When I first arrived here in Missouri we were several weeks into the 2016 varsity football season.
That meant that I completely missed the nearly two-and-a-half decade era Mike Emmons spent coaching at North Callaway.
Instead, what stands out to me about the Thunderbirds on the gridiron starts on Sept. 8, 2017, when they beat crosstown rival South Callaway at home in an old-fashioned Eastern Missouri Conference brawl highlighted by Tully Thomsen's coming out party as a young signal caller on the varsity stage. Even though North Callaway lost Thomsen to transfer when his family moved out of the district at the end of that school year, this contest was as back-and-forth as they get until, finally, it won 33-29.
In order to get the necessary photographs, I have to spend at least a quarter every game roaming the sidelines focused on the on-field action without truly being able to watch the game like everyone else because I have to pay so much attention to what's going on around me. You can't spend that much time bouncing in between guys who themselves are rotating on-and-off the field between sometimes violent collisions or just unpleasant exchanges. My head has to be on a swivel and my mind ever-present.
That's the only reason I sometimes hear what coaches have to say during a contest, and that evening head coach Kevin O'Neal and the North Callaway coaches were exhibiting true disdain for the Bulldogs, probably because of what they felt was the arrogance of the South Callaway coaching staff. There was no respect being displayed based on the offensive approach the Bulldogs were executing, and the end result was T-Birds victory. When those same squads met again on Nov. 3 at North Callaway in the playoffs things only got worse for South Callaway because the second time around, instead of being a charm, it was an absolute 38-20 fanny-smacking the entire county was clowning on. Justice had been served.
"Kevin was a longtime assistant (coach) for me and one time another teacher said, 'How can you possibly be a good math teacher when you're gone for so many football and baseball games?" said Mike Emmons. "He had a very good answer. He said, 'I've been doing athletics my entire life. I've learned to be organized and efficient with my time because the time I had to do those things was limited'."
Now when the 2019 football season commences it will be Don Boulware who will be on the sidelines coaching the North Callaway varsity and O'Neal is the new Athletic Director. Emmons, on the other hand, isn't gone or forgotten. He still lives in the area and enjoys following his daughter Nicole as she gets ready to embark on her second season competing for the Columbia College Track and Field Program. He'll also be at the occasional Thunderbird sporting event once the new school year begins.
It was simply time, after 31 years at North Callaway, for Emmons to step down and for O'Neal to rise up. Before he left O'Neal had a table outside Emmons' office he was working from. Eventually he'll get to move in, but neither one of those gentlemen is in too much of a hurry to say that final goodbye.