Greenwood celebrates 100 years of Bulldogs’ football

Greenwood celebrates 100 years of Bulldogs’ football

(The writer of this article has tried to be as accurate as possible with the facts, dates, and names mentioned in this piece. However, information has been lost over time, memories have faded, and gaps remain in the historical record dating back to the 1920s. Any errors or misinformation is purely unintentional, and no harm or insult was meant. We hope you will enjoy the article for its historical perspective and its description of the enduring spirit of Bulldogs’ football over the past century.)

Across America and around the world, cities and towns are identified by certain aspects of their character or nature based on geography, culture, economics, history, etc. For example, Rome is the city built on seven hills, Paris is the city of love, Chicago is the windy city, New York is the Big Apple or the city that never sleeps, just to name a few. But those are large metropolitan areas known worldwide. What about the smaller cities and towns whose identities are more closely tied to local traditions handed down for generations? Are they any less important than their more famous siblings? Of course not!

Fame is not a pre-requisite for greatness, and many people would rightly argue that the backbone of our nation resides not in urban America, but can be found in the smaller cities, towns, and villages that dot the landscape between the coasts, or what some people call “flyover country.” That’s where the heartbeat of America is strongest. That’s where true patriotism thrives, the work ethic remains intact, and the words “God” and “country” still have meaning.

Greenwood, Arkansas is such a place. Founded in the mid-1800s, our fair city has survived the ravages of time and weather and the challenges of the last century to enjoy its current place in Arkansas history in the early 21st century. Also, like many other towns our size, Greenwood’s success and identity is closely tied to its schools that educate the children who often become the community leaders of the future. There is little doubt that the Greenwood School District has been and continues to be a driving force in the growth and prosperity of South Sebastian County.

Yet, a common thread through the years of Greenwood’s history and its educational system has been the sport of football, which began exactly 100 years ago in 1922. It pains some people to admit that over the years football has slowly replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime, but it’s true. Here in Greenwood, we have seen the evolution of our beloved Bulldogs into one of several powerhouse programs that has dominated Arkansas football for the past 25 years.

Appearances in 15 state title games and winners of 10 state championships since 1996 elevate the Bulldogs to heights seldom achieved by even the largest schools in Arkansas. But that success did not happen overnight nor even in one season, but is the result of decades of hard work, dedication, and loyalty to the Blue-and-White. There is an unbroken connection between what began in 1922 and the success of more recent Bulldogs’ teams. Not to get too philosophical, but pull any thread from that connection and the whole thing might have unraveled. Who can say for sure?

So, who were the founders of this great dynasty we now know as GHS football? In alphabetical order they were Bill Adams, Harry Adams, Allen Bell, Jesse Boyd, Owen Brown, Clinton Cross, Walter Coker, Arthur Hannah, Eddie Hicks, Abner Jones, John Joyce, Curtis McAnally, Julian McFadden, Bub Richards, Clarence Stockton, John E. Tatum, Jr., and Boling White.

Those 17 players plus Mat McCoubry, the Bulldogs’ first head coach, were the foundation upon which Greenwood’s gridiron program was established ten decades ago, less than five years after the end of the first world war at the start of what became known as the Roaring Twenties. It was a time of great promise that would not last. But despite the coming trials that tested the very soul of our nation, football and sports in general helped Americans get through those tough times.

By the way, that 1922 Greenwood team won their first game played at Mansfield, 7-0. The lone touchdown was scored by Allen “Beany” Bell. At the time the state’s population was just under 1.8 million people, or about 60% of what it is today, with around 1,400 souls residing in Greenwood. The town’s major industry back then was coal mining.

A wiry little Scotsman who knew football well, Mat McCoubry’s time as head coach was successful but short, just two years, followed by B.I. Slate (1924), C.B. Smith (1927), and Lawrence Martin. Arl McConnell was the team’s fifth head coach from 1934-39, followed by the legendary Grady Robinson in 1940, the team’s longest tenured leader.

Charles “Jeep” Sadler was next on the list, first joining Robinson as an assistant in the 1960s before being promoted later. Sadler was succeeded by Bill Burnett and Carl Fox, a trio that headed the GHS program from the late 1960s through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s. Rick Rachel was hired later in the ‘80s before Ronnie Peacock arrived in 1994 and led his team to its first state title game in ‘96 and the school’s first state football championship in 2000.

After Peacock departed in the spring of 2001, Missouri’s Harv Welch was hired and led the Bulldogs for three years before the district looked westward and plucked Rick Jones out of Oklahoma. In his first season (2004) at Greenwood Jones led the ‘Dogs back to the state title game, though they fell short of the championship. But many more opportunities presented themselves during Jones’ 16 years at the helm, guiding Greenwood to 10 more title game appearances and eight total championships, including two three-peats from 2005-07 and 2012-14.

Greenwood’s current head coach, Chris Young, was the offensive coordinator under Jones for several years and descends from coaching royalty. His father, Joe Fred Young, was a legendary head coach at Fort Smith Northside. His mother, Catherine, was also a coach and educator. Altogether, Young has coached in Greenwood for over 20 years and won a state title in his first year (2020) as head coach under extraordinary circumstances due to Covid-19.

All 14 Greenwood head coaches made a significant contribution to the history of GHS football and certainly impacted the lives of their players, especially those who lived and worked during the difficult times in American history such as the Great Depression, the World War II years, and the social, cultural, and political upheavals of the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s believed some GHS players may have served in WWII before coming home to finish their high school degree and return to the gridiron.

Across the years and decades, school consolidation in Arkansas also began to thin the number of school districts to today’s more manageable 261, and the Arkansas Activities Association was created and evolved into the governing body of all state high school athletics starting in 1969. Since then, as Greenwood and its school district have grown, the Bulldogs have been bumped up in classification several times, currently residing in Class 6A, but have been competitive at every level.

Coach Grady Robinson and his Bulldogs went 27-2 from 1958-60, including an unbeaten season (11-0) in ’58, but later had to forfeit three of those victories due to an ineligible player, a little-used sub who played in three lopsided games. Larry Ulmer, a player from that era, later recalled the day he and his teammates learned the sad news. “After the season we heard we might have to forfeit some games,” said Ulmer years later. “We went to see Coach. He was in the gym. We asked him about it, and he started crying. He thought it was his fault.”

Greenwood’s first football homecoming queen was Gladys Davis Joyce, a 1932 graduate in the heart of the Great Depression. “That was the year (1929) we had the first football queen and I remember Laverne Russell was my opponent. We ran a contest. The way we [won] was by selling football tickets which were a quarter, but nobody had a quarter. Harlan and Halton Stewart ran the drugstore and gave me a dollar and I thought I was rich. I won the contest with $6.50 and I was the first football queen,” recalled Gladys decades later.

“My crown was made of paste board sprayed with gold glitter paint, and Momma made my dress and it cost a quarter. Horace Bryan crowned me on the east steps of the old rock building. He was the captain of the team. We had a parade, and I rode on my Papa’s old Model T truck without any decorations because nobody had any money to buy crepe paper. The game was in the afternoon because there were no lights.” (The Bulldogs first moved into Smith-Robinson Stadium in 1978).

Such were some of the trials experienced by students who lived in those bygone days of American history and GHS football, and it’s important that today’s players understand the sacrifices and hardships of the ones who preceded them. In many ways, today’s student-athletes stand on the shoulders of those who did more with less while displaying grace, dedication, and courage despite the shortcomings of their day.

Today’s athletes have advantages that yesterday’s players could only dream about – better coaching, more practice time, improved facilities, outstanding medical care, a greater commitment and investment by the community and school district, and more. Thankfully, for most of the last three decades the Bulldogs have taken full advantage of those benefits, and Coach Young is fully aware of the significance of this 100th anniversary.

“I’ve been fortunate to be involved in this program for 23 years with so many great coaches, players, administrators, and parents,” he said last month. “The thing that’s special about Greenwood football is the way they support our kids and coaches. It’s exciting that this is the 100th year. There’s been a lot of people who came before us to make it possible for us to have what we have today. So anything we can do to say thanks to them or celebrate them, we want to do that.”

All Greenwood High School football fans should add a hearty “amen” to Young’s sentiment, honoring the thousands of players, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, and others who have made GHS football successful and memorable for the past century. We may not know all their names or what their contributions might have been, but we know the cumulative result of their efforts and we like what we see.

Today’s Bulldogs and those teams of the recent past owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the pioneers of the GHS program who contributed back in the days of Prohibition and kept the Bulldog spirit alive during the hardships of economic disaster, global conflicts both hot and cold, the turbulent ‘60s, and much more. Luckily, more than a few of those trailblazers have lived long enough to see some of the Bulldogs’ more recent successes, and they can take pride in the part they played in making Greenwood High School football an unparalleled triumph.

So, from today’s coaches, players, and fans, happy 100th anniversary to the 1922 Bulldogs and to all those who came after them. We honor your sacrifice, dedication, and perseverance over the years. Time moves on and many of your exploits have faded with its passing, but you kept the line moving and the tradition of Bulldogs’ football alive for future generations to follow and expand upon. Your contribution to today’s successes have not gone unnoticed and we gladly share with you whatever glory we may achieve this year or in the future. Go Bulldogs!

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