Archive for December, 2011

Claypool’s and Wingmead: Duck hunting cathedrals

Friday, December 30th, 2011

I’ve enjoyed writing in recent weeks about storied Arkansas duck clubs. They’re a part of our state’s unique heritage.

In my mind, two names stand above the rest as far as being legendary — Claypool’s near Weiner and Wingmead near Stuttgart.

I wrote about Claypool’s in last week’s post about the book “First Shooting Light.” Wallace Claypool of Memphis bought the land in 1941 as a sanctuary for ducks, building a reservoir that would become internationally famous on Dec. 23, 1956.

That’s the day NBC broadcast live as three blocks of TNT were fired off, causing an estimated 350,000 ducks to lift off the water.

The black-and-white photo of those ducks has become a classic in the history of the Arkansas outdoors.

Claypool, an automobile dealer, sold his land in 1966 to friends from Memphis. In the course of my research, I ran across an article by Eugenia Bone that ran in the November 2000 issue of Gourmet (I miss that magazine).

She had gone hunting at Claypool’s on a Thanksgiving weekend with her husband, Kevin, and an uncle from Memphis named Norfleet Turner.

The cast of characters on that hunt included men with colorful names such as Skeets Boyle (“vivacious and grumpy”), Toof Brown and Bayard Boyle Jr. (“a gentle loner who hunts by himself”).

John Riley — “a giant of a man and the terror of local poachers” — had run the place for 32 years by that point.

“Green rubber waders hang on pegs along one wall,” Bone writes. “Guns, primarily 12-gauge, rest on a tall rack. Masks, camouflage jackets and boxes of neat orange and yellow shells sit on a long bench. There’s a dead mouse in the toe of one seldom-worn wader. The shed is dingy and gloriously atmospheric, smelling of leather and wet wool and dogs held in high esteem.”

Bone writes lovingly of waiting for shooting time in the flooded timber: “Everything stills. And we wait. Very quietly. So concentrated is the quiet that the slow zigzag of a leaf falling from the canopy captures everyone’s attention. This is the true character of hunting: A zen-like state of simultaneous excitement and calm that allows for acute observation of nature. It’s why I don’t have to kill anything in order to experience a good hunt.

“Overhead, ducks fly by in flocks and pairs, and higher up, geese travel in tremendous, fluttering ribbons. Riley begins calling — a wonderful, lonely quack. … As the sky turns orange and pink, we shoot mallards and tiny, zippy teal for their sweet, tender meat. With every bird that falls like a feathery stone, the dogs leap off the blinds and lope through the water to retrieve it in soft jaws, their tails wagging fiercely.”

Bone tells of the famous people who have hunted at Claypool’s: “Jimmy Carter, Wernher von Braun, various DuPonts and baseball great Preacher Roe, but not Bill Clinton. (‘Skeets don’t like Bill Clinton,’ says John Riley.)”

Like my trips to Piney Creek, breakfast after the hunt is as good as the hunt itself at Claypool’s, Bone writes.

“Settling down to this breakfast is a true reward,” she says. “The table, by a picture window that looks out on a duck-resting pond, is set with thick, dinner-style ceramic, matching in spirit only. Pitchers of orange juice and milk are set out, as well as bowls of jelly, jam and marmalade. It may be country, but nothing is ever served in its original container.

“Then Mary comes out with the goods: a platter of scrambled eggs and another of fried country eggs, a basket of steaming homemade biscuits, a mound of curly bacon and a bowl of white gravy with the handle of a ladle sticking out of it. Everyone is pretty quiet for the first few minutes of furious piling on plates, and then the stories start — about the hunt, the dark water, the red sunrise.”

Here’s how Bone describes the club: “Inside, it smells like coffee. And peanuts, and gun metal — and rubber boots, and old tobacco, and even older men. There’s a big fire burning in the living room fireplace, and a coffeepot and mismatched mugs on the table. Hunters lounge on dumpy furniture that crackles when you lean back because of all the peanut shells behind the cushions. Others are banging around upstairs in the dormitory bedrooms.

“There are dead wasps on the windowsills and worn issues of Ducks Unlimited, dusty taxidermied ducks and old sepia-toned pictures of hunters and dogs and ducks and woods. And there are maps — beautiful maps, depicting Claypool’s 1,370 acres of flooded woods and reservoir, and maps showing the location of blinds: Brown’s Hole, Well Island, Snowden’s Hole, Johnny’s Hot Spot, Turner’s Hole, Mystery Hole, Fifth Avenue.”

It sounds like my kind of place.

Wingmead, meanwhile, has the reputation of being an elegant place, a reputation promoted by its founder, Edgar Queeny. Wingmead, which is just off Arkansas Highway 33 in Prairie County, was built in 1939 by Queeny, a St. Louis resident who was the chairman of Monsanto. Peckerwood Lake was formed in 1942.

Queeny had a deep interest in how ducks fly. The book “Prairie Wings” was written at Wingmead and published in 1946.

The Wingmead estate recently was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In its nomination narrative, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program noted: “Construction on Wingmead took place shortly after the land was acquired, and the complex that Queeny built was unlike any other duck hunting camp in the state. Designed in the colonial revival style, the main house encompassed approximately 10,000 square feet. In addition to the main house, the estate included several farm buildings, a kennel and a small cabin located one mile south of the main house that Queeny used as his personal retreat to do much of his writing. Queeny named the estate Wingmead, a word of Scottish origin that means ‘meadow of wings.’”

For several years, Queeny had stayed in a trailer when he visited Arkansas to hunt ducks. His wife finally gave him an ultimatum: If she were to accompany him in the future, he would need to get rid of the trailer.

Queeny consulted with Stuttgart businessman Roger Crowe to find land. Crowe found property on LaGrue Bayou, northwest of Roe and south of DeValls Bluff. Queeny formed an irrigation company and actually used eminent domain to acquire the 11,000 acres.

Queeny died July 7, 1968. His wife, Ethel, maintained the property until her death in 1975, when it was donated to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. Barnes announced that the estate would be sold by sealed bids in January 1976.

Rumors as to who would buy Wingmead ranged from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley.

The Lyon family of Little Rock was the purchaser. The estate is still owned by Frank Lyon Jr. and used as a hunting retreat and farming operation.

In his 1990 book “Private Tour: At Home In Arkansas,” Hunter Gray wrote: “Not many things have changed over the years at Wingmead. Hunters are still helped out of their muddy boots by the staff. A model 12 shotgun might be handed to you as if by a golf caddy. This is hunting with all the finery — the spirit of the hunt is alive and well at Wingmead. At the end of the day, the table is set with fine china embellished with the recognizable Wingmead logo.”

This is how an article published several years ago in AY magazine put it: “The word lodge is certainly a misnomer for the main house at Wingmead, which is reminiscent of a large, luxurious country inn. ‘There have been changes in farming and conservation practices,’ Frank Lyon Jr. said, ‘but we’ve tried to keep the lodge in the same condition as when Queeny had it.’

“Bedrooms occupy most of the space on the two levels; a wood-paneled office, brightened by abundant windows, sits at one end of the ground floor. Lining the walls are illustrations by Queeny’s friend Richard Bishop, once one of the country’s best-known wildlife artists. Also displayed is one of the few complete collections of federal waterfowl stamps and prints in private hands. A Bishop illustration of a flying mallard has become the Wingmead logo, seen on panels in the main room of the lodge, above the office fireplace, on glassware and dishes, and on the doors of vehicles.”

The article notes that “rumors inevitably developed about Queeny’s very private hunting grounds, and some of them were actually true. Guests at Wingmead, whether politicians, business tycoons or artists, were expected to arrive for dinner in formal dress: black tie and dinner jackets for men, long dresses for women. The sense of decorum continued even during hunts. A painting over the fireplace in the main house shows Queeny and his wife, Ethel, hunting in flooded timber, wearing old-style sporting jackets; their guide is wearing a jacket and bow tie.”

I’ve been fortunate to visit some of Arkansas’ great duck clubs through the years. But I’ve never seen Claypool’s or Wingmead.

One of these days, I would like to take a peek.

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Coach John Outlaw and the Friday night magic

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

Looking back, he was just a kid.

John Outlaw was 25 years old when the Arkadelphia School Board hired him as head football coach at Arkadelphia High School.

I was even younger — 19 to be exact.

I had gone straight from the playing field (my senior season as Badger center was the fall of 1977) to the broadcast booth for Arkadelphia High games. That’s one of the good things about small towns. Opportunities come early in life.

I had worked through high school as the sports editor of the town’s weekly newspaper, the Southern Standard, having been given my first job by publisher Bob Fisher.

Following high school graduation, I was hired as the sports editor of Arkadelphia’s daily newspaper, the Daily Siftings Herald, and sports director of the Arkadephia radio stations, KVRC-AM and KDEL-FM.

I thus would work full time at two jobs while still carrying a full load at Ouachita Baptist University. My father, never one to beat around the bush, told me I was crazy to try to do so much. I was obsessed with sports journalism — tired most days but satisfied with my choices.

How could you beat doing football play by play on the radio just a year after having played? It was heaven on earth.

And it would get even better. That’s because John Outlaw came into my life.

The Badgers struggled during the 1978 season, but Friday nights were still fun as John Claunch (my freshman roommate) and I would broadcast the games. Saturdays were devoted to broadcasting Ouachita games and often trying to cover both Ouachita and Henderson for the newspaper in the same day. I would go to an afternoon game, jump in my car and race across the state to a night game.

Following that 1978 season, Vernon Hutchins resigned at Arkadelphia High and was replaced by an intense, wiry assistant coach from the University of Central Arkansas with the memorable name of Outlaw.

He had graduated from Ozark High School in 1971 and gone on to play football at UCA, graduating from there in 1975. He worked under Bear Coach Ken Stephens as a graduate assistant, received his master’s degree from UCA and was hired as a full-time assistant by Stephens.

He won me over that first night I interviewed him. High school football was big in Arkadelphia back in those days, and the news editor was looking for local copy, so we led the front page the next day with his hiring.

I wrote a long story (I’ve always said that I can’t write well, but I can write long) intended to introduce the community to this guy named Outlaw.

Those were the first of millions of words I would write and broadcast about John Outlaw and his Badger football program during the next several years.

I had a sense he was something special. Writing four to five columns a week, I filled them with accounts of his Badger offseason drills and previews of the 1979 season.

The Siftings Herald came out five days a week with no weekend editions, so the game story would not appear until the following Monday. We decided to put the account of his first game on the front page rather than the sports page, just like the Arkansas Gazette ran Orville Henry’s Razorback game stories on the front page.

We never stopped.

Arkadelphia lost early in that 1979 season to Ashdown and didn’t lose again. A victory over a highly ranked Camden team convinced this group of Badgers that it could do something special.

At age 26, in his first head coaching job, John Outlaw produced a state championship team.

It’s hard to believe it has been 32 years. I can remember that Friday of the state championship game against Alma as if it were yesterday.

I was on the air all afternoon at KVRC, doing what we called the Badger Countdown. After each record played, I would announce how many hours and minutes to kickoff, helping build the excitement in the city to a fever pitch.

A couple of hours prior to kickoff, I left the KVRC studios on South Third Street and headed for Henderson’s Haygood Stadium, where the game would be played. Thirty minutes prior to kickoff, we went on the air.

John Claunch had transferred to the University of North Alabama for his sophomore year of college and been replaced as my broadcast partner by Randy Brackett and “Big Sam” Watson.

In those days, the Badgers would dress at the Goza Gymnasium (later named the John Outlaw Gymnasium) and bus over to Haygood Stadium for home games.

It wasn’t even close.

Arkadelphia 19, Alma 0.

As soon as the clock wound down, I ran to my car and headed for the gymnasium while Danny and Sam wrapped things up from the stadium. We were pulling out all the stops for this broadcast and had planned to do a live dressing room show with interviews of players and coaches.

The jubilant players were throwing their coaches, managers, assistants, you name it into the showers that cold night. Thanks to Jeff Necessary for keeping the show going while I was thrown into the shower.

It was a magical time.

It was magical because John Outlaw was a magician when it came to handling teenage boys.

I had decided to close the office last Friday for Christmas. I was downstairs at my home, reading the newspaper and sipping on coffee. My cell phone was upstairs in my bedroom charging.

When I went upstairs at about 9:30 a.m., I noticed that the phone was filled with messages.

Reggie Speights from Southwest Sporting Goods Co. at Arkadelphia had been the first.

Then, Chris Babb, the Arkadelphia High School athletic director.

Then, David Sharp, the Ouachita athletic director.

The messages were all the same: John Outlaw had died that morning of a heart attack in Lufkin, Texas, following his early morning run.

I sat down, trying to absorb the news.

John Outlaw dead?

That couldn’t be. In my mind, he would always be that 26-year-old coach being thrown in the shower at the Goza Gymnasium in 1979.

The quarterback on that team was Kerry Garnett. Kerry’s father, Don Garnett, now lives in Lubbock, Texas.

Here’s part of what Don wrote on the online guest book for the funeral home at Lufkin: “As a parent, I watched John challenge a group of talented young men to overcome an early loss in the season and go on to win the state championship in 1979. John had the ability to bring out the best in young men without breaking their spirit. During the years I have lived in Lubbock, I was always pleased when Texas Tech signed a young man from Lufkin because I knew that John had influenced him.”

I was heartened Friday afternoon when Robert Yates of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called me. Robert has been around for many years, and I knew he would give the story the attention it deserved.

On Saturday morning, the statewide newspaper led its sports section with the Outlaw story.

The record speaks for itself: John was 84-20-1 in nine seasons at Arkadelphia, winning another state championship in 1987 with a 14-0 team that became the first Arkansas school ever to be ranked in the USA Today Super 25.

A prominent Arkadelphia attorney and close family friend named Otis Turner had coached the golf team at the University of Arkansas when in law school there. One of his golfers was Miller Barber. After a successful professional golf career, Barber served on the school board at Sherman, Texas, and heard about Outlaw from his old college golf coach.

Sherman offered the Badger coach a huge pay increase. How could Outlaw not go and try to also succeed in Texas?

And succeed he did.

He compiled a record of 57-21-1 at Sherman from 1988-94 and a record of 162-46-1 at Lufkin from 1995-2011.

That 303-87-3 record, much of it achieved at the highest levels in the best high school football state in the country, boggles the mind. But, as Don Garnett said, John’s lasting legacy will be the thousands of lives he touched.

The kids who played for him loved him.

Doug Rice, who now lives in Flower Mound, Texas, was one of the best high school linemen in the country when he played for John at Arkadelphia.

Doug, who went on to play college football at SMU, wrote this on the online guest book: “I gave everything I had for him because he gave everything he had for us. I would have run through a brick wall for him. He was selfless. I always felt that his only agenda was helping all of us learn how to compete and prepare to win on and off the field.

“Coach Outlaw had tremendous energy and passion and instilled that same work ethic and commitment (and punctuality!) in all of us through his words and actions.

“He was a great teacher. He was direct (sometimes pointedly) and shared his keen insights into the good and bad in people and situations around us. He had a terrific sense of humor. We shared a lot of laughs together.”

I continued to do the Badger play by play on radio for the 1980 and 1981 seasons as Danny Brackett replaced his older brother on our crew, joining Big Sam and me high atop the Haygood Stadium press box.

By 1982, I was covering sports for the Arkansas Democrat, begging to be assigned to the Badger games whenever possible.

Wanting to spread my wings beyond sports, I returned to Arkadelphia just before Christmas 1982 as the editor of the Siftings Herald. We had success. In statewide competitions, my column and our editorial page were named best in the state.

The general manager for whom I had worked as sports editor from 1978-81, John Ragsdale, has purchased the weekly newspaper at Prescott and left Arkadelphia. During the summer of 1983, I informed his replacement that I would resume doing the play by play on radio of Arkadelphia High School football each Friday and Ouachita football each Saturday.

He quickly said he couldn’t allow that since he considered the radio station to be a competitor for ad dollars.

I went home, thought about it and came to a decision. There was no way I wouldn’t resume calling those games. The newspaper general manager seemed shocked the next day when I handed him my resignation.

Being the voice of the Badgers was more important to me at age 23 than continuing to be the editor of my hometown newspaper. I could always find a full-time job elsewhere.

I was the voice of the Badgers for two more seasons, 1983 and 1984. I was living in Washington, D.C., by John’s last two years as Badger coach, covering Congress for the Arkansas Democrat. Each Friday night in the fall, I would call home and ask my parents how Outlaw’s Badgers had done.

My friend Jeff Root, with whom I still share the Ouachita football broadcast booth, was the voice of the Badgers by then. He continues in that role to this day.

The advent of the Internet made it easy to keep up with John during his years in Texas. I learned that his team’s game against The Woodlands on Thursday, Oct. 6, of this year would be broadcast regionally by Fox Sports Southwest.

I watched at home as John won his 300th career game and cried during the postgame interview.

He said that “300 is a number that really means nothing to me. When they put you in the grave, 300 wins don’t mean anything. What matters to me is each and every one of these kids out here and all the ones I’ve coached in the past.”

Tomorrow afternoon in Arkadelphia, they’ll indeed put John Outlaw in the grave.

Early on the morning after that 300th win, I sent John an email that said in part: “I wish I could have been there. It reminded me of some great Friday nights long ago. You’re a special person. I was fortunate to be there at the start of a remarkable career by a remarkable man who has impacted thousands of lives for the better.”

He answered me within minutes. He signed his message simply “Coach.”

I’m sure there was a large crowd for today’s memorial service in Lufkin. It was, after all, the school where he coached the longest.

I think it’s fitting, though, that John Outlaw be laid to rest in his native Arkansas soil. John always told me that he still considered himself an Arkansan. And Arkadelphia, where this amazing run began, held a cherished place in his heart. I know that to be true because he told me so.

I plan to attend the graveside service Wednesday. The last time I was at Rest Haven Memorial Gardens was on Tuesday, April 26, when we buried Ouachita Coach Buddy Benson, my childhood hero.

I’m sure I’ll pay my respects to Coach Benson while I’m there.

So we near the end of 2011, the year when I lost my dad in March, Coach Benson in April and Coach Outlaw in December.

Thinking about that, I’m sure there will be a point during tomorrow’s service when I suddenly feel very old and very tired.

But then I’ll think back to the fall of 1979 and those wonderful autumn weekends when I got to broadcast Outlaw’s Badgers each Friday and Benson’s Tigers each Saturday (no doubt one of the youngest college play-by-play men in the country).

Yes, it was fun.

Yes, it was magic.

In my mind, John will be 26 again.

I’ll be 20 again.

Friday night pregame meals will be at the Duck Inn in Camden and the Chatterbox in Magnolia.

Postgame radio shows will run far too long.

And as soon as one Friday night ends, we’ll already be looking forward to the next one.

Hopefully, I’ll smile at those memories as I drive away from the cemetery.

Thanks for your friendship, John. You were one of a kind.

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“Wild Abundance” — Eating at the hunt club

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Yesterday, I wrote about the book “First Shooting Light,” a collection of photos and essays from ArtsMemphis about duck clubs in Arkansas and Mississippi.

I told you that you can buy the book as a late Christmas gift at Bauman’s at Pavilion in the Park in Little Rock.

While you’re at Bauman’s, you might also consider picking up a copy of “Wild Abundance,” which also was published by ArtsMemphis and also was edited by the organization’s president, Susan Schadt.

“First Shooting Light” came out in 2008.

“Wild Abundance” was released last year. It contains beautiful photography by Memphis photographer Lisa Buser.

Here’s the concept: Take some of the South’s best chefs and put them in the region’s top hunting clubs. Team them up with club cooks and members. We all know that food is as important as hunting at these clubs.

Here’s the lineup:

1. John Besh of New Orleans (August, Domenica, La Provence, Luke, et al) visits the Bayou Club, which was founded in 1927 south of Intracoastal City, La. Members hunt ducks, fish for redfish and shoot skeet. One prominent member of the club is Paul McIlhenny, the president of the company that makes Tabasco. Besh joins forces with the club’s cook, Sylvia Hebert Nolan.

Remembering his childhood, Besh writes: “Our form of duck hunting was an arduous one that required commitment, paddling a pirogue for 45 minutes while wearing waders, with a large-headed, gregarious black lab perched in the front along with a heavy bag of decoys.”

2. Alex Grisanti, the chef and owner of Elfo’s in Germantown, Tenn., visits the Blackfish Hunting Club in Crittenden County. He teams up with the club’s cook, Betty Jean Williams, who has been at Blackfish for three decades. Williams grew up the eldest of 10 children in Stuttgart. She has picked cotton, worked in road construction, driven a tractor and driven an 18-wheeler. She has also raised 13 children.

“Cooking and eating are such an important part of hunting for me,” writes Grisanti, whose family has been cooking Italian food in Memphis for a century. “I eat every piece I catch or shoot. I love to cook wild game. We eat all the venison, the ducks, the doves and the crappie. At my hunting club, Caulk Island, a couple of the guys and I cook lunch and dinner every day. It’s a lot of fun. Hunting, fishing and cooking — for me it just doesn’t get any better.”

3. Our own Lee Richardson from Little Rock’s Capital Hotel visits Circle T, a club 13 miles from Stuttgart that’s owned by Chuck Smith of Memphis. At Circle T, Richardson teams up with Kevin Shockency, the executive chef at the Memphis Hunt and Polo Club.

“I spent my youth and, to some degree, found my professional calling at a deer hunting camp in Adams County, Miss.,” Richardson writes. “This place is a long way from the nearest paved road, remote and home to relatively undisturbed herds of deer and wood ducks and the occasional mallard. We had a pretty nice house with running water, some ranges lifted from a hotel in Natchez and plenty of heat. I had always thought of it as a well-outfitted camp. When it came to meals, it was a community affair with a loosely recognized instigator. We were just a bunch of rednecks cooking for ourselves.”

I had the pleasure of trying out some of Lee’s selections on Tuesday night at Ashley’s. And, yes, duck was on the menu.

“Like pork and the squeal, you can use just about everything on a duck but the quack,” he says.

4. Derek Emerson, the executive chef of Walker’s Drive-In and Local 463 Urban Kitchen in Jackson, Miss., visits the Fighting Bayou Hunting Club in the Mississippi Delta near the Leflore County-Sunflower County line. He joins forces with club cooks Rosie Mae Brown and Annie B. Hogan.

The huge clubhouse there can accommodate 40 guests in 18 bedrooms. Peyton and Eli Manning are regular visitors to the club.

“The club members have special rituals,” Emerson writes. “I could tell how much they love the tradition and sharing these customs with each other and their families.”

5. Donald Link of New Orleans (Cochon, Herbsaint, Cochon Butcher and Calcasieu) visits the Grande View Lodge in Creole, La., which is in Cameron Parish in the southwest part of the state. He joins forces there with club cook Blair Zuschlag.

Many of the guides at the club are Cajuns whose families have been raising cattle, farming, hunting and fishing in the area for generations.

“Hunting in the marshes can be a daunting experience if you’ve never done it,” Link writes. “I did as a kid, but it has certainly been a long time.”

6. John Currence of Oxford, Miss. (City Grocery, Boure, Big Bad Breakfast, et al), visits Mallard Rest in Webb, Miss., and joins forces with Vera Williams, the owner of the Webb Diner since 1988. Mallard Rest is owned by Memphis cotton merchant Billy Dunavant and covers 5,800 acres.

Here’s how Currence describes Williams: “Vera Williams cuts an imposing figure for a diminutive, 60-something Delta woman. She wears the look of someone who has fought for more sunrises than she ever thought of enjoying. She speaks softly but with authority. People listen intently when she talks and stand straighter than they normally would when in her presence.”

7. Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis visits Menasha Hunting & Fishing Club near Turrell. The club was founded in 1902, and the current clubhouse was built in 1974. He teams up with Rebecca Sims, who has lived at Menasha to cook and keep the clubhouse in order since 2003.

“The directions to Menasha read like many others: from the highway exit, wrap around to the service road, turn right at the largest telephone pole, cross the levee with the train tracks and follow the path until you see the camp. I’m sure I forgot about a fork in the road somewhere. That is where the similarities end between Menasha and all other camps trying to cast the shadows that this club does. This is not the converted school bus that I grew up hunting out of in Chipola, La., a little town on the banks of the Amite River in St. Helena Parish.”

8.  Karen Carrier of the Beauty Shop Restaurant & Lounge in Memphis (she began Automatic Slim’s Tonga Club in downtown Memphis in 1991 — it’s a favorite of mine just across the street from the Peabody Hotel — and sold it in 2008) visits Quail Hollow near Coffeeville, Miss. Quail Hollow is Billy Dunavant’s turkey and duck preserve. Carrier joins forces with Emma Lincoln, who operates a catering business in Memphis.

“My first encounter with Emma Mayweather Lincoln was at the Memphis home of Tommie and Billy Dunavant,” Carrier writes. “I was a guest at a gathering to introduce the concept of this fantastic book. As usual, I arrived late, not being able to find the driveway to the house. While I was making my way through the den, the wait staff was passing succulent nuggets that were so moist they melted in my mouth. I wasn’t sure what they were, but I knew I wanted more.”

They were Billy Dunavant’s favorite appetizer — fried wild turkey nuggets with horseradish cream dipping sauce.

9. Martha Foose, the famed Mississippi Delta chef who now lives at Tchula, visits the Ward Lake Hunting Club near Sherard, Miss. She cooks there with Chris Robinson of Memphis. The club covers 6,500 acres.

“On a dim January twilight’s last gleaming, I pulled down the spine of the levee running through the boggy bottoms of the Mississippi Delta,” Foose writes. “I pulled up to a modest camp house overlooking a cypress hole. Piled next to the front stairs were six walking sticks carved with intricate talismans. A sign, I supposed, that I had come to the right place.”

The book is filled with recipes that complement the photos and essays.

Here’s how Chris Camuto described it in Gray’s Sporting Journal: “A New Yorker by birth, I lit out for the South after college, following a romantic, writerly whim I never regretted. This move took me to Chincoteague Island and then Webb Island on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where waterfowling has roots as deep and tangled as live oak, cedar and cypress.

“The most important consequence of Southern waterfowling, of course, is eating. … This beautifully illustrated cookbook anthology from the lower Mississippi Flyway will probably start out on the coffee table, being admired, and end up in the kitchen, being used.

“Like the best hunt-camp cooking, this book’s wild game recipes combine in stunning ways haute cusine and down-home table fare. You can’t beat the South for that. … (There’s) a bayouful of Deep South chefs who spill insider information on preparing duck poppers, sweet potato-stuffed duck, smothered pork belly, char-grilled oysters, crispy duck pizzette, chicken and dumplings, duck Bolognese and braised venison shanks, along with homespun trimmings like turnip greens, cornbread, fried quail, grits, hushpuppies and blueberry crunch. Anything there you don’t want to eat?”

I’m hungry now.

Merry Christmas.

 

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“First Shooting Light” — Duck hunting clubs in Arkansas

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

If you’re looking for a late Christmas gift, you might consider stopping by Bauman’s at Little Rock’s Pavilion in the Park for a copy of the book “First Shooting Light.”

I know.

Bauman’s is a men’s store. But the store has this book, a gorgeous collection of photos and essays published by ArtsMemphis that focuses on duck clubs in Arkansas and Mississippi.

The photographer was Murray Riss, who established the photography department at the Memphis College of Art and taught there from 1968 until 1986.

Frank Schmidt of Guyette & Schmidt Inc., the world’s leading auctioneers of antique waterfowl decoys, says this: “The book reminds all of us who have had such experiences of the comfort of camaraderie in the blind, dogs and calls and the ultimate lure of migratory fowl. You’ll take a nostalgic journey back to those days of brisk early mornings, iridescent sunrises and shadowy figures in flight.”

Here are the Arkansas clubs featured in “First Shooting Light” –

1. 713 in Lee County — Terry McFarland was eating in a West Memphis restaurant in 1999 when he heard someone at the next table talking about “some great hunting near Marianna.” He listened to the directions, called friend Mac McKee and said “meet me in Marianna.” They bought the land.

There are 10 members with a 10-bedroom clubhouse and 1,280 acres to hunt. The book says the club is “perfectly located on the L’Anguille River and the St. Francis Floodway near the north end of the St. Francis National Forest, which is historically one of the greatest hunting areas in the Mississippi Flyway.”

2. Bayou DeView/Section 13 Farms in Woodruff County — The club was founded in 1972 when Bill Wunderlich saw a classified ad in the Memphis newspaper offering 1,800 acres for lease. He recruited 11 friends, and the club was born.

“In the 1960s, this marginal farmland, which was subject to frequent flooding by the bayou, was owned by speculators, who cleared the timber and leased the hunting rights,” the book notes. ”When they decided to sell in 1978, the ‘Wunderclub’ members missed the chance to purchase it initially, but the next year the new owners sold them the northernmost 655 acres.”

The 10-bedroom, four-bath lodge was built in 1984. Club members are most proud of cypress trees in the bayou that are almost 1,000 years old.

3. Bear Bayou near Humnoke — The club, located 15 miles west of Stuttgart, was purchased by its current owners in 1983 after having been owned since the late 1940s by the Marks family of Stuttgart.

At the time the book was published three years ago, there were six members from Memphis, two from Little Rock and one from Chicago. The club has 400 acres of flooded timber, a 90-acre fishing lake, a 140-acre rest area planted with millet and 339 acres of rice fields.

The clubhouse, built in 1987, has 10 bedrooms, five baths and a long dinner table that will seat 20 people.

4. Blackfish Hunting Club in Crittenden County — Founded in 1978, the club has 1,500 acres. About 600 of those acres are flooded each season.

The clubhouse has two bedrooms and a bunkroom that can sleep eight people. A featured attraction is a cook known for her fried chicken, pork chops, greens, chicken and dumplings, bean soup and fried peach pies.

5. Circle T near Wabbaseka — The club, which is 13 miles from Stuttgart, was established in 1959 to entertain customers of Central Transformer Corp. of Pine Bluff. It was purchased by Chuck Smith Jr. of Memphis in 1991.

The clubhouse sleeps 22 people and even has an indoor swimming pool. Smith, who was instrumental in convincing Ducks Unlimited to move its headquarters to Memphis, built a nearby home designed by Memphis architect John Jones.

Loud country music is used to wake the hunters each morning before they go hunt the green timber.

6. Five Lakes Outing Club in Crittenden County — This club on Horseshoe Lake has been around since 1901 when a seven-mile strip of land bordering the lake was purchased for $4,000. The club consists of almost 5,000 acres and a clubhouse that was built in 1911.

“Traditions abound here,” the book states. “Special family events are held throughout the year, such as the annual dove hunt and picnic held on Labor Day. … There are many second- and third-generation owners.”

7. Five Oaks Duck Lodge near DeWitt — Owner George Dunklin Jr. is the current chairman of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and one of our state’s top conservationists. The club was established in 1983.

The book notes that “Deborah Dunklin Tipton and her brother, George H. Dunklin Jr., attribute their good fortune to lady luck and to their ‘unbelievable maternal grandfather,’ L.A. Black of DeWitt. His great foresight in amassing a tremendous amount of property in the Stuttgart area between 1907 and 1945 made possible the strong Black/Dunklin traditions of farming, hunting and conserving the precious Arkansas Grand Prairie land.”

The club offers hunting on 10,000 acres of flooded timber and fields. In 1983, the family bought the old Paradise Lodge, which had been owned by the Leatherman family and the Memphis Furniture Co., and renamed it Five Oaks.

8. Greenbriar Hunting Club near Stuttgart — Referred to by locals as the Old Winchester Club, the club was founded in 1945 by John Olin of Illinois.

This is the quotation carved into the wood mantelpiece of the clubhouse: “Here time is slow and gracious … a companion, not a master.”

The book notes, “In the earliest days, Olin and his guests stayed at the old Riceland Hotel in downtown Stuttgart and drove out to the Greenbriar lands to hunt, with only tents to protect them from the elements. Later, a clubroom was built in 1955 and a bunkhouse in the ’60s, with the main lodge being added in 1983 and a building to house more bedrooms in 1986. Today, the club comfortably sleeps 20 people with understated luxury in eight bedrooms.”

The owners include the children of Kemmons Wilson, the Holiday Inn founder.

9.  Hatchie Coon Hunting & Fishing Club between Marked Tree and Trumann — The book describes the club as “the oldest operating hunting club in the state of Arkansas and one of the oldest in the Southeast.”

The club was organized by a group of Memphis residents in 1889, though the 700-acre property wasn’t purchased from the state of Arkansas until 1892. In 1898, the club absorbed the Osceola Ducking Club (I love that name) and Oak Donic (another great name).

Hatchie Coon members say the chain of ownership goes like this: God, the native Americans, the French, the United States, the state of Arkansas and Hatchie Coon.

Hatchie Coon has 43 regular members along with junior, senior and lifetime members.

10. Kingdom Come near Stuttgart — The book says owners David Snowden Sr. and David Snowden Jr. of Little Rock view the club as “a refuge, both for the three generations of their family that currently hunt there and for who knows how many generations of ducks.”

The book tells how David Snowden Sr. “moved from Memphis to Little Rock following his graduation from the University of Virginia and his mother’s marriage to George Alexander. Snowden’s love for the outdoors led him to farming under the tutelage of Alexander. Aside from receiving his invaluable instruction, Snowden also was blessed to inherit Kingdom Come upon his stepfather’s death.

“Kingdom Come strikes everyone as a captivating name, and not surprisingly there is a lovely little story attached to its origins. Once upon a time it seems there was a worker on the family land who was helping down at the club. Mr. Alexander’s mother sympathetically (and a bit impertinently) inquired as to whether he was being fed properly by Mr. Alexander. In response, the man said, ‘Miss Teedie, I couldn’t be eating better than if I was in Kingdom Come.’”

11. Menasha Hunting & Fishing Club between Gilmore and Turrell — The original club was founded in 1902 and was sold in 1948 to Mary Kuhn of Marion. Club members leased land from her. She later sold the land to the club.

Duck blinds are located in Stave Lake and Mink Lake on the property. There also are 40 acres known as the Sanctuary that are planted with millet and used as a rest area.

The 11-bedroom clubhouse was built in 1974 after an earlier clubhouse burned.

12. Mud Lake Hunting Club near Hughes — A club on the property was established in 1902 by 10 prominent Memphis sportsmen. Originally consisting of 3,423 acres, the club was sold to the Oswalt family of Hughes in 1941.

The club ceased to exist in 1947 and was brought back to life by Bill Deupree of Memphis in 1997.

Mud Lake covers almost 1,000 acres and is an oxbow of the St. Francis River.

“The fact that the 75-year-old clubhouse was still standing was a piece of good fortune, especially in view of the fact that two earlier ones had burned,” the book states. “The beamed ceiling, large carved fireplace mantel and even the old dining table, chairs and sideboard had somehow survived.”

13. Claypool’s Reservoir (Wild Acres) near Weiner — Wallace Claypool of Memphis bought this land in 1941 as a sanctuary for ducks. He built a reservoir and 20 miles of roads.

The book picks up the story from there: “Mr. Claypool’s mission was the conservation of ducks, and he was famously quoted as saying that ‘if the wild duck is to avoid the fate of the passenger pigeon, somebody must furnish it with food, water and a place to rest.’

“Claypool’s Reservoir achieved national prominence when it was showcased on NBC. … And what a production it was to set up the crew and equipment in a remote spot and to conceal the trucks, the cameras and the power generators. Camouflaged blinds were specially built, including one which sat high atop a hickory tree.

“In an extraordinary combination of good luck and skill, the ducks were herded in front of the cameras at 3:14 p.m. on Dec. 23, 1956. There were two explosions — the first, three blocks of TNT in a rocket fired over the ducks — and then the second, 350,000 ducks lifting off the water, a sight which mesmerized millions of viewers and created a nationwide interest in Arkansas duck hunting.”

Claypool sold his land in 1966 to friends from Memphis. Hunting is only allowed each Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday morning during the season.

“First Shooting Light” was published in 2008 but still would make anyone who loves the Arkansas outdoors a fine Christmas gift.

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Mallard madness in Arkansas

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The rain was coming down hard when my alarm sounded at 3:30 a.m. Friday.

Thankfully, it wasn’t cold enough for ice, but it wasn’t warm, either — about 39 degrees.

There are few things that will make me get up at that hour. A trip to hunt ducks with the legendary Wiley Meacham at the Piney Creek Duck Club on the Monroe County-Lee County line near Monroe is one of them.

I’ve written about Wiley on this blog before. He’s 80 now, still getting up in the middle of the night and making the drive from his home in Brinkley to his farm office under the pecan trees at Monroe, on the land where he was born and raised.

The date had been marked on my calendar for weeks. Steve “Wild Man” Wilson of the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission had called to inform me that he would be filming his annual “Talkin’ Outdoors” Christmas show at Piney Creek. He invited me to be a part of the hunt.

If for some reason you feel the need for television background noise on Christmas morning, the show will air at 9 a.m. Sunday on KARZ-TV.

It will air again Christmas evening at 11:30 p.m. on KARK-TV, Channel 4.

You’ll be able to witness a group of grown men standing in cold water, wearing camouflage Santa caps (thanks, Wild Man) and singing Christmas songs.

“Why do grown men get up in the middle of the night and then act like that?” I’m sure my wife will ask.

Unless you’ve experienced the mallard madness in the flooded green timber of east Arkansas, you really can’t answer that question.

It’s an experience that goes far beyond shooting ducks.

Watching the sun rise. Listening to the owls and the geese. Exchanging stories. Giving friends a hard time after bad shots.

Listening to Steve Meacham and Don Thompson call the ducks.

Sharing a bench with Rex Johnson.

Back where we parked the boats, Joe Weiss was busy cooking Friday morning. Yes, cooking. These flooded woods have a kitchen.

In 1987, a grocery store owner named Lattimore Michael opened the first Back Yard Burgers restaurant in Cleveland, Miss. A year later, Weiss — a Clarksdale, Miss., native — became a franchisee and was instrumental in the expansion of the chain.

Joe now owns the Blue & White Restaurant, a roadside classic that has been in business alongside U.S. Highway 61 in Tunica, Miss., since 1937.

On this morning, though, Joe is playing chef in the flooded timber of the Arkansas Delta. He’s grilling slices of teal and sausages. He’s cutting cheese and putting out crackers and Mickle’s Pickles from Picayune, Miss. (truly some of the best pickles I’ve ever had).

After the hunt, standing there eating slices of teal on a cracker, I think about the great tradition of east Arkansas duck hunting.

Yesterday, after lunch at the Peabody Little Rock, I went by the lobby fountain to pay homage to the four mallard hens and one mallard drake that swim inside the hotel. Even the famous Peabody Hotel ducks have their genesis in an east Arkansas duck hunt.

In 1932, Frank Schutt, the general manager of the Peabody at Memphis, accompanied a friend named Chip Barwick on a duck hunting trip to east Arkansas.

The Peabody website tells what happened after that at the landmark Memphis hotel: “The men had a little too much Jack Daniel’s Tennessee sippin’ whiskey and thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal then for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain. Three small English call ducks were selected as ‘guinea pigs,’ and the reaction was nothing short of enthusiastic. Soon, five North American mallard ducks would replace the original ducks.

“In 1940, bellman Edward Pembroke, a former circus animal trainer, offered to help with delivering the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now-famous Peabody duck march. Mr. Pembroke became the Peabody duckmaster, serving in that capacity for 50 years until his retirement in 1991.

“The original ducks have long since gone, but after 75 years, the marble fountain in the hotel lobby is still graced with ducks. The Peabody ducks march at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.”

It has long been a tradition in our family to have wild Arkansas ducks for dinner in the days leading up to Christmas. So it was that I brought two mallard drakes back with me, stopping at McSwain’s on U.S. Highway 165 in North Little Rock to have the ladies in the back room clean them for me.

With dozens of ducks in the back room, it was obvious that others had been hunting on that rainy Friday morning.  The ladies said they could clean my ducks while I waited, so I watched them work their magic.

Again, my thoughts turned to the colorful history of Arkansas duck hunting.

One of my favorite writers is Nash Buckingham, a Tennessean who died in 1971 at age 90. Buckingham wrote nine books and hundreds of articles for magazines such as Sports Afield, Outdoor Life and Field & Stream.

His preferred types of hunting were for ducks and bobwhite quail, the two types of hunting my father most enjoyed. My dad always considered duck and quail hunting to be gentlemen’s sports.

Just like the legend of the Peabody ducks, east Arkansas figures prominently in a well-known incident involving Buckingham.

Here’s how a story on him began in the June/July 2010 issue of Garden & Gun: “On Dec. 1, 1948, two hunters emerged from the cool wetlands of Clarendon, Ark., and ambled along a country road. The men — Nash Buckingham and Clifford Green — had spent a long morning in a duck blind and were headed back to Green’s car, on their way home.

“Buckingham, then 68 years old, was at the time one of the most famous writers in America, a sort of Mark Twain for the hunting set. At Green’s car, they met a warden, who asked to see their hunting licenses. The warden quickly realized that he was in the presence of the celebrated writer. He asked Buckingham if he could see the most famous shotgun in America, Buckingham’s talisman, an inanimate object that the writer had referred to — in loving, animistic terms — in a great number of his stories. The nine-pound, nine-ounce gun was a side-by-side 12-gauge Super Fox custom made by the A.H. Fox Gun Co. in Philadelphia.

“The carbon steel plates on the frame were ornately engraved with a leafy scroll. The gun company’s signature fox, nose in the air, was engraved on the floorplate. The barrels had been bored by the renowned barrel maker Burt Becker and delivered 90 percent patterns of shot at 40 feet, an uncharacteristically tight load for a waterfowling shotgun. It was named Bo Whoop. A hunting buddy had designated it so, after the distinct deep, bellowing sound it made upon discharge.

“The warden chatted up Buckingham, handling and admiring the writer’s gun, like a kid talking to Babe Ruth while holding the slugger’s bat. At some point during the conversation, the warden laid the gun down on the car’s back fender. Buckingham and Green soon bid the warden farewell and drove off, forgetting about Bo Whoop until many miles into their trip home. In a panic, they turned around and retraced their route, painstakingly eyeing every inch of the road, to no avail.”

Buckingham spent the next several years searching for Bo Whoop.

“He lamented the loss of Bo Whoop in print, likening it to the death of a treasured hunting dog,” the article states. “He took out ads in local newspapers, offering rewards. He befriended local wardens and police, appealing to them to be on the lookout. He would never find it. But in the process of its loss and failed recovery, its legend grew in stature. Bo Whoop became a metaphor for other things gone and never to be retrieved, like one’s youth or the American wildnerness.”

 Like Elvis sightings in later years, there were regular Bo Whoop sightings. All were false.

In 1950, two friends gave Buckingham a Fox gun named Bo Whoop II.

During the 1950s, a sawmill foreman in Savannah, Ga., bought a used Fox shotgun with a broken stock for $50. The foreman’s son inherited the shotgun upon his father’s death and stuck it in a closet.

In 2005, the son brought the gun to a noted South Carolina gunsmith named Jim Kelly for repair.

Kelly, a student of hunting history, saw “Made for Nash Buckingham” and “By Burt Becker Phila. PA” inscribed on the gun.

He had found Bo Whoop.

After having the stock repaired, the man passed the gun down to his son, who in turn decided to sell it in order to pay the medical expenses for his sick father. It would be auctioned by the James Julia Auction Co. in Maine.

In March 2010, an 84-year–old man named Hal Howard Jr. learned of the impending auction. Howard, a former T. Rowe Price executive, was raised in Memphis. His father was Buckingham’s best friend and hunting partner. Hal Howard Jr. was Buckingham’s godson.

“We hunted in Arkansas together,” Howard said.

Howard paid $201,250 for Bo Whoop, the third-highest amount ever paid for an American shotgun.

A month later, it was announced that Howard was donating Bo Whoop to the Ducks Unlimited national headquarters at Memphis.

What has never been clear is how Bo Whoop got from the woods near Clarendon to Georgia. But the shotgun is almost home now, just across the Mississippi River from the duck woods of Arkansas.

What a fine tradition Arkansas duck hunting is.

We’ll see you on KARZ at 9 a.m. Christmas Day.

 

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Top 10 sports stories of 2011

Monday, December 19th, 2011

On the “Sunday Buzz with Bill Vickery” on KABZ-FM, 103.7, I unveiled my list of the top 10 sports stories in Arkansas in 2011.

I’ve been asked to post that list.

Let me know what you think.

What should be added?

What should be deleted?

Which ones should be moved higher or lower?

1. The University of Arkansas football team wins 10 regular season games for a second consecutive season, moves as high as No. 3 in the polls at one point and receives a Cotton Bowl invitation.

2. John Pelphrey is fired and Mike Anderson is hired as head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas.

3. Gus Malzahn is hired as head football coach at Arkansas State University.

4. Hugh Freeze’s Arkansas State Red Wolves go 10-2, win the Sun Belt Conference championship and receive a bowl invitation.

5. The University of Arkansas locks in head football coach Bobby Petrino with a long-term contract with unprecedented buyout provisions and also breaks ground on a $30 million football operations center.

6. UALR makes the NCAA Tournament in both men’s and women’s basketball by winning its conference tournament, one of the few schools in the country to do so.

7. The six NCAA Division II schools in the state begin competition in the new Great American Conference after leaving the Gulf South Conference; Ouachita Baptist University wins the first GAC football championship but Henderson State University wins the Battle of the Ravine in a game that comes down to the final play.

8. The University of Central Arkansas makes the FCS football playoffs for the first time since moving from NCAA Division II to Division I.

9. High school football: Pulaski Academy goes undefeated while receiving national attention for its unorthodox style, while Fayetteville upsets nationally ranked Bentonville in overtime to win the Class 7A state championship.

10. The Northwest Arkansas Naturals and the Arkansas Travelers both win a half of the division title and advance to the Texas League playoffs; the Travelers defeat the Naturals in the playoffs before losing to San Antonio in the championship series.

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Wynne’s Bob Ford: Hall of Famer

Friday, December 16th, 2011

In the fall of 1950, the Wynne High School Yellowjackets won their first state title in football. A member of that team was William “Bud” Brooks, a 2005 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame who won the Outland Trophy in 1954 as the best lineman in college football.

Brooks was a guard and defensive tackle at the University of Arkansas and was selected to All-America teams in 1954 by The Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America and the Walter Camp Foundation.

The center on that 1950 Wynne team was Bob Ford.

“I waited until the last minute to make a decision on where I would go to college,” says Ford, who has practiced law in Wynne for the past four decades. “I looked at the University of Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. I made a visit to the University of Arkansas, but they didn’t take me. I had a friend from Augusta who talked me into going over to Memphis and trying out. He didn’t end up going there. I did.”

Ford’s father worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which meant family members could ride the train for free. One late summer day in 1951, Ford left his home at 5:30 a.m. and caught the train to Memphis.

“Later that day, Coach George Cole from the University of Arkansas knocked on our door and told my mother he wanted to take me to Fayetteville to play football,” Ford says. “She told him it was too late, that I had left for Memphis before daylight.”

Things worked out well. Playing for head coach Ralph Hatley, Ford lettered as a center and end from 1951-54. Following graduation from what was then known as Memphis State College (now the University of Memphis), Ford began a college coaching career that lasted for more than a decade.

After returning to Wynne in 1970 to practice law, he worked as a part-time scout for the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL for another two decades.

In recognition of his accomplishments as a player, coach and scout, Ford will be inducted Feb. 3 into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets for the annual induction banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Ford is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Ford received his bachelor’s degree in 1955 and his master’s degree in 1956 from Memphis. While working on his master’s degree, he helped coach the Memphis freshman team.

Ford was inducted into the Army in June 1956 at Fort Chaffee in Fort Smith. He served in Korea from February 1957 until June 1958, even coaching an Army football team there in 1957.

Ford knew Dr. Eugene Lambert, who had been the head basketball coach at Memphis and Arkansas. Lambert had gone to the University of Alabama in the fall of 1956 to take over the Crimson Tide basketball program.

Ford had a request that summer day in 1958: Would Lambert ask the school’s new football coach, Arkansas native Paul “Bear” Bryant, if he would be interested in letting Ford serve as a graduate assistant coach?

“I wanted to be an assistant at one of three places — Oklahoma, Army or Alabama,” Ford says. “Dr. Lambert asked, and Coach Bryant said for me to give him a call. When I called him, Coach Bryant said to me: ‘You need to come down here. I want to see if you look like a football coach.’ So I drove to Tuscaloosa.”

Bryant agreed to let Ford help out.

“I wasn’t taking any classes,” Ford says. “But I wasn’t a full-time assistant, either. All I wanted to do was coach. I helped out with the centers and linebackers. I also scouted future opponents. At the end of the 1958 season, Coach Bryant told me, ‘I’ll either find a way to pay you here or get you a full-time job somewhere else.’”

Just before Christmas in 1958, Bryant called Ford into his office. Ford was about to head to Arkansas for the holidays.

“He gave me a personal check for $1,000,” Ford says. “He said, ‘I thought this might help before you go back to Wynne.’ He knew I didn’t have a dime to my name.”

Bryant gave Ford a paid position for the 1959 and 1960 seasons at Alabama. The Tide consistently improved in Bryant’s first three years as head coach, going from 5-4-1 in 1958 to 7-2-2 in 1959 to 8-1-2 in 1960.

At the University of Georgia, meanwhile, Wally Butts left coaching in late 1960 to become the school’s athletic director after having compiled a 140-86-9 record as the Bulldogs’ head football coach. His replacement, Johnny Griffith, offered Ford a job paying three times as much as he was making at Alabama. It was an offer Ford couldn’t refuse.

Georgia went 3-7 in 1961. Back at Alabama, the Crimson Tide went 11-0 and won the national championship.

After one year at Georgia, Ford was offered the position of defensive coordinator at the University of Kentucky under new head coach Charlie Bradshaw, who had been an assistant on Bryant’s staff at Alabama from 1959-61.

Ford says he “wasn’t looking to leave Georgia, but Coach Bryant urged me to take the job. He said Charlie needed to quickly put together a staff.”

Ford says the coaching staff at Kentucky was criticized by some people for being too tough on athletes. A number of players quit the team, and the Wildcats went 3-5-2. Though he didn’t agree with the criticism, Ford felt it was a good time to leave coaching. He returned to Wynne and worked during the 1963 season as a Dallas Cowboys scout.

Bradshaw, however, urged Ford to return to Lexington. So Ford was back on the staff for the 1964 and 1965 seasons as the Wildcats went 5-5 and 6-4.

Ford joined Paul Davis’ coaching staff at Mississippi State University for the 1966 season. The Bulldogs went 2-8, and both Davis and athletic director Wade Walker were dismissed in December of that year. Having had enough of the constant moves and pressure that are a part of being a major college football coach, Ford decided to enter law school at Arkansas.

“I first was going to go back to Wynne and scout for the Cowboys again,” he says. “But Coach Broyles allowed me to work my way through law school by coaching the freshmen. I had a wife and three young kids, and we moved into Carlton Terrace on the Arkansas campus. I helped coach the freshmen for three seasons and scouted future opponents.”

Ford even scouted Texas prior to the Big Shootout of 1969, which the Longhorns won, 15-14. After obtaining his law degree and moving back to Wynne to practice law in 1970, Ford hooked back up with the Cowboys. For the next two decades, he would find free agents for the team’s director of player personnel, Gil Brandt, and head coach Tom Landry.

“Gil Brandt was a scouting genius,” Ford says.

Ford remained involved with the sport he loves in other ways. In 1971, for instance, he went on a European scouting tour for the Cowboys, finding Austrian kicker Toni Fritsch in the process.

Bryant occasionally would ask Ford to attend Alabama games and act as if he were a scout, reporting back to Bryant on any weaknesses he detected in the Crimson Tide offense, defense or kicking game.

In 1983, Ford was inducted into the University of Memphis M Club Hall of Fame.

“Coach Bryant, Coach Broyles and Coach Landry never stopped helping me,” Ford says. “They were a blessing to me.”

Football — college and professional — is a thread that has run through Bob Ford’s life.

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Forrest City’s Elmer “B” Lindsey: Hall of Famer

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

When Frank Broyles became the head football coach at the University of Arkansas following the 1957 season, he was told by influential boosters to do one thing when it came to recruiting — head to Forrest City and sign Elmer “B” Lindsey.

“B was the first player I recruited to play football for the Razorbacks when I came to Arkansas,” Broyles says. “I had been told that he was, by far, the best athlete in the state. So for my first recruiting trip, I got in my car and drove to Forrest City to recruit B to play for the Razorbacks. Immediately upon meeting him, I offered a full scholarship. His credentials as a four-sport athlete in high school were so impressive that I could envision him forming the foundation of the Razorback backfield corps.”

Lindsey never played a down for the Razorbacks.

Instead, he signed a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Broyles had faced a similar situation a year earlier when he was the head coach at the University of Missouri. He was hoping to build his team around Mike Shannon, who had starred in multiple sports at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis. Shannon was the first person to be named the Missouri Prep Player of the Year in both basketball and football.

Shannon headed to the University of Missouri but soon signed a baseball contract with the Cardinals. Broyles later said he believed Shannon might have won the Heisman Trophy had he stayed in school.

Lindsey would end up playing baseball for Memphis in the Southern Association with the likes of Shannon and Tim McCarver for part of the 1960 season.

“Coach Broyles spoke at our football banquet after the 1957 season at Forrest City, but there was never a question where I was going to school,” says Lindsey, who now operates family farming and cotton ginning operations in east Arkansas. “Coach Broyles later sent Coach George Cole down to visit with me, and I told him just that. I was going to Arkansas.”

Then came the baseball contract with the Cardinals.

For years, Lindsey wouldn’t talk about the size of his signing bonus. He didn’t want it to sound like he was bragging. It long was believed to have been more than $50,000, the most money ever offered to an Arkansas player to that point.

“It was $60,000 over five years plus $1,200 a month guaranteed for three years,” Lindsey now says. “My dad always loved baseball. He had been a pretty good baseball player himself. He said to me, ‘You would be crazy not to do this.’ I agreed and signed the contract. It would have been nice to see how it would have turned out if I had played football at Arkansas, but I couldn’t do both.”

In recognition of his accomplishments, Lindsey will be inducted Feb. 3 into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets for the annual induction banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Lindsey is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Lindsey’s younger brother, Jim, was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 for his football accomplishments at the University of Arkansas and in the NFL. He played for the 1964 national championship team at Arkansas and played in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings from 1966-72.

“B weighed 188 pounds, had 10-flat speed and could cut on a dime,” Jim Lindsey says of his brother. “It has been said by the thousands who watched him play that he was the best high school halfback they had ever seen in Arkansas. … When my time came along, I was not in B’s shadow because the difference between his talent and mine would have been like comparing me to Gayle Sayers or Jim Brown.

“His baseball skills were overshadowed by his football talent. His baseball skills earned him a ‘bonus baby’ contract, and he went on to play in Tulsa and Memphis. … But his football skills far exceeded his baseball talent.”

B Lindsey says his first love as a child was baseball as he participated each summer in the Little League program at Forrest City. His father raised cattle and cotton at Caldwell and would drive him into Forrest City for practice. Beginning in the seventh grade, however, football began to capture his heart.

“I was fortunate enough to be the fastest person in the sixth grade,” says Lindsey, who had three older sisters, a younger sister and a younger brother (Jim). “But I didn’t think I would go out for football in the seventh grade. I was more interested in getting on the bus back to Caldwell so I could fish and hunt. I was watching seventh grade practice one day, though, and decided to give it a try. They gave me a uniform that didn’t fit.”

Lindsey ended up playing football in high school on teams that lost only two games in three years. Both losses were to DeWitt Dragon teams led by Harold Horton, a 1989 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee. DeWitt won 13-0 in 1955 at Forrest City and 14-13 in 1956 on its home field. Horton scored both of DeWitt’s touchdowns in the 1956 game.

“Every time I talk around Harold about how good we were, he says, ‘You never beat us,’” Lindsey says.

By Lindsey’s senior year in high school, Horton was a freshman at Arkansas. Forrest City went undefeated in 1957. DeWitt fell, 21-0, marking Forrest City’s first win over the Dragons since 1951.

Lindsey scored 22 touchdowns that season despite having a broken bone just behind his thumb.

“I broke it in a scrimmage the Friday before the season opener against Conway,” he says.

His father took him to the famed Campbell Clinic at Memphis, which had opened in 1909 and is today recognized as a world leader in sports medicine. Doctors there put a cast on his hand.

Returning to school with the cast, Lindsey went to the principal’s office to get a slip to be admitted to class. Seeing the cast, the principal told Lindsey to go to the office of the Mustang head football coach, Jim DeVazier.

DeVazier would coach from 1954-64 at Forrest City, compiling a 77-36-7 record with five conference championships and two undefeated seasons.

“Coach DeVazier looked at that cast,” Lindsey remembers. “He didn’t even ask me how I felt. He just said, ‘You can’t play in that.’”

Lindsey went back to the doctor, who replaced the plaster cast with a lace-up leather cast to wear in practice. In games, he wore a sponge pad that the officials would check before each contest.

“I only had one fumble that season,” Lindsey says. “I also returned punts.”

With Sonny Holmes at quarterback and Lindsey as the main running back, the Mustangs scored 351 points that season.

Largely because of Lindsey’s talents, Forrest City began a high school baseball team his senior year. The summer before his senior year, Lindsey had attracted the attention of numerous pro scouts during the state American Legion baseball tournament at Fort Smith. He played in the outfield, at shortstop, pitched and was even the catcher at times. In that first year of high school baseball in the spring of 1958, the Mustangs advanced to the finals of the state tournament at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock before losing to Mountainburg.

“If I had come along a bit earlier, I don’t think I would have ever been signed to a baseball contract,” Lindsey says. “If you received a signing bonus of more than $4,000, you had to stay on the roster of the big league club for two years. I wasn’t good enough for them to have me on that roster. But they changed the rule in 1958.”

The bonus rule had been instituted by major league baseball in 1947. Any team that failed to comply with the rule, which required that a player signed to a contract in excess of $4,000 be assigned to the 40-man roster, would lose the rights to that player’s contract.

Lindsey played at Keokuk, Iowa, in the Midwest League in 1958. He was in Hobbs, N.M., in 1959 and then played at Memphis; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Columbia, S.C., during the 1960 season.

Lindsey was in Billings, Mont., in 1961 and played for Tulsa of the Texas League for two seasons before retiring from baseball at the conclusion of the 1963 season.

“The Cardinals gave me every opportunity,” he says. “My fielding was never an issue. My hitting was the problem. I’ve always been told that you can tell after about five years whether you’re going to make it to the big leagues or not. I knew it was time to hang it up after six years.”

Lindsey remains a Cardinal fan, going to games several times each season. After his retirement from baseball, he took over the farm that had been operated by his father and three uncles. In 1987, Lindsey began a farming partnership with his younger brother. He raises about 4,000 acres of cotton and operates two gins.

“While I never had the privilege of coaching B because of his decision to play professional baseball after high school, I had the utmost admiration and respect for him as an athlete and as a person,” Broyles says. “He had all the qualities of leadership I looked for in a member of our team. He was and is a man of character and integrity, a born leader.”

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Jockey Alonzo Clayton: Hall of Famer

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton reached sports stardom at an early age. In 1892, at the age of just 15, he became the youngest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

It’s safe to say, however, that most Arkansans have never heard of Clayton.

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame will remedy that situation Feb. 3 when Clayton is inducted as part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012. The induction banquet will be held at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

Tickets for the annual banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Clayton was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1876 and moved with his parents to North Little Rock when he was 10. There were nine children in the family, and finances were tight even though his father had steady work as a carpenter. Clayton worked as a hotel errand boy and as a shoeshine boy to earn extra income for his family.

In an 1896 story in the Thoroughbred Record, it was written that Clayton also had attended school as a boy and was considered “exceptionally bright.”

Clayton was only 12 years old when he left home to join his brother, Albertus, a jockey who was riding at the time for the legendary E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Alonzo Clayton soon found work as an exercise rider for Baldwin’s stables. His first race as a jockey came in 1890 at Clifton, N.J. He had his first victory later that year.

Thoroughbred racing had become one of the top sports in America by that time, and it didn’t take long for those on the East Coast to recognize Clayton as a rising star. He won the Jerome Stakes aboard Picknicker and the Champagne Stakes aboard Azra at Morris Park in Westchester County, N.Y., in 1891.

On May 11, 1892, Clayton was aboard Azra in the Kentucky Derby. Azra came from behind in the stretch to win the derby by a nose, and Clayton became one of only two 15-year-old jockeys to win America’s most famous race.

He would be in the money in the Kentucky Derby three more times in his career, finishing second in 1893, third in 1895 and second in 1897.

Clayton’s best year was 1895 when he had 144 wins and finished in the money in almost 60 percent of his races. He won the Arkansas Derby that year at the Little Rock Jockey Club’s Clinton Park. In 1896, he became one of the few black jockeys ever to compete in the Preakness Stakes at Baltimore. He finished third.

Other significant races won by Clayton were the Clark Stakes at Churchill Downs in 1892, the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in 1892, the Brooklyn Handicap and Futurity at Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn in 1894, the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in 1894 and 1895, the Cotton Stakes in Memphis in 1895, the Saratoga Stakes in 1895, the Latonia Derby in Cincinnati in 1897, the St. Louis Derby in 1897, the California Derby in San Francisco in 1898 and the Suburban Handicap in Brooklyn in 1898.

In an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune, Clayton called the Suburban Handicap “the greatest race I ever rode.”

Racing historian Ed Hotaling said Clayton “became one of the great riders of the New York circuit all through the 1890s, but he rode all over the country.”

“While spending most of his time on the road, Clayton, who never married, came back to North Little Rock regularly to visit family,” Cary Bradburn wrote for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “He bought his parents a farm in 1894 in what is now Sherwood and had the Queen Anne-style house (in North Little Rock) built in 1895. His celebrity status spawned a legend that erroneously linked him to another Queen Anne house, known today as the Baker House, a bed and breakfast at 109 West Fifth St. in North Little Rock. According to legend, Clayton, misidentified as Artemis E. Colburn, raced horses in England and came back to his hometown of Argenta (now North Little Rock) to build a grand house; however, he soon left the area.

“The reason for Clayton’s departure is not clear, but in a larger context racism did contribute. In the early 1900s, bigotry drove black jockeys out of the sport they had dominated in America since the mid-1600s. Most stable owners stopped hiring them when sanctions, and even physical threats against black jockeys, increased. Some went overseas, as Clayton may have done.”

Indeed, black jockeys once ruled the sport.

“These were the first great American athletes, white or black, and they were written out of the history books,” Hotaling told the Baltimore Sun. “The saddest part is that they weren’t and haven’t been brought back into the sport.”

Black jockeys won at least 15 of the first 28 runnings of the Kentucky Derby.

“Once economics — big money — came into racing, the black jockey was pushed out,” said Inez Chapel of the group African-Americans in Horse Racing. “And racism is still alive. There are black jockeys out there, but they do what they have to do. They claim to be Jamaican or something else. If you speak in an unknown tongue, then the color of your skin doesn’t bother people.”

As racing began to gain prominence following the Civil War, many horse owners used their former slaves as jockeys. Former slaves tended to gravitate toward the sport because they were comfortable working with horses. Jim Crow laws changed that. The majority of black jockeys were gone by 1910, though some continued to race in more dangerous steeplechase events.

The last black jockey to compete in the Kentucky Derby was Henry King aboard Planet in 1921.

“That was a rarity,” Hotaling said. “If people see that and think black jockeys competed into the 1920s alongside white riders, that’s just not true. By 1910, they were all but gone.”

The last black jockey to ride in the Preakness Stakes was Willie Simms in 1898. The last black jockey to ride in the Belmont Stakes was Jimmy Lee in 1908.

Clayton and his family lived in what later would be known as the Engelberger House in North Little Rock from 1895-99. His earnings had enabled him to build a home that the Arkansas Gazette described in 1895 as the “finest house on the North Side.”

The home at 2105 Maple St. was purchased by Swiss immigrant Joseph Engelberger in 1912. It was listed in 1990 on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bradburn wrote: “Written in pencil in the attic are the names of Clayton and eight brothers and sisters, as well as ‘Mama and Papa Clayton’ and ’1899′ and ‘Goodbye.’ On a baseboard to the right is a drawing of what appears to be a jockey, under which is written ‘Ragtime Jimmie,’ the meaning of which is unknown.”

In April 1901, Alonzo Clayton was arrested at Aqueduct in New York for allegedly fixing a race. The charge later was dismissed, but his career was over for all practical purposes. He made short comeback attempts in Montana in 1902 and Memphis in 1904.

Clayton died in March 1917 in California of tuberculosis. He was only 41. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles.

 

 

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Coach Raymond Bright: Hall of Famer

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Raymond Bright was a success on the football field and the track during his many years as a coach for the Conway School District and for what’s now the University of Central Arkansas.

Bright, who died in June 2008, was an even bigger success off the field. He left behind a legion of friends and admirers.

“When I first received the news that legendary coach Raymond Bright had died, I tried to think of people who loved him who might furnish some kind words for a feature obituary,” David McCollum of Conway’s Log Cabin Democrat wrote the week of Bright’s death. “That got wonderfully complicated because the widening list included just about everybody I know in Conway. It was like I could close my eyes, put my finger on a random page in the phone book and take my pick.

“During 25-plus years here, I don’t know of a more beloved figured in this community, and I mean the kind of ‘take you outside and me and my buddies will totally whip your booty if you even think of saying a derogatory word about Coach Bright’ type of love. He had a large family. He had a larger extended family.”

Bright will be inducted posthumously into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual banquet are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

Bright is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.

Bright graduated from what at the time was Arkansas State Teachers College in 1949 and began his coaching career later that year at Conway Junior High School. After two years of coaching football, basketball and track at the junior high level, he was promoted to the job of head football and track coach at Conway High School.

His track teams won district championships for seven consecutive seasons and state championships in 1954 and 1957. The Wampus Cats finished second in the state meet in 1952, 1955 and 1958.

In the fall of 1958, Bright returned to UCA as head track coach and assistant football coach. His track teams won or shared five Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships in eight years. After winning the AIC in 1962, the Bears placed seventh out of 92 teams in the NAIA national meet. A member of that team, Gerald Cound, won the 880-yard run to become the first Arkansas runner to win an event at the NAIA national meet.

Cound said Bright was respected “not just for winning and losing but for teaching you how to deal with life, how to live life.”

Bright promoted the sport of track and field during the 1950s and 1960s, helping it enter its most popular period in the state. He was one of the first AIC coaches to schedule his teams against out-of-state competition and take his athletes to meets in bordering states. He began holding home meets at night in order to attract larger crowds.

In football, Bright also achieved success at both the high school and college levels. As head football coach at Conway, his teams went 8-2 in 1951, 7-4 in ’52, 6-5 in ’53, 6-4 in ’54, 5-5-1 in ’55, 4-7 in ’56 and 10-1 in ’57. The Wampus Cats won district championships in 1951 and 1957.

At the college level, Bright was UCA’s backfield coach and recruiting coordinator from 1958-64. The Bears had won a total of 13 games in seven years before he joined the staff. During the seven years he was the backfield coach and recruiting coordinator, the Bears were 50-14-2, winning two AIC championships.

Bright became head football coach in 1965. His 1965 and 1966 teams earned shares of the AIC title. He left coaching after the 1971 season and was later UCA’s director of housing, retiring from that job in 1983.

Bright previously was inducted into the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame and the UCA Sports Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was awarded the Elijah Pitts Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Conway Athletic Awards Commission.

“When I think of what he has meant to my life, tears come to my eyes, and I just don’t do that,” said Henry Hawk, a 2006 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. “He could call you an S.O.B. and do it in a way that made you happy.”

Hawk, a Conway native, was an all-state player in football and basketball in high school. He had a successful career as a running back at UCA and later was a high school coach at Conway and North Little Rock.

“I don’t think I would have finished high school if he had not stayed on me,” Hawk said of Bright. “I don’t think I would have gone to college other than because I wanted to be a coach just like him.”

McCollum wrote: “Bright was crusty on the exterior, firm with a loud, gruff voice. That masked a soft heart for people, especially helping young men become the best they could be. … Most of his peers and players he mentored described him as a genius at motivation, a maestro of pushing the right inspirational buttons that struck just the proper chords for every individual.”

“He had a knack for dealing tough love,” said Kenny Smith, a former head football coach at Conway High School. “Every young person is different, and you have to push different buttons. Raymond knew just the right buttons for everybody he coached. Anybody you talked to who played for that man was honored to be one of ‘Raymond’s boys.’ He helped so many people and touched so many people’s lives, it was unbelievable. He made you want to give your best effort because you did not want to disappoint him.”

Smith, who played football for Bright in college, added: “He was tough, he was firm, but we knew that he wasn’t doing anything that was not good for us. Once you were one of ‘Raymond’s boys,’ the bond was phenomenal. And it was not just the All-AIC guys or the first-team guys. It was everybody who put on a uniform. He turned a lot of young adults into men. That was his business. We were all his family.”

Bright’s most talented football player was perhaps Bobby Tiner, who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. Tiner, a Morrilton native, was a four-time All-AIC selection in football and basketball. He piled up more than 6,100 yards of offense in his four years as a quarterback, leading the Bears to two conference championships.

“There was never a finer man to walk the face of this earth,” Tiner said. “The many lives he affected are now affecting thousands of other lives. His legacy will be going on for a long time. I don’t have any idea what it was or how to describe it, but once you came into contact with the man you didn’t want to do anything wrong.”

Tiner, who later had a successful tenure as a high school head football coach at Pulaski Oak Grove, said Bright was an innovator.

“He was so far ahead of his time in football in the mid-60s, it was unreal,” Tiner said. “I don’t know how he came up with some of the stuff he did. I went up to the line of scrimmage with three or four options other than the play I had. For that era, it was unbelievable.”

Of his high school playing days in Morrilton when his Devil Dog teams had to take on Conway, Tiner said: “They whipped us in football, whipped us in basketball and about anything you could play. But when I got to ASTC, I knew why. Y’all had Raymond Bright.”

Bright, a Hope native, served four years in the Navy during World War II. He had not played football in high school.

“The Hope Bobcats were the greatest team in the world, I thought,” Bright once said. “Back then, they had players from Texas and everywhere else. They recruited. I wasn’t big enough. I weighed 110 pounds.”

He was up to 140 pounds after four years in the Navy and decided to play in college.

Buzz Bolding, the former Conway High School athletic director who played football in college for Bright, said Bright wasted no time getting the team’s attention in his first year as head coach.

“Coach Bright gained the respect of all those players in 1965,” Bolding said. “We started that year with 90-something kids and ended up with 40 or 45. But they were 45 dedicated to that program and to that coach. We would do anything in the world for that man beause we knew he would do anything for us. I am truly proud to be called one of ‘Raymond’s boys.”’

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