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The King of Augusta

I’m not sure when the book will be finished, but I can hardly wait until it’s out.

I’m referring to the book being written by Jerry King of Augusta about his late father, legendary high school coach Curtis King.

If you are a certain age and grew up in a certain part of east Arkansas (or if you have followed high school football in Arkansas through the years), you already know all about Coach King.

He coached at Augusta High School for three decades. His Augusta footall teams were 203-83 from 1944-73. At a small school, a person did a little bit of everything in those days. So Curtis King also coached boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball and track. And he taught math.

The Mountain View native coached at East Ridgewood Academy in 1928, Mountain View in 1930 and Beebe from 1937-40. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995.

When my father graduated from college at Ouachita in 1948, his first job was as a coach at Newport High School. Coach King liked to take young coaches under his wing, and my dad was no exception. After coaching at Newport for four years, Dad went into the sporting goods business at Arkadelphia in 1952. His friendship with Coach King would strengthen further as he called on the Augusta coach to sell athletic supplies until Coach King’s retirement.

As a child, this time of year for me always meant attending the high school coaches’ clinic for several days with Dad — first in Little Rock, later in Conway. The annual visit to the coaches’ clinic meant summer was coming to a close.

Coach King would come by the Southwest Sporting Goods Co. booth to visit, though I’ll admit he scared me a bit when I was really young whenever he would ask: “Have you ever been whipped by an old toothless man?”

He would even stop by the motel room at night to trade stories. We stayed at the Magnolia Inn on Roosevelt Road in Little Rock when it was nice, so you know how long ago that was. The Saturday night treat — between the afternoon all-star basketball game at Barton Coliseum and the evening all-star football game at War Memorial Stadium — would always be dinner across the street at Hank’s Dog House. For a boy from Arkadelphia, seeing live lobsters in a tank was a big deal.

I wish I could relive some of those nights in the motel room when my father, Coach King and other coaches would trade stories. I would appreciate those stories so much more now.

At any rate, Jerry King shares a couple of the stories that will appear in his book. One is about the game in which Coach King sent in an unwilling substitute.

“Abe, go in for Lloyd at defensive end.”

“Coach, I ain’t never played that position before.”

“Abe, I ain’t never played the piano either. But I know how to sit on the stool. Now get your butt out there.”

Another story involves the day that a stench enveloped the entire south end of Augusta. Coach King ordered his players to go around the fence surrounding the field, looking for a dead animal. They found nothing.

In the middle of a scrimmage, a player fell on one of the field stripes and proclaimed: “Coach, I found the dead dog.”

As it turned out, Coach King had run out of money for lime to line the field. So he took some powdered milk from the school cafeteria to complete the task. It had rained, and the powdered milk had soured.

Hurry up and finish that book, Jerry. I can’t wait.

Another “work in progress” that I anxiously await is the book on the late Coach “Ralph” Sporty Carpenter being written by George Baker of Arkadelphia, a long-time assistant to Coach Carpenter at Henderson State University.

Coach Carpenter, a Hamburg native, had a nickname for everybody. I was always Rexall.

I’m sure I’ll be sharing Sporty stories in future posts, but I’ll leave you with this one: A running back had fumbled at a crucial point and cost the Reddies a game.

After the loss, Coach Carpenter described the tailback as “a triple threat — a threat to the opposition, a threat to us and a threat to himself.”

Football coaches — the really good ones — can make such an impact on the lives of young men. Willie Tate of Arkadelphia, for example, played a major role in shaping me into who I am.

With two-a-days about to begin, my hat is off to those coaches who do it the right way.

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