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.
10 years ago …
Arkansas State coaches and athletic administrators have started making inroads in northwest Arkansas. They recently held an ASU booster club meeting at a Holiday Inn in Springdale that that drew about 40 supporters.
“We’ve got Indian Clubs in other parts of the state, but we don’t have one here,” said Tom Dees, an ASU Booster Club member from Holiday Island. “My goal is to start a very active and vibrant Indian Club for Northwest Arkansas. If we’re going to become a statewide university, academically and athletically, we’ve got to have statewide support.”
Arkansas State Athletic Director Dean Lee agrees. The Berryville native formerly worked for the Razorback Foundation, a fund-raising arm of the University of Arkansas, but is now focused on raising money and awareness for the ASU program – even in the heart of Hog country. “Our Indian Club membership is about 1,000, and we want to increase it 50 percent statewide,” he said. “We’re just getting started and we’ve added over 300, so the interest is there.”
Less than a week after this ASU booster club meeting, a University of Oklahoma caravan that included former Sooners and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer – also a UA grad – stopped in Fayetteville and drew roughly 130 supporters. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; June 29, 2003]
Talks are getting more serious about moving the Arkansas Travelers from Ray Winder Field to downtown Little Rock. A private task force studying the move has twice met with the team’s executive committee to discuss preliminary ideas on a potential move. Earlier this year, the Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit business advocacy group, created the task force of about 17 property owners, businessmen, developers and others to look at building a downtown ballpark.
The biggest concerns are money and parking availability. Developer Rett Tucker, the task force’s head, said the new ballpark would likely cost $20 million to build and he doesn’t expect money to come from the public sector. Instead, the ballpark’s construction would likely be paid for through a combination of naming rights, concessions and sky-box sales, Tucker said.
The Travelers general manager Bill Valentine said “parking is going to be a No. 1 priority on the list” when it comes time for “hardtime negotiations.” He added: “River Market and downtown is being choked to death by a lack of parking … There’s just not enough parking for us.”
Another issue is Ray Winder’s future if the Travelers do eventually move. Tucker says preserving the 71-year-old ballpark, perhaps for high school and college use, would be a key part of any downtown move. “We’re not about tearing down Ray Winder Field,” he said. “Part of our fund-raising efforts would include funds to save Ray Winder Field.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; June 30, 2003]
25 years ago …
“Oaklawn Park owner Charles Cella has indicated the Hot Springs horse racing track may close if things don’t fall into place with tax breaks and help from the city of Hot Springs,” sports columnist Mark Bivens writes.
“Oaklawn is the filthiest track around. The employees at the windows are often rude and the management needs to take a trip to Louisiana Downs in Sheveport [sic] or to Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis to see the difference treating patrons politely can make.” [Blytheville Courier News; June 24, 1988]
The Phoenix Suns drafted Razorback standout Andrew Lang on the day the Pine Bluff native turned 22 years old. Phoenix chose Lang,Arkansas’ all-time leading shot blocker, with the 28th overall pick. The 6-11, 250 pound Lang also finished fourth on the Hogs’ career rebounding list after averaging 7.3 rebounds, along with 9.3 points and 2.6 blocked shots per game last year.
After a 12-year NBA career, Lang, who’d been been ordained as a minister, became team chaplain of the Atlanta Hawks.
50 years ago…
The Arkansas Travelers’ longest winning streak of the season came to end as Buffalo eked out a 5-3 triumph in an International League game in Little Rock.
“In other league games, Syracuse trounced Richmond 3-0, Rochester nipped Toronto 4-3, and the Columbus-Jacksonville and Indianapolis-Atlanta games were postponed because of rain.” [Associated Press; June 26, 1963]
100 years ago…
Oaklawn Park, which has been closed since 1907 as a gambling site, has developed into a superior training grounds and possible site for Saturday matinee races. “It is our intention to run weekly events on the Oaklawn track,” says Hot Springs civic leader T.S. Garen. “I believe the time is coming when racing will again be allowed under the laws of the state. This sport is getting back in favor in New York and other states.”
In the meantime, the area has developed a regional reputation as a top training grounds for racing horses. The locally-owned horses being worked out there now include “Jim O’Shee,” “Gypsie Queen,” “Neubian Jr,” “Lady Maximo” and “Lee Mayberry.” [Arkansas Gazette; June 28, 1913]
Evin Demirel misses the non-equine version of Lee Mayberry and hopes Razorback commit Anton Beard comes close to playing like him.