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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Hall of Famer enters 50th year of coaching

Friday, October 31, 2003

He tried to kick the football habit once, but try as he might, he came up a little wide right.

After an extended career as an educator on the field and in the classroom, Thayer football coach David Meek called it quits in 1999.

Little did he know that his career was just stalled and a chance meeting from a former coaching mentor would jump start his return to the sidelines.

Enter Osceola Seminoles head football coach Clinton Gore.Gore, who was attending a coaching clinic in Little Rock, ran into Meek's son and tells the story this way:"His son said, 'You know if you would call my dad, he would probably come to work for you,' and when I got back home I called him (Meek)," said Gore, who along with Meek as his lone assistant, resurrected the Paragould football program in the late 1960s.

And by the time the phone call was complete, Meek had himself a job as an assistant on the Seminole staff. On one condition though -- Meek insisted that it be on a volunteer basis.

"It (football) kind of gets in your system," the 72-year-old veteran coach said. "When the season rolls around, like it did that first year in Missouri, I really just missed it. I don't hunt or fish and I play very little golf. I didn't have any other hobbies other than football."

With the gridiron as his chosen hobby, he's been more than a novice at the sport. He has been patrolling the sidelines for a half century with stops in Flat River and Willow Springs, Mo., Salem and Bald Knob, besides Paragould, Osceola and Thayer.

He's a modest man who chooses not to pat himself on the back. Career records mean little and he seems almost embarrassed to talk of one of the honors he received when his Missouri coaching career was over.

Upon his retirement, Meek was recognized by his peers by being inducted into the Missouri High School Coaches Hall of Fame which is housed in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in Springfield.

"It was probably just out of longevity," said Meek who had two stints as Thayer head coach -- 1953-1957 and 1983-1996."Coming from a little ole place like Thayer it makes me feel like I accomplished something. I don't know if I deserved it though."

Meek complied a 128-146-8 career coaching record but those numbers are deceiving. Thayer is classified as a 1A school in Missouri and with its nearest 1A competitor located 165 miles away, the school is forced to play out of classification more often than not.

"I'd rather not elaborate on it," Meek said of the competition his team regularly faced. "It sounds like a crying towel."

He may question his place in the Hall of Fame, but there's no shortage of people in Missouri that will sing his accolades.

"He is a true football man," said Thayer High School athletic director Cliff Hawkins, who served on Meek's football staff. "He's a great man who is loved and respected around here like no other. We hated to see him leave."Although he's no longer roaming the halls or pacing the sidelines, the small school located in the southern part of the state still honors the man who they refer to as a legend in Southwest Missouri football.

Of the banners hanging in the school's gymnasium, two were erected in his honor. One recognizes his Hall of Fame induction and another that commemorates his being named Missouri 1A Coach of the Year in 1990.

Thayer had an unblemished record during that campaign, finishing the season 10-0 which included a victory over its biggest rival -- 5A classified West Plains.

"That kind of sticks with you," said Meek of the win over West Plains. "It probably doesn't sound like a lot to brag about." The school accomplished the feat only twice in his tenure, the other coming in 1955.

Thayer also chooses a recipient for the "Dave Meek Award." It annually goes to the athlete who shows the most dedication in his or her sport.

"It's hard to describe what he means to us around here," said Steve Atkisson, who is still an assistant on the Thayer football team as well as girls' basketball coach. "He is kind of like my idol. I feel very privileged to have had an opportunity to work with him and I guarantee he has forgotten more about football than I'll ever know."

But what was Thayer's loss became the Osceola school district's gain. "He and I have always been close," said Gore. "It was an opportunity for him to come down here and be a part of football and a good program. And it was an opportunity for us to get a good coach who fits in well as far as everything he does here."

Meek pulls double duty, working as the volunteer assistant but more importantly as the district's attendance officer.The school system hired Meek to fill the role once he latched onto the football staff.

"It's been a God-send to me," Meek said of the two positions. "It keeps me young."

Meek spends the better part of the school day investigating student absenteeism, including some home visits.

"To be quite frank," he said, "in these years, I have yet to call or visit a parent and not get total cooperation. They all have taken responsibility for their children not being there."

When that job is done, it's off to football where Meek serves as running backs coach.

"I let the six hired coaches do the brainwork, but if they need some input, they always ask," he said. "Sometimes people may think that we're not the best coaches in the world, but there's a camaraderie among us. We all get along."

But Gore doesn't diminish the role that Meek plays in the whole scheme of things. "Guys like Dave are hard to come by," he said. "Especially who possess the kind of experience he does. Plus, when things get kind of gloomy, he picks things up as far as the players and coaches."Meek hasn't decided how much longer he'll continue to coach, only saying when the time comes it will probably be for good.

This article is reprinted courtesy of the Osceola Times.

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