CAMDEN By PATRIC FLANNIGAN
Camden native Sgt. Louis “Punchie” Pike is a man that loves to have a good time and share his story in hopes to inspire young people. An U.S. veteran, all American student athlete, husband and father has a lot of stories to tell, but now he has a new one after being inducted into the Arkansas Track Hall of Fame.
Pike graduated from Marvell High School during the time of integration. A time when Pike admitted that he almost gave up track because of his encounters with a racist coach.
“We were segregated and then they brought the white school and the black school together,” Pike shared. “The coach told me I couldn’t run track because me feet were too big. It broke my spirit and I didn’t run that next year. But then we got a coach from Cincinnati Ohio. His name was Jim Hastings. He took time with me and he taught me a lot. That was all I needed. First track meet was in Pine Bluff where I saw the old coach. I went up and asked him what lane his mane was in and I told him, ‘I’m gonna beat him if I don’t beat anybody else.’ And I did! I whooped his butt.”
Pike’s high school track accomplishments garnered him offers from Kansas, Penn State and several other major D1 schools. But, he didn’t immediately have a desire to go to college so he went to California with his sister.
“My sister made me leave,” Pike said. “When I got back, school had already started and Henderson was the only one that was willing to take me in. Things were different back then, man. They only fed us two times on Sundays. I didn’t have any money. I was from the projects. I was on work study. Now, these kids get these big scholarships and they don’t have to worry about a thing but keeping their grades up.”
Pike also shared how being one of 13 siblings and from a poor background hindered him but didn’t stop him. He knew he needed guidance and he found that in a fraternity on campus.
“When I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha it changed my life, man,” Pike shared. “Here it was a group of guys that looked like me and they were trying to something with their lives. That taught me how to make goals and have direction. One of my frat brothers is a brain surgeon in Texarkana now and David Deck (the first white Alpha in the southern region) became one of my best friends. I met some great people and had some good times. Deck passed away and that hurt.)
Pike said that Henderson wasn’t all the way invested in track, and that he had to train his self. He was named the captain of the track team and went on to have a stellar 1976 campaign. By the time he graduated, he was four-time All AIC and a three-time All American in the 110m hurdles. That summer he was hanging out with a friend out of state when he got a call that he had a tryout for the Olympics. He hurried back home and worked out for a week before going to the trials where he would end up playing poker with Sidney Moncrief, Larry Bird and Ervin “Magic” Johnson.
“We couldn’t leave the embassy so that what we would do,” Pike said. “It was so many of those great athletes over there that I got to meet.”
When Pike returned home he lived in Little Rock for a while where he struggled before joining the army at the age of 32. Thanks to him always being in shape, Pike said he was able to handle basic training better that the younger soldiers. Pike would serve for 20 years and even did a tour in Iraq. He has lived in Camden since the early 80 where he has raised his family. He thanked his wife, Linda, for her support over the years and talked about how much it meant for his family to be present during his induction.
“I was sharp from head to toe,” Pike admitted. “We had a good time. I had family and friends from all over come in. We packed it out. I’m blessed and I’m thankful. It meant a lot.”