June 6, 2016
COLUMBIA, Mo. --- The Columbia Hickman football team went 0-10 last season.
By any standard, that's no good. That's lousy. They don't give ribbons to high school football players for going 0-10.
Coaches don't get any ribbons for 0-10, either. Hickman's head coach during that winless season was Arnel Monroe, who died Sunday morning of an apparent heart attack.
He was only 49.
The Kewpies were truly inept in Monroe's final season, especially on offense. They scored only 71 points the entire season , while crosstown rival Father Tolton scored 93 points --- in one game.
Hanging 93 points on your opponent isn't good, either, but for different reasons.
The Kewpies were outscored 441-71 and it would have been worse, if not for the mercy rule that makes the second half in these blowout games fly to the finish.
This once proud Hickman program was not even competitive. Just look at the results, scores like 66-7, 64-6 and 50-0.
But in this case, you need to look beyond the scores. Because these Kewpies, under Arnel Monroe, were indeed competitive.
"He had a way to make those guys get up and play, especially when they played us," Jefferson City Jays coach Ted LePage said. "I know last year, we were standing on the field before the game and he said: 'This is always my favorite game of the year and I make sure our players know this is my favorite game of the year.'
"He might have gotten more out of his team than any coach in the state of Missouri last year. When we played them, I told our guys that they would not quit. They just kept fighting and fighting --- they played far beyond their talent."
Winning with class is easy, or at least it should be. But losing with class is anything but easy.
This, however, was a non-issue when playing a team of Arnel Monroe's. There were no sore losers, even when it was 50-0.
"When we played Hickman," LePage said, "there was never an issue when the whistle blew. From whistle to whistle when the play was going on, they were going to fight, scratch, claw and do whatever it took. But when the play was over, they were always the first to be very sportsmanlike.
"He may have done a better job of coaching this year than he's ever done. That's a huge statement to make, because I think he always did a good job. But this past year, they played so hard and so fast, every play, even at the end of the season.
"His record showed 0-10, but I even told him at the All-State meeting (last fall) that what he did was phenomenal, because he had guys out there who probably weren't even JV-type players. But they sure didn't act like it and they sure wore their school colors with pride."
What happened to this football program was beyond Monroe's control. So what did happen?
Hickman's football program was crippled when Battle High School opened and inherited most of the Kewpies' talent. Not some of the Kewpies' talent, most of the Kewpies' talent.
Battle, in its first year of varsity football, won the Class 5 state championship in 2014, with a team littered with former Kewpies.
In Monroe's first season as head coach, 2011, Hickman went 5-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The next season, the Kewpies went 9-2, losing in the quarterfinals to the eventual state runner-up, Francis Howell.
Then Battle opened, Columbia schools were redistricted, and the bottom dropped out. The next three seasons, the Kewpies won just four games under Monroe, who had a record of 18-33 in five years.
Then came 0-10, a season that obviously did not sit well with Monroe, who's a 1985 graduate of Hickman.
"It really hurt him, it was hard for him," Tex Little said. "The thing he always said was that it wasn't fair to the kids, just because of the circumstances. He tried to stay optimistic the best he could, he just felt like they were really undermanned.
"But he didn't make excuses, he lined 'em up every week, and every week they brought it. They were in a lot of games, they just ran out of manpower down the stretch."
Little is the radio voice of the Missouri baseball Tigers, but he's also has done Hickman football games for years and years on KTGR.
"It weighed on him that Hickman wasn't Hickman anymore. All of a sudden, Hickman wasn't even the biggest school in the city, and that was hard for him to live with."
Little was so close to the program, he was often part of a bulk email sent out to the team by Monroe.
"There was going to be a car wash this past Saturday to raise funds for the team," Little said. "And in the message, Arnel wanted to make it clear to both the parents and the players that the car wash was going to be operated by the players, not the parents.
"He did things like that, because he wanted these guys to earn it, he didn't want somebody to hand it to them. I think that's what he tried to teach these young men about being a Hickman Kewpie --- you're not indoctrinated into it, you had to earn everything you got."
Monroe was all about Hickman, from his playing days from 1982-85, before returning to the program in the early 1990s to rise through the ranks and eventually become head coach.
"He was definitely a true Hickman Kewpie," Little said. "You hear that term, Purple and Gold in your blood or whatever it might be, and he was definitely the type of person you'd put that tag on.
"Arnel dedicated basically his whole life to Hickman. He was always worrying about another individual, a player, a stepson, his own son, or a student ... but he really cared about people."
Arnel, nicknamed Spanky, cared about everyone, including the special needs students he worked with during school hours.
"He was a rival coach, but as far as a human being ... I really enjoyed spending time with Arnel," LePage said. "He was just a really, really good guy. He was passionate about young people, passionate about football, and passionate about his school.
"He was all about trying to find that young person who needed somebody to help them better their lives. I can say he truly did that."
And that's what truly matters, much more than wins, losses and final records. Nobody likes 0-10, but it happens. It's how you deal with something like that, that's what defines you.
Arnel Monroe was truly a winner, no matter what the scoreboard said. He did things the right way, both on and off the field for so many of our young people.
Rest in Peace, coach, you will be missed.
Remembering Arnel Monroe
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"He might have gotten more out of his team than any coach in the state of Missouri last year."
--- Jays coach Ted LePage on Hickman's 0-10 season in 2015 under head coach Arnel Monroe.