Archive for January, 2012

Ray Rodgers: The cut man

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Among boxers, if not fans, the cut man is a revered figure in the sweet science.

In a boxer’s corner, a cut man uses everything in his power to take care of cuts, nosebleeds and swelling.

Don’t confuse a cut man with the fight doctor, who’s neutral. The cut man will do whatever it takes to give his fighter the edge. Though athletic commissions in most states require cut men to be licensed, there’s no formal training.

The good cut men learn through years of trial and error.

The tools of their trade include petroleum jelly, ice packs, cotton swabs and gauze pads. And then there’s the enswell, the small piece of metal with a handle that’s kept on ice and used to cool the area of a bruise or cut.

Cut men create their own medications and consider the recipes to be trade secrets. Ingredients can include Avitene (used to stop bleeding), adrenaline hydrochloride (used to decrease blood flow) and other medications used for coagulation such as Gelfoam, Surgicel and Thrombin.

Clint Eastwood played both a trainer and a cut man in the 2004 Academy Award-winning film “Million Dollar Baby.”

In the classic 1976 film “Rocky,” Rocky Balboa’s cut man was played by Al Silvani, a former trainer. He also served as the cut man in “Rocky II” and “Rocky III.”

Arkansas is home to one of the nation’s most famous cut men, Ray Rodgers.

In preparing a feature story on Rodgers for the March issue of Arkansas Life magazine, I focused on his 14 years as a boxer followed by his many years as a coach and an official in the Golden Gloves and Silver Gloves organizations.

Rodgers is the national president of both Golden Gloves and Silver Gloves, the first person ever to run both organizations at the same time. I touched a little on his years as a cut man in the magazine story, but that could have been the focus of the entire story.

“I learned a lot watching some of the old-time Arkansas coaches and trainers: Bert Ramsey, Buddy Holderfield and others,” Rodgers told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Jim Bailey on the eve of his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. “One of my idols was Whitey Bimstein, who had a reputation as the best cut man in New York when boxing hit television in the 1950s.”

Born Morris Bimstein on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Whitey Bimstein graduated from New York City’s Public School #62 in 1910. He competed in track, baseball and basketball while in school.

His father, unhappy with the rough element on the East Side, later moved the family to the Bronx.

Though he was Jewish, Bimstein was taught to box by a priest, Father Ryan of St. Jerome Catholic Church. He was a bantamweight who boxed about 70 bouts under the name Johnny White before joining the U.S. Navy at the start of World War I.

Bimstein began training boxers and serving as a cut man following the war. He was in the corner of James J. Braddock on June 13, 1935, when the “Cinderella Man” upset Max Baer to win the heavyweight championship.

The International Boxing Hall of Fame website notes that Whitey Bimstein was “known for his ability to motivate a fighter psychologically (with encouraging words) or physically (with a needle to a lethargic fighter’s backside or a slap to the face). Bimstein was widely regarded as one of boxing’s outstanding trainers and his expertise as a cut man during the crucial 60-second respite between rounds was second to none.”

Rodgers, who most recently was in the corner of Little Rock’s Jermain Taylor when Taylor beat Jessie Nicklow with an eighth-round TKO on Dec. 30 at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in California, now carries the reputation as the cut man whose expertise is “second to none.”

“I’ve got stuff that will hold two drops of water together,” he likes to say.

Bailey wrote: “When Rodgers was successful in keeping heavyweight Tommy Morrison’s eyebrows intact through a national Golden Gloves tournament, Morrison’s camp told him he’d be Morrison’s cut man when he turned pro.

“‘I thought it was just something nice to say, but they went through with it,’ Rodgers said. ‘I was in Tommy’s corner for every pro fight except two.’

“Cut man chores have taken him all over the United States and to Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany — even Hong Kong.

“‘Tommy Morrison was scheduled to fight Herbie Hide in Hong Kong back in 1994,’ Rodgers said. ‘The sponsors couldn’t get the money together, and the match fell through after I got there. I was on expenses so it amounted to a week’s paid vacation in Hong Kong.’”

In the introduction to a 2005 interview with Rodgers at www.doghouseboxing.com, Sean Newman wrote that Rodgers is among “the very best in the business” as a cut man.

Newman said, “In the sport of boxing, probably the most underappreciated yet vital member of a boxer’s team is the cut man. Just as in other sports, aside from the actual competitors, most would surely state that the head coach, manager or trainer is the most important member of the camp.

“A good analogy may be that a cut man is the offensive lineman (another underappreciated profession in the world of sports) of boxing, because without a good one, chances are you will run into some trouble sooner or later. While trainers certainly play an important role in developing strategy and getting their fighter in shape, it is the cut man who is called upon in the corner when a cut or swelling occurs. It helps to have a good one when things become precarious.”

Rodgers told Newman: “I was working with kids back in the ’60s and ’70s and earlier when you didn’t have to wear a headgear and you could actually work a cut in the corner with amateurs, just like you can with pros. I got pretty good at it, and one thing led to another, and they started asking me to do it because I was good at it. There really isn’t any better way to explain it than that. But I didn’t just one day wake up and say, ‘I’m going to be a cut man.’ I just learned the trade by being a coach when we could do it in the amateurs.”

Morrison was born in 1969 in Gravette but was raised in Delaware County in Oklahoma. His older brother and two uncles also were boxers. He lost only three of 52 professional fights, and Rodgers was in his corner for most of them.

Rodgers was there for his first professional win in New York on Nov. 10, 1988, when Morrison scored a TKO in the first round against William Muhammad. And Rodgers was in Las Vegas for a scheduled fight against Arthur Weathers in 1996 when Morrison tested positive on the mandatory HIV test performed by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

“His trainer called me in my hotel room and said he had something he needed to tell me in person,” Rodgers says. “I went to his room, and he said, ‘Tommy has tested postive.’ I asked, ‘For drugs?’ He said, ‘No, for HIV. He’s already on the plane and headed back home.’”

Though he would later attempt a comeback, that HIV test effectively ended Morrison’s career. Rodgers, though, has rich memories, including a Morrison fight against Joe Hipp in June 1992 at Bally’s Hotel & Casino in Reno. Morrison won on a TKO in the ninth round.

“He just got almost dismembered,” Rodgers told Newman. “He broke his jaw, broke his thumb, had a cut under his left eye, had a cut over his right eye and still knocked out Hipp in the ninth round. That was a tough fight to work because I was trying to stabilize his head while I stabilized the cut. When I say stabilize the head, I mean you couldn’t jerk him around because his jaw hurt so bad. … I got the cut under control, and I think it took 22 stitches. It was a big one.

“That was one of the most memorable and exciting moments with Tommy. Of course, one year later, when he outboxed George Foreman in Las Vegas for the world title, that was a highlight. I worked a lot of fights with him — 30 or 35 over almost a 10-year period.”

Other fighters for whom Rodgers served as cut man included Hector “Macho” Camacho and Iran Barkley.

When Jermain Taylor was head butted by Bernard Hopkins in the first of two fights between the men, it was Rodgers who stopped the bleeding and kept the fight going. The date was July 16, 2005. The site was the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Taylor won the middleweight title in a split decision that night. After the fight, he had 16 stitches in the top of his head.

When Iran Barkley fought Henry Maske in Germany in October 1994, it took 63 stitches to sew Barkley up after the fight. But Rodgers has never had a fighter lose because of cuts.

In June 2002, Taylor had a cut over his right eye against Grady Brewer that required eight stitches after the fight.

In June 2004, Taylor had a cut against Raul Marquez over his left eye that took 13 stitches.

Taylor won both fights.

Rodgers, an Arkansas treasure, told Newman: “Being a cut man is just something I do. I’ll fly out a couple of days ahead of a fight. That gives me a chance to rest. On the day of the bout, I go into war mode. I start thinking about a fight just like a fighter does. I’m focused, as the kids say. After the bout is over, I have postpartum depression. And I go right back to work on Monday, just like a walk in the park. I want to die at ringside, but no time soon.”

At age 75, Ray Rodgers shows no signs of slowing down.

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The 1994 Razorbacks: National champions

Monday, January 30th, 2012

The evening of Monday, April 4, 1994, remains seared into the memories of University of Arkansas Razorback fans.

The national championship in basketball was on the line.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, 6-6 Scotty Thurman hit the most famous shot in Razorback basketball history. His three-point basket snapped a 70-70 tie against Duke. Arkansas went on to win the national championship that night, 76-72, against a Blue Devil team that was playing in its sixth Final Four in seven years and its fourth championship game.

Corliss Williamson, a Russellville native, was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Williamson, Thurman, their teammates and their coaches will be honored Friday night when the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2012. This is only the second time in its history that the Hall of Fame has inducted an entire team. The 1964 national championship Razorback football team was inducted in 2010.

The man who coached Arkansas to the national championship in basketball, Nolan Richardson, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998. Thurman was inducted in 2010, and Williamson was inducted in 2009.

Tickets for Friday’s banquet, which will be held at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

There also are 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012.

The 1993-94 Razorback basketball team had the pressure of being ranked No. 1 in the country for 10 weeks during the regular season. Williamson was the team leader from start to finish in that campaign, averaging 20.4 points per game, shooting .626 from the field and making 70 percent of his free throws.

Thurman, meanwhile, didn’t save all of his last-minute heroics for the national championship game. He made a three-point shot with seven seconds left to give Arkansas a one-point victory at Tennessee and hit another three-point shot in the final 30 seconds to help the Hogs beat LSU in overtime in Baton Rouge. Thurman averaged 15.9 points per game that season.

Williamson and Thurman received plenty of help from Corey Beck, who led the team in assists. Beck and Clint McDaniel were regarded as the best defensive guards in the country as they took Richardson’s “40 minutes of hell” approach to heart. McDaniel could score from the perimeter. The fifth starter on the team, Dwight Stewart, also was a perimeter scoring threat.

Richardson took advantage of a deep bench. Al Dillard was a three-point shooting threat. He was the team’s third-leading scorer with an 8.9-point-per-game average even though he averaged playing just 12 minutes per game.

Roger Crawford, one of only two seniors on the team, also was a scoring threat. Crawford was injured early in the NCAA Tournament and didn’t play in the Final Four.

Coming off the bench on a regular basis were Darnell Robinson and Lee Wilson, both 6-11 centers. Others who saw significant playing time were Ken Biley and Elmer Martin.

Other members of the national championship team were forward Craig Tyson, guard Davor Rimac, guard Reggie Merritt, forward Reggie Garrett, guard John Engskov and forward Ray Biggers.

Richardson had gotten Arkansas close before. The Razorbacks reached the Final Four in 1990 and lost in the semifinal game to Duke. Kansas defeated Arkansas the next year in the Elite Eight.

In 1992, the Hogs fell to Memphis in the second round of the tournament. Arkansas made it to the Sweet 16 in 1993 before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina.

Duke, Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina — all members of college basketball’s elite.

Now, it was the Razorbacks’ turn.

The Hogs finished the regular season with a 24-2 record. A 13-game winning streak was ended by Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, but Arkansas still found itself seeded first in the Midwest Regional at Oklahoma City.

Williamson scored 24 points and had seven rebounds as the Razorbacks defeated North Carolina A&T, 94-79, in the first round.

Two days later in the second round, Williamson had 21 points and Robinson, as a surprise starter, added 13 points as the Razorbacks beat Georgetown, 85-73.

It was on to Dallas and the Sweet 16. The opponent was Tulsa.

Earlier in the season at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane had taken the Razorbacks to overtime before falling, 93-91. Most people were expecting another close game in the Sweet 16 after Tulsa had posted victories over UCLA and Oklahoma State in the tournament’s first two rounds. It was, however, a blowout in favor of the Razorbacks. The Hogs won by 19 points, 103-84, as Williamson and Thurman scored 21 points each. McDaniel added 19 points.

The Elite Eight foe was Michigan. Its star player was Juwan Howard. Williamson was held to just 12 points, but Thurman answered with 20 points and the Razorbacks won by eight, 76-68. President Clinton was among those in attendance in Dallas.

The next stop: The Final Four in Charlotte, N.C.

The semifinal opponent was an Arizona team led by guards Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves. With Beck and McDaniel playing their best defensive games of the season, Stoudamire and Reeves hit just 11 of 43 shots. They were two of 22 on three-point attempts. Williamson scored 29 points and had 13 rebounds for the Razorbacks as they posted a solid 91-82 victory.

President Clinton was back in attendance for the national championship game, joining 3,000 of his fellow Arkansans who had made the trip to Charlotte.

Back home, hundreds of thousands of Arkansans were glued to their television sets.

Arkansas led 34-33 at the half, but Duke jumped to a 10-point lead in the first three minutes of the second half. Next, it was Arkansas’ turn to go on a run as the Hogs built a 70-65 lead.

Grant Hill hit a three-point shot for Duke to tie the game with 1:29 remaining. As the shot clock was running down, Thurman’s three-point shot was true with 51 seconds left in the game. Arkansas led by three, 73-70.

Two free throws by McDaniel and another free throw from Dillard sealed a 76-72 Arkansas victory and the national championship.

The president headed down to the court to embrace Richardson.

At 31-3, Arkansas had won its first national championship in basketball.

This Friday night, we get to salute that team again as it’s inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

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Dr. Margaret Downing: Hall of Famer

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Dr. Margaret Downing is a pioneer.

She’s not a pioneer in the traditional sense of clearing land and homesteading an area. But she’s certainly a pioneer when it comes to advancing women’s sports in Arkansas.

Downing became the head women’s basketball coach at what’s now Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia in the fall of  1965, a time when that sport wasn’t on the radar screen of most Arkansans. During her 19 seasons as the head coach of the Riderettes, she became a well-known sports figure in Arkansas.

Downing arrived in the pine woods of far south Arkansas at a school that had been founded in 1909 when the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 100, which authorized the establishment of four district agricultural boarding schools, one in each quadrant of the state. These schools were designed to give rural children access to a better education. Columbia County residents raised the funds needed to attract one of the four schools to Magnolia.

Buildings were constructed during 1910. In 1911, what was known originally as the Third District Agricultural School opened its doors a mile north of the city.

In those early days, the school’s men’s sports teams made a name for themselves. In 1912, the football team chose the Mulerider name. The football Muleriders had their first unbeaten season in 1919. Dolph Camp, who later would become the school’s president, played center on that team.

A 1925 legislative act changed the name of the two-year junior college to the State Agricultural and Mechanical College. It most commonly was referred to by Arkansans as Magnolia A&M.

College student enrollment exceeded that of high school students for the first time in 1931 at Magnolia A&M, and by 1937 the high school classes had been abolished. In 1951, the Legislature renamed what was by then a four-year liberal arts college Southern State College.

The success of the men’s teams continued at Southern State as Coach Elmer Smith’s Mulerider football squads won back-to-back Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships in 1951-52 and Coach W.T. Watson’s men’s basketball teams won back-to-back AIC championships in 1966-67.

Margaret Downing soon made women’s sports matter in Magnolia.

Her women’s basketball teams would win eight championships during the next two decades, competing at the state level in what was at first the Arkansas Women’s Extramural Sports Association (AWESA) and was later the Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (AWISA). Nationally, her teams competed in AAU tournaments.

By the time Downing retired from coaching, the AIC had added women’s basketball to its roster of sports.

Downing didn’t just coach basketball. She served as the head swimming and diving coach from 1966-68 and again from 1969-73, claiming an AWESA championship in 1967 and an AWISA title in 1969. Her swimming and diving squads finished second in the conference on two other occasions.

Downing also won an AWISA championship in softball in 1980. She coached volleyball for three years from 1973-75, winning an AWISA championship in 1974 and placing second the other two seasons.

In recognition of her accomplishments, Margaret Downing will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.

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

Downing attended Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) and graduated from there in 1953. One of the people who influenced her the most at the school was Dr. Betty Mae Swift, who was hired in 1949 as a physical education instructor and remained there until she retired in 1983. It was Swift, a no-nonsense instructor who demanded that her students and players live up to strict standards in the classroom and in athletics, who coined the name Sugar Bears for the women’s sports teams at the school.

Swift, who died in 2000 at age 78, joined forces in later years with Downing to convince the AIC to add women’s sports in 1983, signifying their acceptance as a full partner with the men’s programs.

Downing says Swift was a mentor who “taught all of us to just roll up our sleeves and do the job ourselves. She definitely was a good adviser, teacher and friend. I will always carry in my heart the numerous things she taught us, both in and outside the classroom, along with the intangibles of loyalty, honor and dedication to duty.”

Swift would spend many hours outside of class preparing students to take tests that would qualify them to officiate various sports even though there was little demand for women’s officials in those days.

Downing, taught by Swift and others to achieve her full potential academically as well as athletically, went on to receive her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee in 1960 and her doctorate from Texas Woman’s University in 1973.

Downing made a number of coaching stops before settling in Magnolia. She coached at the high school level in Monticello, Texarkana, North Little Rock and at the Tennessee School for the Deaf. She coached collegiately at Connecticut College for Women, Central Connecticut State College and Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia.

Her Ouachita teams were nationally ranked, laying the foundation for the success experienced by Carolyn Moffatt at Ouachita from 1965-84 as Moffatt’s teams went 213-162. Moffatt was a posthumous inductee last year into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

At what’s now Southern Arkansas, Downing’s first basketball team captured an AWESA championship. AWISA was founded in 1969 and her teams won seven of the first eight titles — 1969-70, 1970-71, 1971-72, 1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76 and 1976-77. Her 1972-73 squad placed second, and the 1976-77 team shared the championship with the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Downing retired from coaching basketball with a record of 223-163 at the school.

The first time AWISA awarded a coach of the year award — following the 1977-78 season — it went to Downing.

Downing was not only known statewide as a leader in the field of women’s athletics but was recognized nationally and internationally. She was the manager of the U.S. women’s basketball teams twice in the Pan-American Games. She also served as the president and treasurer of the U.S. Olympic Committee for Women’s Basketball, as the president of AWISA and as the president of the Southwest Region of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Downing served at one time or another on the AAU’s national basketball rules committee, the U.S. National Basketball Committee and the International Basketball Committee.

She was just as successful in the classroom as she was as a coach. Downing was named the Southern Arkansas University honor professor for the 1987-88 school year and is remembered fondly by thousands of former students as one of the best instructors to serve the university.

When SAU established its Hall of Fame for athletics, Downing was in the inaugural class of 2003. Downing already had been inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 1987.

Through the years, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame has honored many of the pioneers of women’s athletics in the state. Hazel Walker, an 11-time All-American AAU basketball player who later managed and played with her own professional team, was in the first induction class in 1959. A member of the Class of 1966 was Quinnie Hamm Toler, who once scored 114 points in a game at Sparkman and 1,245 points for the season. Joan Crawford of Van Burean, a 13-time AAU All-American basketball star, was a member of the Class of 1978.

Now, Margaret Downing has earned her rightful place with such luminaries of the past.

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“Light Horse” Harry Jones: Hall of Famer

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

The opponent for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on that first Saturday of October 1965 was TCU. Harry Jones remembers carrying the ball for a good gain.

And he remembers what the public address announcer said next: “There goes Light Horse Harry Jones.”

“I was told he had never used a nickname for a player before,” Jones now says. “For some reason, he decided to add the ‘Light Horse’ that day. It stuck.”

Arkansas won the game, 28-0.

A local group recorded a song called “The Ballad of Light Horse Harry,” which received play on radio stations across the state. KAAY-AM, 1090, in Little Rock, which could be heard in more than 40 states and several foreign countries at night, was among the stations playing the song.

Jones, mind you, backed up the attention with his performance on the field. In 1965, as the Razorbacks went undefeated during the regular season, Jones led the nation in yard-per-carry average. He gained 632 yards on 82 carries that season and scored seven touchdowns, including an 83-yard run against North Texas.

Later that season, Jones became the first Razorback to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

A year later, he was one of two Razorbacks to go in the first round of the 1967 NFL draft.

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

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

While growing up in Enid, Okla., Jones attended one of the largest high schools in the state and played all sports — football, basketball, baseball and track. His father worked as a highway patrolman during the week and preached at a rural church each Sunday in the tiny town of Byron, Okla., which is near the Kansas border in the northwestern part of the state.

“I spent a lot of weekends out there with him,” says Jones, who now lives at Lowell. “There were about 60 people and no paved streets, but Dad loved to go. It was quiet, and he could work on his sermons.”

Things weren’t as quiet back in Enid, where Jones was recognized early as a star athlete. During his junior year in high school, he broke his wrist badly when he ran into a wall while playing basketball in Duncan.

“I couldn’t play baseball that summer, and at the time it was my favorite sport,” Jones says. “I was a baseball playing son of a gun. I was on a team that would travel all over the state and play 60 to 80 games a year. I had a cast on my arm most of that summer. When they took it off, they discovered it hadn’t healed correctly. We went to Oklahoma City, and a 10-inch steel pin was inserted. I remember it was the day of the major league baseball All-Star Game because we got home just in time to see the final inning.”

Jones was a quarterback in high school. He says his father “pushed me hard. He had borrowed a bag of footballs from my coach, and the next day after I had the pin inserted, he wanted to see if I could throw the ball. I dropped the first one I tried to pick up.”

By the fall of 1962, though, Jones was ready. Enid lost two games by one point, unable to win the state championship Jones had hoped to add to his resume. College coaches, however, had taken notice of his abilities.

The Arkansas assistant recruiting Jones was Barry Switzer.

“He made a big impression on me,” Jones says of Switzer. “I went down to Fayetteville and loved it from the moment I stepped onto the campus. It was beautiful there.”

Eddie Crowder, the offensive coordinator under head coach Bud Wilkinson at the University of Oklahoma, had shown an interest in Jones but left Oklahoma following the 1962 season to become the head coach at the University of Colorado. The Sooners signed a couple of Enid players, but Jones wasn’t among them.

“There was plenty of heat from people in Enid for Oklahoma to sign me,” Jones says. “My one regret is that I never got to meet Coach Wilkinson. He was a god as far as I was concerned.”

Jones was impressed with Arkansas’ head coach, Frank Broyles. He liked the fact that Arkansas had an offense that allowed the quarterback to run the ball on a regular basis.

“I was a running quarterback and was attracted to their offense,” Jones says. “Billy Moore led the Southwest Conference in rushing as a quarterback.”

Jones paid visits to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Wichita State. But after returning from Norman, he called Arkansas assistant coach Jim MacKenzie and committed to the Razorbacks.

“He came over to Enid that day to sign me,” Jones says. “There was a long story in the local newspaper the next day, and everybody in town was mad at me for leaving Oklahoma. I didn’t know anybody on the campus at Arkansas, but I loved it from the first day. The smartest decision I ever made was choosing Arkansas. It was a romance.”

Freshmen weren’t eligible to play in varsity games in those days, but Jones was starting by his sophomore season in 1964. It’s just that it wasn’t as a quarterback or running back. He was in the secondary.

“They needed one more defensive back, and I guess they liked the fact that I was fast,” Jones says. “I had hauled hay the entire summer after my freshman year and was in the best shape of my life. Johnny Majors was coaching the secondary in 1964. He came up to me about a week before the opening game, put his arm around me and said, ‘You think you can start against Oklahoma State?’”

Jones returned two interceptions for touchdowns that fall as Arkansas went undefeated and won several versions of the national championship.

During the spring of 1965 and fall drills, Jones practiced at quarterback.

“I felt good coming out of spring practice because I didn’t throw any interceptions and made plenty of long runs,” Jones says. “I’ll admit that Jon Brittenum could throw the ball better than I could. Coach Broyles called me into his office the week before the opener and told me that Jon would be the starting quarterback. I was upset and asked to be moved back to safety. Coach Broyles told me he wanted me to stay on offense and stand next to him during games.

“We were playing Oklahoma State in Little Rock. Coach Broyles sent me in as a wingback, a position I had never played. Jon checked off, and I caught a pass for a first down. On the next play I was in there, he checked off again, and I caught another pass for a first down. My third play was a touchdown. I remember thinking, ‘Maybe this wasn’t such a bad move after all.’”

Wingback Jim Lindsey, a 1987 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was injured for part of the 1965 season, making Jones’ contributions more important than ever.

As for that Sports Illustrated cover, Jones explains how it came about: “They wanted to take a photo of the entire offense, and Coach Broyles insisted that Jim Lindsey be in the photo. The story I later heard is that a photo editor in New York said, ‘We can’t use that. There are 12 men in it.’

“So they chose an action photo of me. That was the biggest shock of my life. I loved Sports Illusrated. I had read it since it started. The attention that cover brought was overwhelming. To this day, I have people send me copies of the magazine to be autographed.”

In the story that accompanied the photo of Jones, legendary sports journalist Dan Jenkins wrote: “Just when the opponent thinks Arkansas will pass, it runs. And how. There will go hurtling Bobby Burnett, jarring Jim Lindsey, both veterans, or Harry Jones, particularly Harry Jones, who is the new ingredient — more so even than Brittenum — that makes Arkansas better than last year. Harry Jones is 6-2, weighs 195 and merely runs a 9.7 dash. He is a high-waisted, long-legged, tough, darting runner who is gone — really gone — when he turns a corner.”

Broyles told Jenkins: “He can cut sharp at top speed, and that’s something else. People are trying to compare him with (Lance) Alworth, and it’s unfair. Lance was great for us, and he’s a great pro. But Harry is bigger, probably faster and can cut. Mainly, though, Harry is on a better team. He’s — well, just fantastic.”

Jenkins went on to call Jones a “good-looking junior from Enid, Okla., who was born in Huntington, W. Va., the son of a Christian minister (Broyles is the first Arkansas coach to recruit successfully outside the state; in fact, five members of the defensive unit are Texans). Last season — it figures — Jones was a regular defensive safety, and even this season he was battling with Brittenum for the quarterback job up until the opening game.”

Only a loss to LSU in the Cotton Bowl prevented Arkansas from winning a second consecutive national championship in 1965. Arkansas finished 8-2 in 1966, and Jones was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round, the 19th overall pick in the NFL draft. He played five seasons for the Eagles at running back, wide receiver and defensive end. He was waived in August 1972.

Jones had spent two offseasons working with Jack Stephens at the Little Rock investment banking firm Stephens Inc. and considered a career in investment banking. Yet he yearned to try his hand at coaching and was hired by Majors in January 1973 when Majors moved from Iowa State to Pittsburgh as head coach.

Jones coached with Majors for four seasons at Pitt as the Panthers improved from 6-5-1 to 7-4 to 8-4 to 12-0 and a national championship in 1976 (with Pitt running back Tony Dorsett winning the Heisman Trophy that year).

Majors moved from Pitt to the University of Tennessee following the 1976 season, but Jones didn’t follow him. Instead, he went back to Oklahoma to work with a brother-in-law in the oilfield services business.

Jones spent the rest of his career in private business and now finds himself in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

 

 

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U.S. Reed and The Shot

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

It has been more than three decades, but there’s not a week that goes by that someone doesn’t mention The Shot to former University of Arkansas basketball star U.S. Reed.

If not The Shot, it’s The Call they remember.

His was a four-year college career filled with highlights, but longtime Razorback fans still best remember the Pine Bluff native for two unforgettable moments — one is remembered fondly, one not so fondly.

The first occurred in March 1979 during the NCAA Tournament.

During Reed’s freshman season the previous year, the famed Triplets — Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph — had led Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four. Arkansas finished third, losing to Kentucky in the semifinals and defeating Notre Dame in the consolation game.

Brewer and Delph graduated. As a sophomore, Reed joined forces with Moncrief as Arkansas made it all the way to the NCAA Midwest Regional finals in Cincinnati before losing to an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird.

With the score tied 71-71 — and no shot clock in those days — Arkansas was holding the ball for a final shot. Reed was tripped at the 1:02 mark but was called for traveling, a call that still angers the Razorback faithful.

Bob Heaton scored at the horn for a 73-71 Sycamore win. Indiana State lost in the finals that year to a Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson.

“It was not a walk,” Reed now says. “I was tripped by Carl Nicks. That might have been the worst call in the history of the NCAA Tournament. People still bring me T-shirts to sign that say, ’He was tripped.’”

Two years after The Call, however, there was The Shot.

It was March 14, 1981, in Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Reed launched a shot from 49 feet with one second left on the clock. His basket gave the No. 20 Razorbacks a 74-73 victory over No. 12 Louisville. The Cardinals were the defending national champions.

In 2009, Sports Illustrated listed Reed’s shot as the second-most historic event in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

I was sitting on press row that day in Austin. I can remember it as if it were yesterday.

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

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

Reed played on a state championship high school team at Pine Bluff and hoped to be offered a scholarship to Arkansas.

“I idolized the Triplets,” he says. “I wanted to play with them. But it was not as easy as I thought it would be.”

A scholarship offer from Arkansas was not immediately forthcoming. There were offers from other schools such as Louisiana Tech, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Ouachita Baptist University. Finally in early August — just a few weeks before school began — Arkansas assistant coach Pat Foster visited practices for the annual high school all-star game and offered Reed a scholarship.

“I had visited Fayetteville earlier in the year and played in pickup games with the players there,” Reed said. “I had laryngitis that weekend and couldn’t even talk to anyone. I was probably headed to Louisiana Tech if I had not gotten the late offer from Arkansas.”

Reed was determined to prove himself.

“I had played against older guys all my life,” he says. “When I was in high school, I would take part in pickup games with UAPB players from places like Chicago. I knew I could play at that level.”

Reed came off the bench as a sixth man for that 1977-78 team that went 32-4 and advanced to the Final Four.

By his sophomore season, Reed was starting. Arkansas wasn’t expected to return to the Final Four with the loss of Brewer and Delph, but Moncrief, Reed, Scott Hastings and other members of the team overachieved as Arkansas put together a 14-game winning streak late in the season.

Indiana State was unbeaten and No. 1 at the time of its game against Arkansas, yet the Hogs might have advanced to the Final Four if not for The Call. As it was, the Razorbacks finished 25-5.

During Reed’s junior season in 1979-80, Arkansas went 13-3 in the Southwest Conference and 21-8 overall, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

In Reed’s senior season, Arkansas won the Southwest Conference title at 13-3 and finished 24-8 overall. That afternoon in Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament is the day people still talk about. Each year at tournament time, The Shot can be seen again on ESPN.

As Arkansas was warming up for its game against Louisville, Reed began taking long shots. His teammates wondered what was going on.

“They all wanted to know what I was doing,” he told Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com. “I had never done that before. Never. It was like I was preparing or being prepared for something big — almost as if I had a premonition.”

“I’m not sure if you asked him to take that shot five times, he’d hit one,” Arkansas head coach Eddie Sutton would later say. “But he hit it when it counted.”

O’Neil wrote: “Some sort of divine intervention might offer the best explanation. There is no logical way a 49-foot, buzzer-beating, game-winning heave goes in. Yet that is exactly what happened for the Razorbacks and Reed on March 14, 1981.

“It is a shot that remains a classic, right alongside Bryce Drew’s miracle for sheer impossibility. … People don’t forget. In fact, they stop to tell you where they were that day you made history. ‘I think it’s amazing that people still remember something that happened so many years ago,’ Reed said. Honestly, though, if you saw it, you couldn’t forget it.”

Arkansas, which had led for most of the game, was down by a point with six seconds remaining when Sutton called for time. Louisville’s press had stymied Arkansas down the stretch. Reed was unable to get the ball down low to Hastings.

“Given how little time was on the clock, I knew that I would have to be the one to take the shot,” Reed says.

“So from two strides behind half court, Reed took his shot,” O’Neil wrote. “Whether it was muscle memory from those crazy pregame shots or sheer happenstance, Reed remembers actually taking the shot like a legit shot. This wasn’t just a heave-ho. He elevated, squared, shot and prayed. Who knows? Maybe at that point the basketball gods decided to do him a favor. Two years earlier, Reed had the ball in a tie game when he fell over Indiana State’s Carl Nicks. He fell to the ground — Sutton and Reed both insist he was fouled — and when he got back up, he was whistled for traveling. … So maybe a little pixie dust came into play.”

Sutton said this of The Shot: “It looked like it was going to at least hit iron. And then when it went in, I thought the Louisville coaches were going to have a heart attack.”

Rather than celebrating with his teammates, Reed came over to press row and began shaking hands with those of us sitting there.

“It was a miracle,” he says. “That was just a reaction on my part to shake hands. I was so happy that I wanted to shake every hand in the arena. It was a moment of gratitude.”

Reed finished the game with 19 points, six assists, three steals and six rebounds. Arkansas lost the next week to LSU but was ranked No. 20 in the final Associated Press poll.

During his senior season, Reed had 416 points and 131 rebounds, becoming the 11th Razorback to score more than 1,000 points in a career. In his college career, Arkansas made the NCAA Tournament four times and posted a record of 102-25.

Reed was selected in the fifth round of the NBA draft by the Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings. He played for one season in the Continental Basketball Association before an injury ended his playing career.

“I was glad I had my degree,” he says. “I was able to move on with my life after basketball.”

Reed, an ordained minister, lives in Pine Bluff and is involved in the real estate business. He never tires of talking about The Shot.

Each spring, he watches the NCAA Tournament on television, enjoying games that end with last-second shots.

“I know exactly how they feel — how everything slows down in that moment and then when it goes in, everything speeds up again,” he told O’Neil. “It’s one of those moments where you feel like the whole world is watching you. Those are moments that come around very few times for very few people. I wish I could tell those kids, ‘Cherish it. Just cherish it.’”

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Former Razorback Lee Mayberry: Hall of Famer

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Lee Mayberry and former University of Arkansas head basketball coach Nolan Richardson go back a ways.

Way back, in fact.

Mayberry, a Tulsa native, began attending Richardson’s basketball camps at the University of Tulsa when he was in junior high and Richardson was the Tulsa head coach.

Mayberry’s older sister, Kim, was dating Richardson’s son, Nolan III. They later married.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Mayberry went to Arkansas to play basketball for Richardson, though Mayberry is quick to note it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

Mayberry went on to score 1,940 points during his Razorback career and helped lead Arkansas to the 1990 Final Four in Denver, where the Razorbacks lost to Duke in the semifinals. He was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 1992 NBA draft, the 23rd overall pick. He played from 1992-96 for the Bucks and from 1996-99 for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

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

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

Like other residents of Tulsa, Mayberry was thrilled by the exciting brand of basketball Richardson brought to town. Richardson, a 1998 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee, came to Tulsa in 1980 after winning the national junior college championship at Western Texas Junior College. Mayberry was 10 years old at the time but already loved basketball.

Richardson’s first Tulsa team in 1980-81 went 26-7 and won the NIT championship. That was followed by records of 24-6 and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, 19-12 and an NIT bit, 27-4 and an NCAA Tournament bid and 23-8 and yet another NCAA bid.

“He turned that program around,” Mayberry says of Richardson. “It wasn’t hard to get excited about college basketball when Coach Richardson was in Tulsa. I have three brothers, all of whom also played basketball. I remember that we couldn’t wait to watch his television show. Coach Richardson’s style was a fun way to play.”

During his senior season, Mayberry led Will Rogers High School to the 1988 state championship.

Richardson had gone to Arkansas following the 1985 season at Tulsa. His 1985-86 Razorback team was 12-16 followed by records of 19-14 and a 1987 NIT bid and 21-9 and a 1988 NCAA bid.

In November 1990, Mayberry told Hank Hersch of Sports Illustrated that at first he hadn’t been keen on following Richardson to Arkansas because “the team wasn’t winning, and the fans there were really dogging Coach Richardson.”

Hersch wrote at the time: “For his part, Richardson wasn’t keen on recruiting this quiet kid who used to play on the living room floor with young members of the two families. ‘I’m a grandfather and his dad’s a grandfather of the same child,’ says Richardson. ‘I really didn’t need all that pressure.’

“But Nolan III, a former assistant coach in the CBA who is a volunteer coach at Arkansas, and Richardson’s other assistants kept insisting that Mayberry was worth the risk. Still, Richardson wasn’t convinced until he watched Mayberry lead undersized Rogers High to the 1988 Class 5A state championship with 26 points and five rebounds in the title game.”

“Whatever Lee had to do, he did,” Richardson said of the state title game. “He was the one head controlling the whole team.”

Mayberry now says his top three college choices coming out of high school were Arkansas, Arizona and Oklahoma.

“All of those programs were having a lot of success,” he says. “I wanted to go to a successful program, but I also wanted to go somewhere I could play right away. Coach Richardson was late in recruiting me. He felt it would put too much pressure on me if he came after me hard and everybody assumed I would choose Arkansas.”

Though he wanted significant playing time as a freshman, even Mayberry was surprised when Richardson named him a starter. Mayberry was the Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year as the 1988-89 Razorbacks went 13-3 to win the conference and finished 25-7 overall, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

It was during Mayberry’s sophomore season that the Razorbacks reached the Final Four, going 14-2 to again win the Southwest Conference while posting a 30-5 overall record.

As Mayberry was beginning his junior season, the November 1990 Sports Illustrated story started this way: “You have descended into the Hades of College Basketball: Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville. This is where the Razorbacks create and perfect the torture sessions that Coach Nolan Richardson fondly calls 40 minutes of hell.

“Arkansas attacks opponents at both ends of the floor with a two-platoon, perpetual-pressure system that’s as dizzying as Richardson’s polka-dot shirts. Last season that scheme propelled the Hogs into the Final Four; this season, its strength still lies in the dynamic talents of two players who are as tenacious as Cerberus — Lee Mayberry and Todd Day. Mayberry, a 6-2 junior point guard, plays with the grim mien of an undertaker. Don’t be deceived, though, by his quiet manner.”

Arkansas won a third consecutive Southwest Conference title that season, going 15-1 in SWC play, and advanced to the Elite 8, finishing the season with a 34-4 record. The season ended with a 93-81 loss to Kansas.

The Razorbacks were 13-3 as new members of the Southeastern Conference in Mayberry’s senior season, winning the SEC West. Arkansas went 26-8 overall and advanced to the second round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament.

Mayberry says there were too many big games during his four-year college career to single out just one. For instance, there was the famous “Strollin’ Nolan” game on Feb. 4, 1990, at the Erwin Center in Austin. Disgusted with the officiating, Richardson left the bench and went to the dressing room with the game still in progress. Mayberry hit a 28-foot shot to send the contest into overtime, prompting Richardson to return to his courtside seat. Arkansas won, 103-96.

“There were a number of games that were big for us,” Mayberry says. “I’ve never had any doubt that I made the right decision by going to Arkansas. It was a special time for me.”

The 1990 semifinal loss to Duke by a final score of 97-83 still smarts. UNLV beat Georgia Tech in the other semifinal game and then blew Duke out in the finals.

“I thought we were as good as any team in the country that year,” Mayberry says. “But, you know, I really think the team that lost to Kansas my junior year was even better. We again felt we had a team that was good enough to win a national championship.”

At Arkansas, Mayberry:

– Was the 1991-92 scoring leader, averaging 15.2 points per game

–Was the 1991-92 steals leader with 75

– Was the 1990-91 steals leader with 100

– Led the team in assists as a sophomore, junior and senior

– Finished his college career with 723 field goals

– Made 78 percent of his free throws

– Made 218 three-point baskets

Richardson won his first NCAA title two years after Mayberry graduated. Mayberry is being inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same night as that 1994 team.

“I know all of those guys,” he says.

Mayberry compiled a remarkable record of playing in 328 consecutive NBA regular season games. He didn’t miss a game until his fifth season in the league.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into the NBA,” Mayberry says. “You just never know how it will turn out. I was lucky early in my career to stay away from injuries.”

Mayberrry averaged 5.1 points per game during his NBA career.

He’s back living in Tulsa, scouting for the Golden State Warriors of the NBA.

“It’s a great feeling,” he says of his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. “I was a skinny kid out of Tulsa who was just happy to have a chance to play at Arkansas.”

Mayberry is being modest, of course. He was much more than that. He was, quite simply, one of the best college basketball players in the state’s history.

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Coach Pat Jones: Hall of Famer

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Pat Jones was obsessed with sports when he was growing up in Little Rock.

His heroes in football were University of Arkansas Razorback stars.

When it came to baseball, he would argue with his friends about which one of them would wear Yogi Berra’s and Mickey Mantle’s numbers.

His father would take him to watch the Travelers play baseball “virtually every night” the team was at home.

“Jones said he never wanted to be anything except a coach,” Jimmie Tramel wrote in the Tulsa World. “He wrote a theme paper about coaching while in the seventh grade. He played football for one semester at Arkansas Tech but was advised by his father to transfer to Arkansas. Dad’s reasoning? If you really want to be a coach, you can get exposed to big-time coaching at Arkansas. Dad was right.”

Jones went on to have quite a coaching career, serving as the head coach at Oklahoma State University from 1984-94 after having worked for five years there as an assistant under Jimmy Johnson.

Jones’ teams at Oklahoma State compiled a 62-60-3 record and went 3-1 in bowl games. During the five-season stretch from 1984 through 1988, the Cowboys were 44-15 with records of 10-2 in ’84, 8-4 in ’85, 6-5 in ’86, 10-2 in ’87 and 10-2 in ’88.

Oklahoma State won the Gator Bowl after the 1984 season, the Sun Bowl after the 1987 season and the Holiday Bowl after the 1988 season.

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

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

Jones was born in Memphis in November 1947. His parents, Erwin and Frances Jones, moved to Little Rock the following year. Jones attended the public schools in Little Rock — Pulaski Heights Elementary, Williams Elementary, Forest Heights Junior High School and Hall High School. He was a football letterman at Hall in 1963-64 and played on a state championship team for the Warriors in 1964.

Jones later would tell Tramel that the two best times of his life were that senior football season at Hall and when his first Oklahoma State team defeated South Carolina in the 1984 Gator Bowl to earn a Top 10 ranking. He said the postgame bus ride after the Gator Bowl was “really magic stuff.”

Jones played at Arkansas Tech in 1965 and transferred to Arkansas in 1966, walking on for football and graduating from the university in 1969. He returned home to Little Rock, where he coached football alongside Charles Ripley and Philip Bryan at his old junior high school, Forest Heights. The 1969 team at Forest Heights went 8-0 and won a city championship.

Jones moved up to Hall High School the following season to serve as a defensive coach under the legendary C.W. Keopple. The Warriors went 10-1, 8-2, 9-1 and 7-3 during the four seasons Jones was on Keopple’s staff.

Jones’ move to college football came in 1974 when Frank Broyles brought him on as a graduate assistant at Arkansas. He was an assistant defensive line coach during Broyles’ next-to-last season as head coach in 1975 when the Razorbacks won the Southwest Conference championship and defeated Georgia in the Cotton Bowl. His coaching career then took him to Southern Methodist University in 1976-77 under Ron Meyer, Pittsburgh in 1978 under Jackie Sherrill and then Oklahoma State starting in 1979 under Johnson.

As the head coach at Oklahoma State, Jones coached nine All-America athletes, including Thurman Thomas, Hart Lee Dykes, Leslie O’Neal and Barry Sanders. Dykes ended his career as the Big 8 Conference’s all-time leading receiver, O’Neal was a Lombardi Award finalist in 1985, Thomas finished his career as the Big 8′s second all-time rusher and Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 after shattering numerous Big 8 and NCAA records.

In 1984, Jones was the UPI Big 8 Coach of the Year. He was The Associated Press Big 8 Coach of the Year in 1992. He coached in the 1986 Japan Bowl, the 1988 Hula Bowl and the 1992 Blue-Gray Classic.

After taking some time off from football in 1995, Jones headed to the NFL in 1996 to join Johnson’s staff at Miami. Jones was with the Dolphins through the 2003 season as they won the AFC East in 2000 and made playoff appearances in six of the seasons he was there.

Jones ended his coaching career with the Oakland Raiders, serving on the staff there from 2004-06. He returned to Oklahoma after his retirement from coaching and is now a sports radio personality.

Oklahoma City television reporter Dean Blevins once said of Jones: ”He bucked the system for doing things like wearing a sweatshirt on the sideline with ‘Aggies’ on the front. He used words like ‘bumfuzzled.’ He might be the world record holder for words per minute. He was accessible to the media, where he had no enemies.”

Tramel would later write: “When Pat Jones announced he was resigning his position as Oklahoma State’s head football coach in 1994, a newspaper account of the event indicated he talked for 15 minutes before taking a breather. He said he would stay until every question had been answered. The media tired before he did.”

Tramel described an interview with Jones as one that began with a “monologue that spanned more than 2,400 words. By the time a question was asked, he had broached the subjects of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, integration in Little Rock, playing for a state championship in high school, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and TV coverage of the Korean War.”

Tramel teamed up with Jones to write the book “Pat Jones’ Tales from Oklahoma State Football.”

Fans and reporters loved the fact that Jones never showed a dark side.

“Even when things weren’t going good, he was still pretty much Pat,” said Houston Nutt, who was an assistant coach under Jones.

Jones said he left the NFL for the simple reason that it was no longer fun.

“For some reason, at that level no one is having any fun,” he said. “There was a time when you put up with that. I am past putting up with that. I promise you, you become 58 and you are in one of those nonsense meetings with somebody in their 30s, I ain’t going to put up with that.”

Jones said too many NFL coaches worry about the volume of work rather than the quality of work, often holding meetings just for the sake of meeting.  He seems to be having fun now as a media personality in Oklahoma.

Jones still thinks every day about the lessons he learned as a boy in Little Rock. For example, he reflects often on the 1957 integration crisis at Little Rock Central High School, which came to a head when Jones was 9.

“It was mob violence,” he said. “It’s imprinted in my mind, the faces of the people in the crowd who were hollering obscenities, the hate that was there.”

When he was an assistant at Little Rock Hall, Jones worked hard to get black athletes involved in the football program.

“There weren’t many people who looked like you or me who went to the east end of Little Rock at that time,” he told Tramel. “But we did. We found those kids and got them and said, ‘We want you here.’”

Jones is known for his honesty, integrity and humor.

An example of his humor is a comment he made in 1993 when asked about television commentators: “It’s really irritating when I’m watching highlights and there will be a shot of me on the sidelines and the sportscaster says ‘ol’ Pat’s thinking this, ol’ Pat’s thinking that.’ He doesn’t have any idea what ol’ Pat’s thinking. Ol’ Pat just might be thinking about a Kansas pompom girl.”

Pat Jones is one of a kind.

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Oaklawn’s Terry Wallace: Hall of Famer

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The most recognizable voice in Arkansas?

If you were to guess Terry Wallace of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, you might have the correct answer.

The 2012 race meet has begun, and Wallace’s voice is no longer heard in Hot Springs. Wallace, who retired from the track announcer’s booth at Oaklawn last year after 37 seasons of calling races in the Spa City, set a record for the most consecutive races at a single track — a record that might never be broken.

He hit the 20,000 mark with his call of the third race on March 25, 2010.

He ended the streak at 20,191 calls without a miss following the fourth race on Jan. 28, 2011.

“When someone says Oaklawn, the first thing that comes to mind is Terry Wallace,” said Larry Collmus, the track announcer at Gulfstream Park and Monmouth Park.

Wallace will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame as part of the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 when the organization holds its annual induction banquet on Friday, Feb. 3, at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

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

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

Oaklawn’s owner, Charles J. Cella, once called Wallace’s consecutive race streak “the most incredible record in sports. This record will never be touched. I can’t imagine anyone will come close.”

Wallace came to Oaklawn in 1975 and has been a consistent presence there ever since. He regularly arrived at the track on race days by 7:30 a.m. If a radio station had a live remote broadcast from Oaklawn, he might be there as early as 5 a.m. At home each night, he would work late into the evening handicapping the next day’s races.

Arkansans loved the way Wallace would play on horses’ names with dramatic inflections, pauses and a strong emphasis on certain syllables. Ask any race fan to name a favorite horse that Wallace called, and that person is likely to come up with a name.

Perhaps it was Dragset.

Or Razorback.

Or Chop Chop Tomahawk.

And then there was Boozing.

“The crowd really got into that one when I dragged the name out,” Wallace said.

Wallace’s path to Arkansas was an unlikely one. The Cleveland native majored in modern languages at Xavier University in Cincinnati before spending a year at the Sorbonne, the commonly used name for the famed University of Paris, which was founded in the 12th century.

Wallace planned to be a teacher, and he did just that for several years following college.

“When I was in summer school at Cincinnati, I got a job with some buddies parking cars out at River Downs,” Wallace said. “That led to a job as a runner for the guys in the press box. I started to develop an interest in racing.”

Wallace taught French, first at the junior high level and later at the high school level in Cincinnati. He still would work at River Downs during the summer. Wallace was recording the call of a race there in French one day for his own amusement when the track announcer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. If Wallace would record a few races in English, the announcer would offer a critique.

Wallace was home grading papers one night when he received a call from Latonia Race Course manager Johnny Battaglia (whose oldest son, Mike, has long set the morning line for the Kentucky Derby). Battaglia’s track in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati needed a fill-in announcer. Wallace headed for Latonia, which is now known as Turfway Park.

In the months that followed, Wallace would get to know and occasionally fill in for the famed track announcer Chick Anderson. It was Anderson, on the CBS Sports national telecast, who made perhaps the most famous call in thoroughbred racing history — his description of Secretariat’s stretch run in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Anderson told the nation that the 3-year-old was “moving like a tremendous machine.”

Wallace replaced Anderson at Oaklawn in 1975 when Anderson took the track announcer’s job at Santa Anita.

In his first years in the racing industry, Wallace performed a number of jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. He was even a jockey’s agent for a time. For the Daily Racing Form, he moved from call taker to chart caller, handling a racing circuit that included the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

In December 1974, Wallace received a call from W.T. “Bish” Bishop, the dapper, erudite general manager at Oaklawn. Anderson had handed in his resignation and suggested that Wallace be hired as his replacement.

Bishop took Anderson’s advice, and Wallace was soon on his way to Arkansas.

Wallace continued working at other tracks during the nine months there was no racing at Oaklawn, including calling jockey Steve Cauthen’s maiden win at River Downs.

Wallace called races for 14 years at Ak-Sar-Ben (that’s Nebraska spelled backward) in Omaha, which closed in 1995. He’s a member of the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame. Wallace even called races for three years at Louisiana Downs.

Wallace always has been known for his work ethic.

“The problem with those other tracks was that when I went home at night, I wasn’t in Arkansas,” he said. “I love Hot Springs.”

The people of Arkansas have loved him in return.

His long stay at Oaklawn allowed Wallace to call the races of such greats as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Azeri, Cigar, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Sunny’s Halo and Temperence Hill.

For this one-time French teacher, it has been quite a career.

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Nashville: A peach of a town

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

There wasn’t much traffic on a beautiful Friday morning as my friend Nate Coulter and I traveled west on U.S. Highway 371. We had left Interstate 30 at Prescott and were making our way through Blevins and McCaskill.

Our destination: Nashville, Nate’s hometown and one of my favorite towns in Arkansas.

The people of Nashville have always had an intense pride, as exemplified by their support of the Nashville Scrappers high school football team.

My older sister’s first job out of college was teaching at Nashville. She fell in love with the place. I can remember going there with my parents to visit her and see Jerry Clower perform at the high school football stadium during the regional poultry festival.

On the day Nate and I made the trip, Nashville High School was still looking for a head football coach, and the search was the talk of the town.

One of the best articles I’ve read in recent years was a lengthy piece Kane Webb wrote several years ago for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on the importance of high school football in Nashville. That article is framed on the walls of the Nashville Coca-Cola Bottling Co., a business whose colorful history is also a source of pride for Nashville residents.

Kane, by the way, is now living in Kentucky, where he’s the editor of Louisville magazine. I plan to see him in May when I go to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby.

In an era when the Main Streets in too many Arkansas towns are sad shadows of their former selves, Nashville maintains a vibrant downtown business district. It’s also the home of something that’s rare even in large cities these days — competing newspapers — as different parts of the Graves family publish the Nashville Leader and the Nashville News.

One of the first people of European ancestry to settle in what’s now Nashville was Isaac Cooper Perkins, a farmer and Baptist missionary. There are still plenty of Baptists in these parts, not to mention a healthy population of members of the Church of Christ.

Perkins was a traveling preacher who served congregations from Little Rock to what was then the booming cotton capital of Jefferson, Texas. His earliest land grant in the Nashville area is dated 1836, the year Arkansas became a state. Some local historians, however, believe Perkins first built a house in the area in the 1820s.

Steven Teske tells this story in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture (www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net) about how the town got its name: “In 1856, the name of the post office was changed to Nashville at the request of new resident Michael Womack, who felt that the name Hell’s Valley was inappropriate for a community consisting largely of Baptists. Although it is not known why he chose the name Nashville, many speculate that he named the settlement for Nashville, Tenn.

“By that time, two Baptist congregations had been established, one planted by Perkins in 1835 and another that broke away from that congregation in 1853. At least two schoolhouses were built in the area during the 1850s: Community Rock Hill School and Mount Olive School, both of which had one room. The Mine Creek Male and Female Academy was also advertised in the late 1850s. It appears to have been established in 1854.”

Howard County was formed in 1873, having been carved out of parts of Hempstead, Sevier, Polk and Pike counties. The first county seat was Center Point, but the county seat moved to Nashville in 1905. The Arkansas & Louisiana Railroad had built a line between Nashville and Washington in Hempstead County in 1883.

The Nashville News was established in 1878, a telegraph line was established in 1884 and the first phone line came in 1887. The biggest boost to the economy, though, came in the early 1900s when Bert Johnson planted a 100-acre demonstration peach orchard near the town. That orchard was a success, and the peach industry flourished for several decades.

There eventually were more than 13,000 acres planted in peach trees with 1.25 million bushels produced each year.

The Nashville Ice, Coal & Light Co. began electric service in 1911, Main Street was paved in 1929 and natural gas arrived that same year.

In 1938, William T. Dillard established his first department store at Nasvhille.

Most of the peach orchards are now gone, replaced by cattle, poultry and pine trees.

Over at the Nashville Coca-Cola Bottling Co., work continues at one of the oldest family-owned businesses in the state.

Last June, the company, run by four generations of the Wilson family, celebrated 100 years of bottling Coke.

A history of the company released for the occasion noted: “The year 1896 saw the birth of Nashville’s third-oldest industry. First had been the lumber mills, then the woolen mill. Now came the Nashville Bottling Co., started by J.H. Moore.

“Ownership later passed to Hill Brothers Wholesale Grocery. Soda pop, deriving its name from the spring stopper bottle, was being bottled by a black man named Hence Wilder. When W.W. Wilson and his son Forrest bought the grocery and bottling works on Main Street, Hence Wilder continued to bottle for them.

“On Jan. 1, 1911, W.W. and Forrest Wilson obtained a contract to bottle Coca-Cola, a drink developed in 1886 by a pharmacist and wholesale-retail druggist in Atlanta. That same year, Coca-Cola received a registered trademark. All machinery used in bottling was hand operated.”

The first accurate sales records show that 315 cases of Coke were sold at Nashville in August 1914. The first bottles were brown, but a 1915 patent was secured by the Atlanta-based company for the contour green bottle that would become recognized around the world as a Coke bottle.

The bottling company at Nashville survived sugar rationing in World War I, a cotton bust and the Great Depression. In addition to Coke, the Wilsons bottled Nu-Grape, Orange Crush, Lemon Crush and a Hence Wilder secret formula known as Hot-Shot.

The company moved to a new building on Sypert Street next to a blacksmith shop in 1921. Operations were expanded to De Queen in the 1920s.

Forrest Wilson took over the company following his father’s death in 1932. Forrest’s son, Ramon Wilson, acquired stock in the company and became a full-time employee in 1943.

After serving in the Marines in 1944-45, including being a part of the invasion of Iwo Jima, Ramon Wilson returned to the family company. He’s 88 now but was in his office Friday morning to greet Nate and me. He was wearing a Scrappers windbreaker, of course.

As his son Kenneth and his daughter Elizabeth listened, Mr. Wilson regaled us with stories of the company’s history.

In 1948, Ramon Wilson helped oversee the installation of a bottling machine that could produce 63 bottles per minute. In 1953, the Mena Coca-Cola Bottling Co. was purchased. That added Polk, Scott and Montgomery counties to a territory that already included Howard, Hempstead, Sevier, Pike and Little River counties.

Kenneth Wilson joined the company in 1977, helped oversee the move to the company’s current building in 1981 and became company president in 1988.

On April 18, 1988, Kenneth Wilson signed an agreement acquiring Dr Pepper franchise rights for much of southwest Arkansas. Let me put it this way: They like their Dr Pepper in southwest Arkansas. By 1999, the Nashville company was the highest per capita bottler of Dr Pepper in the world.

For years, there was a sign out front that proclaimed: “#1 Dr Pepper Bottler In The World.”

Elizabeth has covered the walls of the facility with memorabilia, turning it into a museum of sorts — a Coca-Cola museum, a Nashville museum, a Wilson family museum. There are even old Orchard bottles, a local brand named in honor of the peach industry. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Orchard drinks were bottled in peach, orange, grape, lemon and lime flavors. In fact, the Wilson family owned its own peach orchard at one time.

Driven forward through the years by business leaders such as Ramon Wilson, Nashville remains a peach of a town.

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The Hamptons of the Delta

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

It has been gratifying to hear from so many Lake Village natives about a newspaper column I wrote this week that was headlined “Hamptons of the Delta.”

Here’s how it started: “From across the country, bright young people come to the Delta areas of Arkansas and Mississippi to work in public schools as part of the Teach for America program. Attracted to Lake Chicot, the largest oxbow lake in North America, and the restaurants near the lake, these students sometimes refer to Lake Village as the Hamptons of the Delta.

“Don’t laugh.

“Lake Chicot, which runs 22 miles in a curve and covers almost 5,000 acres, was the place where Charles Lindbergh conducted his first night flight in 1923. Long before the huge reservoirs created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers covered much of Arkansas, Lake Chicot was a prime attraction. The Lake Chicot Water Festival once hosted the national championship hydroplane races. Now, it seems, Lake Village is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance.

“People have been known to drive for hours to buy tamales from Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, have dinner at The Cow Pen or the LakeShore Cafe, shop at the Paul Michael Co. or browse at Nonie’s Antiques.”

I found the term “Hamptons of the Delta” in a short piece that ran last July on the website www.inarkansas.com. The piece was about Brianne Connelly, a Wisconsin native who came to Lake Village in 2007 with the Teach for America program.

“The sunsets over Lake Chicot are the prettiest I have ever seen,” she said.

She added this about her family members who came to visit Chicot County: “They love the sunshine, the weather, the beautiful sunsets, the slow pace and the extremely friendly people. They would definitely say the people of Arkansas are the most hospitable they’ve come across.”

I headed to Lake Village the week after Christmas with Tom DeBlack of Arkansas Tech University, the eminent Arkansas historian who’s writing a book about the Lakeport Plantation.

The plantation was established in the early 1830s by Joel Johnson, who came from a prestigious Kentucky family. By the time of his death in June 1846, Johnson owned more than 3,700 acres and 95 slaves.

His oldest son, Lycurgus Leonidas Johnson, received the biggest share of his estate. By 1860, Lycurgus Johnson owned more than 4,400 acres and 155 slaves.

In 1858-59, he began construction of a plantation home that faced east toward the Mississippi River. The plantation remained in the Johnson family until 1927 when it was sold to Sam Epstein for $30,000. Epstein, who had been born in Russia in 1875, was part of a large number of European Jews who came to the Delta.

When Epstein died in 1944, son-in-law Ben Angel took over the family operations. Ben Angel’s son, Sam Epstein Angel, now operates the Epstein Land Co. and its 13,000 acres. Sam Angel has long served as a member of the Mississippi River Commission. His son, also named Sam, formerly served in the Arkansas Legislature.

The Lakeport Plantation house was donated by the Angel family in 2001 to Arkansas State University. Following extensive renovations, the house opened to the public in September 2007.

On a bright winter afternoon, I was given the grand tour by Blake Wintory. Tours are given at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each Monday through Friday. The home is 2.5 miles south of The Cow Pen (which is on U.S. 82 just before you cross the new bridge over the Mississippi River).

Turn right off U.S. 82 onto Arkansas Highway 142. You will see the home sitting in the middle of a cotton field next to the levee.

The website is lakeport.astate.edu.

If you wish to call ahead, the phone number is (870) 265-6031.

My suggestion for a fun day in the area:

– Take the 10 a.m. tour at Lakeport

– Have lunch with Miss Rhoda

– Visit Paul Michael, Nonie’s and other shops at Lake Village

– Cross the new bridge, drive into Greenville and browse at McCormick Book Inn. Walk through the adjacent cemetery afterward and find the Percy family plot

– Cross back into Arkansas and have dinner at The Cow Pen

Lake Chicot is one of this state’s most prominent natural features.

“Geologists estimate that Lake Chicot likely separated from the Mississippi River several centuries ago when the river cut a shorter pathway to the east,” Guy Lancaster writes for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “The expedition of Hernando de Soto likely touched upon the site of the lake; after his death and burial near Lake Village, his body was exhumed and thrown into the Mississippi River. Many historians today believe that part of the river became Lake Chicot. … The lake was given its name by later French explorers, being derived from a French word meaning ‘stump,’ in reference to the many cypress knees that dot the shore.

“White settlement of the area began in the late 1820s. Before the Civil War, slave-driven agriculture flourished in the vicinity of Lake Chicot, originally called by American settlers Old River Lake. Most of the slaves worked on plantations situated in the vicinity of Lake Chicot, where they worked primarily on cotton.

“Sunnyside Plantation, to give one example, was founded in the 1830s on the inside of the C-shaped curve of the lake; in the 1890s, the plantation was the site of a large Italian immigrant community.

“In 1860, just before the Civil War, Chicot County slaves accounted for 7,512 of the total population of 9,234, or about 81 percent of the population. On June 6, 1864, Union and Confederate forces fought along the south shore of Lake Chicot in the Engagement at Old River Lake (also known as the Engagement at Ditch Bayou), the largest Civil War engagement to occur in the county and the last of any real significance in the state. Union forces succeeded in driving the Confederates away from the Mississippi River, thus making travel on the river relatively safe.”

The Great Flood of 1927 broke a dam on Connerly Bayou, which had prevented silt from washing into the lake. The lake began to fill up, and the water was no longer clear.

Bowing to pressure from the state’s attorney general, the local drainage district built a dam on Ditch Bayou in 1932 in an attempt to restore the lake to its previous condition. But increased clearing of the surrounding land for row-crop agriculture made problems worse.

Lancaster writes that the lower three-quarters of the lake, south of where Connerly Bayou enters, became “a polluted and sediment-laden waste, its muddy brown water in dramatic contrast with the bright blue of the upper part of the lake, which was isolated by an earthen dam constrcuted by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission in 1948 precisely to protect that portion of the lake.

“In 1956, a concrete dam was constructed across Ditch Bayou in order to maintain the lake’s water level, but there were continuing problems with mud and silt entering the lake. The lake’s bass population died out as a result. However, the waters on the protected northern quarter proved a regional attraction, resulting in the creation of Lake Chicot State Park on the northern shore in 1957.”

In 1985, a pumping plant was completed to divert runoff around the lake. The Corps of Engineers drew down the lake that year to compact the sediment at the bottom and then seeded the lake with plants that would provide food for fish. The lake was restocked with game fish.

It was an amazing rebirth.

Lake Chicot is clear again and filled with bass, bream, catfish and crappie. That old sign at the entrance to downtown Lake Village — “The Home of Good Fishing,” it proclaims – once more rings true.

Lake Village has been the Chicot County seat since 1857. The city’s rich ethnic mix has come from the migration of Jews, Italians, Chinese and other groups to the Delta through the decades.

Austin Corbin, a New York businessman, bought the Sunnyside Plantation in 1886. In 1895, he made an agreement with the mayor of Rome to bring 100 Italian families to work on the plantation. A number of those families later moved to Tontitown in Washington County. Some stayed, though, and it’s still easy to find Italian surnames in the Lake Village phone directory.

The Hamptons of the Delta.

I like that nickname for this unique Arkansas town.

I like it a lot.

 

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