Sixty years ago during the 1957-1958 School year, the new Hall Senior High School opened in west Little Rock.
All of the seniors and juniors at the new school had previously attended another high school probably Little Rock High School now renamed Little Rock Central High. At the time Central’s football program was legendary withnumerous winning seasons and conference champion-ships Central’s well known coach, Wilson Matthews had just left the Tigers to become Frank Broyles’ right hand man with the Razorbacks.
In their first season, the Hall Warriors played a full schedule but faced no teams of Central High’s caliber. The storied Thanksgiving rivalry between the two school would not begin until the next year.
On September 20,1957 when Kingsbury High School of Memphis kicked off to the Warriors at Quigley Stadium, tailback Jimmy Holly caught the kickoff and returned it 85 yards for Hall’s first touchdown ever and a winning tradition began that would span decades. The victory over Kingsbury was decisive 55-6 and here is the full result of that winning 6-4 season:
Hall 55 Kingsbury of Memphis 6
Hall 13 Mountain Home 0
Hall 27 Crosset 0
Hall 14 Benton 19
Hall 9 Van Buren 25
Hall 6 St. Anne’s of Fort Smith 7
Hall 33 Hazen 19
Hall 12 Mumford of Memphis 0
Hall 48 Rison 0
Hall 6 Forest City 14
During the inaugural season, the Hall squad had a three man coaching staff. The head coach was Ray Peters and he was assisted by Coach C.W. Keopple and J.D. McGee. Eventually Peters would move up to Little Rock School District’s Athletic Director and C.W. Keopple would lead the team after that. Conference championships would come in 1959, 1964, 1966 1969, 1977, 1979 and a final conference crown in 1982.
A close look at the roster printed on the program of that first game shows a team weighing 15 – 30 pounds less than the typical team today. Running backs and defensive backs average around 140 lbs. The highest weight on the team was tackle Jim Rule at 190 lbs. This was long before weight training in most high schools A few names stand out on the list. Halfback Alex Deitz was the older brother of a later star fullback Donnie Dietz who would go on the West Point and was tragically lost in Vietnam in 1969. The present weight room at Hall is dedicated to Donnie and was paid for by his teammates from West Point in his memory. Another name on the roster was Guard/Center Tommy McKnelly who would be a excellent kicker for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the early 1960s. In the trophy case in the front foyer of the school is the bronzed football shoe of “Tommy the Toe” McKnelly. Under the shoe are the words: 1959, All State Center, 5 field goals, 17 PATs, 32 points. The quarterback in 1957 was 145 lb. Jim Rowland. Jim had a successful career in coaching and athletic administration and recently retired from his long held position as Athletic Director of the Fort Smith School System.
All of Little Rock’s high schools were closed during the 1958-1959 school year in order to keep them segregated. Somehow the football teams at Central and Hall played their full schedules that fall. Their home games at Quigley stadium drew about 1000 spectators. The very first Hall-Central football game was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day. With the schools closed, some worried that it might be the first and the last time the two schools competed. The Hall Warriors were put into the state’s highest classification that second year and they won every game but the last one. Their record was 10-0 going into the Central game. A win there would have given them the state championship. Instead Central won a defensive battle 7-0 in front of 5000 fans. The high schools reopened the next year and the Thanksgiving game became a Little Rock tradition. It filled the Quigley Stadium year after year and continued until 1982. The new state playoff system ended the Thanksgiving Day scheduling, but the two schools continued to play each other until 2005. After that, Hall High moved to a lower football classification.
Sources: “Turkey Day Football – Central vs. Hall from 1958 to 1982 in Little Rock Culture Vulture at lrculturevulture.com; Tiger Pride by Brian Cox, 2005; Hall High School Warrior Yearbook, 1958; Kingsbury, Memphis vs Hall High Football Program, Sept. 20, 1957 Butler Center Archives, Hall High Collection