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I STILL CALL HIM “COACH” / HOW KENNETH MULDREW MENTORED, TAUGHT IN CLASSROOM AND COACHED YOUNG TEEN TO BECOMING A WINNER IN THE GAME OF LIFE

By Scott Jester, 02/7/22 6:24 PM

If America is to remain a first-class nation, she can no longer have second-class citizens.”- Martin Luther King, Jr.

He will always be “Coach” to me.

Athletes everywhere will understand what goes into that one word – “Coach”. It’s a title that has to be earned and once a coach, always a coach. The same can be said about “Coach” Kenneth Muldrew.

Yes, the same Kenneth Muldrew who was named the 2020 “Man of Excellence” in a special ceremony, being honored by his many peers and friends.

The same Kenneth Muldrew who not only served as a football coach for young men whose voices were crackling and changing, in fact, he served as a life coach to them too.

Helping them gain self-confidence while teaching the impressionable boys how to work for a real boss, a “Coach”.

As one who played for Muldrew and looks back some 46-years later, realizing the enormous impact that one man had in his life, the ethics he instilled to become a winner on the football field and while learning life-long principles under the blazing August sun.

Frankly, it literally made me sick-at-my-stomach before the first few practices knowing I’d be facing Coach Muldrew in the eighth grade for the first few times.

First thing, he was a towering black man with a deep and intimidating voice and I was a skinny white kid, trying to play quarterback but, who at the time, was easily intimidated.

It was only after the first few practices to realize this Coach Muldrew was made of something more and he was not just someone’s dad who was coaching your team, nor was he the bear I made him out to be.

He earned my trust quickly while piquing my ever-growing love of the sport of football. He earned the entire team’s trust too as we had a very successful season. I bought in. We ALL bought in.

“I see a lot of the guys still around and they still call me “coach”, said Muldrew recently in a wonderful sit-down with a man who you’ve wanted to say “thank you” to for so many years.

Let’s rewind the tape a bit first.

“I don’t know if I can run that tape back too far,” he says with a laugh. “I used to tell folks ‘If your string gets pulled too far, it’s gonna break.” Simple wisdom that seems to have served Muldrew very well.

“I was born here (1950) to William Edward and Vilma Muldrew,” he says as easy as a layup.

“That Muldrew name goes way back in Southwest Arkansas,” he continued “My grandfather’s name was William and we think he originated out of the Ozan area and later to Prescott”

Muldrew is the oldest of six followed by brothers Larry (also a well-known and respected educator and administrator), William Darryl, and Reginald, then sisters Sherry and Valarie being the baby. All of them still proudly with us.

“My Dad was employed by Hicks Funeral Home and he worked for them most of his life and to take care of his kids he would work for various construction companies and also worked on construction of the interstate when it was coming through,” Muldrew recounted.

Sacrifices by the generation before him that laid the foundation for Kenneth.

Muldrew was a graduate of the 1967 Henry Clay Yerger Class and later graduated from Henderson State with a BSE in Biology, and thankfully brought himself back to his hometown of Hope.

The year of 1967 saw ugly, ugly racism throughout the United States followed by police shootings and riots. Sound familiar? Sound like recent news?

“When we were growing up, we knew we were separate,” Muldrew states. “As far as experiencing “racism” or “separatism”, it was already there in the form of schools. “We” were over here and “they” were over there. Except for the fact, that we could play football” (with them).

“Our principal said at the time that ‘You put your pants on like everyone else. Your uniform may not be as good as theirs, but you put your pants on one leg at a time,’” Muldrew said.

Gentle words of wisdom again from a generation that was laying the foundation for the young Muldrew.

“We had volunteer integration in 1967 and ’68,” Muldrew recalls. “Three to four of our Senior class went over to Hope High.”

“I tell the story of my dad getting me up early and driving me to Emmett where we had family and he would drop me off at school for the first grade when I was five,” Muldrew recounts as if it was yesterday.

“As we grew older, we knew we had to do the best we could. Many of my men classmates went to the military,” he recounts as the U.S. was deeply involved in Vietnam.

“I had to think of what to do next. I was called into the counselors office and he said ‘YOU are going to Henderson State.’” Muldrew states with emphasis. “My daddy was thinking of me. Somewhere along the way he went to that counselor and said ‘This boy is going to school (and not the war)’”.

“My daddy thought about things this way,” Muldrew said. “I am going to raise him right. To hold his feet to the fire, so he could set examples for those below him.”

So Muldrew went to Henderson State, followed by Larry and the remaining siblings that all graduated with degrees.

What a simple example for anyone of any color. DO YOUR BEST!

His DADDY, the MAN of the family did it (obviously too, with the help of his dedicated wife, Vilma).

His daddy, continued to make the sacrifices to see Kenneth was accountable for himself throughout his life and set that future example for others.

What a legacy William Edward Muldrew may see from his view from heaven today.

Muldrew was not interested in being first and foremost a coach. He was an educator.

“We (Larry) both were Science Teachers,” recounted Muldrew.

“When I went to High School, I liked the sciences. Back then in ’66, they passed the National Science and Math Foundation, putting money in the school for math and science. Our curriculum expanded from general math to Algebra, and then Algebra II, and Geometry plus (Longtime Hope educator and leader) George Straughter taught us and the impression on us was that he was sharp as a tack.”

Muldrew’s introduction to coaching came one Saturday morning in a meeting with then Hope Superintendent James H. Jones.

“I worked at Northside Park before teaching and I got a telephone call from Mr. Jones and he asked ‘Can you come see me Saturday morning?’, and at that point I realized you would have to work seven days a week and not just finish on Friday,” Muldrew said with a chuckle as he may have known then, or did he know what was in store for him down that teaching/coaching dual road he chose.

“And that was the year we started seventh and eighth grade football,” Muldrew threw in with emphasis.

And not a minute too soon for me.

Now to fast forward to him being a life coach and the influence he brought simply to one young man.

“And, with you guys, it was my intent to get the most out of you,” he says with a point of the finger right at my heart.

“The key to it, was to run as hard as you can, as fast as you can and as much as you can. And, if I let up, you’re going to let up.”

Nailed it. And, he nailed me. All of the preparation that Muldrew had received prior to us crossing paths was now successfully and most gratefully instilled not only in a complete stranger up until we met, but a white one. Knowing him as I do today, he would and did do it for anybody.

We completed that eighth-grade season with success on the field, winning most and losing little.

“I have the football with you guys’ signatures on it,” Muldrew announces, sounding almost like a proud poppa.

Readers, it is not a sin if your team wins. It takes great planning, teamwork, following instructions, and execution of plays learned in tough practices.

It continued after the game because real winners make sure to respect and lift up the team that didn’t win. Muldrew wouldn’t let us forget sportsmanship either.

Muldrew continued not only to serve students daily, later moving into Administration and serving as Superintendent of Hope Public Schools, retiring in 2012 after 39 years of dedication to a better tomorrow for those students he oversaw.

He also remains a member of the Board of Deacons of the United Christian Church of Emmett, and is a member and past president of the Hope Kiwanis Club.

Many may not know, Muldrew has also been a long-time member of the Rainbow of Challenges’ Board of Directors, continuing to make a difference and a voice for those with various disabilities who can’t necessarily speak for themselves.

This is a story of such a difference he made in simply one kid’s life, who most humbly later became a husband that’s still happily married after 38 years, raised two sons and is blessed with two granddaughters.

“And, while it’s a good thing, to use that word (Coach),” Muldrew recounted. “You don’t want to use it in reverence, but you do think that folks think a little bit more about you.

“It shows a different perspective of how you saw me. I was principal, a superintendent, disciplinarian and coach. As to say, ‘I was in pit with them’.

Let’s call that a win-win for everyone, thanks to a dedicated Coach Kenneth Muldrew.
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(Picture Caption) Pictured are a motley group of the seventh grade Yerger football team members from the 1976 Hope High School Yearbook. Kids learning to become men under the guidance of caring coaches such as Kenneth Muldrew.

(Picture Caption) Pictured is then Yerger Vice Principal (and Coach) Kenneth Muldrew from 1976 Hope High Yearbook.