The smell of fresh popcorn permeated the crisp autumn air as the High School band played his favorite football song, Hey there Georgie Girl. The coin, tossed by the referee, gleaned silver as it turned over and over and over in the air for what seemed an eternity in the bright lights on this September Friday evening in 1972. He noticed the grass turf was extraordinarily thick, plush and a deep dark green. As the destined coin did its thing, he couldn’t help but look over his shoulder at the shiny white goal posts, the beautiful cinder red track, and the freshly painted white handrails around the stands, which were packed, as the brand-new field, dedicated to one of his heroes, Mr. Bruin Campbell, stood tall.
The opposing teams captain and unbeknownst to either of them, his future college roommate, called “tails,” when the referee asked him to call the flip. The mighty Billies were picked to win the conference. We would see about that! Those stinkin Billies were on our turf; our field. Never had a phrase been more real than those two words; OUR FIELD.
A year earlier, this patch of land was bare; no stands, no goal posts, no track, no turf; just dreams.
He doesn’t remember signing a release form. He doesn’t remember volunteering. He just remembers his Agri teacher, Mr. Charles Franklin telling him and about two dozen other Agri boys to meet at a track of land on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. It was no big deal. They wanted to do it.
Charles Franklin, a wonderful man, and very innovative teacher officially taught Agri. Unofficially, he attempted to teach a bunch of silly, immature boys the art of growing up. Once he decided to teach Animal Husbandry, which was code for “sex education.” He made a one-sided deal with the boys. He said he was doing them a favor they would appreciate someday by teaching this subject. The only thing he asked was nobody would laugh at anything taught during this subject. The punishment was one swat of his two-inch-thick paddle. It has been said every boy in that class received at least one swat that year, as the subject was too funny for the boys that just didn’t want to grow up.
Mr. Bruin Campbell was a king of a man. A merchant by trade, he was also a leader in our city. He served on the school board for over 25 years.
Once, he decided to take a car load of smelly boys to Little Rock to watch a Razorback basketball game. At the time, a trip to Little Rock was rare. It was the first time for the boys to see the Hogs play basketball. He paid for their tickets and concessions. This trip, etched fondly in their memories, fortified a dream for at least one of the boys.
He first met Mr. Bruin on the tennis courts. Several years older than most of the players, he was known for his hustle and smarts. Never at a loss for encouraging words as long as you were his partner, he also did not mind taunting you if he opposed you. All of this was in playful fun, just to make their Sunday afternoon tennis games interesting. Later, when he built his own private court, he welcomed the boy to play anytime he wanted. The country boy felt big time, hob knobbing with a dignitary.
For the reasons mentioned above, playing the first game of his senior year on a field dedicated to Mr. Bruin Campbell was special, and of course, a tremendous honor.
“Boys, today we are gonna be picking green pine cones. Georgia-Pacific will use these to plant new trees. The money we raise will pay for the turf on the new stadium,” Mr. Franklin shouts as their minds wander to their Saturday evening plans. “Okay, lets meet back here in three hours where we have scrumptious bologna sandwiches and milk for lunch.”
He remembers his friends Jack McDonald, Jim Atkins, Henry Watkins, Stevie Harrison, David Bays, Ray Doss, Steven Shields and the late Larry Pogue to name just a few of the participants.
“Please be tails, please be tails, please be tails,” he chants to himself, with one eye watching the coin and the other scanning the cheerleaders, Lionettes and the band. You see, normally, he would want to win the toss and receive the ball, like every one of his teammates, Not tonight. As the kicker on the team, he selfishly wanted to be the first person to officially touch the ball on Campbell Field.
“Boys, today we are gonna skip class and meet at the new football field, where I’ll instruct you on your class project,” Mr. Franklin said.
At the field, they saw bare dirt and stacks and stacks of sod. They assumed their project was to take sod and place each square directly on the field. They assumed wrong!
“Boys, I want group one to place the sod next to group two, who will be on their hands and knees. The third group will go in front of group two using this contraption, poking holes in the turf. Group two will pull the sod apart and sprig the grass. The sprigs should be placed every twelve inches. What are y’all waiting on? The sooner you start, the sooner we can finish.”
They started in the north endzone and proceeded to sprig that field, one plug at a time. No one seems to recall how long it took. They really don’t remember it ever being hard. Mr. Franklin made it fun for them. They did it out of pride for their school. They couldn’t wait to play on that field. THEIR FIELD.
Dreams began to formulate.
Campbell Field rocked. The capacity crowd, fired up to see these young Lions perform against the mighty Billies, created a buzz of anticipation that could not only be heard, but felt deep down in the young players souls. The venue was beautiful. The new scoreboard proudly read, “Campbell Field.” The referee handed number 70 the ball and instructed him to wait for the whistle before kicking off. Number 70’s heart was pounding. He WAS the first player to officially touch the football on Campbell Field! What a tremendous honor. One of his dreams had just come true.
“Today we will be raising the goal posts,” Mr. Franklin declares. We had participated in painting them white. The field was taking shape as those grass sprigs slowly started covering dirt spots.
Pride began to show in the faces of the future warriors as they prepared their battleground.
“Now I need two groups of boys to meet me over at the track.”
This group got the honor of spreading the cinder dirt on the track; all 440 yards plus the high jump and pole vault area.
On and on it went until the field was almost complete.
Coach of the year, Charles Coleman, and assistants Johnny McMurray and Steve Sessions knew they had the makings of a good team. These astute coaches became masters at placing the players at the right place at the right time. They produced hand written scouting reports that usually were spot on as to what the team could expect from the opposing team. But even they knew they had their hands full with the talented Billies who were coming to town for the first game of the year. They were determined to win that inaugural game for not only Mr. Bruin, but all those who gave financially and physically to make that field become a reality. Besides, coaches have dreams also.
Under their great leadership, we went on to win the conference for the first time in 9 years!
“I need you three young men to see me after class,” said Mr. Franklin.
“I have a summer job for you guys if you’d like. See all this angle iron? I need someone to cut, weld and paint these handrails for the new stadium. You can work at your own pace. If I was y’all, I’d make it last all summer, “he wisely advises.
And just like that, Henry Watkins, Troy Gee, and the dreamer accepted and had a summer job. Some of those handrails still exist today.
The ball sailed end over end toward the Billie’s goal line. The fight was on. Back and forth both teams fought for forty-eight long minutes. Set up by a forty eight yard run by Danny Jeffers, Henry Watkins scored the first touchdown on Campbell Field. The stingy Lion defense held the so-called mighty offense of the Billies to just one touchdown.
The talent level, slanted toward the Billies, warranted a supernatural effort for the Lions to prove successful. He was not sure, but every so often, he swore he saw a sprig or two of that grass they sprigged reach up and trip the speedy Billy. The glean of the lights off the freshly painted hand rails perhaps caused a blink of a Billie’s eyes. Whatever it was, magic came alive that night for the Lions. The field they had given so many hours of blood, sweat and tears building, was giving something back to them…Seniors Jack McDonald, Danny Jeffers, Henry Watkins, Larry Pogue, Jim Atkins, Steve Harrison, David Bays, Richard Gwin, Norman Adams and Steven Shields.
Their dreams were coming true.
I returned to Campbell Field forty-six years later and my mind wanders back to that game. So many dreams made on that field. Some came true. Some, not so much. I watch kids play cup ball behind the stands, imagining they are grown up and playing on the big boy field, just as I did when I was their age. I see the band, the cheerleaders, the homecoming queens, the fans and yes, the players. They are all fulfilling their own dreams at many different levels.
My friends and I are tremendously proud to have been a part of building Campbell Field and the dreams that field helped fulfill over the years.
In return, that field helped build us.
Our Field. The Field of Dreams!
Lions win. 10-7!