in an area which, unknown to him, was filled with a mixture of gas and air. The switch ignited the mixture and carried the flame into a nearly closed space beneath the building, 253 feet long and 56 feet wide. Immediately the building seemed to lift in the air and then smashed to the ground. Walls collapsed. The roof fell in and buried its victims in a mass of brick, steel, and concrete debris. The explosion was heard four miles away, and it hurled a two-ton concrete slab 200 feet away, where it crushed a car.


In the aftermath of the explosion, workers began sifting through the rubble looking for victims. Rescue operations continued through the night as rain fell and floodlights were set up. Within 17 hours, all victims and debris were removed from the site.

An odorization law was passed in the aftermath of the disaster. The law requires distinctive rotten egg smells to be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so the public could have some warning of gas leaks.

A pink granite cenotaph was erected as a memorial to the hundreds lost in the tragedy. This jersey is one more way the community is keeping the memory of their lost loved ones alive.