Archive for September, 2016

The Shockers at War Memorial

Friday, September 30th, 2016

Thanks to Nate Olson of Simmons Bank for his help on this story. For more, please go to our Simmons Bank blog at www.beyondthebank.com.

Thousands of Arkansans have memories of University of Arkansas football games they’ve attended through the years at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Those who were there on Oct. 24, 1970, will never forget when the Wichita State Shockers came to town.

As far as football games go, Arkansas’ game against Alcorn State from Mississippi at War Memorial Stadium this Saturday likely won’t be memorable.

But a ceremony on the field should be.

Surviving members of Wichita State’s 1970 football team will attend the Arkansas-Alcorn State game. A plane crash that killed 31 people is at the heart of this story.

Why Arkansas?

Why Little Rock?

Why War Memorial Stadium?

Read on.

Chuck Dicus, a former Razorback and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, now heads the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation in Little Rock. A business associate met a former Wichita State football player named John Potts, and they began talking about what happened in 1970. The business associate mentioned her conversation to Dicus this spring and said he should reach out to Potts.

Dicus called, and the idea of a reunion with both teams in attendance was born.

On Oct. 2, 1970, two chartered planes left Wichita to carry the Wichita State football team to a game in Logan, Utah, against Utah State.

Most of the starters were on what was known as the Gold plane.

Others were on what was known as the Black plane.

Olson picks up the story at that point: “While in Denver, several players on the Gold plane asked their pilots to take a scenic route. The players wanted to pass over the Eisenhower Tunnel, on which they had worked as part of a road crew the previous summer. When the plane tried to reach a higher altitude, the cargo load proved too heavy. The plane became trapped in a box canyon, clipped the trees for 400 yards and crashed. Some passengers survived the initial impact but perished when the aircraft burst into flames.

“The Black plane stuck with its original flight plan, which called for it to fly north for 60 miles to avoid the tallest mountains before heading west to Utah. In Logan, the Black plane was sitting at the airport as the players wondered where the other plane was.”

Ray Burford, a player who was on the Black plane and is now a vice president and commercial loan officer for Simmons Bank in Wichita, remembers one of the players joking, “Maybe they crashed.”

Olson writes: “The players knew something was wrong when airport officials pulled assistant coaches off the aircraft for a discussion. When the coaches came back on the plane, they were visibly shaken. Burford says the team was taken to a hotel where the surviving players spent the night. The coaches made the players stay in their rooms to avoid the reporters who had gathered to cover the story. The team boarded a bus for Salt Lake City the next day and took a commercial flight back to Wichita. The bus broke down on the way. When they arrived at the airport, some players opted to drive home. Burford says the days that followed the crash were spent at memorial services for players and staff members. Despite the grief, the players voted to continue the season.”

The NCAA didn’t allow freshmen to play in varsity games in those days but made an exception for Wichita State.

An Oct. 10 home game against Southern Illinois was canceled.

An Oct. 17 home game against Cincinnati was rescheduled for later in the season.

That meant that the Oct. 24 game against Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium would be the Shockers’ first game since the crash.

Bruce James was an All-American defensive end on the 1970 Arkansas squad and now lives in Little Rock. He remembers the Razorback head coach, Frank Broyles, telling him that he would start but only play four downs. Broyles later told members of the scout team and walk-on players that if they could get to Little Rock, they would play. For many of them, it was the lone varsity game in which they would compete.

“The Shockers took a commercial flight from Wichita to Little Rock,” Olson writes. “The only available flight brought the team to Little Rock a day earlier than normal road trips. Players were allowed to explore downtown Little Rock. Little Rock residents left cards and other memorials at the team hotel. James says he remembers that the captains, including one survivor on crutches, had tears in their eyes. When the Shockers took the field, the crowd stood and gave them an ovation that Burford says ‘felt like 10 minutes.’

“James recalls that a number of Arkansas fans decided to root for the underdogs. Burford says the Shockers left the field proud of their effort. Wichita State discontinued football in 1986, but there’s a constant reminder of that 1970 team on campus. A monument was built soon after the tragedy, and Burford says that every year the surviving players gather for a memorial service. This year that service will be held in Little Rock on Sunday following the Arkansas-Alcorn State game.”

Kevin Crass, a Little Rock attorney who now chairs the War Memorial Stadium Commission, was a young boy from Pine Bluff in attendance at the 1970 game.

“There have been some great moments at War Memorial Stadium, but that has to be right up there,” Crass says.

When the Gold plane crashed about 1 p.m. on Oct. 2 on Mount Trelease, which is 40 miles west of Denver, there were 31 people killed — 14 players, 14 staff members or boosters and three crew members. Twenty-nine of them died at the scene. Athlete John Taylor and trainer Tom Reeves died later in hospitals.

Eight players and the co-pilot survived.

The Wichita State athletic director and his wife were killed.

The Shocker head coach and his wife also were killed.

The chairman of the Shocker Club and his wife were killed.

A Kansas state representative and his wife were killed.

A couple who had won a Shocker Club membership drive and were awarded the trip to Logan were killed.

Burford says he often thinks about the day of the crash. He also thinks about that night in Little Rock later in the month, the sea of red in the stands and the sustained standing ovation.

“It just shows so much about this city, the state and Razorback fans,” James says. “Everybody here wanted them to know how much they cared. It was an awesome moment. It made me proud to be a Razorback.”

The former Arkansas and Wichita State players will participate in a tailgate party Saturday morning and then be honored on the field.

“I see it as an opportunity for our team to show their team how much we respected them and still do today,” Dicus says. “They’re still going through it every single day, and it’s going to be a moving, emotional time.”

Burford, who was a sophomore in 1970, was playing messenger guard with sophomore Richard Stines, who died in the crash. The two players would rotate with the play call.

“You don’t process something like that,” Burford says of the crash. “It’s pretty tough. You lose your head coach and teammates, and three or four of those guys were people I had played against since I was in grade school.”

Burford had been scheduled to fly on the Gold plane. He instead got on the Black plane, which he had ridden earlier in the season. His parents were distraught after seeing their son’s name on the Gold plane flight manifest.

Gus Grebe, Wichita State’s radio play-by-play man, was on the Black plane. Burford gave Grebe a novel to read. During the refueling stop in Denver, a player told Grebe he should be on the Gold plane. Grebe declined the offer. He said he would stay on the Black plane since he had left the book there.

Burford knows the memories will come flooding back at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

“When we were in the locker room together, and then when we got the standing ovation, we knew we had done the right thing by playing,” he says. “We’re coming back to Little Rock to get a little bit more of that feeling again. It’s like coming full circle. It’s closure.”

Burford finished his college football career at Wichita State and went to professional training camp with the Houston Oilers of the NFL in 1974. He later played briefly for the Chicago Bears’ developmental team in Madison, Wisc.

Burford eventually returned to the Wichita area to teach and coach high school football. At the time, he was the youngest high school head coach in the state. After three years, a Wichita State booster hired him to work for a real estate development company. The company’s owner was killed in an accident a year later, and Burford took a job as the top assistant coach at Wichita North High School. Prior to the 1978 season, he was offered a job at what was then the Federal Land Bank. Burford left coaching for good. He worked for the Federal Land Bank for more than 12 years and later moved into commercial community banking.

Burford has been married for 38 years and has a daughter who lives in Charlottesville, Va. He says several of his teammates struggled for years to come to terms with the crash. Burford was determined to live life to the fullest after that fateful day.

“I took very few things for granted after that,” he says. “I appreciated things more than I had previously. … You looked at the opportunities going forward as God-given opportunities. We knew we better count our blessings and do the best we could.”

“It’s important that we as Razorback fans, and we as the Razorback team of 1970, show how much we think of them,” Dicus says of Saturday’s reunion. “Our hearts are still with them.”

Ed Plopa, a sophomore receiver on the 1970 team, told the Wichita Eagle: “They were so kind to ask us down, we need to be there. We’re very excited and, I guess, astounded by the fact that the Razorbacks think enough of us to invite us down there and be so hospitable.”

Paul Suellentrop writes for the Wichita newspaper: “Players on both sides of that 1970 game mark it as one of the most memorable experiences of their football careers. Newspaper accounts describe the crowd of 40,000 giving the Shockers a minute-long standing ovation. Telegrams and cards with well-wishes filled a training table in the locker room. Arkansas won 62-0. WSU played with 46 athletes, 39 of them freshmen and sophomores.”

In a 2005 story marking the 25th anniversary of the game in Little Rock, former player John Hoheisel said: “Just going out there, the standing ovation, it gave you butterflies in your tummy. You learn to appreciate people and, when things happen, how they’ll gather around you.”

In that same story, former player Bruce Featherstone said of the Arkansans they met on that trip: “People would start crying. They wanted to say something and didn’t know what to say. It was just overwhelming.”

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College football: Week 5

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

So long, Les Miles.

Welcome back to the Southeastern Conference head coaching ranks, Crazy Ed Orgeron.

It was quite a week in the SEC.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn relinquished his play-calling duties and traded in his visor for a cap. Auburn didn’t score a touchdown, but six field goals were enough for an 18-13 Tiger victory that cost Miles his job.

To the west in Arlington, Texas, it was ugly for the Razorbacks in the second half. Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 24 is one to forget.

The game:

— Marked the fifth consecutive time for the Aggies to beat Arkansas.

— Marked the sixth consecutive year for Arkansas to lose its SEC opener.

— Made Kevin Sumlin 5-0 as a head coach against Arkansas.

— Made Bret Bielema 0-4 as a head coach against the Aggies.

Austin Allen was 28 of 42 passing for 371 yards, but Texas A&M scored 17 points off Arkansas turnovers. The game marked the first time for the two schools to meet as ranked opponents since 2011. Arkansas leads the overall series, 42-29-3, and the series is tied 3-3 in games played at what’s now AT&T Stadium.

Little Rock gets its token game on Saturday as the Razorbacks play an Alcorn State team that lost earlier in the season to a UAPB squad that’s now 1-3.

We were 5-2 on the picks last week. We made the mistake of picking Arkansas. And, of course, we picked Arkansas State to beat UCA in Jonesboro. Who could have seen that upset coming?

The record for the season is now 26-9.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 5:

Arkansas 55, Alcorn State 14 — Look at the bright side. The 11 a.m. start allows you to have brunch at your tailgate party on the War Memorial golf course. Who doesn’t like brunch? Alcorn is the defending SWAC champion but has struggled this year. The first scheduled game against Bethune-Cookman at Daytona Beach, Fla., was called off due to severe weather. That was followed by a narrow 21-18 victory over Alabama State and losses of 45-43 in three overtimes to UAPB and 43-18 to Grambling. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing the dreaded Wave in War Memorial Stadium by the third quarter of this one.

UCA 29, Abilene Christian 19 — How about those Bears beating Arkansas State in Jonesboro? A crowd of 28,012 looked on as UCA won 28-23 to move to 3-1. ASU is off to an 0-4 start. It was the first time for UCA to defeat an Arkansas State team since 1937. And it was the first time for ASU to lose to an FCS team since the Thanksgiving Day loss to Nicholls State in 2001 that cost Joe Hollis his job. Arkansas State fell to the Bears despite leading 469-382 in total yardage. The Bears should be feeling good about themselves as they make the long trip to Abilene, Texas, this week to take on an 0-4 Abilene Christian team in a Southland Conference affair. Abilene Christian has lost 37-21 to Air Force, 55-52 to Northern Colorado, 27-24 to Houston Baptist and 41-30 to Stephen F. Austin.

Alabama State 15, UAPB 13 — Alabama State is 0-4 with losses of 26-13 to Texas-San Antonio, 21-18 to Alcorn State, 64-6 to Southern University and 31-27 to Texas Southern. UAPB fell to 1-3 when the Golden Lions lost 32-28 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock last Saturday afternoon to a Jackson State team that came in with an 0-3 record. Jackson State jumped out to a 15-0 lead and never trailed. So we have a Golden Lion team that upset the defending SWAC champions from Alcorn State on ESPNU but has also lost at home to an NCAA Division II squad. As usual, the Golden Lions are impossible to figure out. When in doubt, give a slight edge to the home team. This game is in Montgomery.

Harding 39, Ouachita 28 — Few series in college football have had games decided in the final minute for three consecutive seasons. That has been the case in this series with Harding winning at the end of the game in Arkadelphia three years ago and Ouachita winning with late scores in each of the past two seasons. Harding and Ouachita have been two of the Big Three in the Great American Conference since the GAC was formed in 2011. The difference is that Ouachita won conference titles in 2011 and 2014, and Harding has yet to win a conference championship (Henderson won league titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015). The Bison faithful think this is their year to bring the trophy to Searcy. They have Ouachita at home this week and Henderson in Arkadelphia next week. Harding is strong on both offense and defense. Ouachita has a stellar offense, but its defense struggles. Harding went to 4-0 on Saturday with a 57-7 victory over UAM. Ouachita is 3-1, having defeated Northwestern Oklahoma by a final score of 42-34 as sophomore Kris Oliver from Arkadelphia rushed for 237 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

Henderson 40, Arkansas Tech 27 — The 4-0 Reddies remain in the Top 10 of NCAA Division II. Following a lightning delay of more than two hours on the road last week, Henderson took care of business against 0-4 Southwestern Oklahoma by a final score of 45-17. The Reddies are on the road again this week in Russellville. They have a 23-game road winning streak and a 24-0 road record against GAC teams since the conference was formed. That’s nothing short of amazing. Tech fell to 2-2 Saturday with a 28-21 loss at Southern Arkansas. The only hope for the Wonder Boys is that the Reddies already are looking ahead to Harding.

Oklahoma Baptist 37, UAM 33 — UAM dropped to 1-3 with its loss to Harding. The Bisons rolled to a 36-0 halftime lead and finished the game with 435 yards of offense, compared with just 131 yards for the Weevils. UAM had a negative 25 rushing yards, while the Bisons rolled up 378 yards on the ground. Oklahoma Baptist comes into Monticello with a 2-2 record. The wins have been by scores of 19-15 over Arkansas Tech and 36-34 (in three overtimes) over East Central Oklahoma. The losses have come by scores of 38-7 to Harding and 42-22 to Southeastern Oklahoma.

Southern Arkansas 41, Southern Nazarene 18 — The Muleriders improved to 3-1 with the win over Arkansas Tech. Southern Arkansas scored a touchdown with 7:24 left in the game to break a 21-21 tie. Southern Nazarene is 0-4 and is again the conference whipping boy. The losses have been by scores of 46-0 to Arkansas Tech, 63-7 to Harding, 23-6 to East Central Oklahoma and 45-14 to Southeastern Oklahoma.

 

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Rex’s Rankings: After four weeks

Monday, September 26th, 2016

The team we had atop the rankings from the preseason through Week 3 — Fayetteville — lost last Friday.

It really wasn’t much of a surprise since Fayetteville always seems to lose to Bentonville during the regular season (the playoffs can be a different matter).

So Bentonville makes a big jump from No. 8 to No. 3 while the Purple Dogs fall from No. 1 to No. 4.

Time will tell. There’s a lot of football left.

For now, we’ll put Cabot in the No. 1 spot. The Panthers are 4-0 following a 35-10 victory over Little Rock Catholic.

It seems strange not to have a northwest Arkansas school atop the rankings, doesn’t it?

Here are our rankings following four weeks of the high school football season:

Overall

  1. Cabot
  2. Greenwood
  3. Bentonville
  4. Fayetteville
  5. North Little Rock
  6. Jonesboro
  7. Springdale Har-Ber
  8. Pulaski Academy
  9. Pine Bluff
  10. Russellville

Class 7A

  1. Cabot
  2. Bentonville
  3. Fayetteville
  4. North Little Rock
  5. Springdale Har-Ber

Class 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Jonesboro
  3. Pine Bluff
  4. Russellville
  5. West Memphis

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Sylvan Hills
  4. Morrilton
  5. White Hall

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Nashville
  3. Shiloh Christian
  4. Robinson
  5. Ashdown

Class 3A

  1. Glen Rose
  2. Prescott
  3. Charleston
  4. Bald Knob
  5. Elkins

Class 2A

  1. England
  2. Danville
  3. Mount Ida
  4. Hector
  5. Des Arc

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College football: Week 4

Monday, September 19th, 2016

The Razorbacks are 3-0 for the first time since 2013.

Arkansas’ 42-3 victory over my wife’s alma mater at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium last Saturday night was little more than a scrimmage. The Hogs outgained the Bobcats 467-105 and outrushed Texas State 226-22. That’s the fewest rushing yards allowed by an Arkansas team since the Texas Bowl in 2014.

Arkansas has scored 40 or more points in eight of its past 10 games.

The victory over Texas State makes Bret Bielema 39-4 as a head coach in regular-season nonconference games. Arkansas improved to 24-1 against schools currently playing in the Sun Belt Conference, and Texas State fell to 0-5 against schools currently playing in the Southeastern Conference.

Now it’s on to Arlington, Texas, for a battle of ranked teams that will air late Saturday night on ESPN. Texas A&M is the higher-ranked team, but Arkansas might be due after having lost the past two seasons in overtime to the Aggies.

We were 7-1 on the picks last week, missing only on UAPB’s upset victory at Alcorn State in three overtimes. That makes the record 21-7 for the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 4:

Arkansas 32, Texas A&M 31 — The Aggies gained national attention on the first Saturday of the season when they upset a UCLA team that came into College Station ranked No. 16. The 31-24 overtime victory occurred with a CBS national television audience looking on. Texas A&M had its own scrimmage a week later with a 67-0 victory over Prairie View A&M from the SWAC. Last Saturday, the Aggies went on the road for the first time this season and came away from Auburn with a 29-16 win. The Aggies had 478 yards of offense as Gus Malzahn’s Tigers fell to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in SEC play. Trevor Knight passed for 247 yards for Texas A&M. The previous two games between Arkansas and Texas A&M went into overtime. This latest edition of the series should prove just as entertaining.

Arkansas State 40, UCA 30 — It has been a rough start to the 2016 season for Arkansas State. The Red Wolves fell to 0-3 last Friday night with a 34-20 loss to Utah State in Logan, Utah. Utah State, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, is now 2-1. The home team jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and led 24-0 at halftime. The Red Wolves had 354 yards of offense but also had 18 penalties for 129 yards. Even though UCA is an FCS team, the Bears might be able to hang around in Jonesboro on Saturday night, at least for three quarters. UCA moved to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the Southland Conference last Saturday with a 24-10 win in Conway over 0-3 Northwestern State from Louisiana. UCA had 227 yards on the ground and a nine-minute advantage in time of possession. Antwon Wells led the Bears with 129 yards on 25 carries.

Jackson State 21, UAPB 19 — As usual, the Golden Lions are hard to figure out. They looked awful in an opening 44-0 loss to Tennessee State and then came home and lost to an NCAA Division II school, Panhandle State of Oklahoma. So what happened next? They ventured down to Lorman, Miss., last Thursday night to take on the defending SWAC champions from Alcorn State in a nationally televised game on ESPNU and came away with that 45-43 victory in three overtimes. Down by 16 points with 5:55 left in regulation, UAPB scored two touchdowns and converted two-point conversions after both of them to force overtime. The third two-point conversion of the evening won the game in the third overtime. Brandon Duncan passed for 505 yards for UAPB. Jackson State, this week’s opponent at War Memorial Stadium, is 0-3 following losses of 63-13 to UNLV, 40-26 to Tennessee State and 35-14 to Grambling. Can the Golden Lions make it two wins in a row? I never know what to expect.

Henderson 41, Southwestern Oklahoma 25 — The Reddies are 3-0 and continue to move up in the national rankings. They rolled to a 62-23 victory over 1-2 Northwestern Oklahoma in Arkadelphia last Saturday afternoon in a game that saw them take a 31-0 lead before Northwestern even had a first down. The Reddies outgained the Rangers 592-305. Southwestern Oklahoma was expected to contend for a conference title this year but has been a disappointment. The Bulldogs fell to 0-3 Saturday with a loss at Ouachita.

Ouachita 49, Northwestern Oklahoma 33 — The Tigers rebounded from their upset loss at Southeastern Oklahoma with a 48-28 win in Arkadelphia over Southwestern Oklahoma on Saturday night. Ouachita quarterback Austin Warford, a junior from Malvern, was named the Great American Conference’s offensive player of the week after rushing for 144 yards and passing for another 268 yards. Warford is the leading rusher in the conference and leads all quarterbacks in NCAA Division II in rushing yardage.

Southern Arkansas 29, Arkansas Tech 27 — Both teams are 2-1 and needing a win to realistically stay in the race for a conference crown. Tech, which finished 9-3 last year, opened with an easy victory over Southern Nazarene and then was upset at Oklahoma Baptist. Last Saturday night, the Wonder Boys struggled before finally posting a 38-31 win over 1-2 UAM. Tech quarterback Ty Reasnor threw for 330 yards. Southern Arkansas won its first two games against Southwestern Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma before falling by 21 points at Harding on Saturday night. It was the 12th consecutive year for SAU to lose to Harding. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Harding 50, UAM 28 — The Bisons are 3-0 and seem positioned to challenge Henderson for the conference crown. In the 35-14 win over Southern Arkansas on Saturday, Harding finished with 459 yards of offense, with 385 of that coming on the ground. The Harding defense, meanwhile, held the Muleriders to just 275 yards of offense. The game is in Monticello, but the Boll Weevils (who lost to Northwestern Oklahoma in the opener, upset Southwestern Oklahoma and then lost to Arkansas Tech) don’t appear to have enough athletes to hang with the Bisons.

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Rex’s Rankings: After three weeks

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Lightning and heavy rain caused problems at a number of high school games in the western part of the state on Friday (Pine Bluff at Fort Smith Northside was called off), but there were few changes in the rankings.

Top-ranked Fayetteville made Arkansas high school football look good with a 35-25 victory over Bishop Dunne of Dallas.

Greenwood continued to look strong in a 35-12 victory over Alma.

Cabot and North Little Rock rolled to easy victories over Little Rock schools.

Jonesboro has lost its starting quarterback to injury but didn’t seem to miss a beat in a 69-34 victory over Little Rock Catholic at War Memorial Stadium.

Springdale Har-Ber lost, but it was to Jenks, Okla., one of the top high school football programs in the country.

Here are the rankings after three weeks of the high school football season:

Overall

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Greenwood
  3. Cabot
  4. North Little Rock
  5. Jonesboro
  6. Springdale Har-Ber
  7. Pulaski Academy
  8. Bentonville
  9. Pine Bluff
  10. Benton

Class 7A

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Cabot
  3. North Little Rock
  4. Springdale Har-Ber
  5. Bentonville

Class 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Jonesboro
  3. Pine Bluff
  4. Benton
  5. Russellville

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Sylvan Hills
  4. Little Rock McClellan
  5. Nettleton

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Nashville
  3. Shiloh Christian
  4. Robinson
  5. Arkadelphia

Class 3A

  1. Glen Rose
  2. Prescott
  3. Charleston
  4. Bald Knob
  5. Benton Harmony Grove

Class 2A

  1. England
  2. Danville
  3. Mount Ida
  4. Hector
  5. Rison

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The First Tee

Friday, September 16th, 2016

It’s a safe bet that Jack Stephens didn’t think about golf when he was growing up in Prattsville during the Great Depression.

As people tried to scratch out a living from the red clay soil in the pine woods of Grant County, there wasn’t much time for golf.

Stephens died in July 2005 at age 81. One way his legacy lives on is through the First Tee program.

I remember well that spring day in 2001 when the guest list at the First Tee of Central Arkansas complex in south Little Rock — the former Rock Creek Golf Course — consisted of former President George H.W. Bush, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.

They had come to Arkansas to honor Stephens for his $5 million contribution that helped start The First Tee program nationally. The goal was to get more children involved in the sport and teach them life lessons along the way.

The First Tee of Central Arkansas became a model program for the country.

Jack Stephens was among the most successful business figures in Arkansas during the 20th century, joining his older brother Witt in earning Stephens Inc. a spot among the nation’s largest investment banks.

Jack Stephens also became an icon in the world of golf even though he didn’t begin playing the sport seriously until he was 36.

Because of his many business connections, Stephens was invited to join the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia in 1962. I had the honor of working with him closely for a year after I moved back to Arkansas from Washington, D.C., in late 1989. I learned that he wasn’t one for social events, small talk or society climbers. That’s why the story his son Warren told when Jack Stephens was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 rang so true.

According to Warren, his father had walked out of a boring social gathering at Augusta. He was walking alone along the course when someone spoke to him. The man who spoke was sitting on the porch of a cabin overlooking the course. A conversation ensued. That conversation led to a friendship between Jack Stephens and the founder of the Augusta National Golf Club, Bobby Jones.

In 1975, Stephens became a member of the executive committee at Augusta.

In 1991, he became only the fourth chairman in the history of the club. He served in that role until 1998.

After turning over the duties of chairman to Hootie Johnson, Stephens was named chairman emeritus.

Las Vegas-based writer Jack Sheehan said this about Jack Stephens: “Most golfers recognize Stephens as the soft-spoken gentleman with a buttery Southern drawl who presided over Butler Cabin ceremonies from 1992-98, including Tiger Woods’ historic 12-stroke win in 1997, the Nick Faldo-Greg Norman drama of ’96 and Ben Crenshaw’s emotional ‘win it for Harvey Penick’ triumph in 1995. One of the few structures allowed on the grounds at Augusta is the Stephens Cabin, a naming privilege that put Jack in company with Bobby Jones, Cliff Roberts and President Dwight Eisenhower.

“When Tiger shot 270 to win by 12 strokes, the word spread quickly that the members would try to Tiger-proof the course. Stephens didn’t seem in a particular rush. When someone asked what he’d do if Tiger were to shoot even lower scores in coming years, Jack replied, ‘I suppose we’ll anoint him.”’

At the time of the 2001 First Tee dedication ceremony in Little Rock, Byron Nelson was 89. The winner of an unprecedented 11 consecutive PGA tournaments in 1945, Nelson had lived a lot of golf history. Yet he didn’t hesitate to say on that day: “I don’t know anybody who has done for golf what Jack Stephens has.”

Warren Stephens said on the day of the dedication: “Anybody who has ever spent any time with my father knows that golf is important in Dad’s life. But to know that you also have to understand that he was somewhat a late arrival to the game. Unlike these young people who will enjoy the Jack Stephens Youth Golf Academy and the opportunities that will come with it, Dad didn’t start playing until he was 36 years old. He grew up in a time and a place where golf literally was unthinkable. But I think Dad would agree that golf is a great teacher of life. And that’s why Dad firmly believes in exposing young people early on to golf and to the lessons golf teaches.

“It has been said that golf mirrors the virtues that society desires — integrity, honor, respect, rules, discipline. I think all of those traits can be applied when I talk about my father. And I think all of those traits are what we’re exposing young people to when we get them interested in golf.”

When the First Tee of Central Arkansas celebrated its 10th anniversary in May 2011, former President George W. Bush was there. He serves as the honorary chairman of The First Tee, a role in which his father served when the program began in 1997.

First Tee has now reached more than 5 million children across the country.

George W. Bush took part in 2011 in the dedication of a garden area at the Little Rock complex to honor Warren Stephens and his wife Harriet for their continued support. Warren Stephens has hosted events at his internationally recognized Alotian Club west of Little Rock featuring Woods, Palmer, Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson among others. Proceeds from the events went to local charities, including The First Tee of Central Arkansas.

Finchem is the person who first approached Jack Stephens to talk about The First Tee.

“We initially went to Jack for advice on the startup,” Finchem said in an interview several years ago. “We weren’t asking for money. But Jack’s grant really got us started in a big way. … Jack Stephens was more important than any other individual in moving this program forward.”

Jack Stephens once told a reporter: “Golf is a great teacher in life. The skills needed to master this game are the same skills needed to master life, a life full of unseen obstacles and excitement.”

He also said this on a regular basis: “There are only two pleasures associated with money — making it and giving it away.”

His gift to The First Tee bears fruit each day just off South University Avenue in Little Rock.

Because of past Stephens family support, a number of Arkansans think that The First Tee of Central Arkansas doesn’t need their support. They think it’s only for rich kids. And they don’t realize they can play there as adults.

Here’s how writer Jim Harris put it in a column for Sporting Life Arkansas: “The game of golf at First Tee is not just about putting a little white ball into a little hole. I know how hard these people are working to make golf available to kids in families of all incomes. These folks not only teach golf, they pass along life lessons in the same way Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts do — developing citizens with strong character when they become adults.

“Partly because it was built so nicely by the Stephens’ largesse, some people have viewed First Tee as an elitist place for country club kids to play. And just the same, some of the well-to-do families have thought of First Tee as geared only to more impoverished families in the area. In truth, its charter directed the First Tee to focus first on impoverished families, minorities, children with disabilities, children of military families and girls. And it does that.

“To me, though, First Tee can be better described as a perfect place for the family, any family, no matter the financial status, where bonds between parent and child, or brother and sister, can be better formed. A full-size nine-hole course with easily some of the best holes anywhere in Arkansas offers a quick getaway from any age player at a ridiculously low greens fee. A nine-hole, par-three course presents a learning facility for the smallest of golfers as well as a superb practice area for the adult player to hone the short game.

“More than 2,000 children are participating in a range of First Tee offerings, from camps to daily classes. There’s still plenty of opportunity for golfers of all ages to play there. … It continues to be a secret to many of the city’s 25 to 85-year-old golfers.”

“The First Tee of Central Arkansas is a model for establishing public and private partnerships that contribute to the well-being of the community,” says Joe Louis Barrow Jr., the chief executive officer of The First Tee. “The First Tee is committed to being a force for good in this society, and our programs are proven to have a positive impact on young people. We’re proud of the tremendous growth of The First Tee of Central Arkansas.”

The program emphasizes nine core values — honesty, perseverance, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, judgment, responsibility and courtesy.

“Golf is just a way for us to teach young people skills that can be applied to their lives off the course,” says Laura Nix, the executive director of The First Tee of Central Arkansas. “Our goal is to teach children the nine core values that are inherent to the game of golf and then show them how to transfer those values to their everyday lives.”

The First Tee of Central Arkansas is trying to raise $150,000 to celebrate the fact that it has been around for 15 years now. For more information, go to www.thefirstteear.org or call (501) 562-4653.

 

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College football: Week 3

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

I almost nailed the final score of Arkansas’ game at TCU.

I had it 40-38 in last week’s post.

It was 41-38.

The problem: I had the wrong team winning.

I ended last week’s prediction summary by writing that “it should be an entertaining game.”

That was an understatement.

My youngest son who was there (I was off broadcasting another college game in Oklahoma) told me that it was “one of the best college games I’ve ever seen.”

Granted, he’s only 19. Most of us have seen a lot more college football. But that doesn’t take away from one of the defining victories thus far in the Bret Bielema era. The Razorbacks ended a 14-game home winning streak for the Frogs, the third longest such streak in the country.

Yes, it was the sixth consecutive victory for Arkansas at Amon Carter Stadium, but this is not your father’s old Southwest Conference version of TCU. This is a talented team that Arkansas beat on Saturday night.

Consider the fact that in its last three true road games, Arkansas has won at No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 9 LSU and No. 15 TCU.

Call them the Road Hogs.

This was, by the way, the fifth victory by an unranked Arkansas team over a ranked opponent since the start of the 2014 season. It was the first time for Arkansas to face a ranked nonconference opponent since 2008.

After a stellar 9-1 record in Week 1, we took a beating in Week 2, going 5-5.

Lessons learned:

— Don’t underestimate Arkansas on the road.

— Pick against UAPB (even when playing a mediocre NCAA Division II team at home) until the Golden Lions win a game or two.

— The Great American Conference is going to be wild this year. There were three upsets in Week 2 with Southeastern Oklahoma beating Ouachita, Oklahoma Baptist upsetting Arkansas Tech and UAM defeating Southwestern Oklahoma.

Thus we’re 14-6 on the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 3:

Arkansas 45, Texas State 20 — Louisiana Tech put a scare into Arkansas in Week 1 at Fayetteville. Don’t expect a scare this week from a Sun Belt Conference team that has just one game under its belt in 2016, a 56-54 victory over Ohio in overtime. Texas State is my wife’s alma mater. I’m letting her know that the Bobcats are just coming to our state for that $1 million check. The game should give quarterback Austin Allen a chance to continue to improve. When was the last time an Arkansas quarterback threw a touchdown pass, caught a pass for a score (albeit a two-point conversion) and ran for a touchdown in the same game? Allen was 17 of 29 passing for 223 yards and three touchdowns against the Horned Frogs. Rawleigh Williams also should continue to improve after carrying the ball 28 times for 137 yards against the Frogs. And, heck, Dan Skipper might as well block another field goal attempt while he’s at it.

Utah State 37, Arkansas State 34 — It has been a rough start for the Red Wolves. On Friday, Sept. 2, they were whipped in every phase of the game against Toledo in a 31-10 loss at Jonesboro. Eight days later, they went to Auburn and fell by a final score of 51-14. Despite playing substitutes for part of the second half, Auburn finished with 707 yards of offense. Rushing accounted for 462 of those yards. It was the most yardage ever given up by a Blake Anderson-coached team. ASU plays another one of those awful Friday night games this week (Fridays should be reserved for high school football) with a long road trip to Utah State, which beat Weber State by a score of 46-6 to start the season and then fell 45-7 to USC in Los Angeles. The game, which will be televised nationally by the CBS Sports Network, will feature a Utah State team that has won 24 of its last 27 home games, including 13 of its last 16 against nonconference competition. The last time ASU went to Logan, Utah State won, 49-0. It should be much closer this time around despite the recent Red Wolf struggles.

Alcorn State 29, UAPB 13 — It appears as if it’s going to be a long year for the Golden Lions. They lost their opener, 44-0, to Tennessee State at Nashville and then came home last weekend and lost again. This time the defeat was at the hands of a Division II school (Panhandle State of Oklahoma) and not a very strong one at that. Panhandle State had lost 59-21 the previous week to Sam Houston State. Alcorn’s first game of the season against Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach was called off due to severe weather. Alcorn (which will play Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium on Oct. 1) is 1-0 following a 21-18 victory last week over Alabama State. We’ll go with the home team in this Thursday night game at Lorman, Miss.

UCA 28, Northwestern State 25 — The Bears are 1-1 following a 35-29 loss to Samford in Conway on Saturday night. It was a far cry from the 56-13 UCA home victory the previous weekend over Southland Conference foe Houston Baptist. The Bears play a third consecutive home game this week. The opponent Saturday is Northwestern State of Louisiana. Samford returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns, building a 25-point lead by the third quarter. The Bears pulled back within six points with 2:11 left, but Samford then recovered an onside kick. Northwestern has opened the season with losses of 55-7 to Baylor and 21-18 to Incarnate Word.

Henderson 40, Northwestern Oklahoma 22 — This is the first half of an Arkadelphia doubleheader on Saturday that sees Henderson play in the afternoon and Ouachita play on the other side of U.S. Highway 67 at night. The Reddies struggled at home two weeks ago to beat a good Southeastern Oklahoma team, 13-11, and then went on the road to Ada, Okla., and rolled to a 34-7 victory over East Central Oklahoma. The Reddies led 27-0 at halftime. It was the 500th victory in school history. Jaquan Cole and Andrew Black each had two rushing touchdowns for Henderson. Northwestern Oklahoma kicked a field goal with four seconds left for a 59-56 win over UAM in the season opener but found the going much tougher in Magnolia a week later, losing 33-14 to Southern Arkansas.

Ouachita 41, Southwestern Oklahoma 35 — It’s not often that a team has 545 yards of offense and loses. That’s just what Ouachita did on Saturday night in Durant, Okla., as turnovers resulted in a disastrous second quarter in which the Tigers were outscored 24-0. Ouachita dominated the other three quarters, but it wasn’t enough, resulting in a 45-38 loss to Southeastern Oklahoma. Southwestern Oklahoma, this week’s opponent in Arkadelphia, jumped out to a 17-0 lead in its season opener against Southern Arkansas but wound up losing by four points, 21-17. The lingering effects of that collapse were apparent in Monticello last Saturday night as the Boll Weevils secured a 35-28 upset victory. This should be a high-scoring affair since both defenses have had their problems.

Harding 33, Southern Arkansas 27 — This is by far the game of the week in the GAC. Southern Arkansas is 2-0 with those wins over Southwestern Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma. Mulerider quarterback Barrett Renner threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over Northwestern. While SAU likes to throw the football, Harding runs (and runs and runs) out of its double-slot offense. The Bisons opened the season with 389 yards rushing in a 38-7 victory over Oklahoma Baptist at home. They then traveled to Oklahoma City for the second game of the season and had 478 yards of rushing on 72 carries in a 63-7 thrashing of Southern Nazarene. The winner of this game will join Henderson as an early favorite to capture the GAC championship.

Arkansas Tech 39, UAM 26 — Tech began its season with a 46-0 win in Russellville over Southern Nazarene. The Wonder Boys, who finished 9-3 last year with a victory over Eastern New Mexico in the Heart of Texas Bowl, had high hopes for 2016. That’s what made last Saturday’s 19-15 loss to Oklahoma Baptist (which was picked 10th out of 12 GAC teams in the coaches’ preseason poll) in Shawnee so shocking. That’s the same Oklahoma Baptist team that lost by 31 points to Harding in Week 1. UAM’s win over Southwestern Oklahoma was almost as surprising. The Wonder Boys might not be as good as we first thought. And the Boll Weevils might be better than we first thought.

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Rex’s Rankings: After two weeks

Monday, September 12th, 2016

We’re two weeks into the high school football season.

What do we know?

We know that Fayetteville, Springdale Har-Ber and Bentonville are good again in Class 7A.

We know that Cabot probably has the best chance of breaking the northwest Arkansas stranglehold on the Class 7A state championship.

We know that Greenwood is (as usual) going to be hard to beat in Class 6A.

We know that Pulaski Academy likes to play out-of-state teams.

We know that Class 4A looks orange with Warren and Nashville at the top.

We know that Glen Rose in Class 3A and England in Class 2A have established themselves as early favorites to win state titles.

Let’s get to the rankings:

Overall

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Greenwood
  3. Cabot
  4. Springdale Har-Ber
  5. North Little Rock
  6. Jonesboro
  7. Pulaski Academy
  8. Pine Bluff
  9. Bentonville
  10. Benton

Class 7A

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Cabot
  3. Springdale Har-Ber
  4. North Little Rock
  5. Bentonville

Class 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Jonesboro
  3. Pine Bluff
  4. Benton
  5. Russellville

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Sylvan Hills
  4. Alma
  5. Greenbrier

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Nashville
  3. Shiloh Christian
  4. Ashdown
  5. Robinson

Class 3A

  1. Glen Rose
  2. Prescott
  3. Charleston
  4. Bald Knob
  5. Junction City

Class 2A

  1. England
  2. Danville
  3. Mount Ida
  4. Hector
  5. Rison

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College football: Week 2

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

What a fun week of college football.

Upsets galore.

Near upsets.

Overtime games.

LSU cheap shots.

What more could you ask for?

On a beautiful Labor Day weekend in Fayetteville, the Hogs survived — and we do mean survived — with a 21-20 victory over Louisiana Tech.

Considering how the folks in Starkville are feeling right now after Mississippi State’s loss to South Alabama (a team that was playing the Henderson Reddies just a few years ago), maybe Razorback fans should not feel so badly about their team’s performance.

There’s cause for concern, however, when the offense produces only 106 rushing yards with 96 of those yards coming from Rawleigh Williams.

In his first start as a Razorback quarterback, Austin Allen was 20 of 29 through the air for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw two interceptions. And Louisiana Tech outgained Arkansas through the air, 212 yards to 191 yards.

Looking for bright spots?

How about the defense against the run? For the fourth time in the past five games, Arkansas held an opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Louisiana Tech had 79.

We were 9-1 on picks in Week One, missing only the Southern Arkansas-Southwestern Oklahoma game as the Muleriders overcame a 17-point deficit on the road.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 2:

TCU 40, Arkansas 38 — Only half of the SEC teams that played nonconference opponents won. It would have been less than half had Tennessee, ranked No. 9 in the preseason, not overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to beat Appalachian State in overtime, 20-13. LSU lost to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field (and Les Miles is right back on the hot seat), Southern Mississippi scored 34 unanswered points to beat Kentucky in Lexington (is it basketball season yet?) and West Virginia broke a five-game losing streak to SEC teams with a 26-11 win over Missouri, where the football program is in a downward spiral. So Arkansas was not alone in the conference in leaving its fans a bit disappointed. Among Big 12 teams, the Horned Frogs struggled in Fort Worth on Saturday night before finally putting away South Dakota State. TCU gave up 41 points and 461 yards to South Dakota State, leading head coach Gary Patterson to say: “Hopefully we’ll do a lot better job as a coaching staff on getting them in position against Arkansas. If not, they’ll have 1,000 yards and 1,000 points.” Arkansas will fall short of scoring 1,000 points, but it should be an entertaining game.

Auburn 46, Arkansas State 28 — On Friday night in Jonesboro, Arkansas State was whipped in just about every phase of the game in a 31-10 loss to Toledo. That makes the Red Wolves 0-3 against Toledo since early last year. Toledo won the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl, 63-44, and then came back in the fall to win by a final score of 37-7 in Toledo. Most folks thought Clemson would rout Auburn, but the Tigers looked pretty good at home — at least on defense — before falling 19-13. Gus Malzahn is working overtime this week to make sure his offense, which used three quarterbacks against Clemson, is firing on all cylinders against the school that gave him his first college head coaching job.

Samford 29, UCA 27 — This is the same school from Birmingham, Ala., that led Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium at the end of the third quarter three years ago before falling to Bret Bielema’s first team. In fact, Saturday’s win against Louisiana Tech marked the first time since that game for Arkansas to win after trailing at the conclusion of three quarters. Samford opened the season with a 77-7 win over Mars Hill. Samford won last year against UCA , 44-16, in Birmingham. Saturday’s game in Conway should be closer. The Bears opened the season with a 56-13 Southland Conference win over Houston Baptist. UCA scored on three of its first four possessions and then blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown to make it 28-0. The Bears never slowed down after that.

UAPB 14, Panhandle State 13 — It’s hard to get a read on this one. UAPB doesn’t seem much better than last year following its 44-0 loss to Tennessee State in Nashville. The Golden Lions have lost four consecutive season openers. Panhandle State from Oklahoma, which plays in the Lone Star Conference of NCAA Division II, fell 59-21 to FCS powerhouse Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas. Panhandle was 5-5 a year ago. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team in a game between two schools that will probably struggle throughout the season.

Ouachita 34, Southeastern Oklahoma 30 — Ouachita won its season opener for a 10th consecutive year. The Tigers posted a 42-28 victory over East Central Oklahoma in a Thursday night game at Arkadelphia. Ouachita has the most consecutive winning seasons — eight — of any college program in the state. The offense looked good, but the Tiger secondary is again suspect. Southeastern, meanwhile, had a chance to stun Great American Conference preseason favorite Henderson on the other side of U.S. Highway 67 in Arkadelphia last Thursday night but missed a 30-yard field goal attempt with 1:28 remaining. The Reddies held on, 13-11. Two years ago in Durant, a Ouachita team that would finish the regular season undefeated had to drive the length of the field in the final minute of play for the winning touchdown against the Savage Storm. This should be another interesting game that goes down to the wire.

Henderson 24, East Central Oklahoma 20 — East Central has the best receiver in the conference in David Moore, who had three touchdown receptions in the loss to Ouachita. East Central shocked Henderson in Arkadelphia last year, 35-28. The Reddies rebounded to capture the conference championship and even win a playoff game. Henderson’s defense is just as good, if not better, than it was in 2015. Yet the offense struggled mightily in the opening win over Southeastern Oklahoma. Another night of offensive mistakes by the Reddies could allow East Central to hang around at home in Ada with a chance to win at the end.

Arkansas Tech 41, Oklahoma Baptist 25 — The Wonder Boys have three games at the start of their schedule that should result in relatively easy victories. They were true to form on Thursday night of last week with a 46-0 win against Southern Nazarene. Tech outgained the Crimson Storm 292-9 in the first half. This week’s opponent, Oklahoma Baptist, fell by a final score of 38-7 to Harding in a Saturday game at Searcy. For the Wonder Boys, it won’t be as simple as beating Southern Nazarene was. But it should be a solid victory in Shawnee, Okla., just the same.

Southern Arkansas 36, Northwestern Oklahoma 10 — The Muleriders found themselves down 17-0 to a decent Southwestern Oklahoma team on the road in Weatherford last Thursday. Somehow, they came back to win, 21-17. SAU should be brimming with confidence going into Saturday night’s home opener in Magnolia against Northwestern Oklahoma. The visitors are 1-0 but gave up 56 points to UAM in the process. Expect Southern Arkansas to score early and often Saturday.

Southwestern Oklahoma 39, UAM 23 — If it weren’t for bad luck, they would have no luck at all. That seems to be the motto for the Boll Weevils in recent seasons. In a wild game on the road in Alva, Okla. (it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there) against Northwestern Oklahoma last Thursday night, the Weevils made a furious comeback attempt in the fourth quarter before losing by a basketball-like score of 59-56 on a field goal with four seconds left in the game.

Harding 50, Southern Nazarene 16 — Harding, which still confuses its opponents by running the option, had 389 rushing yards in the 38-7 win over Oklahoma Baptist. The Bisons head to Oklahoma City this week and might top 700 yards of rushing against woeful Southern Nazarene.

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Rex’s Rankings: After one week

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

I love the first week of the high school football season.

There are games on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights. Some high school teams get to open the season in college stadiums. There are doubleheaders.

Perhaps the most impressive performance in Week 1 belonged to Springdale Har-Ber, which destroyed Fort Smith Southside by a final score of 47-0 and moved up a couple of spots in the overall rankings.

At War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, more than 30,000 people turned out to see Bryant continue to dominate the series known as the Salt Bowl.

Pulaski Academy started as it usually does, by beating a team from another state.

The best game of the week might have been Cabot 28, Pine Bluff 27. Both teams are ranked.

With one week of the season in the books, let’s get to the rankings:

Overall

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Greenwood
  3. Pulaski Academy
  4. Cabot
  5. Springdale Har-Ber
  6. North Little Rock
  7. Jonesboro
  8. Bentonville
  9. Bryant
  10. Pine Bluff

Class 7A

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Cabot
  3. Springdale Har-Ber
  4. North Little Rock
  5. Bentonville

Class 6A

  1. Greenwood
  2. Jonesboro
  3. El Dorado
  4. Pine Bluff
  5. Benton

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Wynne
  3. Alma
  4. Little Rock McClellan
  5. Batesville

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Nashville
  3. Shiloh Christian
  4. Ashdown
  5. Central Arkansas Christian

Class 3A

  1. Glen Rose
  2. Junction City
  3. Prescott
  4. Charleston
  5. Harding Academy

Class 2A

  1. England
  2. Danville
  3. Mount Ida
  4. Hector
  5. Rison

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