The late Bear Bryant, as a young coach at Texas A&M, put tiny Junction, Texas, on the map in 1954 when he took his first Aggie team there for a 10-day camp in the drought and 100-plus degree conditions. Estimates of close to 100 players made the trip. Only 37 survived, many skipping out in the middle of the night. A&M won just one game that year, but went 7-2-1 the next season before winning the Southwest Conference in '56 with a 9-0-1 record.
When David Meek arrived at Salem High School with the task of starting a football program in 1975, he didn't need Junction. After all, he had REA.
John Hodges, pastor of Salem First Baptist Church, has watched Salem football since that inaugural season, and said the unbeaten Greyhounds, (10-0 heading into this week's second-round Class 2A state playoff game vs. Bigelow, are something the entire community should appreciate, particular considering how far the program has come.
Hodges was an eighth grader when the football program began at Salem.
"That was an exciting time here," Hodges said. "Before that, we always played football at the electric company, either on evenings or on Saturdays. It was the Rural Electric Association back then, and there was a grass field where the parking lot is now. We played from light pole to light pole. It was tackle football football and there was not a pad on us. There were a lot of broken noses We had guys with a lot of heart and not much sense."
Perhaps playing in full football gear was a breeze for those that had learned the game while playing at the REA. Salem won its very first game, at Pocahontas, 34-0, on Sept. 5, 1975. Running back Mike Rogers scored the Greyhounds' very first touchdown on a 56-yard run. He also kicked four extra points. Quarterback Marty Rogers ran for two scores himself, and passed for another to Bobby Grass. Later that September, Salem won its home opener, handling the Mountain Home "B" team, 33-8.
Mel Coleman moved to Salem in 1977 to run the local radio station. He immediately thrust the station's support behind the Greyhounds. Coleman, now CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, was working hard to get the station on the air. It wasn't until a few games into the season before Salem football could be heard on the radio, but Coleman was hooked.
"The thing I remember about Salem football is how impressive it was how everybody was so supportive," Coleman said. "Even in the down years, the fans were always loyal and true on Friday night whether it was at home or away."
Meek is a member of the Missouri High School Coaches Hall of Fame. His assistant at Salem was Clifton Rogers, now deceased. Meek would lead the Salem program before leaving in 1981.
Last year, in an interview with The News, he recalled getting the Greyhound football program started.
"One of the biggest challenges when starting a football program from nothing is just getting people indoctrinated to the sport," Meek said. "You have to spend time having meetings, explaining things and even watching a lot of film on the basics of the game. Facilities are an important part of a start-up program." The whole community was behind us right from the start."
One of Meek's first orders of business at Salem was getting the school to purchase a universal weight machine. It was place din the old agri building.
The community came together and helped build a football field.
When Meek would get upset at the players on the practice field, Hodges recalled him saying, "You boys think you're still playing REA football."
"The thing Coach Meek preached was defense, defense, defense," Hodges said. "He was a great coach, had a lot of humor. He brought everybody together. He took some roughnecks under his wing and mentored them."
Coleman said Meek was very animated, which made his coverage of the Greyhounds all the more fun.
"The lifeblood of any community focuses around churches and schools," Coleman said. "Right now, most the people here have never seen anything like what this team has done so far. The team has brought a lot of people together. Once you're a Salem Greyhound, you're always a Salem Greyhound."
From his REA gridiron beginnings, Hodges is finding special pleasure in the Greyhounds' success.
"They are doing something now that is absolutely unique in Salem," Hodges said. "They're doing something no other team has done here. The community ought to be very, very excited and proud."