One for the History Books

Fifteen yards to go, and the pressure sets in. Every footstep pounds like thunder and each second lasts an eternity. Five yards remain, and a final push is all that it takes for history. As the moment stops, a Rocket crosses the line and sets a new record. It’s the stuff of legends.

Mr. Ron Pyle, class of ’58, enjoyed every moment of his high school football career. Mr. Pyle’s senior year left the largest impression overall. With the Rockets achieving a 10-1 record, Mr. Pyle rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored a school record of 26 touchdowns in a single season. Although many have broken Mr. Pyle’s record for touchdowns scored since then, he still holds the honor of having his name in the record book. Although the records hold a smaller place in his heart, he cherishes many fun and outstanding moments on the field more so.

Every athlete holds moments close to his heart and each has key plays that ingrain themselves into memory. Mr Pyle is no different. While many come to mind for him, one in particular stands above the rest. An opposing team once needed a twelfth man to come off of the bench and tackle him. He said, “[That] story has been told a lot of times and, in fact, one time we had film of it, but it was lost. We were playing Malvern at War Memorial [Stadium] and we had a pretty good night that night. I scored four or five touchdowns, and they finally scored another touchdown at the end of the game. We had a reverse play that we used a lot of times on kickoff. We ran it, and I was on my way to another touchdown. Then, one of the Malvern players jumped up off of the bench and tackled me.” The illegal play shocked Mr. Pyle. He said, “They would’ve given me another touchdown, but unfortunately there was a clipping call down the field.”

Mr. Pyle said, “It was one of the funniest things to ever happen to me.” To this day, he keeps in touch with the player who illegally tackled him.

Mr. Pyle believes that in today’s game of football, no one would ever see that happen. He said, “Today’s athletes are stronger, faster, better trained, and have better physical things that they can do.” One difference in football that he sees lies in the training that players now receive. He said, “All we had to do was run.” Though he didn’t receive the same training as athletes receive today, he said, “We were in pretty good shape.”

Like the training, the equipment has also evolved and changed. Mr. Pyle sees this as glaringly obvious. “I will just start from the bottom up. We all favored low-cut shoes, and the shoes were so different than they are now. We had either aluminum or plastic spikes that you would screw into your shoes,” he said. This differs greatly from the flashy, high top shoes that most football players wear today.

The equipment constantly evolves in every form. While the style of football pants might have slightly changed over the years, the padding in them changed tremendously. “I notice now that players don’t have knee pads. Our pants would come across our knees and there would be a solid rubber knee pad in there,” Mr. Pyle said, “As far as hip pads, I had a girdle-like hip pad. It was pretty innovative during the day because everybody pretty much strapped them on.”

Another piece of equipment that changed were the shoulder pads. Mr. Pyle said, “The shoulder pads were enormous and they were heavy.” Shoulder pads today made by popular brands such as Xenith, Riddell, and Schutt are light-weight and small. “We didn’t have lightweight jerseys either,” said Mr. Pyle. “We would always wear these real heavy sweatshirt type jerseys, and you just couldn’t breathe in them. We would roll them up because that was the best that we could do.”

During Mr. Pyle’s time here, helmets weren’t as safe as they are now either. He said, “Helmets were interesting. When I first started, there were no facemasks and then eventually by my junior year, we started getting them. I had a single bar facemask.” He feels that the helmets were the biggest difference in equipment because they are now lighter, more protective, and reduce the chances of injuries exponentially.

Yet in the end, not all things traditions are doomed to change. Mr. Pyle that then and now players will be taped before practice and games. He said, “Before every practice and game, the coach would tape up our ankles.”

While most of the equipment changed, with some traditions remaining, a spirit surrounding the game will never die. Most can’t think about football without the picture-perfect image of a determined coach pushing his team to his limits. Mr. Pyle will never forget four simple syllables he heard from his own coach every day: “Run it again.” Mr. Pyle played under Mr. Mike Malham Sr. who coached here from 1952 to 1968. Mr. Malham was a legend in his own right. “He knew that we were going to be facing teams that were a lot bigger, so he knew that we had to be in pretty good shape,” said Mr. Pyle.

Although Mr. Pyle had a pretty good relationship with his coach, the first time they met fear was the only thing that he felt. He said, “One of my favorite stories about him was in 1954, I was playing baseball in North Little Rock. One night Coach Malham was the umpire.  I had just gotten out of the eighth grade, and I thought I was hot stuff because I was getting ready to go to Catholic High. He was umpiring and I walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, Mike, how are you doing?’ When the game was over, he said, “Are you going to Catholic High?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Well, from now on, you will call me Coach.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *