A Four-Sport Cougar
Jan. 5, 2010
By Craig Lawson
This story begins in Spokane, Wash., during the World War II era. A Gonzaga High School student playing football and basketball and participating on the track and field team was noticed by Washington State College's O.E. "Babe" Hollingbery. The then-Cougar coach recruited the young man to play football in Pullman and so began the collegiate career for Darroll Waller who enrolled at Washington State in fall 1943.
Waller played linebacker and right halfback and was a place kicker in football and a basketball center. He was a high jumper, pole vaulter and high hurdler in track and field. At Gonzaga, he was the first Spokane area high school student-athlete to clear 12 feet in the pole vault.
"Babe (Hollingbery) contacted my high school football coach Billy Frazier," Waller said. "Since I played basketball as well, Babe told (WSC Head Basketball Coach) Jack Friel about me."
Waller added, "In the spring, I was involved in track at Washington State. One day, someone suggested I come out and throw the ball around the baseball diamond. So, I did and became a pitcher."
The suggestion that Waller join the Cougar baseball team made him a rare commodity, a four-sport athlete at the collegiate level. Ironically, it was the sport Waller least expected to play at Washington State in which he experienced his greatest success.
Waller started 11 of the Cougars' 27 games over the 1944-45 seasons, the schedule limited due to World War II, and posted an 8-1 record with eight complete games. His win total was best among Cougars over the two-year span and he won his last seven decisions. Two of his victories came May 6, 1944, when he went the distance in both games of a doubleheader as the Cougars swept Whitman in Pullman.
"I had good control, but not much speed," Waller said. "I had a nothing ball. By the time it got to the plate, the batter was mesmerized. I was fortunate to have a good infield and outfield behind me."
Being a four-sport athlete obviously had some overlap in seasons, and the spring of 1945 was the most challenging for Waller when he was competing in both baseball and track.
Washington State did not participate in track during 1944 because there were not enough male athletes on campus to field a team, so it was not until March 31, 1945, that Waller made his debut. At an indoor meet, he won the 60-yard high hurdles (8.1 seconds) and the pole vault (10-feet, 6 inches) and tied for first in the high jump (5-9) with teammate Vince Hanson.
At his first outdoor meet, April 21 against Idaho, Waller won the shot put, high jump and pole vault and finished second in the 120-yard high hurdles. His 18 points led Washington State to a victory over the Vandals. The feat is more impressive when you consider he had pitched a complete game victory over Whitman the day before in Walla Walla.
Waller added 11 top-three event finishes over the final four meets of the season, including three victories in the high jump and another in the pole vault. He scored a team-best 56 individual points during the season.
On the hardwood, Waller appeared in 63 games and averaged a bucket an outing during the 1943-44 through 1945-46 seasons. His best campaign came in 1944-45 when he scored 87 points while serving as the backup center to Hanson.
While Hanson led the nation in scoring and set a then-national record with 592 points, it was Jan. 31, 1945, when Waller did everything he could to be the game's hero for the Cougars in a meeting with Oregon State. After Hanson had fouled out, Waller forced overtime with a field goal late in regulation and extended the game to a second overtime with two free throws toward the end of the first extra session. Unfortunately, the performance was not enough in a 45-42 double-overtime setback.
Waller's highlight on the gridiron came Nov. 3, 1945, against California in Berkeley. His interception in the fourth quarter led to a 35-yard touchdown pass from Jack Perrault to Bill Lippincott with less than six minutes remaining. Waller provided the extra point and the Cougars escaped with a 7-7 tie.
Off the field, Waller held several jobs on campus. He was a houseboy for a couple of sororities and worked in every capacity - from busboy to waiter to cook - at Cougar Cottage and Cy's Corner, two restaurants at the college. Valhalla Bar & Grill on Colorado Street currently occupies the spot where Cy's Corner used to be. Prior to his senior year, he was selected as one of the Big Five Men at Washington State, earning his honor for Campus Involvement. His activities included Alpha Phi Sigma, Athletic Council, Board of Control, Campus Traffic and Safety Committee, Crimson Circle, Grey (sic) W Club, Inter-Fraternity Council, Junior Class Executive Council, Sigma Nu, Student Activities Committee, Varsity Ball Chairman and time as an intramural coach.
"Pullman was quite a small town then," Waller said. "The school was not very big. I learned the importance of having a goal and sticking to it, come hell or high water. The coaches helped you a lot. Jack Friel was the person who advised me the most. It was an enjoyable experience for me at Washington State."
Waller graduated in 1947 with a degree in police science and a minor in psychology and sociology. Although a couple of professional football teams were interested in his services, Waller earned a second bachelor's degree (in education) from Washington State and a teaching credential from Eastern Washington. His early teaching assignments were primarily seventh through ninth grades.
Over time, he earned his master's degree in administration and finance from Eastern Washington and traveled around the United States.
"I interviewed with the Secret Service and the FBI and corresponded with J. Edgar Hoover, who was the director of the FBI at the time," Waller said. "I still have a letter from him."
But it was life as an educator that brought him back to the Northwest. He earned Superintendent credentials in Pullman, coached off and on, and became East Valley School District Superintendent, a position he held for 17 years.
Today, Waller, 85, is retired and lives in Spokane. He and his wife have three children, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His story is one that brings a smile to your face when you think of the meaning of a student-athlete.
Official Website of Washington State University Athletics | Bohler Athletic Complex | PO Box 641602 Pullman, WA 99164-1602 | 1.800.GO.COUGS