I hope this note finds you well.
Fifty-seven year ago this summer, August 20th, I joined my friends in the football dressing room in the basement of Laura Conner High School in Augusta, Arkansas. It was hot and humid. Most of us had worked on the farm during the summer so we were used to the heat, but few of us had worked like we would in two-a-day football practice.
Coach Curtis King was a strict taskmaster and none of us wanted to disappoint him. He was a physically small man with a loud, commanding voice. Even though he was old, probably 55 or 56, he was agile and could do everything he asked us to do and more. At the end of practice each day, he made us run several laps around the football field.
He ran backwards in front of us making fun of us, calling us the most pitiful group of wanna-be football players he had ever seen. He had a nickname for each of us. It was a badge of honor for Coach to give you a nickname. My nickname was Tails and I can say I have no idea what warranted that moniker.
I was going into my senior year of high school. The year before had been a good team and ended up with an 8-2 season; we weren’t expected to do that well. As ninth graders, our junior high team had had a winless season and the expectations were much the same for our senior year.
It is a fair assessment to say that I was not a great football player. I wasn’t fast, I couldn’t throw the ball and I wasn’t big. I was 5”9” inches tall and weighted in at 154 pounds but Coach King didn’t have a lot of choices; my lack of skill and size didn’t set me apart from most of my friends. In the end, he put me in places where I could do the least harm: weak side guard on offense and nose tackle on defense.
Our quarterback was a sophomore who was showing good promise. One afternoon, we were practicing a new pass play. I was at offensive guard and the kid opposite me kept breezing right by me and getting to the quarterback. Coach halted practice, came over to me and said, “Tails, I want you to play quarterback for a play or two.”
He put the quarterback into my place on the line and told him to let the defensive player through. It only took two plays, each time I was decked by the oncoming lineman. Coach walked back to me lying on the ground and said, “Now, do you see what you need to do?” The kid across from me didn’t make it to the quarterback again that day.
Our team went on to win six games and lose four. In the process, we beat McCrory and Cotton Plant, the two other small towns in Woodruff County. I think Coach King was proud of us.
Have a good journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/ writer/ marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 35 years. He recently published The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His two other books, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at Amazon.com.