By Danny C. Davis
For thirty-six years, the Clinton Arrows football team played their home games at Roy Burkett Field located adjacent to the old Clinton High School, now Clinton Junior High School, on West Lakeview Drive. The field was dedicated to popular and very successful long-time Clinton Arrows head coach Roy Burkett on the night of September 25, 1970. Coach Burkett was recognized by then-Clinton Mayor Charles Blass. Just a few minutes following the presentation, a big thunderstorm hit as the Arrows took on North Little Dixie Conference rival Forest in a tough 10-6 loss.
But a new era was on, and the Arrows now had a fine new playing field and seating to accommodate the fastest growing school district in the Jackson Metro area. Much of the construction of the stadium was handled by former Arrow and CHS assistant football coach Pitt Farrar, who completed the stadium in record time in the summer of 1970.
Roy Burkett Field was the start of great things to come for the next thirty-six years, which saw Clinton Arrow football rise to a high level and become one of the top high school football teams in Mississippi. This was the trend that Burkett started after arriving in 1956 with the Arrows playing at the old rundown Crain Field that was located across the street from where the Baptist Healthplex now sits.
At the new Roy Burkett Field (RBF), Clinton won North Little Dixie Conference (LDC) Championships in 1974, 1975, 1977, and 1980. Four times – in 1972, 1975, 1977, and in 1980 – the Arrows were crowned overall Little Dixie Conference Football Champions. The 1972 team set a team record with a 10-1 record, followed by the 1975 Arrows, who duplicated that record.
In 1977, Clinton went a perfect 11-0 for the first time ever. The 1980 team was voted the #1 high school team in the state by the United Press International Coach’s Poll.
Also at RBF, the Arrows played for the Class 5A South State Championship in 1987. In 2000, the Arrows finished 14-1 and reached their highest rankings ever – ranked #23 nationally by USA Today.
Clinton became a known high school football contender and, for fans, if you did not arrive an hour early, you may not get a seat.
Even after the new Clinton High School facility was built, the CHS Arrows played at Roy Burkett Field until the new Arrow Field on the new campus of Clinton High School was completed in September 2007.
The Arrows played at Roy Burkett Field 144 times from 1970-2006 and had a 67% winning percentage.
Clinton girls and boys soccer teams also won many state championships with teams that played their home games at Roy Burkett in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. The field was also the venue for many MHSAA state soccer championships, and many were won by Arrows soccer teams.
The stadium remained erected until maintenance issues became a financial situation, and the historic stadium was demolished just a year or so ago. It was a sad occasion for the many Clinton Arrow players, cheerleaders, band members, soccer players, track participants, and fans who cherished great memories of the storied stadium.
To preserve those memories and histories for fans and alumni, a movement was started by form Clinton Arrow player Nash Nunnery, who played for Coach Burkett in 1970 and 1971 and under James Sloan on the 1972 North LDC Championship team. Nunnery organized an effort by former CHS players, alumni, and fans to fund a historic marker that was recently erected and dedicated at the former site of the stadium. Ceremonies honoring the stadium and Roy Burkett were held on April 16 in the Clinton Junior High library and gym due to a thunderstorm outside on the site.
So, for people who do not know much about the legendary CHS winning coach, just who was Roy Burkett?
Roy Burkett was from the same home town of this writer – Columbia, Mississippi.
He was born in 1920, and he played for the Columbia Wildcats in 1936-1938. Soon afterwards, he joined the U.S. Army at the start of World War II. He had a distinguished military career, serving his country as a tank commander. He fought in the historic” Battle of the Bulge” in Germany in December 1944 and January 1945. After the war, Burkett’s love for the sport of football led him to attend and play at Pearl River Community College and Mississippi College, where he played quarterback.
Burkett began a teaching and coaching career following graduation. He was an assistant at Picayune and Crystal Springs before becoming the head football coach at his alma mater, Columbia High School, for the 1953 and 1954 season. He was also the Wildcat head baseball coach.
Burkett got out of coaching for a year in 1955, working alongside his dad Fleet Burkett in sales at Skipper Chevrolet. But he missed coaching and teaching and became the eleventh head coach at Clinton High in early 1956.
Over the next fifteen years, Roy Burkett transformed the Arrows football program into a dominant force. His first Arrows team went 8-3, winning their five final games and defeating arch-rival Forest Hill 35-0 to the end the season. Burkett went on to lead his upstart Arrows to North Little Dixie Conference Championships in 1960, 1961 and 1971. He compiled an impressive 92-69-2 record coaching for the red and black. And he achieved those records while serving as Athletic Director for many years and taught a full course load every day at CHS. He also coached baseball and track and field for many years at CHS.
But the popular coach suffered serious heart problems during the middle of the 1971 season and was encouraged by doctors to end his coaching career. He resigned on December 5 at age 51 after heart surgery. The field dedication came as a surprise to Burkett and the then 7,000 residents of Clinton on that rainy night in September 1970.
“Dad was so humbled and proud to have the new stadium named for him,” said son Bob Burkett, who still resides in Clinton. Also, following the 1971 season, Burkett was named “Little Dixie Conference Coach of the Year.” He went on to be named to the Mississippi Association of Coaches Hall of Fame in 1985, Mississippi College Hall of Fame and All State Coach of the year.
Roy Burkett passed away on February 18, 1998, at age 78.
“He loved coaching the Clinton Arrows, and he loved teaching at CHS,” said Bob Burkett, who still lives on the same street he grew up on just off U.S. Highway 80. “Dad believed that character and hard work would lead to success on the field and in life. He was so dedicated to the game. He only had one or two assistants back then, and they would come over to our house at night and watch game film on the next opponent for hours projected on a sheet on the wall.
“He did everything for the Clinton football team. He mowed the field, lined the field off before games and washed all the uniforms. Dad could be very tough on the field but loved his players very much. He was just so dedicated to what he did and loved football from an early age,” said son Bob.
WRITER’S NOTE: As a sports writer, sports announcer, and PA announcer for the Clinton Arrows since 1976, it was a pleasure to do this story on Coach Roy Burkett. My thanks to his son Bob Burkett and Delvan Irwin, author of Arrow Nation, in compiling the information. Much thanks to my friend Nash Nunnery, who like this writer bleeds Clinton Arrow Red, for putting together the marker and dedication ceremony. There is no doubt that if Coach Burkett had not been the head football coach at Clinton in those fifteen years, we would not have been the dominant high school football program we are today. GO ARROWS!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Danny C. Davis has had a forty-five year association with Clinton Arrows football that includes being a sportswriter from 1976 to the present, a radio announcer and a public address announcer for the Arrows for forty-one years.
***All photos special to The Clinton Courier