Redbug Field in Fordyce (Dallas County) is a high school football field with its significance lying in the fact that future University of Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant learned to play the game there in the late 1920s. The regulation-sized football field was listed on the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on August 6, 2014.
Football is important to the history of Fordyce, a town where Arkansas’s first high school football program was started in 1904 when New York native Tom Meddick organized a high school team at the Clary Training School. By 1909, Fordyce High School also fielded a team. The original playing field was behind the high school, but in the mid-1920s, it was relocated to accommodate a street-widening project. Fordyce Lumber Company donated the land for the new field. Workers clearing the land and preparing the field were tormented by chiggers, leading Willard Clary, a local resident who covered football games for the Arkansas Gazette, to suggest making the “redbug” the team’s mascot. The name stuck, and Fordyce remains the only U.S. football team with that mascot.
Paul Bryant was first introduced to football at Redbug Field as an eighth-grader. As Bryant recounted: “One day I was walking past the field where the high school team was practicing football. I was in the eighth grade and had never even seen a football. The coach naturally noticed a great big boy like me and he asked if I wanted to play. I said, ‘Yessir, I guess I do. How do you play?’ He said, ‘Well, you see that fellow catching the ball down there?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, whenever he catches it, you go down there and try to kill him.’…The following Friday I played on the team, and I didn’t know an end zone from an end run.” Bryant enrolled in Fordyce High School and, in 1927, began playing. He was a key player on the Fordyce Redbug team but was a poor student who did not graduate with the rest of his class after failing a language class. The team, under Coach Bob Cowan, had a perfect season in 1930, claiming an Arkansas High School State Championship.
Bryant served as head coach of the University of Alabama football team, the Crimson Tide, for twenty-five years, winning national titles in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978 and 1979—the last one being a perfect season culminating in a victory over the University of Arkansas (UA) Razorbacks at the Sugar Bowl. Bryant was voted Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year ten times and National Coach of the Year three times. He retired in 1982 with a record of 323 wins, eighty-five losses, seventeen ties, and twenty-four consecutive post-season bowl games.
Bryant’s were not the only Fordyce teams that excelled on Redbug Field. Coach Jimmy “Red” Parker led the Redbugs for eight years beginning in 1953, amassing a 105–15–4 record that included a thirty-seven-game winning streak from 1957 to 1960 before Parker left to coach college teams at the Citadel and Clemson University.
The bleachers and fieldhouse were extensively modernized and improved, and on September 7, 2012, the high school football field was rededicated as “Redbug Field and Coach Paul W. ‘Bear’ Bryant Stadium,” with Paul Bryant Jr. in attendance. It remains the home field for the Fordyce Redbugs.
For additional information:
Bryant, Paul W., and John Underwood. Bear: The Hard Life and Good Times of Alabama’s Coach Bryant. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1974.
Dunavant, Keith. Coach: The Life of Paul “Bear” Bryant. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
Magee, Mary. Red: Beyond Football: The Legacy of Coach Jimmy “Red” Parker. Tulsa, OK: Hawk Publishing, 2007.
Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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