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You Never Leave Heaven

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Chiefland still graced by living legend

By Ryan Butler

After 39 years at Chiefland High School, the man everybody in town calls Coach still carried his paddle to work. Like his paddle, Cecil Doyle McCall was strong, firm and surprisingly quick.
“No one could paddle like Coach McCall,” said Rob Alexander, a Chiefland banker and one of his former students.
Paddling served as a microcosm of Coach McCall’s outlook toward discipline and life in general. He had a straightforward, aggressive approach as a principal, a coach, a teacher, a friend and as a man.
Coach McCall is just as well known for building the town’s beloved high school football program from literally nothing. He is the reason so many children in Chiefland knew how to swim. When the preacher from the Methodist church needed a break, he was quick to take the pulpit. It’s within him that so much of this town’s story lives. It’s because of him this town has so much of its story.
“Coach McCall has probably had more impact on more lives, boys and girls, than any man I’ve ever known,” said Greg Beauchamp, a Chiefland attorney and one of McCall’s former players. “He’s a living legend.”
 
Even now, It doesn’t take McCall very long to get to the games in the football stadium which, along with one of his former players, bears his name. He still lives in the same small house with the 200-year-old oak trees in the front yard.
He likes to stand on the back porch and tell stories to visitors. He still points out the spot where the Chief, the very chief whose land gave the town its name, used to live.
There is a stack of hardcover bibles just inside the door to the back porch, most showing wear from the Sunday school teacher of 50 years.
Around the bibles is a colorful smattering of toys and pictures of grandchildren typical for a proud pair of grandparents. There aren’t any noticeable pill containers or walkers.
What stands out instead is a wall covered with accolades. There are newspaper clippings, plaques, trophies and awards on the wall. There are stories from newspapers across Florida about McCall’s efforts to save the high school as it slowly sunk into a sinkhole.
There are plaques bearing his face commemorating his induction into the Florida High School Athletic Association and the Florida Athletic Coaches Association (McCall wears the rings for the respective organizations as well.)
There is also a yappy dog, Ginger, running around the house which, like McCall, is very loud and surprisingly ambulatory.
McCall isn’t the scholarship athlete or the legendary bench presser or feared paddler from his younger days. He makes fun of the slight wobble in his steps brought on by a pair of strokes from his early 70s.
His hearing, always one of his few weaknesses, has slowly deteriorated and made phone communication all but impossible. Instead this is the man who still works out four times a week at the Chiefland High School gym. This is also the man who could tell you the second day play from the third quarter of a scrimmage game from 1962.

C. Doyle McCall’s story begins a few miles south of Chiefland in Gulf Hammock. Born in 1928, he would live in Otter Creek, Gulf Hammock and Bronson, growing up with his mother and father, who for a time served as superintendent of schools in Levy County. Growing up he would meet a fellow Otter Creek resident, Ann. They are still happily married, living together in the small house with the big oak trees.
“She picked me because there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from,” McCall jokes.  
He went onto Bronson High School where he was a multi-sport star. At 6’2”, 235 lbs, McCall was one of the biggest, and best, players in the area. He helped lead the basketball team to the area championship, bringing the first trophy to Bronson, an accomplishment McCall is still proud of.
    “Back then there was no trophy for sneezing the loudest,” McCall said. “Winning one really meant something.”
    He received a scholarship offer from the University of Florida to play both basketball and football. He didn’t stay long.  McCall, who competitive streak is still legend, left a UF team that would go on to go 0-9, posting the only winless season in school history.
“They were the sorriest bunch of losers I had ever been around,” McCall said.
          McCall instead committed to what would become the University of Southern Mississippi. As with all other freshman, McCall wasn’t eligible to play because of NCAA rules.  Southern Miss sent all of its freshman to junior college.  Despite completing one of the best records in the nation, Perkinston Junior College (now Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) had to decline its invitation to the junior college championship, the “Little Rose Bowl”, because the other team had three black players- Mississippi state law prohibited its teams from playing against African-Americans. Coach McCall would later be recognized as one of the main forces that held the school, and town, together during the peaceful integration of Chiefland High School in 1966.
      NCAA rules in the 1940s allowed players to compete three years at the varsity level and two years at community college.  After one season, McCall, upset with his coach, sneaked out of Perkinston in a 1931 Model A Ford with a teammate to Chippola Junior College in Mariana.  McCall then transferred to Livingston College (now the University of West Alabama), where he continued playing football. During his senior year at Livingston he took an internship at Chiefland High School. That next fall he took a job at the school. He would stay there for the next 39 years.
      McCall took the position as “coach”, which included coaching every team, field maintenance and janitorial work.  He was paid $600 a year. CHS was still playing in the six-on-six league it had joined during the onset of World War II. It was also dramatically underfunded.
      “They had equipment I wouldn’t put a dog on,” McCall said.
       That inspired a long streak of granted favors for Coach McCall. He got the first football field in school history by convincing a local farmer to move his fences back in a handshake agreement. He got the Chiefland Lion’s Club to donate lights in 1953. McCall later got the administration to drop six-man football for traditional 11-man.
In 1963, with the School Board looking to expand the high school onto the football field, he got the new stadium that would later bear his name. The current field, perpendicular to the old one, was built over a sink whole. With help from Luther White, then owner of one of the largest construction companies in Florida, and the rest of the community, McCall helped oversee the new stadium. It was ready by kick-off to the 1964 season.
        On that field grew some of the best teams in school history. By the late 50s and early 60s Cheifland had become a powerhouse, bringing many of the great moments Chiefland fans have spent much of the past five decades longing for. In 1961, Chiefland would be voted state champion. In 1965, the Indians posted an undefeated regular season before losing to eventual state champion Bonafay in the newly created state playoff system McCall had been instrumental in enacting. McCall would go on to coach three All-Americans and countless local legends during his 25-year coaching career.
       “He made Chiefland football from literally nothing to one of the most respected programs in the state during the time he was active in it,” said Ken Hudson, a long-time coach in Florida and a former player and assistant under McCall. “He was always able to take the kids he had and develop them into a functional program.”
       Chiefland was rarely the biggest or fastest team on the field. It usually was just the one that believed it could win. One of McCall’s fundamental coaching philosophies was that in order to win a team first had to believe it could. A team entering a game thinking it would lose lost 100 percent of the time. He had an uncanny ability to install this confidence in his players.
       His second fundamental philosophy was the team with the most hits would win “99 and nine tenths” of the time. The teams of the 50s, 60s and 70s took on its coach’s mentality. Hard-nosed. Aggressive. What-you-see-is-what-you-get. McCall was notorious for his reluctance to pass. He believed that if a team couldn’t win between the tackles it didn’t deserve to win at all. The teams in the now defunct Suwanee Conference, which McCall created, followed suite in physical play. Some of the Indians greatest rivalries today, including Dixie County and Williston, grew out of classic hard-hitting Suwanee Conference games.
      “They flat sho’ could turn your helmet around,” McCall said. “When you played Chiefland teams knew you had to buckle up your chin strap.”
      All that began with notoriously brutal practices. Long before the concept of water breaks entered coaches’ psyches, McCall would drench a rag at the start of practice that would be shared by the entire team. It was the players’ only respite. Beyond the brutal hitting the players brought upon each other was when McCall, who could bench press 300 pounds at age 65, would line up in a three-point stance.
     “Your worst fear in practice was not throwing a forearm the way he thought a forearm should be thrown,” said Robert Beauchamp, an accountant in Chiefland. “I can’t tell you the times he would line up in front of me and say ‘I’ll tell you one time had to throw a forearm.’ It felt like you got your chest caved in.”
     “You would just be bloody and he would say rub some dirt in it and go back and play.”
      Some of McCall’s earliest players confirm rumors that one practice a year, Coach would put on full pads and provoke players to try to tackle him. Legend holds that no one was ever able to.
      Eventually he would wean himself off the football program, hanging up his whistle after 25 years. That wasn’t before he spent time as head coach of the golf team, basketball team and track and field team, winning a state championship in 1965 and earning Coach of the Year honors. He would gain induction into the Florida High School Activities (now “Athletics”) Association and the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. Countless principals and athletic directors tried year after year to lure him away. McCall said the offers never tempted him. There was nowhere else he wanted to go.
     “I love Chiefland because they’ve been so good to me,” McCall said. “When you’re in heaven you don’t want to leave.”

       McCall stayed busy through the years with extra circulars on top of his extra circulars. During summers, he would drive “The Pool Bus” for all area children who could afford the quarter admission and take them to Manatee Springs. There he taught countless children to swim.           
He also would take local children around the area for summer basketball games and practices. At every gym they’d visit, his players would find every weight from the weight room and set it on the bench press. Every time, Coach would lift it. On Sundays, McCall taught Sunday school at the Methodist church and sang in the choir. Occasionally he would fill in to preach, bringing the same fire he did to his half-time speeches.
         In school he taught history, eschewing long strings of date and event memorization to tell it like a story. When Ohio-born Jim Bennet, a good friend and fellow CHS history teacher, would begin teaching about the Civil War, McCall would come in and tell students “who really won the war.” Eventually he would leave coaching and teaching for good, joining the administration at CHS. He would serve as dean, assistant principal and principal before retiring in 1991.
Chiefland received statewide attention in 1991 as its 60-year-old high school building, long a source of civic pride, was condemned while teetering on the edge of a sink whole during McCall’s 39th and final year at the school. It was only appropriate that the school would literally begin collapsing without him.
        McCall was sent off with a packed crowd at his farewell party at the school. Many in attendance were his former players. He received many gifts, including a three-foot carved indian statue and a customized license plate (COACH 39) that he still has on the back of his truck. He never went back to work, declining even offers to substitute.
       “Coach McCall told me he would go back to work on any day that didn’t end in ‘y’,” Hudson said.
       After 21 years of retirement, McCall has stayed active in the school, his church and the community. Meanwhile his legacy has grown into legend.
       “Jesus Christ was a perfect man and he had his detractors. Doyle McCall wasn’t perfect and he sure had his detractors,” Hudson said “But the vast majority of people who understood what he stood for highly respected him.”
       “The man has had such a tremendous impact on my life and so many kids as athletes and as a person first.  It was immediate and permanent. We’re just a bunch of old men now but we would all fight at the drop of a hat if someone made disparaging marks about him.”
        “Coach McCall would be a second daddy to most everybody who played for him,” Gregory Beauchamp said.
       “If you ask everybody who played for him who turned you from a boy into a man I bet 95 percent of the people who played football, without you ever mentioning coach McCall, would say “‘C. Doyle McCall turned me into a man’. That’s just the kind of personality and persona he had,” Robert Beauchamp said.
       On the sidelines at Chiefland football games or in the back porch beneath the oaks, Coach McCall has a simple hope for his legacy, something that deep down he knows was completed many, many years ago.
       “I hope the life I live might make a better life in other people.”