One For Monroe
COLUMBIA - The sights and sounds of high school football are all back for the Hickman Kewpies, but one thing is missing.
Friday marked the first game the Kewpies have played on home turf since the passing of previous Head Coach Arnel Monroe.
After hearing the news, Hickman Wide Receiver Shawndarrius Roland said, "The low point for me was it was probably a two-week period where I couldn't sleep at night. I couldn't sleep at night. I found myself just thinking what is this season going to be like without him. It's not going to be the same."
Linebacker Airin Rolley also said the summer after hearing what happened was not easy.
"I mean I would go on walks and wouldn't talk to anyone, because it would hurt me, and I didn't know how to take it," Rolley said.
Monroe suffered a heart attack on June 5th and died at the age of 49.
Roland said, "I'm going to miss his jokes, his comments everything he said."
Hickman Running Back Cameron Chick said, "He's like a father to me. I mean ever since I stepped on the field at Hickman grounds he's been like a dad to me."
Chick's father coaches baseball as well, so Chick says he and Monroe knew each other long before high school thanks to both families sharing a love for sports.
"He always wanted to know what was going on in my life. This year I ended up committing to play baseball. He was a big father figure in that. I'm going to Nebraska, and he wanted to know the weekend that he died how it all went. I wasn't able to tell him," Chick said.
Monroe played football for four years at Hickman before attending Central Missouri. He began coaching as an assistant at Hickman in 1995 before being named defensive coordinator in 2006. The role came full circle when Monroe became the head coach for Hickman in the spring of 2011.
In Monroe's second season as head coach, he led the Kewpies to a 9-2 season while finishing 18-33 in five years at the helm.
"I was in Kansas City playing baseball at the time. I didn't get the phone call. My parents did. It was right after a game we won, and I was all happy about winning. Then I walked over and saw my parents, and they were crying, and I was confused, because I didn't know what happened. When he broke the news to me, I immediately broke down and started crying. I didn't know what to do, because I didn't know if it was real or not," Chick said.
The tragedy became reality as the team took the field Friday night on August 26.
Fans remembered Monroe with shirts reading, "Once a Kewpie Always a Kewpie." Before the game, the public address announcer read words honoring Monroe, and there was a moment of silence.
Airin Rolley's mother, Michelle Rolley, said she had a special connection to Monroe and felt pride hearing the words for Monroe.
"It means a lot to us that knew him on a personal level, a professional level. It means a lot to his family. His daughters have really appreciated all the support," Michelle said.
Michelle Rolley had another son who played for Monroe and said her sons wouldn't be who they are without him.
"My sons have known him all their lives. He was actually a friend of mine for over 23 years and a friend of my ex-husband's as well. So, they've grown up around him. They got the chance to play for him, fortunately, while he was still here. My youngest son and Arnel had a very close relationship, and it's been hard to come back from that," Michelle said.
The Kewpies kept the game close early only trailing 8-0 after the first quarter, but Webster Groves proved to be too much running away with it 40-6.
First-year head coach Devin Brown said they didn't get the result they wanted, but he's proud of his kids.
"The kids kept it inside, so they don't get emotional about it, because we've got to come out and play a football game. They didn't let up, so we've got to play football," Brown said.
Brown said he has big shoes to fill in order to live up to Monroe's legacy.
The players left the field dejected and some with tears on their faces.
Chick said, "I just feel like we let him down I guess, because he wouldn't want us to go out like that."
Despite the loss, Chick and other members of the team say it'll be special when they finally get their first win for Monroe.