By T. Scott Boatright
Legendary Ruston High School Track and Field coach Dave Anderson has always been known for striving to be the best and going the distance.
Between 1991 and 2012, Anderson guided Ruston to nine state titles, including the first ever girls title in school history.
He led Ruston boy’s cross country teams to Louisiana state titles in 1992, 1995, 1997, and 2000. In 20 years at Ruston, his athletes established what was then 39 out of a possible 42 school records.
Anderson will be officially honored for those efforts during today’s “Hoss” Garrett Relays at Ruston High when the RHS track is officially dedicated in his name.
Joining the Bearcats in competing at the relays will be Cedar Creek, Wossman, Byrd, Natchitoches Central, Airline, Ouachita, Rayville and Union Parish.
Admission will be $7 with children 5 and under being able to enter free of charge. The dedication ceremony will start things off at 3 p.m. with field events beginning at 3:30 p.m. and running events at 5:15 p.m.
The dedication ceremony was supposed to happen last spring. But then COVID-19 changed the world.
“I was about to get on a plane headed to New York City for the New Balance Indoor Nationals and they shut everything down because of the COVID pandemic really starting to explode,” Anderson said. “I had a hurdler and a pole vaulter qualify for me and we were going to come down to Ruston the next weekend for the dedication ceremony. But when I say shut down, I mean everything was shut down.
“Everything got put on hold and nobody could say anything or tell you anything because nobody knew what was going to happen,” Anderson said. “And we’re still kind of in a holding pattern to this day. But it looks like we’re pushing ahead and it’s finally going to happen (today).”
Anderson credits the legacy left by Garrett, a Ruston High coaching legend, as the reason he wanted to come and stayed so long in Lincoln Parish.
“When I got hired at Ruston in the fall of ’91, I was teaching freshman English on the second floor and Loyce Garrett’s (Hoss Garrett’s daughter) class was right next to me,” Anderson said. “So we got to know each other pretty well pretty quickly. I had kind of gotten to know Pat a little bit — I knew of his reputation obviously — but I didn’t know him very well. I sheepishly went to Loyce one day and asked, ‘Would you guys be OK if we changed the name of the Ruston Invitational to the Hoss Garrett Relays?’ And she said that she needed to talk to Pat about that. It didn’t take long before he called me and asked me to come sit down with him at his kitchen table and talk about the details — why I wanted to do it. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that I was at Ruston for more reasons than just to promote my own track program — that I would to preserve some history. I really felt like I wanted to have our kids have an appreciation for the legacy that was left for us to be Bearcats.”
That was after the RHS track season of 1993 with the first “Hoss” Garrett Relays happening in 1994.
Anderson, who had previously coached at St. Frederick, Wossman (where Anderson coached with Delton Dearman, Ray Gambino, and Lonnie Callahan and helped the Wildcats win a 1987 state championship) and Neville (under legendary coach Charlie Brown), said that journey led to him having “at least a little” seasoning before coming to Ruston.
“I picked up a lot of things through osmosis,” he said. “Not really Xs and Os and that sort of thing. When I got to Neville, Coach Brown told me I was going to coach freshman football, and was going to be head girls basketball coach and if I wanted to do cross country and track in the spring, that was one me. But I was hired as girls basketball coach and freshman football coach. I could have cared less. I just wanted to be at Neville because I thought I could build a program there.”
The first year at Neville Anderson only had four athletes come out — not even a full team. But the following fall Neville’s cross country team went undefeated all the way to the state championship before losing to Catholic-Baton Rouge by 17 points. The Neville cross country team placed second to Catholic again in the state championships before taking the state title in 1991.
“Over the course of those three years those runners went 367-2,” Anderson said. “We went to Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas and clipped some major wings on some big birds in doing so.”
That was before Anderson got a call from Ruston in the spring of 1991 asking if he could duplicate “some of that” with the Bearcats.
Anderson moved on from Ruston in 2012 and went to Bentonville, Arkansas, to take an assistant coaching job.
“They had never won a state championship in outdoors boys track,” Anderson said. “They were awesome in cross country and had won one indoor title. The girls were a little better off. I think they had won a couple of outdoor titles and a couple of indoors, and cross country there was really good. But when I got there in 2012 we basically implemented ‘the Ruston program’ into Bentonville High. We just won a bunch. We rewrote the record book and won a bunch of championships.”
Five years ago after Bentonville High was split and another school — West High School — opened in nearby Centerton and the athletic director called Anderson in and asked him to go build a program there. That’s where Anderson coaches today.
“The first year we didn’t have seniors, we were just laying the foundation,” Anderson said. “And at this stage of my life, it’s just worked out great. It’s such beautiful country there.”
Anderson admits his emotions are tornadic as this afternoon approaches and the Ruston High Track will be officially dedicated in his name.
“It’s awful hard to express into words,” he said. “I’ve had an awful lot of time to think about it. The dynamics keep changing. The levels of emotions keep changing. They’re going to ask me to speak and I don’t know if I’ll make it through it. Looking up in the stands and seeing all that — so many of my former athletes planning to come back. The surreal part of it is that you walk into that stadium and here’s Chick Childress’ name on one building, “Hoss” Garrett’s name is right over there, and mine is up there, too. It’s crazy. I’ve got a condensed version. I just hope I’ll be able to say everything that I’d like to say. Hopefully I can make it through it without breaking down.
“I’ll be honest — the coolest part for me is going to be two get-togethers planned for afterwards and to be able to see those student athletes they came through Ruston at different times all get together and share that common thread, that price they paid to be part of the legacy and to see their coach honored. It’s going to special.”