Ath­letic di­rec­tors did dirty work, too

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - RICK FIRES

Be­ing a high school ath­letic direc­tor is a tough job in su­per­vis­ing peo­ple with dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties and per­son­al­i­ties.

But it’s not as tough as the sum­mer jobs the ad­min­is­tra­tors held long be­fore they en­tered ed­u­ca­tion. Two years ago, I polled the area foot­ball coaches. Last year, it was the bas­ket­ball coaches.

Now, it’s the ADs’ turn to share sum­mer work ex­pe­ri­ences that in­spired or hor­ri­fied them into con­tin­u­ing their ed­u­ca­tion. Here are some of the re­sponses I re­ceived:


In the sum­mer of 1977 when I was a ju­nior at Arkansas Tech, I worked third shift at the Atkins Pickle plant in Atkins.

My job was to fig­ure the for­mula for the brine and fla­vor machines. I worked from 10 p.m.6 a.m., drove back to Rus­sel­lville, took my clothes off on the back porch be­cause they smelled like pickle juice, took a shower, then went to class.

It was a sum­mer of smelling like pick­les, go­ing to class and sur­viv­ing on very lit­tle sleep.


Grow­ing up work­ing on my grand­fa­ther’s and dad’s farm, I thought I had been well ac­cli­mated to func­tion­ing in a very hot en­vi­ron­ment.

Then, there was the sum­mer of 1980 and (for­mer Alma coach) Frank Vines’ bru­tal two-a-day foot­ball prac­tices. There were at least 40 days of 100-de­gree heat that sum­mer. I am con­vinced coach Vines con­trolled the weather back then and may still do so to this day.

It could be a cloudy and cool day but, when he walked out the door for foot­ball prac­tice, the clouds dis­ap­peared, plants wilted, and it was just us and that lit­tle swarm of gnats over the play­ers want­ing a drink.

I never saw any gnats near Coach Vines, though. Ei­ther, he didn’t sweat, or the gnats were afraid of him.

I think the men who taught me the most were the ones who made me sweat the most.


The worst job I ever had, hands down, was roof­ing.

I wasn’t a very big guy and haul­ing two bun­dles of shin­gles up a lad­der over and over again was not fun, and that was af­ter we ripped all the old shin­gles off.

Then, as the young, small guy, I was in charge of lay­ing down the shin­gles in the proper place to al­low the guy with the nail gun to nail them in. Af­ter all that fun, we got to clean up the shin­gles that didn’t make it into the truck when we ripped them off the roof. It looked like most of the guys, who ob­vi­ously didn’t have to clean up the mess, missed the truck on pur­pose.

When I got down to clean it all up, it looked like there were enough shin­gles from our en­tire town on the ground that needed to be picked up.


Between my fresh­man and sopho­more year of col­lege, I worked at a card­board con­tainer com­pany.

They put me for a while on a dye cut­ter as a feeder. You would get hot card­board from the cor­ru­ga­tor and feed it into the dye cut­ter ma­chine to be stamped and cut into a box tem­plate. We were tasked one night with cut­ting 800,000 card­board boxes for cases of Coke. The card­board was hot, and you couldn’t use gloves to push it into the ma­chine. You had to use your bare hands.

The card­board kept com­ing over and over again, and I had to keep the ma­chine fed. I walked out that night with card­board cuts all over my hands. Af­ter that sum­mer, I knew that I wanted to fin­ish school and go into ed­u­ca­tion.

But I look back on my time there and was thank­ful for the ex­pe­ri­ence. I met some great peo­ple, and they showed me a true work ethic.


I grew up in south Arkansas. My dad was a high school bas­ket­ball coach, and in the sum­mers, he roofed houses.

I helped him ev­ery sum­mer from the time I was 12 years old un­til I was 25. It was the hottest and tough­est job ever.

When I went to col­lege, I never wanted to do that again.

Rick Fires can be reached at or on Twit­ter @NWARick.

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