Return to Headlines

Bush, Airedales make right calls 8/29/22

In The Trenches
Bush, Airedales make right calls 

Former Arkansas high school football coach Barry Lunney Sr. told me a long time ago how important it was for administrators to have the school's football team win an early football game. 
 
“When I was at Southside, Mr. [(Wayne)] Haver would ask me, ‘Coach, how do you think we’ll be this year?’ I would say, ‘I think we’re going to be pretty good.’ 
 
“I asked him why he asked me that?” 
 
Haver was looking at the big picture. 
 
“He told me,” Lunney explained, “because when you start school and the football team is winning, you have few discipline problems. The same was true at Bentonville.” 
 
“My principal would ask me the same thing; if we were going to be very good,” Lunney said. “He said a winning football team creates fewer problems in the school.”
 
Alma principal Brian Kirkendoll can concur. 
 
On Tuesday morning, he promised the student body at the school’s pep rally they could all stand on the giant 'A' insignia on the turf near the 50-yard line if Alma defeated Van Buren. 
 
Almost a dozen hours later, students, parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and teammates made their way toward the 'A' following the Airedales’ 27-7 win over the rival Pointers — Alma's first win over Van Buren since 2017. 
 
Over to the left of the celebrating and picture-taking, a giant load had been lifted from Alma coach Rusty Bush's conscious, too. He was ready to enjoy the moment when I nearly made him cry. 
 
"What's it mean to win a game like this with one of your mentors (former Northside coach Mike Falluer) here at the game?"
 
Bush kept it together. But just barely. 
 
"Man ... you know," Bush said. "It's been hard, Kevin. You had COVID, and you can make excuses. Then you have (last season) and people can get down on these kids. These guys, there are only 49 of them, and these 49 poured their hearts and souls into this community. 
 
"So yeah, it kind of brings me to tears."
 
Bush deserves plenty of other accolades, too, such as making good off-season hires - then letting them coach. 
 
One of the under-the-radar hires was Payton Morris. A Lavaca native, Morris was coaching special teams at Ouachita Baptist last spring when his phone rang. 
 
"In high school football, it (special teams play) can win you football games," Bush said. "I have to brag about Payton Morris. I hired him in the spring to be the special teams coach. He's very intentional, and I'm very intentional. I allow him to coach, and we make time special teams practice. We knew we could make some things happen."
 
Alma set up two touchdowns with special teams plays by the same player, speedy running back Carlos Gonzalez. 
 
Gonzalez set up the first touchdown with a partially blocked punt that rolled dead at the Van Buren 20. Gonzalez's second block led to the clinching touchdown. 
 
The Airedales’ revamped coaching staff includes the return of offensive line coach Eric Marsh, whose passion for teaching and leading young athletes spills over to the hallways. 
 
And then there is first-year hire Kirk Benson. Benson’s charisma comes naturally. His mom, Sharon McCree, is a former cheerleading sponsor in Marion. 
 
Which, indirectly, led him to Alma. 
 
Last spring, when the Airedales were searching to fill an opening spot, Bush’s old college buddy, Jason Lawrence, knew of Benson from his coaching days at Marion... “When I had a job opening, he (Lawrence) reached out to me,” Bush said. “He said you need to reach out to him.”
 
The rest is history.
 
“To be quite honest, I don’t know that I would have had Jason not reached out to me,” Bush said. “Sometimes you get extremely lucky in the hiring process. I called him and he (Benson) won me over in the first five minutes.”
 
There are still nine games left to be played. Injuries, the bounce of the ball … there are many factors yet to be determined. 
 
But for one magical night in August, the ‘Battle of the Bone’ trophy was taken back by a rejuvenated, hungry football team.