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The Ava R-I football program started in 1948, with a squad that ended the season with a record of 1-5.
The Ava boys scored only 46 points to their opponents’ 123 that season, not an auspicious start to what may be Ava’s most beloved sport.
The football field cost $6,000, and was paid for by certificates bought by local businessmen that were later redeemed at face value from earnings of the school’s athletic activities.
Former coach and athletic director Larry Silbey has compiled extensive records of the football teams at Ava, collecting much of his information from the Herald files, articles from the Springfield News-Leader, the West Plains Quill and school yearbooks.
Silvey said that he gives a copy of the compilation, which includes school records by individual players and squads, to each graduating member of the Ava football squad.
Several seasons stand out in his mind as strong ones for the Ava program, including the 1954, 1977, 1980, 1985-86, 1993-94, 2006-07 and 2009 teams.
This column will be picking out a handful of these teams to feature in the coming weeks.
He mentioned that the school is unique in their coaching staff, noting that during his tenure, Gary Dougherty was with the team for 16 years and Rex Sawyer was with the team for 11 years.
“We had a lot of Ava graduates come back and coach,” Silvey said. “We didn’t have a lot of coaches using Ava as a stepping stone to somewhere else.”
Some coaches that did end of leaving Ava and going on to have successful careers were John Emerson and Charles McCalister.
Emerson spent part of his career in Manhattan, Kan. and Tulsa, Okla., where he had many successful squads.
McCalister later had a state championship team at Aurora and also coached at Bolivar and Branson.
McCalister is in the Missouri Football Coaches Hall of Fame, Silvey noted.
(Silvey himself is in the hall of fame, a fact that he didn’t mention during this interview).
Silvey mentioned that Ava has always had a good rivalry with nearby Mountain Grove, though the Panthers have more often come out on top in the contests.
Out of 62 games that the two teams have played, the Panthers have won 40 while the Bears have only won 20. Two games ended in ties.
Silvey said that one of the highlights of his career was in 1985. At that time, the top two teams in the district played for the district championship.
“On Friday night we beat Mountain Grove for the conference championship, then that next Wednesday night we beat them in the district championship,” he said. “So we beat them twice in one week.”
Silvey said that Ava has always been a great community for football, with supportive friends, family and community members.
Reflections is a weekly column exploring the history of Douglas County. Current topics include local day trips, school history and Douglas County residents who have a special talent. If you have an idea for an article, please call 417-683-4181 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org