Archive for November, 2016

College football: Week 14

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

It’s rare for me to pick all of the Arkansas teams to win on the same weekend.

You have to realize that my prediction post each week has nothing to do with the teams I want to win. The posts have everything to do with the teams I think will win.

I wanted Arkansas and Arkansas State to win.

In this case, I also was confident that they would win.

After all, Arkansas was taking on a 3-8 Missouri team that had just given up 63 points to a mediocre Tennessee squad (which would proceed to lose to Vanderbilt), and Arkansas State was taking its 15-game Sun Belt Conference winning streak up against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that came in with a 4-6 record.

The Hogs and Red Wolves laid eggs.

The Razorback performance was so bad that it has fans across the state questioning the direction of the program while calling for staff changes.

Arkansas State, meanwhile, blew an excellent opportunity for an outright conference title. Now the Red Wolves will wind up sharing the title with Appalachian State (which has completed conference play) if ASU wins at Texas State on Saturday. If Troy also wins on Saturday, it will be a three-way tie for the title.

At least Harding and UCA came through for us in the playoffs as both teams posted wild fourth-quarter comebacks.

That made the record 2-2 for the week and 72-26 for the season.

Here are the picks for this week:

Arkansas State 41, Texas State 29 — The Red Wolves appeared to have won the game at Lafayette on the final play. One official signaled touchdown, causing everyone on the ASU sideline to rush the field. After a review, it was ruled that quarterback Justice Hansen’s knee had touched the ground just before he pitched the ball to an offensive tackle who ran it into the end zone. Blake Anderson, the ASU head coach, still disagrees with that call. The fact remains that the Red Wolves are 6-5 overall and 6-1 in the Sun Belt. Appalachian State and Troy also have just one loss in conference play. Arkansas State should come away with a win this Saturday. The night game will be telecast nationally from San Marcos by ESPN2. Texas State is 0-7 in conference play and 2-9 overall. The wins were over Ohio in overtime, 56-54, in the season opener and over Incarnate Word, an FCS school, by a final score of 48-17. Few of the losses have been close — 42-3 to Arkansas, 64-3 to Houston, 41-21 to Georgia State, 40-34 to Louisiana-Monroe, 27-3 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 35-10 to Appalachian State, 47-14 to Idaho, 50-10 to New Mexico State and 40-7 to Troy.

Eastern Washington 34, UCA 24 — It was quite a comeback for the Bears on the stripes in Conway on a cold Saturday afternoon. UCA was lethargic for three quarters of the FCS playoff game, trailing a 6-5 Illinois State squad by a score of 17-7 going into the final 15 minutes of play. A blocked punt for a touchdown fueled a comeback that ended with a four-yard scoring run by senior Antwon Wells with 1:28 left in the game. The Bears improved to 10-2 with the victory. They must now make the long trip to Eastern Washington to play on the red turf against a 10-1 team that had a bye last week. Eastern Washington’s only loss was to powerhouse North Dakota State, 50-44. Eastern Washington won nonconference games by scores of 45-42 against a good Washington State team that finished the regular season 8-4 and 34-30 against Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Eagles then went 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference with victories of 50-35 over Northern Arizona, 63-30 over California-Davis, 49-31 over Northern Colorado, 41-17 over Montana State, 35-16 over Montana, 42-21 over Cal Poly, 48-17 over Idaho State and 35-28 over Portland State.

Northwest Missouri State 31, Harding 21 — It has been a remarkable final campaign for Harding head coach Ronnie Huckeba, who announced before the season that he would retire at the end of this year. The Bisons appeared down and out against Sioux Falls in South Dakota last Saturday afternoon, trailing by 10 points with less than five minutes remaining. Harding scored a touchdown with 4:17 left. A 47-yard field goal by Tristan Parsley with 12 seconds remaining in regulation (11 yards longer than anything he had kicked during the regular season) sent the game to overtime. The Harding defense then came up with an interception in overtime, and Parsley won it with a 35-yard field goal. The 13-0 Bisons became the first Great American Conference team to win a second-round game in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The bad news is that they now must visit the No. 1 team in the country, the defending national champions from Northwest Missouri State. Northwest Missouri, which is 12-0, defeated No. 9 Emporia State, 44-13, in last week’s playoff game. Last year, Northwest Missouri routed Shepherd by a final score of 34-7 in the national championship game to cap a 15-0 campaign. The Bearcats went 15-0 in 2013 to win the national title and also won titles in 2009 with a 14-1 record, in 1999 with a 14-1 record and in 1998 with a 15-0 record. Northwest Missouri advanced to the championship game in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and lost each time. But it’s pretty impressive that this program has had teams in nine of the past 18 title games.

 

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Southern Fried: The book

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

In September 1965, I turned age 6.

Rather than being one of the youngest people in my class at school, I would be one of the oldest. That’s because I would wait a year to start the first grade. It was my father’s decision. He was a former coach and loved to tell people: “We decided to redshirt him in kindergarten.”

Instead of attending kindergarten a second consecutive year, though, I traveled the state of Arkansas with my father as he sold athletic supplies to high schools and colleges. It was a magical nine months. Looking back, I realize now that he was doing it as much for himself as he was for me.

On Feb. 29, 1964, my 9-year-old brother was killed in an accident at Pine Bluff while my parents were there to take him to a Ouachita Baptist University basketball game. Less than two years after that tragedy, I imagine my father figured it would be good therapy to have his surviving son with him on the road. Dad was 41 at the time, 16 years younger than I am as I write these words.

The memories of that year remain vivid.

I remember waiting in line at a small café at Delight to buy a hamburger, stopping at Caddo Gap to wade in the Caddo River, watching a deer run across the school campus at Magazine and eating a whole trout for the first time at Tommy’s in Conway.

While the weather was still warm that September, I was allowed to jump into motel swimming pools before supper.

I was in heaven.

We sat in high school gymnasiums built by the WPA and watched basketball games together.

We ate pieces of pie in country restaurants.

We listened to KAAY-AM on the car radio.

It was during that 1965-66 school year that I learned to love Arkansas.

As we celebrate another Thanksgiving, I realize how fortunate I was to have had Robert and Carolyn Nelson for parents (they’re both gone now) and to have grown up in Arkansas.

I also realize how fortunate I am to be able to share stories of Arkansas.

I’ve had the privilege of writing millions of words through the years about this state. I left a full-time career in journalism in July 1996 to work in the governor’s office. What I thought would be a short detour into public service turned out to be a 13-year adventure in the state and federal governments. When I returned to the private sector in 2009, I contacted my former employers at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to see if they might be interested in allowing me to write a weekly column. Since I had spent nine years in the governor’s office and four years in a presidential administration, I’m sure they expected me to write about politics most weeks.

I came to the conclusion that there already was so much political writing on the Voices page of the newspaper that I simply would be another voice with nothing to distinguish me from the other columnists. That’s why I decided to make Arkansas — its places, colorful characters, fascinating history, food, music and events — my niche.

I’m also thankful this Thanksgiving that Butler Center Books, a division of the Central Arkansas Library System, decided to publish a collection of my newspaper columns. The book is titled “Southern Fried: Going Whole Hog in a State of Wonder.”

I hope you’ll consider purchasing a copy as a Christmas gift for someone who loves Arkansas as much as I do.

I’ve learned that Arkansas is a difficult place to explain to outsiders. We’re mostly Southern but also a bit Midwestern and a tad Southwestern. The Ozarks are different from the pine woods of the Gulf Coastal Plain, the Delta is different from the Ouachitas.

Invariably, those who take the time to get off the main road and get to know the real Arkansas are enchanted by the place.

Large parts of the Delta of east Arkansas and the pine woods of south Arkansas are emptying out. The population shift from east and south to north and west has been occurring in Arkansas since at least the 1950 census when widespread mechanization of agriculture meant that tens of thousands of tenant farmers and sharecroppers no longer were needed in rural areas. That trend has accelerated in the past decade, though. And there’s no end in sight.

I don’t consider it my job to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. People are going to do what’s best for their families. They’ll go where the jobs are.

What cannot be denied is that Arkansas is a far different place now than it was a decade ago and will be an even more different place a decade from now. Part of what I’ve tried to do through the years is capture the essence of the restaurants, swimming holes, hunting grounds, local festivals and sports events that were such an important part of the Arkansas in which I was raised. Many of them are gone or soon will be.

Those who know me realize that I’m fiercely proud to be from Arkansas. When the Arkansas Democrat sent me to Washington, D.C., in 1986, I knew it would be a temporary stay. It was a wonderful opportunity for a young man in his 20s, but I had no desire to spend the rest of my career in the nation’s capital. By the end of the decade, I was home. I brought along a new bride who had been raised in south Texas. She soon fell in love with this place they once called the Wonder State.

Our two sons — to whom I dedicated the book — were born here, raised here and chose to attend college here.

I know this sounds provincial, but here goes: Arkansas is such a unique, quirky place that I believe it takes someone who grew up here and traveled its rural highways as a child to really explain to new residents what makes us tick. We welcome those who move to Arkansas from elsewhere and hope they soon will come to love the place as much as the natives do. Please understand that we don’t brag like Texans or brand ourselves as different from the rest of the world like Mississippians. We know what we’ve got going here. And despite our many problems, it remains a fine place to call home.

Thanks for going on a statewide journey with me on this blog and in my newspaper column. Maybe we can stop to wade in the Caddo River or eat a piece of pie along the way.

I would be most honored if you would consider purchasing this book.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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College football: Week 13

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

What a night it was in Starkville for the Arkansas offense.

The Razorbacks gained 661 yards, the fourth-highest total in school history. Arkansas never punted in a 58-42 victory over Mississippi State.

Rawleigh Williams ran for a career-high 205 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass.

Austin Allen was 18 of 25 passing for 303 yards and two touchdowns as Arkansas ended a four-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Arkansas defense gave up a whopping 533 yards. It was the second consecutive year for these teams to combine for 100 points or more.

A 7-4 Arkansas team heads north to Missouri on Friday for what should be another high-scoring game. Those of you who have the day off can do what I plan to do — kick back with the leftover turkey and dressing and watch CBS.

We were 4-1 on the picks last week. That makes the season record 70-24.

Here are the picks for Week 13:

Arkansas 49, Missouri 31 — Mizzou has an awful defense and an offense that can score points. Tennessee beat Missouri by a final score of 63-37 last Saturday in Knoxville. For the first time since 1995, a Tennessee team has scored more than 40 points in three consecutive games. Joshua Dobbs passed for 223 yards and rushed for 190 yards against the Tigers. You can expect Austin Allen to have similar success for Arkansas on Friday. But get this: The Vols gave up 740 yards, the most yards ever allowed by a Tennessee team. Even though Missouri is just 3-8 overall and 1-6 in Southeastern Conference play, the Tigers have gained more than 600 yards four times this season. Look for the Razorbacks to give up a lot of points. Also expect the Hogs to score far more than that en route to an 8-4 record to end the regular season.

Arkansas State 40, Louisiana-Lafayette 32 — The Red Wolves just keep winning conference games. They find themselves alone atop the Sun Belt Conference standings after dismantling Troy on Thursday night of last week by a final score of 35-3. Troy had come into the game with an 8-1 record, having narrowly lost to Clemson. The Trojans were the first Sun Belt team to be ranked in The Associated Press poll. But an ASU team that has now won 15 consecutive conference games improved to 6-4 overall after having gone 0-4 in nonconference play. Arkansas State led just 7-3 at the half but poured it on during the final two quarters. The Red Wolves will find themselves in the Cajun country of southwestern Louisiana on Saturday against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that’s 4-6 overall and 3-3 in conference play. The wins have come by scores of 30-22 over McNeese State, 28-23 over South Alabama. 27-3 over Texas State and 33-26 over Georgia Southern. The losses have been by scores of 45-10 to Boise State, 41-39 in four overtimes to Tulane, 37-31 in two overtimes to New Mexico State, 24-0 to Appalachian State, 32-13 to Idaho and 35-21 to Georgia. If ASU can get by this one, it should be on its way to an undisputed conference championship since the final opponent (Texas State on Dec. 3) is just 2-8 overall and 0-6 in conference play.

UCA 29, Illinois State 27 — It was for the championship of the Southland Conference, but the game in Huntsville, Texas, last Saturday afternoon wasn’t even close. Sam Houston State took advantage of five UCA turnovers en route to a 59-23 victory over the Bears. Sam Houston’s Jeremiah Briscoe threw seven touchdown passes. It was the first time in 28 years for two teams that were undefeated in Southland Conference play to battle each other on the final Saturday of the regular season. Sam Houston finished the regular season 11-0 overall and 9-0 in conference play. The Bears are 9-2 overall and 8-1 in the conference with a home game against Illinois State on Saturday afternoon in Conway in the first round of the FCS playoffs. Illinois State is just 6-5 overall but earned a spot in the playoff field by winning its final three games against South Dakota State, Western Illinois and Missouri State. The final scores of the six victories were 50-13 over Valparaiso, 9-7 over Northwestern from the Big Ten, 31-28 over Southern Illinois, 38-21 over South Dakota State, 31-26 over Western Illinois and 37-0 over Missouri State. The losses were by scores of 24-21 to Eastern Illinois, 34-31 to Indiana State, 31-10 to North Dakota State, 20-6 to Youngstown State and 27-24 to South Dakota. Even though Illinois State is coming off a big win and UCA is coming off a big loss, we’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Harding 34, Sioux Falls 30 — The Bisons advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs with a 48-31 win over Central Missouri State in Searcy last Saturday afternoon. It now will be a battle of undefeated teams on what might be a frozen tundra in South Dakota this Saturday as 12-0 Harding goes against 12-0 Sioux Falls. In the win over 9-3 Central Missouri, Harding senior quarterback Park Parish from Clinton rushed for 118 yards and passed for a season-high 173 yards. Harding had 528 total yards, including 355 yards rushing. A Harding team advances to the second round for the first time after having lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 and 2014. Harding has won all but one game by 15 points or more (that one close game was a 24-20 victory over Ouachita in Searcy on Oct. 1). Sioux Falls has won all but one game by 10 points or more (the one close game was a 37-36 victory over Bemidji State on Sept. 24). In the first round of the playoffs last year, Sioux Falls fell to Henderson, 23-16. We’ll go out on a limb and say that Arkansas schools make it two in a row over Sioux Falls.

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Rex’s Rankings: The final installment

Monday, November 21st, 2016

It’s time for the season’s final installment of Rex’s Rankings.

From this point forward in the high school football playoffs, we’ll let the teams do the talking on the field.

For 12 consecutive Friday nights each fall, it’s my pleasure to join co-host Richard Atkinson and producer John Payne in the Arkansas Radio Network studio in west Little Rock to host a scoreboard show from 10 p.m. until midnight. The correspondents who call in reports from across the state are like old friends. I’m gratified by the number of you who have good things to say about the weekly program, which airs on more than 40 radio stations across the state.

Several years ago, I began preparing these rankings on the fly during the radio show so we could release the first high school football rankings each week. On the following Monday, they’re reposted on this blog.

The downside to being in a studio every Friday night is that I’m not in football stadiums. I occasionally will catch the first half of a game in the Little Rock area. Because I don’t get to see full games during the regular season or the first two weeks of the playoffs, I always make it a priority to be at War Memorial Stadium the first two weekends of December to watch the six state championship games. I hope to see some of you Dec. 2-3 and Dec. 9-10 at the grand old lady on Markham Street.

Meanwhile, here are the rankings following two weeks of the playoffs:

Overall

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Greenwood
  3. North Little Rock
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Bentonville
  6. Wynne
  7. Pine Bluff
  8. Warren
  9. Bryant
  10. Russellville

Class 7A

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

Class 6A

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

Class 5A

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

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Robinson
  3. Prairie Grove
  4. Pea Ridge
  5. Gosnell

Class 3A

  1. Prescott
  2. Charleston
  3. Glen Rose
  4. Fordyce
  5. Rivercrest

Class 2A

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

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College football: Week 12

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

The Dallas Cowboys are glad they have Dak Prescott.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs wish they still did.

The Bulldogs have struggled to a 4-6 record this season. They need to beat Arkansas in Starkville on Saturday night and then turn around and down Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl just to qualify for a low-level bowl game. Mississippi State has been to bowl games the past six seasons.

Mississippi State’s stunning 21-20 loss to South Alabama from the Sun Belt Conference back on Sept. 3 was a sign of things to come.

The Bulldogs did manage to win their Southeastern Conference opener against a weak South Carolina club, 27-14. That was followed by a 23-20 loss to LSU, a 47-35 nonconference victory over Massachusetts, a 38-14 loss to Auburn, a 28-21 overtime loss to BYU, a 40-38 loss to Kentucky, a 56-41 nonconference victory over Samford, a 35-28 upset victory over Texas A&M and a 51-3 loss to Alabama.

The win over the Aggies (now fading quickly following that fourth-quarter collapse against Ole Miss at College Station last Saturday) did prove that Mississippi State can still be tough at Starkville. And Arkansas teams often struggle in the land of cowbells.

I was 6-1 on the picks last week, missing only the Battle of the Ravine pick (and I’m glad I did predict that one incorrectly). That makes the record 66-23 for the season.

Let’s get to the predictions for Week 12:

Arkansas 30, Mississippi State 28 — I’ve been writing about how inconsistent this Arkansas team is. But I’m about to change my mind and say instead that the Razorbacks are pretty consistent — consistently bad against SEC West opponents. Yes, there was the close win at home over Ole Miss. Arkansas was blown out by its other four SEC West foes — Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. The Razorbacks fell to 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC with Saturday’s 38-10 loss to LSU. The Tigers outgained the Hogs 547-291. Arkansas gave up 390 yards rushing while its offense generated only 81 yards on the ground. There was nothing competitive about this game as LSU jumped to a 21-0 lead. Derrius Guice rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns for the Bayou Bengals. That’s the second most yards ever by an LSU running back. Guice’s 96-yard touchdown run was the longest play from scrimmage ever at LSU. It should be a competitive game this Saturday in Starkville between two teams that find themselves at the bottom of the SEC West.

Troy 24, Arkansas State 21 — It’s the game of the year in the Sun Belt Conference, and it’s on national television Thursday night. Arkansas State went 0-4 in nonconference play but has run off five consecutive conference victories. The Red Wolves moved to 5-0 in the Sun Belt on Saturday afternoon with a 41-22 conquest of New Mexico State in Jonesboro. Troy is No. 25 this week in The Associated Press poll, the first time for the conference to have a ranked team. Troy won or shared Sun Belt titles each season from 2006-10 before falling on hard times. Veteran head coach Larry Blakeney retired, and Neal Brown took over, instituting a pass-happy spread offense. Brown’s team went 4-8 last year in his first season as head coach. The Trojans are 8-1 overall and 5-0 in conference play thus far this season. The one loss was at Clemson, and it was a close one — 30-24. The victories have been by scores of 57-17 over Austin Peay, 37-31 over Southern Mississippi, 52-6 over New Mexico State, 34-13 over Idaho, 31-21 over Georgia State, 28-21 over South Alabama, 52-31 over Massachusetts and 28-24 over Appalachian State. The slight edge goes to the home team.

Sam Houston State 39, UCA 29 — It’s the game of the year thus far in the FCS. Sam Houston State is ranked No. 1 nationally with a record of 10-0 overall and 8-0 in the Southland Conference. UCA is ranked No. 12 with a record of 9-1 overall and 8-0 in the Southland Conference. The Bears escaped with a 31-24 victory over Nicholls State last Saturday afternoon in Conway. It was close throughout as UCA led 10-7 at halftime and 17-14 at the end of the third quarter. Nicholls led 21-17 early in the fourth quarter. The Bears will have to play much better to have a chance on Saturday afternoon in Huntsville. The Bearkats’ 10 victories have come by scores of 59-21 over Panhandle State, 44-31 over Lamar, 52-16 over Houston Baptist, 63-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 63-48 over Incarnate Word, 48-21 over Abilene Christian, 38-21 over Nicholls State, 66-17 over Texas Southern, 56-43 over McNeese State and 48-16 over Northwestern State.

Prairie View A&M 31, UAPB 10 — UAPB lost its seventh consecutive game Saturday to fall to 1-9 overall and 1-7 in the SWAC. The loss this time was to Texas Southern in Houston by a final score of 27-10. The long, long season comes to a merciful end in Pine Bluff this Saturday afternoon against a Prairie View A&M team that comes to town with a 6-4 record overall and a 6-2 mark in SWAC play. The losses have been by scores of 67-0 to Texas A&M, 36-16 to Grambling, 65-44 to Rice and 44-34 to Southern University. The wins have been by scores of 29-25 over Texas Southern, 41-20 over Alabama A&M, 56-21 over Mississippi Valley State, 24-17 over Alabama State, 28-14 over Jackson State and 31-27 over Alcorn State. The Golden Lions likely won’t provide much of a challenge Saturday.

Harding 34, Central Missouri 33 — Harding wrapped up its first 11-0 regular season in school history with a 42-7 victory over 6-5 Arkansas Tech in Searcy on Saturday afternoon. The Bisons, the leading rushing team in NCAA Division II, had 425 yards on the ground against the Wonder Boys. Harding’s defense limited Tech to 85 total yards. Ronnie Huckeba is retiring as Harding’s head coach at the end of this season and would like to extend his career by at least another week. Harding will host a playoff game for the first time beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday against 9-2 Central Missouri State. Harding has made the playoffs twice before, but lost on the road in the first round in 2012 and 2014. Central Missouri finished third in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association with a 9-2 record. The losses came by scores of 37-31 in two overtimes to Emporia State and 42-17 to No. 1 Northwest Missouri State. Central Missouri won its final six games and only one of them was close — 36-16 over Nebraska-Kearney, 56-7 over Missouri Southern, 29-27 over Washburn, 48-28 over Central Oklahoma, 59-21 over Northeastern Oklahoma and 35-7 over Lindenwood. Harding has only had one close game this season– a 24-20 win over Ouachita in Searcy on Oct. 1. Harding trailed in the fourth quarter of that game. The other 10 victories were by 15 or more points.

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Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs continue

Monday, November 14th, 2016

A number of the state’s top teams received byes in the first round of the high school football playoffs.

There were a few upsets (such as Watson Chapel over Sylvan Hills in Class 5A) but not many.

This week, it gets serious.

Here are the updated rankings as we enter the second week of the playoffs:

Overall

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Greenwood
  3. North Little Rock
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Bentonville
  6. Wynne
  7. Springdale Har-Ber
  8. Fort Smith Northside
  9. Pine Bluff
  10. Warren

Class 7A

  1. Fayetteville
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Springdale Har-Ber
  5. Fort Smith Northside

Class 6A

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

Class 5A

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

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Nashville
  3. Robinson
  4. Prairie Grove
  5. Pea Ridge

Class 3A

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

Class 2A

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

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College football: Week 11

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

These Hogs are hard to figure out, aren’t they?

I picked them to beat Auburn, and they were blown out.

So I picked them to lose to Florida, and they blew out the Gators.

LSU?

Who knows.

Finally, though, a Razorback team defeated a Gator team in a Southeastern Conference game.

Arkansas’ 31-10 victory in Fayetteville last Saturday afternoon made the Hogs bowl eligible at 6-3, though they still have a losing record (2-3) in conference play.

It was a good day for Rawleigh Williams, who gained 148 yards on 26 carries. Williams now has 955 yards rushing on the season.

It also was a good day for Drew Morgan, who had seven receptions for 95 yards. Morgan has now caught passes in 23 consecutive games.

Williams and Morgan will need to have good games again in order for the Hogs to make it two consecutive SEC victories this Saturday.

Arkansas outgained the Gators 466-241 and led 39:21 to 20:39 in time of possession.

Two weeks after giving up 543 rushing yards to Auburn, the Hogs held Florida to just 12 rushing yards. I don’t think I ever remember that kind of turnaround.

Florida took just one snap in Arkansas territory in the first half. The Gators converted only one of 11 third-down plays.

Arkansas finished with 223 yards on the ground.

So the Hogs are now 2-9 against Florida, the previous victory having come by a score of 28-24 in the 1982 Bluebonnet Bowl at Houston.

Other than picking the Razorback game incorrectly, we had a fine week. We were 8-2 on the picks, making the record 60-22 for the season.

Here are the predictions for Week 11:

LSU 24, Arkansas 22 — The LSU defense played well in a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama last Saturday night at Baton Rouge. But the Tiger offense wouldn’t have scored against the Tide in 12 quarters of play. Alabama outgained LSU 323-125 as Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts had 114 yards rushing on 20 carries and the game’s only touchdown. LSU’s Leonard Fournette was shut down by the Alabama defense for a second consecutive year. Last year, he had 31 yards on 19 carries. This year, Fournette had 35 yards on 17 carries. It’s likely he will do much better against Arkansas. Les Miles was fired as the LSU head coach after four games. In those first four contests, the Tigers beat Jacksonville State, 34-13, and Mississippi State, 23-20. They lost 16-14 to Wisconsin and 18-13 to Auburn. Interim coach Ed Orgeron saw his team run off three consecutive victories — 42-7 over Missouri, 45-10 over Southern Mississippi and 38-21 over Ole Miss — before the loss to Alabama. The Tigers appear to be playing much harder for Orgeron than they were playing for Miles. This has the makings of a fun game in Fayetteville on Saturday night.

Arkansas State 31, New Mexico State 21 — The Red Wolves posted a 31-16 victory over Georgia State on Thursday night of last week in an empty Georgia Dome at Atlanta. Based on how it looked on television, there couldn’t have been 1,000 people there. It was the fourth consecutive Sun Belt Conference win for a team that went 0-4 in its nonconference games. ASU has now won 13 consecutive conference games, and that streak should continue this Saturday afternoon in Jonesboro against New Mexico State. The Red Wolves had two special team scores in last week’s victory. Blaise Taylor returned a punt 68 yards, and Chris Humes returned a blocked field goal 57 yards. New Mexico State is 2-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play. The wins have been by scores of 32-31 over New Mexico and 37-31 over Louisiana-Lafayette. The losses have come by scores of 38-22 to UTEP, 62-42 to Kentucky, 52-6 to Troy, 55-23 to Idaho, 22-19 to Georgia Southern and 52-10 to Texas A&M.

UCA 29, Nicholls State 20 — The Bears improved to 8-1 overall and 7-0 in Southland Conference play with a convincing 34-14 win at Stephen F. Austin, a team coach by former UCA head man Clint Conque. The Lumberjacks fell to 4-5 overall and 3-4 in the conference. Stephen F. Austin’s final score of the game came with 14:56 remaining in the first half. The Bears, who get better each week, outgained the Lumberjacks 502-321. If the Bears can avoid an upset loss to Nicholls State on Saturday afternoon in Conway, the stage will be set for the game of the year in the FCS when UCA visits No. 1 Sam Houston State on Nov. 19 with the Southland Conference championship on the line. The Bears must not get caught looking ahead. Nicholls rolls in with records of 5-4 overall and 5-2 in conference play. The wins were by scores of 35-28 over Incarnate Word, 35-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 33-20 over Houston Baptist, 31-14 over Northwestern State and 35-10 over Lamar. The losses were by scores of 26-24 to Georgia (a game Nicholls State had an excellent chance to win in Athens), 41-40 to South Alabama, 38-13 to McNeese State and 38-21 to Sam Houston State.

Texas Southern 40, UAPB 19 — Things continue to go south for the Golden Lions, who are now 1-8 overall and 1-6 in the SWAC. An 0-8 Mississippi Valley State team came to Pine Bluff last Saturday and went back across the big river with a 41-7 victory. The announced attendance was only 1,347. It was the first time for a Monte Coleman-coached team to lose to a Mississippi Valley State squad. The Delta Devils came into the game with 85 yards rushing for the season (that’s right, for the season) and gained 161 yards against UAPB. There’s no reason at this point to believe that the Golden Lions can be competitive at Texas Southern on Saturday despite the fact that the host team is just 3-6 overall and 3-4 in SWAC play. The Texas Southern victories came by scores of 31-0 over Mississippi Valley State, 31-27 over Alabama State and 34-31 over Alabama A&M. The losses were by scores of 29-25 to Prairie View A&M, 24-20 top Houston Baptist, 23-20 to Alcorn State, 21-13 to Jackson State, 66-17 to Sam Houston State and 26-10 to Southern University.

Henderson 37, Ouachita 34 — It’s the Battle of the Ravine, my favorite game of the year. If you’ve never experienced this unique rivalry, you should make the trip to Arkadelphia for Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff (see my earlier essay on this blog about the Battle of the Ravine). The Reddies didn’t repeat as Great American Conference champions due to losses to Harding and Southern Arkansas. Yet with a win Saturday, they would be 9-2 and possibly qualify for postseason play. Henderson has the best record of any college program in the state since 2010. Ouachita, meanwhile, has put together a string of nine consecutive winning seasons. That’s the longest stretch for any college program in Arkansas. Ouachita is 6-4 and has been beset by injuries, losing its quarterback, its best running back (Kris Oliver, the NCAA Division II freshman of the year in 2015 according to at least one service), its best receiver, its best kick returner and two starters in the secondary. Considering the injuries, the six victories are quite an accomplishment. Both teams warmed up for this one with easy road wins in Oklahoma last Saturday. Henderson beat 1-9 Southern Nazarene by a final score of 40-7. The Reddies scored on three of their first four possessions and outgained the home team 543-157. Ouachita defeated 2-8 Oklahoma Baptist by a final score of 51-28. The Tigers trailed 7-0 after an early pick six but then scored 24 unanswered points. Henderson is playing at home, is far healthier than Ouachita and has more seniors. Thus the Reddies are a heavy favorite. But these games are usually close.

Harding 41, Arkansas Tech 32 — Harding attempts to complete an undefeated regular season in Searcy on Saturday afternoon. The Bisons improved to 10-0 and secured an outright conference title with a 24-7 win at Northwestern Oklahoma last Saturday. It’s the first conference title in football for Harding since 1989 and the first 10-win season since 1972. The Bisons rushed for 392 yards in that game. A decent Tech team should be able to hang around for at least three quarters. The Wonder Boys are 6-4 following last week’s 24-20 win at 4-6 Southwestern Oklahoma. Tech has won four of its past five games.

Southern Arkansas 42, UAM 30 — The Muleriders are 8-2 following a 37-24 win at 1-9 East Central Oklahoma. They maintain an outside shot at a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs, but the host role in the Live United Bowl at Texarkana seems more likely. Michael Nunnery rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns for the Muleriders last Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Barrett Renner was 23 of 30 passing for 194 yards. UAM fell to 4-6 with a 44-26 loss at 6-4 Southeastern Oklahoma. The Boll Weevils also have an excellent sophomore quarterback in Cole Sears. He was 20 of 42 passing for 355 yards. UAM already has surpassed its victory total for the previous two seasons combined and has the talent to give Southern Arkansas some problems, at least for a half.

 

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Battle of the Ravine: The 90th edition

Monday, November 7th, 2016

We became spoiled in recent years.

During the first five years of the Great American Conference, the GAC football championship resided in Arkadelphia.

It was won three times by the Reddies of Henderson State University.

It was won two times by the Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University.

That means that a conference title was either on the line or already secured for at least one of the Arkadelphia teams each year from 2011 through 2015 going into the Battle of the Ravine.

The past five years have seen record crowds and unprecedented media coverage for the most unusual college football rivalry in America.

This year, the GAC title is headed to Searcy. Harding University is 10-0 and is playing Arkansas Tech on Saturday in an attempt to ensure it hosts its first game in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Henderson is 8-2 and still has an outside shot at a playoff slot. Most likely, though, the Reddies will head to a Division II bowl game with a victory Saturday.

Ouachita has been decimated by injuries this fall — the Tigers have lost their quarterback, best running back, best receiver, best kick returner and more — and enters the game with a 6-4 record. So this IS the bowl game for Ouachita.

Still, these are two good football teams.

Henderson has the best record among all college football programs in the state since 2010 at 62-16.

Ouachita, meanwhile, has secured its ninth consecutive winning season, the most of any college football program in Arkansas.

You have to understand that having a conference title on the line really isn’t essential to this rivalry. It’s always the biggest game of the year for both teams. Always.

It’s one of the most intense rivalries in college football, regardless of the division. The neighboring schools have played 89 times. Henderson has won 43 times, Ouachita has won 40 times and there have been six ties.

The Battle of the Ravine might not receive the recognition of an Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Oklahoma or Michigan-Ohio State series. But those who have played in these games, coached in them, covered them as journalists or simply watched from the stands understand.

There are few things in American sports that can be compared to a rivalry between four-year schools — both with quality football programs — whose stadiums are within walking distance of each other. It’s the only college football game in America in which the visiting team doesn’t fly or bus to a game. It walks.

In Arkadelphia, the town in which I was raised, it’s a battle that divides families. It’s Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day all rolled into one. The local chamber of commerce once promoted it as the Biggest Little Football Game in America, a moniker originally used by two New England schools, Amherst and Williams. Those two schools began playing in 1884. Ouachita and Henderson began playing in 1895.

The game has had an off-and-on quality through the years.

After that first contest on Thanksgiving Day in 1895 (Ouachita defeated what was then Arkadelphia Methodist College by a score of 8-0), the two schools did not play again until 1907. Henderson won that game.

In 1914, perhaps the best Ouachita team ever defeated both the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss but was forced to settle for a scoreless tie in the Battle of the Ravine.

The game usually was played on Thanksgiving. The series was suspended from 1941-44 due to World War II.

Following the 1951 contest, the presidents of the two schools decided that the pranks and vandalism the week prior to the game had gotten out of hand. So they called an end to the series, and it didn’t resume until 1963. After three more Thanksgiving games, the contests were moved to the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Another bump in the road came after the 1992 season when Henderson decided to leave the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference for the Gulf South Conference, which is based in Birmingham, Ala. There was no Battle of the Ravine from 1993-95. The AIC disintegrated, Ouachita played a year as an independent and then joined the Lone Star Conference. The Battle of the Ravine resumed in 1996 as a nonconference game and was played as the first game of the season through 2001.

Ouachita and Harding eventually were allowed to join the other former AIC schools in the Gulf South Conference. But the folks in Birmingham never really understood this rivalry. Even though it was a conference game again, it wasn’t played as the final game of the season. For some reason, the GSC had Ouachita finishing against Harding and Henderson finishing against Southern Arkansas as “rivalry games.” Even worse, Ouachita “rotated off” Henderson’s schedule for two years and there was no Battle of the Ravine in 2004 or 2005.

Thank goodness for the GAC, an Arkansas-based conference that includes six schools from Arkansas and six schools from Oklahoma. The game is always played, and it’s always the final Saturday of the regular season, just as it should be.

The pranks leading up to the game are just as much a part of the rivalry as the game itself.

Ouachita students (including my youngest son; he’s a Ouachita sophomore) guard the Tiger statue in the middle of campus to keep it from being painted red.

Henderson turns off its fountain at the entrance to the school to keep it from being filled with purple suds.

The most famous prank occurred in the late 1940s when Ouachita’s homecoming queen, Ann Strickland, was taken by Henderson cheerleaders the week before the game to a house on Lake Hamilton at Hot Springs. She later would become Ann Vining, the wife of legendary Ouachita basketball coach Bill Vining. At the time of the friendly kidnapping, Bill Vining was a Ouachita athlete. He led search parties through the Caddo Hotel in downtown Arkadelphia, looking for his girlfriend. She was released after two days when it was learned that Ouachita officials had reported the incident to police as an actual kidnapping.

Diesel fuel has been used through the years to burn OBU into the Henderson turf and HSU into the Ouachita turf.

One year, male Henderson students who were dressed in drag convinced a Ouachita librarian that they were there to take a Tiger statue in the library away for its annual cleaning.

In the 1970s, the Henderson bonfire was ignited early by Ouachita students. One of the Ouachita students reportedly involved in the prank was a religion major from Hope named Mike Huckabee.

In 1999, the incident that became known as Trashcam occurred. A Henderson graduate assistant took a video camera into Arkadelphia’s Central Park, which overlooks the Ouachita practice field. As he was taping practice, the graduate assistant was spotted by a member of the Ouachita football team. The graduate assistant sped away but left the camera in a nearby trash can. When the camera was found with a Henderson identification tag on it, Ouachita athletic director David Sharp returned the camera to Henderson. It was the proper thing to do. The rivalry might be intense, but these folks have to live with each other 52 weeks a year. They sit in the same pews at church and find themselves next to each other in the waiting room at the dentist’s office.

In 1949, Ike Sharp (the father of David Sharp) performed one of the most talked-about feats in Battle of the Ravine lore. Henderson led 14-0 with seven minutes remaining in the game. Ouachita scored to make it 14-7, and then Ike Sharp successfully executed an onside kick. Ouachita then scored to tie the game. Sharp executed a second onside kick. Otis Turner, known by Ouachita fans as the Magic Toe, kicked a field goal to give Ouachita a 17-14 lead. Sharp then executed a third onside kick, allowing Ouachita to run out the clock.

The most memorable college football game of my childhood occurred in 1975 when both teams were ranked in the top five of the NAIA. Henderson was 9-0, and Ouachita was 8-1. On a bitterly cold day at Haygood Stadium on the Henderson side of the ravine, Ouachita converted a fourth-and-25 with time running out as Bill Vining Jr. completed a pass to Gary Reese that forced a measurement. Ouachita retained possession by the nose of the football and scored moments later to win 21-20. The two teams shared the AIC title. Ouachita advanced to the NAIA playoffs, and Henderson had to settle for a slot in the first (and last) Bicentennial Bowl at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

The lights will be on in both stadiums each night this week to discourage pranks.

The signs on both campuses have been covered to keep off the paint.

As for me, I’ll look at the clock and count the hours until Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. The rivalry is an important part of who I am.

In my family, the day Ouachita played Henderson in football was as big as Christmas. We lived in the Ouachita Hills neighborhood, and we could walk to both stadiums from our house.

When they started playing again in 1963, I was 4 years old. You can bet I was there. So it has been 53 years since my first Battle of the Ravine.

Even though I’m in my 34th season of doing the play-by-play on radio of Ouachita games, I can assure you that there will be butterflies in my stomach when we sign on the broadcast at noon Saturday. I hope that never changes — that sense of anticipation, that realization of just how much this series has been a part of the life of my family (my father played quarterback for Ouachita in the 1947 Battle of the Ravine and my mother had been proclaimed the Ouachitonian beauty).

I lived in Washington, D.C., during the late 1980s, where I covered Congress for the Arkansas Democrat. I missed the 1985, 1986 and 1987 games. I flew back to Arkansas for the 1988 game, which was called off with the score tied at the half because the field was flooding.

I broadcast my first Battle of the Ravine in 1978 and did the games through 1984. I’ve broadcast all of the games since 1990.

One of my goals is to get ESPN to do its “College GameDay” show from Arkadelphia on the day of a Battle of the Ravine.

After all, ESPN took the show to Williamstown, Mass., on Nov. 10, 2007, for the Amherst-Williams game. That’s an NCAA Division III contest.

ESPN has never done the show from the site of a Division II game.

Can you imagine a national audience getting to watch as the visiting team walks to a road game?

At about 11:30 a.m. this Saturday, state troopers will stop traffic on U.S. Highway 67 and the members of the Ouachita football team will walk across, making the trek from their own dressing room to a visiting stadium.

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, the troopers will stop the traffic again, and the Tigers will walk back home.

There’s nothing else in America quite like it.

I’m counting the days, the hours, the minutes.

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Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs begin

Monday, November 7th, 2016

The regular season has concluded.

It’s time for the high school football playoffs, where all the talking will be done on the field as teams try to make it to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for a state championship game.

No need for further analysis. As the old saying goes: “Talk’s cheap; let’s play.”

Here are the rankings at the end of the regular season:

Overall

  1. Fayetteville
  2. Greenwood
  3. North Little Rock
  4. Pulaski Academy
  5. Bentonville
  6. Wynne
  7. Springdale Har-Ber
  8. Fort Smith Northside
  9. Pine Bluff
  10. Warren

Class 7A

  1. Fayetteville
  2. North Little Rock
  3. Bentonville
  4. Springdale Har-Ber
  5. Fort Smith Northside

Class 6A

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

Class 5A

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

Class 4A

  1. Warren
  2. Nashville
  3. Robinson
  4. Prairie Grove
  5. Pea Ridge

Class 3A

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

Class 2A

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

 

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A War Memorial vision

Friday, November 4th, 2016

My wife constantly reminds me that I get involved in too many crusades.

There are worse things in life, I suppose, than having multiple passions.

And I was passionate about trying to save Ray Winder Field, which was one of the 10 oldest professional baseball parks in America. I knew that if the Arkansas Travelers were to retain their big league affiliation, they had to move out of the crowded old park in the middle of Little Rock. But it could have — should have — been saved for amateur baseball.

Some of us tried.

We lined up high school, college and American Legion teams to play there. We formed a nonprofit organization to operate the ballpark.

But the city of Little Rock barely gave us the time of day. Our “city leaders” sold the iconic Arkansas structure to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to turn into a parking lot.

To this day, I can’t bear to look when driving down Interstate 630.

Jay Jennings, a Little Rock-based writer and editor who once was a reporter for Sports Illustrated, put it this way in a beautifully written essay for Arkansas Life magazine back in 2012: “Ray Winder Field is now flattened, no mound in its middle, its concrete rubble hauled away, its fences knocked down, its I-beams only a ghostly memory. I mourn its demise and can conjure up my youthful summer nights there, chasing down foul balls through empty rows of seats, rushing to the dugout fence to ask for a broken bat, reveling in the varying textures of a Drumstick ice cream cone. Baseball has always been about nostalgia and fungible time.

“Maybe it’s the absence of Ray Winder Field that is causing me to think about its bigger, younger sibling just down the road, its seeming opposite: War Memorial Stadium. Even the names are a contrast: One the home of bucolic and breezy summer languidness (rays, wind, a field), the other evoking martial battles, death and enormity. A field is where games are played; a stadium is where crowds assemble.

“But there’s something about War Memorial that’s also worthy of nostalgic reflection, of civic affection. As a child (too young or too unruly for my parents to consider taking me to a game), on fall Saturdays, I would take my radio out on the front porch to listen to the game, and though I was more than two miles away, I could hear the roar from the crowd not only through my radio but from the stadium itself. But more than gratuitous self-reflection led me to consider War Memorial anew. Since it hosts Razorback games, high school football games (preseason, Catholic High and state championships), University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff games, band competitions, concerts and various other events, it’s possible that War Memorial Stadium is the most visited site in the state.”

In all of the statewide debate in recent years as to whether the University of Arkansas should continue playing football games in the capital city, one thing has been forgotten: War Memorial Stadium is one of this state’s top public works projects and also its largest memorial to the veterans of World War I and World War II.

It deserves to be preserved and treasured as we hopefully atone for the sin of allowing Ray Winder Field to be demolished — for a parking lot, for gosh sakes.

On Sept. 18, 1948, the University of Arkansas brought its football team to Little Rock to play Abilene Christian at the new stadium. Maurice “Footsie” Britt, who would be elected lieutenant governor 18 years later, led the dedication ceremonies.

Britt was the first person to earn all of the U.S. Army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war. Born in 1919 at Carlisle, Britt later moved to Lonoke and became a high school sports star. Because he wore size 13 shoes, he became known as “Footsie.” Britt was the captain of the football, basketball and track teams at Lonoke. He also was elected class president and was the valedictorian of his senior class.

Following his graduation in June 1937, Britt received an athletic scholarship to Arkansas, where he played football and basketball for the Razorbacks in addition to serving as the sports editor of the student newspaper.

After college, Britt signed a contract to play professional football for the Detroit Lions. His professional career was cut short when he joined the Army at the outset of World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry in a battle near Mignano, Italy, on Nov. 10, 1943.

On Feb. 12, 1944, Britt lost his right arm when an artillery shell landed near him.

War Memorial Stadium was built to honor Arkansans such as “Footsie” Britt.

We forget that, don’t we?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s announcement at the state Capitol last month was significant. Hutchinson proposed that the stadium become a part of the state Department of Parks & Tourism, a move that could at last take the spotlight off the issue of Razorback games and put it back where it should be — the protection of an Arkansas shrine.

The War Memorial Stadium Commission — under the leadership of Little Rock attorney Kevin Crass and his predecessor as chairman, Little Rock businessman Gary Smith — has done an outstanding job updating the facility since the turn of the century.

The stadium that Britt helped dedicate in 1948 had 31,000 seats. A major expansion project occurred in 1967 as interest in Razorback football reached a fever pitch following the 22-game winning streak in 1964-65. The stadium now holds almost 54,000 people.

In the past 15 years, virtually every area of the stadium has been updated — new lights, new artificial turf, a restoration of the outside of the structure, new scoreboards and video boards.

In 2010, the commission completed a $7.3 million project that included a three-story press box and additional club seats.

If there’s an area in which the commission has fallen short, it’s probably in properly informing Arkansans about those improvements. Each time the debate about Razorback games in Little Rock rages, uneducated Hog fans and message board trolls post comments on social media that paint the picture of an aging, municipal-owned stadium (think Legion Field in Birmingham) that has been allowed to deteriorate.

The truth is that it’s a state-owned facility that looks better than it ever has.

“Maybe the state doesn’t completely understand that 250 days out of the year, we have one or more events that are at War Memorial Stadium,,” says Jerry Cohen, the stadium manager. “We’re an event center as well as a football stadium. We look at this as a chance for growth. … There are only two bathrooms and a kitchen that haven’t been redone. We’re basically a new structure other than the concrete and the bleachers.”

Regardless of whether the University of Arkansas continues playing games at War Memorial Stadium past 2018 or not, this is a story that could have a happy ending for the stadium. With the inherent strengths of the Department of Parks & Tourism — think sports and veterans’ exhibits around the concourse, a gift shop, a small theater, maybe even a restaurant — some of the beloved memorial’s best days could be ahead.

“War Memorial Stadium is a critical part of our lifeblood,” Hutchinson says.

Jennings wrote in the 2012 magazine story: “I usually park for free on Kavanaugh’s commercial strip in Hillcrest and walk past modest houses to Markham, where the stadium suddenly rises in front of me. It’s a neighborhood stadium. That charm may be one reason the Bleacher Report website named War Memorial one of the top 50 stadiums in college football last year. … She’s an old lady who has aged well. Look closely at the architecture, which you may never have done before.

“The main facade’s portal is a lovely piece of postwar simplicity, an example of a trend that one contemporary critic has described as ‘the postwar revolt against the stylistic clutter of traditional moldings and ornamentation.’ Over an aluminum canopy covering the entrance are three large windows made of translucent glass bricks (as are all of the external windows in the stadium), and these in turn are covered by an aluminum grill of six long horizontal bars and six shorter vertical bars, similar to what you might see on the front of cars of that vintage.

“The architects, Burks and Anderson, were liberal in their use of aluminum because at the time, Arkansas produced more of it than any other state in the country, and they wanted to showcase Arkansas materials. Above the grilled windows are three enormous aluminum plaques depicting football players in stylized action poses. I don’t know who the artist is, but they’re quite striking. … Above them is a terrific mid-century-modern sans-serif font spelling out War Memorial Stadium. All of these elements speak of a thoughtful and sensitive public building.”

The director of the state Department of Parks & Tourism, Kane Webb, is a former sports reporter like Jennings and also a fan of the stadium.

“I love War Memorial Stadium,” Webb says. “I saw my first college football game there in 1972. My dad took me to see Joe Ferguson and the Hogs. Unfortunately, they lost to Rice that day, but he gave me a souvenir on the way home to make me feel better. I played there at Catholic High for the Rockets. I covered dozens of high school and college games there as a sportswriter. Now on Friday night, when the Rockets are home, I’m out there watching my daughter perform as a Mount St. Mary Rockette. It means a lot to me.”

Members of the commission overseeing Webb’s department seem excited about the opportunity to have a flagship facility in the middle of the state’s largest city. They already operate 52 state parks, and Arkansas’ parks system is recognized as being among the best of the country.

Envision this:

— The concourse open to the public six or seven days a week so visitors can see displays on those who served in World War I and World War II along with displays on the state’s sports history.

— A gift shop filled with Arkansas-made items.

— A small theater where visitors can watch short films about the state.

— High school games there every Thursday and Friday night during the season, more soccer events, maybe even a college bowl game.

“It’s in our wheelhouse,” Webb says. “It’s what we do in the hospitality and tourism business. We run facilities. We put on events. We serve the public, and we know how to get the good word out about Arkansas and its many attractions. … We have an established record of getting things done, taking care of business, doing right by the taxpayers. Our team is ready for the challenge.

“I had a small group go out and meet with Jerry Cohen the other day. They speak the same language. It just seems like a natural fit for us. I really like the governor’s idea of a feasibility study. It always helps to have an objective, outside look at something, especially when it comes to such an emotional and cultural touchstone for so many of us in Arkansas.”

What would be even more exciting is if the city of Little Rock, which owns the land around the stadium, would hire a team of landscape architects and transform War Memorial Park into all it can be.

When the golf course at what was then Fair Park was built in 1931, it was on the far western edge of the city. Now, it’s in the middle of town. Frankly, the city already has too many holes of municipal golf given the declining number of golfers.

It’s time to transform the valuable greenspace in War Memorial Park into a place that will attract a broad segment of the city’s population — a place where residents of the city can run, walk, bike, fish, have picnics, play soccer, etc.

Great cities have great parks.

War Memorial Park — despite city government’s disastrous decision to sell Ray Winder Field so it could be turned into a parking lot — holds the potential of being a great park.

“One morning, I decided to take advantage of my right as a taxpayer to run some bleachers,” Jennings wrote for Arkansas Life. “It was a day forecast to reach 110 degrees, so it wasn’t a surprise that no one else was there, except for one unlucky worker who was repainting the stadium aisles red for the start of the football season. I began on the north side of the west stands and traversed them north to south, up one aisle, across the top, down the next, over and up again. In the center at the highest point, there are 62 rows, and the steps near the top are taller than the rest. Burks and Anderson must have had a good reason for doing that.

“At the other end, I paused at the top to catch my breath and could hear the call of some wild bird from the zoo piercing the morning air. In one direction, I could see the rolling fairways of the War Memorial Golf Course, and in the other the ever-growing campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In addition to the long-distance views, there’s something expansive to the imagination about being alone in a stadium intended for 55,000.”

Community developers talk a lot these days about creating “great places.” Great places, you see, can attract talented young people to live and work.

If the state of Arkansas (the owner of War Memorial Stadium) and the city of Little Rock (the owner of War Memorial Park) will work together, we could have one of the state’s great places right in the middle of the capital city. And that would be true regardless of what the Razorbacks do.

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