Former Judson ISD athletic director Frank Arnold mused Tuesday about how different the area surrounding Judson High School looks today compared to March 1980, when he became the Rockets' head football coach.
"There wasn't much of anything out here," Arnold said. "It's changed a lot."
Arnold recalled those days at the dedication of the Frank Arnold Athletic Complex, located on the Judson campus. Judson and the district's second high school, Wagner, will play soccer, baseball and softball games at the new facility.
Arnold guided Judson to its first state championship in 1983 and left coaching early in 1984 to succeed Roy Wallace, his high school football coach at Burbank High School in the 1950s, as athletic director of the burgeoning school district.
By the time he retired in the summer of 2005, Arnold had left an indelible imprint on Judson athletics. The Rockets won five more football state titles on his watch, but Arnold's influence permeated the entire Judson athletic program.
"He always fought very hard for balance," said former Judson coach Sylvester Perez. "He wasn't just about football. He knew there were other sports in the program and he didn't consider them minor. Whether you were a seventh-grade girl tennis player or the starting quarterback, he always valued every student in the athletic program."
Arnold, 70, choked back tears when he talked about Wallace during the dedication ceremony. Wallace was 89 when he died of cancer in 2009.
"If this thing was going to be named after anybody, it should have been named for Roy," Arnold said. "He was the one who had the vision. He was a great man, a great friend."
Wallace's widow, Betty, attended Tuesday's ceremony.
"Frank was like a son to Roy," Betty Wallace said. "I know he would be so proud of Frank if he were here today."
Rockets soared to new heights under Arnold
Judson's rise as a football power began in 1977 when Wallace hired Jerry Sanders to take over a program that had gone a combined 9-40-1 the previous five seasons.
The Rockets made a dramatic turnaround under Sanders, going 30-4 and winning district championships in each of his three seasons at Judson.
Arnold, head coach at MacArthur for two seasons before succeeding Sanders, built on his predecessor's success and took the Rockets to another level.
After going 6-4 and 7-3 in its first two seasons under Arnold, Judson went 14-1 and advanced to the 1982 state semifinals for the first time in school history. A year later, the Rockets won the Class 5A state title and finished 15-1.
Arnold and Wallace, who thrived working behind the scenes, proved to be a winning combination.
"Roy's approach and the approach I got from him was that if you teach the right things, the winning will take care of itself," Arnold said. "If you're just in it to win ballgames, you're in it for the wrong reason.
"When I came to Judson, we talked a great deal as a coaching staff. But we didn't talk about wins and losses. We talked about effort and getting the full effort from each individual, and teaching them to be good people and make right choices. All that came from Roy. He did it right. He was a very ethical individual."
Rutledge: 'I can't think of a better man to work for'
D.W. Rutledge was Arnold's defensive coordinator for four seasons before succeeding him as head coach. The two worked together until Rutledge resigned in the spring of 2001 to take a job with the Texas High School Coaches Association.
"I can't think of a better man to work for," said Rutledge, who led the Rockets to four state championships in 17 seasons. "He was always supportive and I learned so much from him, like how to treat people. He had great leadership skills and he had a genuine concern for his coaches and a genuine care and concern for the kids we coached.
"There are just so many people skills that he had that resonated with you. He always made working fun, but at the same time, nobody worked harder. I feel extremely blessed to have been able to work for him as many years as I did. He's a special friend."
Current Judson athletic director Mike Miller got to know Arnold well when he was a member of Rutledge's staff from 1987 until 1995.
Miller said Arnold's character, integrity and charisma set him apart.
"Whenever he was around, you knew there was somebody smiling," Miller said. "You knew there was somebody with enthusiasm. You knew there was somebody with a great passion for kids and athletics. That continues until today. He was a leader who worked to be the best every day.
"He taught that, he demanded that and he exemplified that. That's why Judson is so competitive across the board. Every sport, Judson and Wagner, are very competitive. That same competitive spirit is still in the district, in both of our high schools. It's really a credit to him and the type of people that he hired."