Dennis DeBusk, a Heber Springs native, recently retired after coaching and mentoring athletes for 47 years at Heber Springs, Shiloh Christian and Springdale.
DeBusk played for the Panthers in the mid 1960s, graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and returned home for his first coaching stop. He was anc assistant for four years before becoming head coach in 1976.
The Panthers won their first playoff game in history under DeBusk, a 14-0 shutout of Corning at home in 1979. DeBusk was 71-53 as a head coach and was the school district's first full time athletic director.
Heber Springs won one outright conference championship and shared district titles three times during DeBusk's tenure. He left in 1988 and started the athletic program at Shiloh Christian and joined the athletic staff at Springdale High School in 1997.
"We have athletes that worked hard and became better every year," DeBusk, the winningest coach in Heber Springs football history, said. "I have good assistant coaches. I wish I knew half as much as I do now back them. Maybe I could have helped them more."
DeBush said one of the games that he remembered was the first playoff game against McCrory, who was one of the top teams in the state that season.
"McCroy was a very good team," he said. "Mason Reed (one of the team's best athletes) was injured, but the team gave great effort. We had great times whether we won or not, but you tend to remember the losses more than the wins."
The list of outstanding athletes is long, and DeBusk said he hated to overlook any players. He credited the work ethic of the players for the program's success, not only in football, but other spots.
"Dale Cresswell has done a great job coaching track and field and cross country after coach (Harold) Wilson built the program," DeBusk said. "Birth Grisso was one of the most talented athletes that I coached at Heber. He could do all. Curtis Henry was a good running back. Matt (Irwin) was not the greatest athlete, but always gave 100 percent and did what he asked. Then we had Mike Verser, Roger Kennedy and Larry Kennedy. The list is long."
DeBusk said he will never forget coaching his first state champion, Louis Lee in golf.
"I will never forget Louis winning the golf state championship," DeBusk said. "Louis also was a good football and basketball player. I was so fortunate to coach all of the athletes at Heber Springs."
Starting a new program is not easy and DeBusk built the foundation at Shiloh Christian.
"I will never forget the first season," DeBusk said. "We had 17 players on the first team at Shiloh and no expectations for the first year. I will never forget losing the first game 13-7 and the fans gave the team a standing ovation after the game. We won four games that first year, but it was a fun season."
DeBusk said he will never forget the playoff game against Bauxite.
"One of the most memorable games was the three overtime loss to Bauxite in the state quarterfinals," he said.
DeBusk took a coaching position 23 years ago at Springdale and coached with Jarrell Williams and later Gus Malzahn, who now is the head coach at Auburn. DeBusk coached on offense and defense before becoming the director of football operations five years ago. He finished his coaching career under Eli Drinkwitz, now the head coach at Appalachian State.
"I coached five years under Williams and then coach Malzahn," DeBusk said. "The team won the state championship in 2005. We had impressive athletes. Those guys had a goal in mind and no one was going to take it away from them."
Football will remain important as DeBusk hopes to watch the Panthers and maybe take road trips to Auburn and Appalachian State.
"I want to watch Heber play next year," DeBusk said. "I enjoyed being an honorary captain for last year's Clinton game. I'm not tied down to anything right now."