(DEKALB, Mo.) When you think DeKalb football, you think of Vernon Pike.
But after 23 years with the Tigers -- 20 as head coach -- Pike has decided to retire from football and teaching.
"It just feels like it's the right time to go," Pike said Tuesday afternoon.
While the coach says it's his time to move on from DeKalb football, it wasn't an easy decision.
"It was very tough. It was almost right down to the wire where I really needed to step up and make the decision one way or the other. I didn't want to put the school in a bind."
"He's left some big shoes to fill," DeKalb's high school principal Travis Dittemore said. "He's well-liked by our community, and he has definitely been a mentor to our young coaches."
Pike got his start at his alma mater, East Buchanan, back in 1977. After putting in his time with the Bulldogs, he joined the Tigers 13 years later.
"I never thought when I got on down here that I would be here as long as I have been," Pike said.
In his time with the program he led the Tigers to a pair of state title appearances, including a championship win in 2002 over King City.
He remembers it as one of his best memories when looking back on a formidable career.
"To have the kind of season we had, we barely squeaked by Mound City and then barely squeaked by King City to take the title. It was pretty exciting."
Pike turns the head coaching position over to Kaleb Wardlow.
Wardlow graduated from perennial 8-man power North Andrew in 2007, and spent 2012 as an assistant under Pike.
He knows there is some added pressure when replacing a coach that's been around more than two decades.
"Among 8-man coaches, he's one of the big dogs," Wardlow said referring to Pike. "It's an honor to take over for him. For 20 years he brought a lot to the table, and I learned a lot from him."
While Wardlow looks to transition into the head coaching role, Pike will work on relaxing on Friday nights.
"It's going to be really weird to not spend Friday night not walking down on that field. The community's been great to me, and it will be strange not getting up and driving down here every morning."
While he retires from football coaching and teaching, he will stay with the school to coach girls track next season.
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