Parkinson was member of 1946 team.
Lloyd Parkinson walked around Lions Memorial Field in astonishment Wednesday afternoon.
It was the first time he had set foot on a synthetic turf field, and smiled when told that those little specks of rubber are what stuck to the players’ skin and uniform instead of dirt.
“We just got dirty!” he said.
In the background were members of the current Rolla High School football team, practicing in preparation for Friday’s upcoming game. Before heading up the bleachers and out of the stadium, Parkinson stopped and addressed one of the Bulldog players, wishing him well. That 2014 RHS player didn’t know it at the time, but he was talking with an original Bulldog gridder.
On that day Parkinson witnessed a Bulldog football program much, much different than the one he helped start 68 years ago. The one obvious difference - whereas the current Bulldogs have a brand new synthetic turf field to play on, Parkinson’s Bulldogs didn’t even have a home field.
Parkinson was a member of the very first Rolla High football squad, when the program began at the school in 1946.
High school football had been around years before that. But it wasn’t until World War II ended in 1945 that hundreds of new high school football teams began to pop up.
Lloyd Parkinson, age 86, now lives in Pleasanton, Calif. and returned to his hometown last week to visit his older brother, Walter Parkinson, who still resides here.
Walter Parkinson was a 1943 RHS graduate and after high school went into the military.
“I just got out in May of ’46 and they were just getting ready to start football practice,” Walter said. “And my little brother was on that very first team! So I had a lot of interest in following the team.”
Rolla High hired Harold Knapp as the first Bulldog football head coach. Knapp coached the first two years of football for RHS, in 1946-47 and had a combined record of 4-12. He was also coach of the RHS boys’ basketball team.
“I just remember we got our coach that year and he introduced football,” Lloyd said. “I believe Coach Knapp came to Rolla from Fort Leonard Wood to coach us.”
According to school records, Rolla finished with a 1-7 record in that inaugural 1946 campaign.
The first-ever game at RHS was a ‘B’ contest against Springfield High School on Sept. 21, 1946. The first varsity game for Rolla was Sept. 28 against Thayer. And the first Bulldog victory was recorded on Nov. 23, as RHS defeated Houston 20-6.
It took the Bulldogs a few games to score their first touchdown. And for a while, the Parkinsons thought Lloyd was going to go into the record books as the first player to score a Rolla TD.
“In one game - I think it was against Lebanon - Lloyd caught a pass and we all thought it would be the first touchdown in school history,” Walter said. “But a fast rascal caught him from behind! So instead, it was ‘Beak’ Burton who scored the first touchdown for Rolla.”
Indeed, the record book shows that the first official Rolla High touchdown came from Laverne Burton against Lebanon on Nov. 1, 1946. “I didn’t know Laverne was his first name,” Walter added. “We called him ‘Beak.”
Lloyd says he can’t remember how many players were on that first RHS team, but it wasn’t too many.
“I’d say we had about 15 (players)” Lloyd said. “But it seemed like it was a lot of fun. That almost looked like us out there again (on Wednesday).
“I was a second-string halfback. It was a real interesting game. We played a good game, I thought. We were just so young and the other teams had played longer.”
At first Lloyd couldn’t remember of a lot of his high school teammates. But after looking at one of the 1946 basketball trophies in the Rolla High foyer, he started recalling some of those names.
“Jack McFarland was on that team,” both Lloyd and Walter began to recall. “Bob King played. Dave Boswell. Beak Burton. Joe Graves, Robert Faulkner. Jack Lamar.”
But there was no football field next to Rolla High School then. “Best I can remember there were some softball fields out there,” Walter said.
For home games the 1946 Bulldogs had to trek across town to play on the Missouri School of Mines (now Missouri S&T) field - the old Jackling Field, which was then located about where the S&T library now sits on campus.
“I don’t remember everybody we played,” Lloyd said. “I remember some of the games we played. I remember playing a couple of games at the MSM college field. And we played a couple of games on the road, like at Lebanon.”
And even though Rolla High didn’t have its own field then, it certainly had its fans.
“It seemed like a lot of the high school students came out to the games,” Walter said. “When the team would go out of town, they’d take several school buses full of students to go watch.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm for that first year of football.”
Lloyd Parkinson left Rolla High without a degree in 1947 to join the U.S. Air Force. He was later stationed in Greenland, where he passed a GED test to get his equivalency high school diploma.
But make no mistake, he will always be a special Bulldog.
One of the original RHS gridders.