Coach Williams found out only a month ago that he had liver cancer, but he coached his team right up to the end, leading “his boys” this fall to another in a long line of playoffs berths. This Friday night the Redskins will travel to Lonoke for a first round playoff encounter.
In the 2008 book I wrote, titled “Riding the Storm Out,” I documented the role Coach Williams played in the culture of this small town. He was a community treasure.
As a high school principal, I always said that nothing fostered a smooth and positive start to a school year more than a successful football team. I will not try and rationalize or justify such a statement. As a professional educator, in theoretical analysis, I can not. But from a pragmatic view, backed by 30 years of experience, I can tell you that statement rings with a resounding truth. In many small communities, the collective psyche and self esteem of not only the school, but the entire community, rises and falls with the Friday night successes of the town’s football gladiators. These youth, the best that the community has to offer, are often led by a community outsider, the head coach - a mercenary selling his skills to the highest bidder with the promise of gridiron glory. Right or wrong, this phenomenon is part of small town Americana.
I spent a year, after retiring from the Missouri Public School system, as the Principal of Pocahontas, AR; a community of 6,000 tucked away in the Ozark foothills of northeast Arkansas. The positive effect on the community and the loads of community support for education derived directly due to the long time success of the PHS Redskins football team, was to say the least, amazing. Every Friday evening, 84 Sophomore, Junior and Senior boys dressed in the beloved and revered red uniforms, to do battle, home and away, before 5,000 adoring fans. Serving in auxiliary functions, but in the eyes of their parents and families, no less important roles, were the cheerleaders and the band. Both groups were award winners and worked long hours to contribute to the pageantry and festive environment that was Friday night football in Pocahontas, AR.
I had several long discussions with very talented teachers on my staff that didn’t understand the need to worship at the alter of Coach Williams and his boys, for merely playing a kids game on Friday night. What they so logically would point out to me was the obvious, what a young man learned in Chemistry class that morning would be the vehicle he would ride to life’s future successes or failures, and in the long run it really didn’t matter who won Friday Night’s football game. A goal line stand in the last two minutes of a close game will never pay the rent. I agree. But a chemistry lecture will never draw 5,000 community fanatics. That is just the way it is.
The key to the positive role that football played in this particular school was simply the man in charge. Coach Dave Williams had built a program for nearly 30 years through unbending discipline. He was a winner, but he was not about winning. He was about doing things the right way, and the community respected him for it. You behave, or you don’t play. As I pointed out to my many talented teachers, “when you have a problem in class- be it academic or behavior based -with a football player; you don’t bring the issue to me for solution, you take it to Coach Williams; and the nonsense stops. Immediately.” That is the key to the defense of high profile athletics in our school systems. If the right person is the leader; an educator committed to impacting young lives through the athletic lessons of team work, discipline and diligence; then athletics will be the positive high profile activity that so many in the public judge a local school by. That is the reality of the educational world we live in.