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Rick Dial: Happy Father's Day to the Next Entrant into the Sports Dad Hall of Fame

Written by Benjamin Dial
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In the history of great sports Dads, I had just about the best one a kid could ask for in Rick Dial. In fact, even in adulthood, I knew that I could count on Dad to be there when I needed or wanted him. With his passing less than a month ago, combined with Father’s Day this coming weekend, reflecting back on the time I was privileged to spend with him has consumed my thoughts.

All three of his kids have a special relationship with him. It is different for each us. We are three very different people. Still, Dad was able to connect with all of us. Dad was very much a “Jack of all trades, and master of them also” kind of guy. He had that Midas touch for everything that he tried. Whether it was business, being the front man for bands that opened for Three Dog Night and Delbert McClinton, his academic success and knowledge, having roles in Oscar-winning movies, or his athletic successes, Dad made it look easy. It was his diversity as a person and his ability to forge special relationships that allowed him to love the three of us so uniquely but also so equally.

For Heather, my oldest sister, she is his firstborn and shares a common bond with him in music. She has a voice that can blow you away- both literally and figuratively. I’ve never seen Dad more proud to be a dad than watching Heather sing at church, Malvern’s annual event called Brickfest, or any other variety of venues.

Beth is my youngest sister. Dad cherishes Beth. She is his baby girl, the youngest of the kids. In truth, she had more time alone with Mom and Dad and clearly has a special relationship with both. Beth is also the most academic of the three siblings, which directly correlates to Dad’s scholarly side. It wasn’t that Heather and I weren’t good in school. We both graduated and made good grades. Beth simply cared more about it.

For me, however, I was the middle child. I wasn’t the firstborn, and I wasn’t the last one out of the nest. My uniqueness came by being his only son and the only child of his to gravitate to sports from the very beginning and to stay there even after I graduated. Even in adulthood, our relationship still revolved around sports. Whether we were talking about the Arkansas Razorbacks, co-owning a fantasy football team, or talking about NASCAR, sports was always the one thing we could go back to. Dad had an athletic background that proved he knew what he was talking about.

Dad played for the legendary Sporty Carpenter at Henderson State University at a time when HSU was one of the premier football programs in the NAIA. He made the1970’s All-Decade team for Malvern High School for his great playing career as a Malvern Leopard.

But even after Dad graduated from college, he couldn’t stay away from sports. He coached Pee-Wee baseball and football. Most notably, he became the Voice of the Leopards, calling over 500 football and basketball games in Malvern, Arkansas for over 20 years.

In retrospect, most of the time that Dad and I spent together revolved around sports of some kind. I knew Dad loved me, and I knew Dad loved athletics. At the time, I thought that was all there was to it. Now I know there was much more to it than that. Yes, Dad loved me, and yes, Dad enjoyed spending his time coaching my Pee-Wee teams and all those afternoons in the back yard or the junior high practice field teaching me receiving routes and how to tackle properly. Dad, above all things, was a clever fellow, and now I know that he sprinkled in life lessons with every football or baseball lesson that he gave me. I may not have noticed that he was teaching me a life lesson, and I might not have realized the deeper meaning. There is no question, however, that I learned those life lessons and now completely understand the complexities of what they meant.

Dad learned his most famous coaching maxim from the great Sporty Carpenter at HSU. The line says, “You do it right, you do it light. You do it wrong, you do it long.”

The meaning of that saying is quite clear. If you do things the right way the first time, you can save yourself a lot of headache and possibly heartache by not having to redo it again and again. At first, I dedicated this philosophy only to sports as I ran my drills or my sprints in practice. I soon realized, however, that same philosophy applied to mowing the yard after I did not “do it right” the first time. Dad promptly made me “do it long” by mowing it again. You do it right, you do it light. You do it wrong, you do it long.

Later in life, I learned that the maxim truly are words to live by. There may have been a few college classes that I didn’t take as seriously as I should. I think we can leave it at that. The point remains that the fundamental truth of that lesson is applicable to all things. He knew it. I learned it.

The most important lesson I learned from Dad from all those days with a ball started at an early age. As a small kid, my clumsiness was off the charts. As little kids do, the severity of the fall is often dictated by whether or not there is blood or if it just looks like it should hurt. Sometimes, the ground was the safest place to stay, so I might roll around on the ground, grabbing at the source of the pain. Dad’s response, without fail, was, “Are you hurt, or are you injured?”

For a kid, this is a hard to concept to grasp. There was a difference between hurt and injured? But as I grew older, I understood the difference. If I answered that I was simply hurt, Dad would reply, “Then get up. You’re killing the grass.”

It seems harsh, but I learned the difference between being hurt, which was just physical pain that would soon go away, and being injured which required serious medical attention. While being hurt obviously hurt, which might be evident by a little blood or a skinned knee, there certainly wasn’t injury. And the poor grass, which wasn’t really dying as I lay on top of it, needed me to keep moving forward.

As an adult, I realized that being hurt or injured isn’t just about physical pain. Sometimes life throws haymakers at you that are out of your control. They hurt you. They can daze you. Through no fault of your own, you can get dropped flat on your rear. But by applying Dad’s lessons of the physical to the mental and the emotional, you learn to keep the things that are out of your control from controlling the things you can control. The grass, I have come to learn, is those around you that need you to keep pushing forward. Even though you hurt and even though it is painful to keep going, it is your responsibility to not “kill the grass.” That’s a very empowering lesson that I’m glad Dad taught me years ago.

All this time, I thought Dad was preparing me for the rigors of high school football and baseball for a school that had some the best baseball and football programs in the state. It certainly worked. I earned multiple letters in baseball and football and earned my starting position in both sports.  

I now see that he was preparing for the rigors of life which happens to be a considerably bigger challenge.

So, I can say that Dad taught me about football. He coached my baseball teams. It was Dad that taught me how to ride a bike and how to call the Hogs. Those are memories that I will always cherish. They are memories that I hope my daughter, and any other kids I may be blessed to raise, can match with me as their father.

But more than memories, Dad taught me how to live. He taught me how to live life in a full and meaningful way. Through his example, I learned how a Christian man should raise his children and treat his wife and high school sweetheart, Phyllis. I learned, through him, the value of doing your best and serving a community you love.
The road to understanding the loss of Rick Dial will be, in the words of his beloved Beatles, a long and winding road. Many of us won’t understand why for a while, and in fact, we may never understand it. But those of us that know Dad know that he is in a better place, and for that, we can rejoice.

I know it’s cliché, but Rick Dial truly is the best man that I have ever known. And for that, Dad, I wish you a Happy Father’s Day.


0 Angelia Butterworth 2011-06-16 11:37 #12
Beautiful article....your dad would be proud!
0 Angie Guiberteau 2011-06-16 10:18 #11
I have not had the pleasure of meeting you and your family, as I was unable to go to the services, however, your reflective piece is so easy to recognize. Your dad was such as you describe. I was privileged to get to know him through Crackerjack, and being there to hear him speak highly of all of you kids and your mom, was a once-in-a-lifetime event. He raised you right and you have a lot to be proud of. He did treasure all your individual gifts, he did know each one and how to speak your love languages....truly an art so rarely seen these days. Thank you so much for sharing with the world. Although he did make his mark on the world, I think the best is yet to come :)
Blessings to you and your family! We will meet some day.
0 Mimi 2011-06-15 20:00 #10

Nothing left to say. It was beautiful. I am proud to say he is my son and I am so proud of you. I love you
0 megan hobbs 2011-06-15 16:00 #9
Beautiful Ben! I love it!
0 Jill 2011-06-15 15:49 #8
What a poignant piece! I am so sorry for your loss but thankful that you had such a wonderful father for the short time that you had him.
+1 David Puckett 2011-06-15 13:22 #7
Ben, although your Dad and I often enjoyed talking sports, especially the Razorbacks (we were even known to text back and forth during games), the biggest part of my time with your Dad was, of course, music. You mentioned his fantastic singing, and Heathers - but he was also proud of ALL of you singing together as a family. I never got to hear you - you had already pronounced your 'retirement' from singing, but I am certain that you can sing, as well. And don't forget Beth! She has a beautiful voice as well! I had the privilege of performing with your Dad in Az Izz, and As Is, and Beth and Heather in As Is, the contemporary christian rebirth of Az Izz. We, the former members of Az Izz, and As Is, are still dealing of the reality of 'no more gigs with Bubba', at least not in this world. But we know that he is looking proudly on all of you and nothing would please him more than for your family to 'keep the music going'.
+1 Sean Rock 2011-06-15 13:09 #6
Nice one, Ben. Your dad was one of the best.
+1 Steve Thacker 2011-06-15 12:59 #5
Awesome tribute to your dad, mom and rest of the family.
I can say I am a better person for having known your dad as I think everyone that knew him could say the same thing!
I cherish the times that he and I were able to worship together through music.
+3 Phyllis Dial 2011-06-15 12:47 #4
I truly believe that God in heaven above lets loved ones see "good things" here on earth, and I believe your Dad is smiling as he reads this column. I know he is proud of you and the man that you have become.
+1 Sandra Lucas Wilks 2011-06-15 12:41 #3
What an Amazing Tribute of Love and Honor for your DAD!!!
+1 Cody Steger 2011-06-15 12:24 #2
Absolutely fantastic read Ben. My father will be gone 4 years tomorrow. He is the reason I love sports and the reason I chose my career path.
0 William Bryhn 2011-06-15 12:20 #1
Amazing tribute piece Ben. One of your (if not your) best articles written to date. I never met your father (wish I could have) but he seemed to be such a fantastic happy person. Great father, grandfather and just an overall great person.

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