Editor’s Note: Welcome to the latest This Week in Arkansas Sports History by Evin Demirel. In this column you will find tidbits of sports news from years gone by, pulled from sources and newspaper archives from around the state. Our hope is that we will remind you of a sports story you may have forgotten and share some you never knew. If you have tips for us to check out, let us know in the mailbag form at the bottom of the post. Our objective is to make this column interactive. So if you have a suggestion or feedback, send it our way. Thank you.
10 years ago …
It was announced Little Rock businessman Jackson T. Stephens donated $20.4 million to UALR for construction of a state-of-the-art athletic facility. Plans call for the 124,000 square foot center to open in 2005 and sources tell the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette it will be named after the late W.R. “Witt” Stephens, who in 1933 founded Stephens Inc., a Little Rock investment banking firm. It will feature a 5,600-seat arena that will be home to UALR’s men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as well as volleyball teams.
The Lady Trojans had been playing on campus at the 1,000-seat Trojan Fieldhouse the last two seasons. Meanwhile, Alltel Arena in North Little Rock had been home to the men’s team. UALR leaders say the new arena’s smaller size will help boost crowd noise at home games and that, unlike at Alltel Arena, the seating will be arranged specifically for basketball because no hockey will be played there.
All of the Stephens Center’s seats will be stacked close to the court.
“Being basketball specific is going to make this a great college basketball atmosphere,” UALR head basketball coach Steve Shields said. “When you start looking at 70 percent of the seats between each basket, that’s going to make an unbelievable atmosphere.”
In a statement, UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson adds: “This special events center is going to bring something new — the most exciting basketball we’ve ever had in central Arkansas.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; July 2, 1963]
Have Anderson’s words rung true? The Razorbacks, after all, used to regularly play pretty exciting games at Barton Coliseum. And Mike Newell led some mighty exciting UALR teams in the 1980s [indeed, after his first five years, UALR was one of the five winningest programs in the nation according to this interview]
Steve Shields’ Trojans have been consistently successful. But, save for a Sun Belt tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011, it seems they haven’t yet been able to grip the imagination of sports fans beyond a few hardcore followers in central Arkansas.
Obviously, a Sweet Sixteen run would do much to turn this situation around. Two or three wins in a postseason tourney isn’t easy, though. Just ask the Hogs.
Southside Batesville and Valley View plan to launch football programs this season with the ultimate goal of fielding varsity teams.
Southside Batesville, which has 288 students grades 10-12, will field seventh and eighth grades this fall and is targeting 2006 for its varsity competition debut. Valley View, with 287 students 10-12, will field only a seventh grade team and is aiming to play a junior varsity schedule in high school in four years.
The prospect of budget woes and consolidation – issues affecting many of the state’s smaller districts – drove Southside Batesville to start football, superintendent Dan Foley said.
“We know that we’ve lost kids who have transferred across the river to Batesville, going to a football program,” he said. “Oftentimes, they take brothers and sisters with them.”
Cave City (Sharp County) is “waiting to see what happens with the consolidation issue” before deciding whether to start a football program, superintendent Larry Brown said. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; July 6, 2003].
All three programs have fielded varsity teams since at least 2006 and now play in classification 4A.The most successful has been the Valley View Blazers, who won a conference title in 2010 and have six playoff game appearances (with a 1-5 record). The Cave City Cavemen won a program-record nine games in 2009 but are winless in two playoff appearances. The Southside Batesville Southerners haven’t won more than four games in a season and haven’t yet made the playoffs.
25 Years Ago…
Viva La Mike Newell and the Trojan Motion!
UALR Chancellor James Young has approved a plan to keep his school’s athletic programs going.
The future of the program was in doubt despite a strong 1987-88 basketball season (24-7 record) under head coach Mike Newell. A fundraiser netting $785,000 in the last eight weeks has helped raise enough funds to keep most Trojans sports going. Young approved a plan in which the athletic budget is set $765,00. Anything over that amount will go into an endowment for future athletic scholarships.
To cut costs, UALR will drop women’s basketball and men’s golf, but add women’s basketball. The plan is to trim the athletic program so that it doesn’t need funds from the university but supports itself through income like ticket sales and donations.
“Young beamed when he said UALR is the first state-supported institution in Arkansas with an athletic program that gets absolutely no help from student fees, auxiliary funds or university dollars.” [Associated Press; July 4, 1988]
50 years ago …
Some seriously madcap wrestling went down at Blytheville’s Legion Arena last night.
A championship match between challenger Don Greene southern junior heavyweight champion Frankie Cain saw Cain retain his belt but – boy, howdy – what a way to go about it!
Greene got things started by winning the first fall with a Roman backbreaker. Cain rallied in the second fall with a Grapevine twist. In the third, the referee counted out Cain and began reaching for the belt to present to an elated Greene.
One problem: the ref had missed seeing that Cain’s right leg was draped over the lower rope, which meant he was technically out of the ring and couldn’t be counted out. Foaming spectators hadn’t missed the detail and made sure the ref knew about it as he started handing the belt to Greene.
The ref responded by pulling back the belt, which caused Greene to launch into a Grade A Hissy Fit. He began storming around, and was further inflamed when he saw the ref – for reasons not apparent to the crowd – raise Cain’s arm to signal him as the winner.
Greene launched himself at Frankie and kicked him out of the ring. “When Frankie’s head reappeared above the apron, Greene took it by the ears and bashed it several times on the wood. Then he swiped the belt again and ran off with it.”
“Frankie dusted himself off, shook out the cobwebs, chased the villain down the aisle, retrieved the belt and returned triumphant. And the crowd cheered.”
In other news from the night’s events, Blytheville native and heavyweight boxer Buddy Chandler scored a one-round TKO over Jimbo Stewart of Memphis. Later, the Scufflin’ Hillbillies, per usual, did more scufflin’ than wrestlin’ but still pinned their opponents in two straight falls.
“To the folks who weren’t there, all of this probably sounds awfully screwballish. Well, it was,” sports columnist Ed Hayes wrote. “It was a night of some wonderful screwball fun.” [Blytheville Courier News; July 3, 1963]
100 years ago…
A track and field clash of collegiate standouts is to be held in conjunction with Camden’s Fourth of July celebration. Participants include:
- Mason of Vanderbilt University, holder of the Southern Intercollegiate record for the hundred yards (9 4-5).
- Barlow of Illinois University, holder of records in Illinois state meets.
- Clyde Ellis of Hendrix College, baseball and track star.
- Chidester of Henderson[-Brown] College, a winner of distance events.
Local high schoolers will also compete in the morning events.
“During the afternoon a double header baseball game will be played between Camden and Waldo. An aeroplane will make two ascents during the day, and a balloon ascension will take place in the afternoon.” [Arkansas Gazette; July 1, 1913]