Archive for November, 2010

Crossing the ravine

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I wrote last week about the 84th Battle of the Ravine in Arkadelphia. The game itself wasn’t as close as some past games had been as Henderson defeated Ouachita by a final score of 35-26.

But the weather was perfect, and both teams had talent as a crowd of almost 10,000 people looked on.

Something struck me as I spent the day at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium: From an economic and community development standpoint, Arkadelphia is finally getting its act together. A look at the election maps from Tuesday, unfortunately, shows that Clark County remains stuck in a one-party mentality that has stunted fresh thinking there for far too long. But that too will change at some point.

As noted in last week’s post, the football series between Ouachita and Henderson was halted from 1951 until 1963 due to excessive vandalism. Prior to that 1951 suspension, however, an energetic chapter of Arkadelphia Jaycees worked during the late 1940s to transform the Battle of the Ravine into a weeklong series of activities that people across the state and region would want to attend. Arkadelphia was perhaps the most progressive city in the southern half of the state back then.

As part of the economic and community development work I did during my 13 years in government, I constantly preached that communities must identify what makes them different and then build on those assets. Arkadelphia, for example, is different from other towns in the southern half of Arkansas because it’s the home of two four-year universities. That’s what sets it apart from Malvern, Camden, Magnolia, Monticello and all the rest.

And it already has this unique annual event — the one college football game in the country in which the visiting team actually walks to a road game since U.S. Highway 67 is all that separates the two stadiums.

After ending the spring Festival of Two Rivers a few years back, business and civic leaders in Arkadelphia struggled to come up with something new. As is so often the case in communities, the answer was right in front of them. The Battle of the Ravine is unique. They should build events around it, just as the Jaycees had done back in the 1940s, and then promote the festival statewide. I preached on that subject in appearances before the Arkadelphia Football Club and Leadership Clark County.

Fortunately, there’s a new generation of leaders now stepping forward in a city that has been stagnant from a population growth standpoint for decades. Those young leaders seized on the idea. Led by people such as Blake Bell of Edward Jones, they created a festival known as the Rally on the Ravine and came up with complementary events such as a golf tournament, a community pep rally and a road race.

Spurred by Bell and other graduates of Leadership Clark County, the group behind the Rally on the Ravine obtained sponsorship money from a variety of sources. Southern Bancorp was the title sponsor. The next two largest sponsors were the Ross Foundation and the Arnold Batson Turner & Turner law firm.

In the next tier of sponsors were Leadership Clark County, the Dawson Educational Cooperative, the Arkadelphia School District, the city of Arkadelphia, Summit Bank, Edward Jones, Vision Source, Treadway Electric, state Rep. Johnnie Roebuck, Print Mania, Minks Inc. Design and the two universities.

It was an unqualified success and no doubt will grow in future years. These young leaders should shoot for the stars. Occasionally, ESPN will take its “College GameDay” program to a small college. For years, Henderson sports information director Troy Mitchell has been working to get ESPN interested in the Battle of the Ravine. The cable network has yet to bite, missing an opportunity to show viewers across the country what small college football is really all about. Attracting ESPN to Arkadelphia could be one of the goals of the leadership group.

In a state that’s painted Razorback red this time each year, the football rivalry between Henderson and Ouachita has never received the attention it deserves. In fact, it sometimes get more attention outside the state than inside Arkansas.

A recent feature article in Touchdown Illustrated, a publication distributed during football games at colleges and universities across the country, began this way: “There is a small town in southern Arkansas where two rivers meet, with a highly traveled scenic highway and two institutions of higher learning within a stone’s throw of one another. This town is Arkadelphia, Ark., and one day each year it plays host to the most unique sports event in intercollegiate athletics.”

You read that correctly. A national publication called the Battle of the Ravine “the most unique sports event” in all of college sports.

Having started in 1895, it’s one of the oldest rivalries in the country. Harvard has been playing Yale since 1875 in what’s known simply as The Game. Amherst has been playing Williams since 1884 in what’s known as the Biggest Little Game in America. Army has been playing Navy since 1890. Alabama has been playing Auburn in the Iron Bowl since 1893.

But the Battle of the Ravine is older than rivalries such as Clemson vs. South Carolina, Ohio State vs. Michigan and Oklahoma vs. Texas. And you can’t get more evenly matched. Following Henderson’s victory last Satuday, the series is even at 39-39-6.

Ouachita athletic director David Sharp put it this way in the Touchdown Illustrated story: “There is not a more unique setting for a game. This is the only place where you can literally take a driver and a 3-wood and hit from one school’s stadium to the other.”

The story also reported on the pranks that are so much a part of this crosstown rivalry: “Along with the game are the shenanigans that lead up to that day. There are always pranks and practical jokes in which students from both schools participate. The pranks intensify during game week. Those involved in these pranks include members of both institutions’ current faculty, vice presidents and government officials. Even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was involved in lighting Henderson’s homecoming bonfire a day earlier than scheduled.

“Other pranks include HSU sorority and fraternity members painting marshmallows in the school’s red and gray and having a crop-duster drop them on OBU’s side of the street; diesel fuel used to burn OBU into the grass on Henderson’s main campus; and Henderson students painting the Tiger statue. Ouachita students would sabotage the Henderson fountain, which is a focal point of the Henderson campus. … Students have been known to put purple dye or fizzies in the fountain.

“During game week, numerous monuments and memorials on both campuses are heavily covered in plastic to prevent them from being painted, as well as each school’s football stadium lights remain on throughout the evening. … The game won’t draw 100,000 fans, but rather 10,000, and each and every one will come away knowing they have been part of one of the most storied events in all of college football.”

To borrow the cliche, you simply can’t buy national attention that good.

Enrollment is up at both Henderson and Ouachita this summer. There seems to be a renewed spirit in the town. The Battle of the Ravine is simply one piece in a very large community development puzzle, but the crop of young leaders must build on the successes of last week as they work to help an Arkansas city finally achieve its potential.

The day after: Some political thoughts

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I rarely write about politics on this blog.

That sometimes comes as a surprise to those who know me since I’ve spent much of my career in politics and continue to love the political game.

There are several reasons why I don’t write about politics on a regular basis. For one thing, there are too many columnists, bloggers and other commentators already out there writing millions of words and using thousands of hours of valuable air time to express their views. Why add to that already crowded mix?

From the start, I was determined to make this blog something different — a few longer posts each week rather than multiple short posts, a focus on the things (from football to barbecue) that make this part of the country such a great place to live.

Another reason I don’t express my poltical views here is that I figure you really don’t care what I think. As we get older and wiser, we hopefully become a bit more humble. Who really cares what I think about health care reform, for instance? I won’t burden you with my political views.

All of that said, I do have some thoughts about what happened yesterday in Arkansas. Maybe I can add some perspective. I’m not one to exaggerate, but for the first time I believe we’re living in a true two-party state.

Arkansas politics traditionally have been personality based. And the Republicans had some personalities rise to the top through the years — a Winthrop Rockefeller here, a Mike Huckabee there. What happened yesterday, however, was different from anything that has occurred in my 51 years here. In a state where a lot of people have voted straight-party tickets for Democrats, we saw thousands of people vote straight-party tickets for Republicans.

That’s new.

Overnight, we’ve gone from five Democrats and one Republican in our congressional delegation to four Republicans and two Democrats.

We’ve gone from all seven statewide constitutional officers being Democrats to three of the seven being Republicans.

We’ve gone from one of the most heavily Democratic legislatures in the country to an Arkansas Legislature in which the Democrats will hold majorities of only about 55-45 in the House and 20-15 in the Senate. That puts Republicans in a position to capture majorities in both houses of the Legislature in the next one or two election cycles.

Sit back, take a deep breath and think of the enormity of all this.

As I ran my mouth last night in the KUAR-FM studio (thanks to those of you who tuned in), I realized I was witnessing history. I had never seen a Republican elected to Congress from the Delta of east Arkansas, for instance. And only once before had I ever watched a Republican declare victory in a U.S. Senate race in this state.

The scope of things didn’t really sink in, though, until this morning when I realized that Republicans had won every contested state Senate seat, had won the lieutenant governor’s office and had won the secretary of state’s office in addition to the land commissioner’s office.

That’s not to mention the fact that my home county — Clark County — had voted to go wet. Now there’s something I really never thought I would see.

Is this Arkansas? Well, yes. It’s the new Arkansas.

Will it be a better Arkansas? That’s yet to be determined.

Having worked in political campaigns and having worked in government, I can tell you that governing is a far different animal than running for office. Simply winning office doesn’t ensure you’ll be successful serving in office. If you don’t believe me, ask President Obama.

Arkansas Republicans must help govern now.

For my friends in both parties, I say this: Don’t ever abandon your principles. But leave the highly partisan rhetoric at the door now that the campaigns have ended and do what’s best for Arkansas. When I worked for Mike Huckabee in the governor’s office, we had a hypothetical question we would ask ourselves in an attempt to remain grounded: “What does this mean for that couple eating breakfast this morning in Dermott?”

As a Republican administration dealing with a heavily Democratic Legislature, we never would have accomplished anything without reaching across party lines on a daily basis and forging compromises. Because we did that, Mike Huckabee will, I believe, be remembered as one of the most successful governors in Arkansas history.

The 2011 legislative session won’t be nearly as pleasant for Gov. Mike Beebe as the 2007 and 2009 sessions were. There’s a lot less money and a lot more Republicans. Given his many years as a legislator, though, I’m confident Beebe will be able to forge compromises. The strategies will have to change, but the goal of building a better Arkansas will remain the same. I have confidence in this governor.

Competition generally is a good thing. I suspect I was a better newspaperman, for example, when I was working for the Arkansas Democrat and having to compete daily against the Arkansas Gazette than I was when I worked for the monopoly Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

And I think competition will be a good thing in Arkansas politics as long as officeholders ask themselves each morning what they’re doing for that couple eating breakfast in Dermott (or Dell, Decatur or Doddridge to bring the other three corners of our state into the mix).

Back in the spring I wrote about how much I enjoy election nights. I’ve found that I enjoy the day after almost as much now — reading the stories, analyzing the returns, comparing notes with fellow political animals. Considering how dry it has been, I love watching the rain out my offfice window today. But I realize that the rainy day likely adds to the sadness of those candidates and campaign workers who were involved in losing efforts.

Twice I’ve worked full time in losing campaigns. That means I woke up the morning after without a job.

The first time was 1984 when I worked for Judy Petty, the Republican candidate in the 2nd Congressional District who lost to then-Democrat Tommy Robinson. I remember how much a call that next morning from Skip Rutherford meant to me. Skip, a Democrat but a friend first and foremost, said: “I’ve been there the morning after losing a campaign. You think nobody in the world cares about you. I wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.”

I have friends in both parties — people like Democrat Shane Broadway and Republican Beth Anne Rankin — who lost. Good friend Kelly Boyd appears to have lost his legislative race by fewer than 30 votes. To all of them, I say this: Thanks for putting your name out there and running. We need good people running for office, and you’re good people. I don’t have the guts to run. I’m glad you did.

I’m reminded of a story the Arkansas Gazette put together the day after the 1986 election. The reporter went to various campaign offices that Wednesday to see what people were doing and saying. Darrell Glascock had run Frank White’s third, final and worst campaign against Bill Clinton. White had been wiped out as the incumbent Clinton won with 64 percent of the vote.

Glascock was asked what he would do now.

He replied: “I’m going to buy a Cornish hen and have all my friends over for dinner.”

Some final thoughts on this rainy day when it finally feels like fall:

— I was truly saddened by state Sen. Joyce Elliott’s refusal to concede defeat when she came out shortly after 10 p.m. During my years at the state Capitol, I found Joyce to be an excellent legislator with whom to work. She’s smart, articulate and dedicated to those things in which she believes. On Tuesday night, she forgot her manners. It had been obvious since shortly after the polls closed (actually it had been obvious for weeks) that Tim Griffin would be the next congressman from the 2nd District. There’s a certain election night etiquette that should be followed in a civilized society. Admitting the obvious and congratulating your opponent is part of the process. Joyce made all the wrong moves at a time when she had a chance to be classy and graceful with a statewide television audience tuned in. I can understand why it’s easy for candidates to become a bit delusional; after all, they’ve invested more than anyone. But those advising Sen. Elliott should have forced the issue. The lasting impression for thousands of Arkansans will be of that graceless exit, and that’s unfortunate. Tim did exactly the right thing by coming out and declaring victory as soon as it became obvious that his opponent could not bring herself to say “congratulations.”

— The three best-run campaigns were those of Beebe, Griffin and John Boozman. They were disciplined and focused throughout, and focus is a tough thing to maintain in the rough and tumble of a campaign. As an old politico, my hat is off to those involved in each of those campaigns.

 — It appears Boozman will finish with about 58 percent of the vote. That means I can hold onto one of my few claims to fame. Gov. Huckabee gave me the honor of managing his 1998 campaign. We finished with almost 60 percent of the vote. I can still say I managed the campaign that received the highest percentage of the vote of any statewide GOP campaign in Arkansas history.

Enough politics. Back to football tomorrow.

Election coverage tonight on KUAR-FM, 89.1

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

On what promises to be a historic election night in Arkansas, I hope you will consider tuning in KUAR-FM, 89.1, in Little Rock beginning at 8 p.m.

Dr. Jay Barth of Hendrix College and I will provide what I hope will be the best election night media analysis you can find in this state on either radio or television.

Kelly MacNeil will anchor the coverage from the studio. Ron Breeding and Michael Hibblen, two of the most talented radio journalists in the country, will be reporting from the field.

If you want to know what’s going on around Arkansas, 89.1 FM is the place to be.

As the great Charles Osgood of CBS would say, I’ll see you on the radio.

College football — Week 10

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

A pretty solid victory. Few complaints.

Oh sure, there was that slow start.

But Arkansas recovered for a 49-14 victory over Vanderbilt at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday night, and a 35-point victory is about all one can ask against any Southeastern Conference opponent (including a Vanderbilt team that’s not very good even by Vanderbilt standards).

Ryan Mallett broke his own school passing record by one yard as he completed 27 of 44 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns. Jarius Wright scored on a pair of 15-yard receptions, his first scores of the year. With Greg Childs out for the season, Wright and the other receivers will need to step up Saturday night in Columbia, S.C.

Vanderbilt gained 130 yards in the first quarter but picked up only 23 yards the three remaining quarters.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas offense piled up 555 yards — 138 on the ground (Knile Davis has now firmly established himself as the Razorbacks’ go-to running back) and 417 yards through the air.

Things get tough now. This week, it’s the trip to South Carolina to take on Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks.

After a breather in Fayetteville against UTEP a week from Saturday, Arkansas must play a surprisingly strong Mississippi State team in Starkville on Nov. 20 before finishing the regular season in Little Rock against LSU on Nov 27.

South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU — The Razorbacks have the ability to win all three of those games. It’s not out of the question that they could lose all three.

As Frank Broyles was fond of saying: “They always remember what you do in November.”

I think the Hogs will go 2-1 or 1-2 in those three contests. Either a 9-3 or an 8-4 record likely puts them in the Cotton Bowl.

I went 5-2 on last week’s picks, making the record 50-20 for the season. No one could have predicted that Southern Arkansas would win its first game of the season against a talented West Alabama team. And I always find the Battle of the Ravine difficult to pick. Just note that after 84 meetings, the series between Ouachita and Henderson is even at 39-39-6. Pretty amazing.

Moving to this week’s picks:

Arkansas 35, South Carolina 31: OK, I know I sound like a homer again in picking the Razorbacks to win this road game. I correctly picked Arkansas to lose to Alabama but then turned around and picked the Razorbacks to defeat Auburn on the road. After eight games, Arkansas has yet to put together that one contest when the offense, the defense and the kicking game all come together for four quarters. I get the sense that they’re due against another 6-2 team. The Gamecocks’ two losses have come by eight points at Auburn and by three points in Lexington against Kentucky. South Carolina has yet to lose at home. The six wins have been by margins of 28 points against Southern Mississippi, 11 points against Georgia, 19 points against Furman, 14 points against then-No. 1 Alabama, 14 points against Vanderbilt and 14 points against Tennessee. It’s going to take quite an effort for the Razorbacks to do what the Crimson Tide could not — win in Columbia.

Arkansas State 41, Middle Tennessee 38 — College football should never be played on a Tuesday night. Never. Especially not Election Night. But you do what you have to do to gain national television exposure, so the Red Wolves will take on Middle Tennessee in the rain tonight at Jonesboro. ASU is 3-5, coming off a win in Jonesboro 10 days ago against Florida Atlantic. There are few Division I teams that have only played seven games through the end of October, but Middle Tennessee is one of them. The Blue Raiders are 3-4. The wins have come by scores of 56-33 over Austin Peay (home of that great college chant: “Let’s go Peay!”), 34-14 over Louisiana-Lafayette and 38-10 over Louisiana-Monroe. The losses have been to Minnesota, Memphis (the Tigers’ only win), Troy and Georgia Tech.

UAPB 24, Mississippi Valley State 14 — The Golden Lions played pretty well Saturday afternoon before a crowd of more than 29,000 at War Memorial Stadium despite a 35-25 loss to Grambling. Grambling, at 7-1 overall and 7-0 in conference, is the class of the SWAC. Homecoming is always a big day in Pine Bluff, and UAPB officials made the right decision in choosing Mississippi Valley State as the homecoming opponent. The Golden Lions are 4-4 and the Delta Devils are 0-8 with losses to Alabama State, South Carolina State, Alcorn State, Jackson State, Prairie View A&M, Southern University, Grambling and Texas Southern.

UCA 27, Texas State 25 — After losing three consecutive games, UCA has rebounded to post back-to-back victories over Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana. In their 30-23 homecoming victory over Southeastern Louisiana in Conway on Saturday afternoon, the Bears saw freshmen defensive backs Jestin Love and Dominique Brown each return interceptions for touchdowns. The Bears are still a bit hard to figure at 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the Southland Conference. So is Texas State, which is 4-4 overall and 1-3 in conference. The Bobcats shocked league-leading Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches on Saturday, 27-24. SFA had come into the game with records of 3-0 in the Southland Conference and 6-1 overall. The other Bobcat victories have been over Southern Arkansas, Cal Tech and Southern Utah. The losses have been to Houston, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State and Northwestern State of Louisiana. Who knows which Texas State team will show up Saturday?

UAM 30, Southern Arkansas 21 — Two hard-luck Arkansas schools meet in El Dorado on Saturday for the Boomtown Classic. Southern Arkansas started the season 0-7 and then shocked the Gulf South Conference in Magnolia last weekend with that 30-27 overtime victory over a West Alabama team that had come in with a 6-2 record and its NCAA Division II playoff hopes still alive. A year ago, SAU defeated West Alabama in five overtimes. UAM, meanwhile, fell to 3-6 with a 33-26 loss in Searcy to a Harding team that’s far better than its 4-4 record indicates. Do you like the 1-7 Muleriders or the 3-6 Boll Weevils? I expect UAM senior quarterback Scott Buisson (the Weevils would have a far better record had he remained healthy all season) to have a good day.

Harding 20, Arkansas Tech 17 — As noted, Harding is a better team than the four losses indicate. Those losses have been by margins of seven points to West Georgia, three points to Ouachita, five points to West Alabama and five points to Henderson — four losses by a total of 20 points. Arkansas Tech, which went to the NCAA Division II playoffs a year ago, is in a rebuilding mode this season. The Wonder Boys fell to 3-6 in Russellville last Saturday with a 21-7 loss to nationally ranked Valdosta State.

Delta State 31, Ouachita 30 — This game in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon should be a good one. Ouachita is 5-3 and Delta State is 6-3. It seems I have the hardest time picking the team I see play every week. I pick Ouachita to lose by one point to North Alabama, and the Tigers shock the Lions in overtime. So I pick the Tigers to win the Battle of the Ravine and their secondary is shredded by Henderson quarterback Nick Hardesty as the Reddies win by nine, 35-26. That North Alabama team that Ouachita defeated? It turned around and destroyed Delta State by a score of 31-7 last week. On the other hand, Delta State earlier in the season defeated the Henderson team that had its way with Ouachita. It’s another crazy year in the Gulf South Conference. Having been wrong the past couple of weeks, I guess I’ll just pick the Tigers to lose while hoping fervently that they win.

South Alabama 48, Henderson 45 — This game intrigues me. I mentioned Hardesty He completed 37 of 56 passes for 420 yards and five touchdowns against Ouachita. In only his second year as the Reddie quarterback, he became the school’s single-season (3,362 yards) and career passing leader (4,609 yards). Hardesty has passed for more than 400 yards five times this season. If the Reddies had not gotten hosed at West Alabama (it’s a long story, but trust me), Henderson would be tied for the GSC lead. As it is, the Reddies are tied for second at 6-3 overall and 5-2 in conference. This is the best Henderson team since the late Sporty Carpenter was coaching. South Alabama, meanwhile, has never lost a game since starting a football program last year. The Jaguars plan to join Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. The Jaguars went 7-0 while playing an abbreviated schedule last season and are 8-0 so far this season with wins over Pikeville, Nicholls State, Edward Waters, Kentucky Wesleyan, Missouri S&T, Lamar, Cal-Davis and Bill Curry’s first-year program at Georgia State. I happen to think the Reddies will give the Jaguars all they can handle in Mobile on Saturday.