There is a legend in Greenwood that has been passed down from generation to generation. The story is so old and the details so sparse that some believe it is only a myth. The story is about a Greenwood High School student who rode his motorcycle through the halls of the school on the last day before summer break. Legend has it that he was never caught and was so afraid of the punishment he might receive that he would never admit to his deed even as an adult.
One muggy night in May, at the Greenwood High School graduation, commencement speaker and 1978 graduate Doc Sadler told the story. He relayed it to the class of 2016 just as it had been told many times before. However, at the end of his story Sadler said, “That guy was a classmate of mine and his name is Kenneth McClain. Now Kenneth, everyone knows you are the person that rode that motorcycle down the main hall.”
A simple search for Mr. McClain produced results. The Greenwood Democrat reached out to him and some of his classmates who encouraged him to tell his story. McClain was hesitant in the beginning because, as he explained, he is not the same person he once was.
After some persistence McClain finally agreed to tell his story.
When Kenneth was a junior in 1977 he worked for Leroy’s Cycle Shack in Fort Smith and spent his time racing motorcycles. One night while talking to some friends about an incident in the 40’s where a kid had ridden his bike through a Fort Smith high school McClain starting planning his own ride.
“I put together a whole network of help,” said McClain. “I couldn’t do it by myself. The amazing thing about it was that nobody involved squealed. At that age for somebody to not say anything is really something.”
The night before the ride McClain parked his bike at a friends house who lived behind what is now known as the GMAC.
The year was winding down and it was off season football. Most of the time Kenneth left school early to go to work and his friend Randy Clark would say “here” when the roll was called. “If you go back and look I was in class that day according to the roll,” said McClain. “So I knew I had that covered. This all took place during class on the last day of school for the seniors.”
Day of the ride:
Kenneth stated that he chose that day so he could show up the seniors who had been causing some minor mischief by lighting bottle rockets in the hallway. “If you think that is something come stand out in the hall at about 3:30,” McClain told several of the seniors the day of the incident.
McClain left school after fifth period, picked up his bike from his friends house, drove down Main Street to Gary Street, which at one time continued in front of the high school. When Kenneth made the turn onto Gary Street, buses were staging beside what is now the school administration building in preparation of school letting out. McClain was spotted by long time history teacher Dan Palmer, who drove a bus at that time. However, Kenneth was unrecognizable because he had on a long haired wig, a dark tinted racing mask and a borrowed helmet.
McClain had three friends holding doors for him at the appointed time and making sure the coast was clear for his entrance. David Britton held the main entrance door open, Morris Peters propped the door open at the other end of the hall and Rick Wester manned the backup escape door on the junior high hall. McClain stated that he entered the main entrance after Britton gave the signal that the coast was clear. Kenneth nearly wrecked upon entering the building due to the slickness of the waxed floors. He then regained his balance, made the turn, jumped the steps and flew through the school rattling windows throughout the building.
The motorcycle he used was not street legal. In fact it was a competition use only, off road motocross RN370 open class. “It was a big two cycle motorcycle,” McClain recalled. “It was extremely loud.” The bike was so loud that some students dove under their desks thinking that there was a tornado.
The last obstacle before exiting the building was English teacher Mrs. Carolyn Tarver, who had the last class at the end of the building. “She got to the door at the same time that I got to the door,” said McClain. “I still see her and have a lot of respect for her. On that day her eyes were so wide when I came through there, it scared her to death.”
Kenneth exited the building through the door Morris had propped open for him. McClain had worked for the schools since the seventh grade and was familiar with the school’s vehicles. “I knew that they didn’t have anything that could catch me,” said McClain. So he was not concerned when he saw custodian Earl Terry headed towards the bus garage to take one of the trucks to chase him down.
After exiting the building McClain hit Daisy Street up to Nashville and thought that he was home free because Greenwood only had one police officer at that time. But that officer, Tommy Tincher, lived at the corner of Nashville and Main and was standing on his front porch talking to a state trooper when Kenneth passed by.
McClain turned the corner and continued up Main Street on his illegal bike leaving a crime scene and headed towards Bell Park. “I saw that troopers eyes bug out and then he jump in his car and so here is another race.”
After zooming past the officers Kenneth rode up Main past the park and took a left onto Valley Loop and watched as the trooper kept going straight. At the bottom of the loop another accomplice, Foster McNabb, was waiting with McClain’s truck, a ramp, and an old rug. McClain drove the bike onto the bed of the truck, laid it down, covered it up, jumped in the cab and headed back down Main Street just in time to see several members from the senior class driving up to try and catch a glimpse of the masked rider.
The next evening there was a school dance at the country club. “Every girl in that place danced with me that night,” said McClain. “Even the ones that would not even look my direction before. It is funny how it made me popular.” His senior year Kenneth was named “Boy of the Year”. “I didn’t do it for that,” said McClain. “I just wanted to show the seniors that they weren’t nothing.”
After the infamous ride McClain went to work. As soon as he finished his shift he went to Superintendent Marvin Frazier’s home to tell him that though it may seem like something he might do that he was not guilty. “I lied through my teeth,” said McClain. Kenneth then went to the home of the principal, Earl Coats, to deny any involvement in the caper. “I knew that he could see right through me,” said McClain. “Just like I can see through my kids now.”
The next night on his way to the dance Kenneth spotted Officer Tincher and pulled in to talk to him, deny his involvement and ask what will happen to the masked rider if they ever catch him. Tincher explained that at the school board meeting they decided on a $10,000 fine and to flunk the perpetrator. “I lived in fear for the next seven days because the rest of us had a week of school left,” said McClain. However, Kenneth was never charged with the prank and completed high school at GHS.
“It was serious and I could have hurt someone,” said McClain.
Kenneth stated that he has changed a lot since high school, he is a Christian now and has owned his own roofing company, OK Roofing, since 1984. “I enjoy what I do. I look forward to getting up everyday. I’m out in the sunshine. It’s a good life. If God can somehow get the glory out of all of this that would be ideal because I am not the man I used to be.”