MIDWEST CITY — Jim Darnell never encouraged his grandson to play Little League football.
Read that again.
Legendary Midwest City coach Jim Darnell, who laid the foundation for the greatness of Bomber football, never encouraged his only grandson, Beau Butler, to play Little League football.
“My dad wasn't a big proponent of Little League football,” said Jamie Darnell Butler, Beau's mother and Jim Darnell's only child. “He kept telling us to not start him in football until he was older. Kept saying he'd be fine.
“He felt that way because he had coached a lot of kids who didn't play until seventh grade, and they turned out to be good players.”
Beau Butler played his first season of youth football as a fifth-grader. He joined the junior-high team in sixth grade, where he got to play his first game in the stadium named for his grandfather — one month after Darnell died.
“I remember that I kept thinking, ‘I wish my dad was here,'” Jamie Butler said. “He would've loved it. I've said that so many times, because I know my dad would've gotten a kick out of all of it.”
On Friday night, when Midwest City hosts Edmond Santa Fe at 7 in the first round of the Class 6A football playoffs, Beau Butler will be playing his final game on Rose Field at Jim Darnell Stadium.
Darnell coached the Bombers from 1955-1977, winning the 1960 state title and unleashing Bomber football on the rest of the state. It remained one of the state's most dominant programs for nearly 20 years after he stepped down and still carries a great amount of respect today.
Beau Butler has been proud to carry on the family tradition in black and gold. He has been a varsity starter on the offensive line for two seasons and is a senior captain.
Most of his fondest memories of his grandfather trace back to John Conrad Golf Course in Midwest City. Darnell would teach Beau how to putt, or they'd just enjoy lunch. And Beau always got to hear about Darnell's heyday coaching the Bombers.
“I would get to hear all kinds of stories from his friends,” Beau said with a laugh. “We'd go over there to John Conrad, eat a hamburger. He'd talk and play cards with his friends, and I'd hear all about him.
“I would hear stories about the practices he had and the stuff he made his players do. People still tell me about that stuff, and it's all great to hear.”
Though Darnell didn't encourage Little League football, he still wanted his grandson to play the game. He talked about the game with young Beau. But he never pushed it on him at an early age.
“We always had that football connection,” Beau said. “The first time I ran onto that field suiting up for a varsity game, starting as a junior, knowing what I was playing for — not only myself but for him and the community, it was a great experience. The energy, the emotion, it was almost uncontrollable.”
Beau's athletic ability and strong academics have opened doors at some prestigious schools. He's hoping to play football and baseball at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
But he has one more game remaining at Jim Darnell Stadium, and he hopes a few more in a Bomber uniform.
“Watching over me, I know he's proud,” Beau said. “To see me out there playing, it would've meant a lot to him. I know it means a lot to me.”