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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Your view: A nomination

Monday, September 11, 2006

For most of its existence it was farm land, farm fields stretching south from Malone Avenue, Highway 60. . .or as we used to call it "the four lane" . . . well into New Madrid County. The land was used to grow crops and support those who owned and tilled the land. However, a portion of that farm land, most notably the acreage just a few blocks south of Malone Avenue, was to become the location of the "new" Sikeston High School and an adjoining football stadium. I suppose it was in the mid-1950s that the Board of Education made the decision to replace the three-story Tanner Street high school building with a modern, multi-building educational complex. If priorities and timetables were assigned to the new school project it's obvious the top priority was to construct, open and put in service a new football field; the classroom buildings could (and did) come a few years later.

The final football game played on the field behind the Tanner Street building was another Bulldog trouncing of the Charleston Blue Jays, on Thanksgiving 1957. That traditional game would only be played once more on Thanksgiving, the following year. By the time the 1958 school year and football season arrived the Bulldogs had a new home, at least for the Friday night games; classes and daily football practices were still held at the Tanner Street site. By the fall of 1958, still surrounded by farm land, the "new football field" was ready and open for business. The new football facility cost approximately $65,000, offered 46-hundred seats, and in September '58 sported a still under construction concrete block dressing room and restrooms at the north end of the field, called the "Dog House." The entire project was a joint effort involving the school district and the Sikeston Junior Chamber of Commerce.

It's my understanding that for the past 48 years there has been no official name for the Sikeston High School football field/complex and there is no consideration being given to naming it after a Bulldog football team coach. It that is the case, please consider my suggestion to name all. . . or at least part. . .of the field after the late William R. Sapp. As did hundreds of other young boys I played on Coach Sapp coached teams. I was in the starting backfield of the '58 Bulldogs, the very first team to play on the "new" field. It was a tremendously exciting time to be a high school senior, on the football team and playing on that field in the farmland. It must be pointed out that the 1958 team was one of those which played during the Sikeston High School football dynasty, when, from the late 1940s through the mid 1960s, the Bulldogs were the absolute dominant team in the region, the state and perhaps even the nation.

Bill Sapp coached teams played eleven seasons on the "new" field, winning approximately eight of every 10 games played there, winning conference championships in '58, '59, '61, '64, '67 and '68. Sapp's record was just as outstanding during his tenure of coaching teams which played on the Tanner Street field. In the excellent history and chronologies of Sikeston High School Football from W. Joseph Bean ("Bulldog Story, 1908-1964") and from Dale Forbis ("Dogs"), Bill Sapp is described as the school's "greatest coach." I defer to and accept their declarations. Bill Sapp's successes and statistics are frequently mentioned and reported, but it was his personality and demeanor which can only be detailed by those who played on his teams.

Sept. 19, 1958: We dressed in the locker room at the Tanner Street school, putting on pads and equipment there and then riding a school bus to the field in the farm land. We had practiced, at night, a time or two on the "new" field to become accustomed to its outstanding lights. We were ready. The opponent in that very first game was the Caruthersville Tigers. It wasn't much of a contest. The 'Dogs rolled 32 to 7 and probably could have scored another 32 if Coach Sapp had left the starters in the game. Fullback Dale Springs scored the first touchdown on the "new" field (he scored three that night); quarterback Larry Bohannon scored one, as did end Bob Mott. I kicked the first PATs there. A couple of the '58 'Dogs had the distinction of having scored touchdowns on both the old and new fields. Among the starters that September night in '58: in the backfield, Bohannon, Springs, Ben Mason, Jim Hale, Jim Critchlow, Bob Gilbert; in the line, Mott, Bill Bloemer, Sonny Cope, Tom Alberson, Merlin Mothershead, Ray Kelley, Lynn Presley, Jim Bush, Tony Pratt. And, always there, the Coach's right-hand-man, Joe Wayne Newman.

The second game played on the new field, Oct. 3, 1958, was the last-minute, do-or-die win over the Kennett Indians, a contest listed in the aforementioned chronologies as one of the most thrilling games in Bulldog history. That game was played before an absolute, sell-out crowd which ringed the field and went wild at the buzzer.

Coach Sapp seemed pleased that we had won the inaugural game and the Kennett contest as well as the others at the new stadium, but there was no particular jubilation or celebration. I think in many ways, Bill Sapp was a quiet. . . perhaps introverted. . . man. He was expressive, but without anger, even in frustration. (I suppose one doesn't have much frustration or anger when eight out of every 10 issues are settled positively!) He was decisive and a quick, articulate communicator, even to teenage boys who often had their own agenda and authority figures were not high on their list. He possessed a wry sense of humor and used it with positive effect. I never remember him embarrassing, demeaning or belittling a player, but his command and leadership of games and practices were never mistaken. I remember Bill Sapp as fair, honest, straight-forward and of course, successful. I know he would be proud to have some portion of the "new" field carry his name.

As one who has chronicled events for almost 40 years as a journalist, I know times have changed, people and lifestyles aren't what they were in 1958 and likely will never again be, and change has not always been synonymous with improvement. Since that "new" field first game in 1958 I have attended about a half-dozen Bulldog games over the almost five decades and I saw and sensed dramatic change. . .in the team, the fans, the students, the band, the Red Peppers, the general Friday night atmosphere in a former farm field now football stadium in a small Midwestern town. Yes, there have been changes and assuredly will be more in the times to come. However, for me and probably for many of the old 'Dog players who attend a present or future game there will be very vivid and detailed memories of what went on in that former farm field which now should have the name of Sikeston High School's "greatest coach."

Jim Hale

Doylestown, Penn.