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McCollum's Column: The 100th meeting of the Arkansas Sports Club and what made it special

Posted: April 15, 2014 - 5:38pm

One hundred is a magic number in a variety of contexts.

The 100th of anything generally warrants a celebration.

Folks gathered Monday at the Centennial Special Events Center for the 100th monthly meeting of the Arkansas Sports Club.

100. It amazed many of us.

It represented the ongoing dream of Mike Harrison, head of KASR Radio and the Creative Sports Network.

I remember when he shared the idea with me in 2005. He wanted a monthly gathering where all interested could attend and hear speakers of various athletic backgrounds and achievements tell their story — who influenced them and the memorable moments of their career. Everything was recorded.

Harrison wanted a public record of past Arkansas sports history and what made legends great. He also wanted to transition the inspiration of icons of the past to future generations.

Many had talked about such before. Harrison, with the help of dozens of folks in Conway who embraced the concept and put their hands and feet to making it happen, got it done.

“This was something we hoped just to be here and be around a few years ago,” he said.

An advantage is that a large number of highly successful former coaches and administrators have retired or settled in Conway. Even though there is a dues setup, Harrison, with the aid of several of the coaches and businessmen and corporate sponsors, established that no one would ever have to pay for lunch to hear a speaker.

He reserved one luncheon each year to celebrate the life of famous Arkansas sports figure who was deceased, which, ironically, led to some of the most lively sessions. He reserved the December luncheon for a figure who has made an impact nationally as well as regionally. Those have included Ken Hatfield, Monte Coleman, John McDonnell, Frank Broyles, Buddy Coleman, Pat Foster, Geese Ausbie and Allen Gum.

The first session was in January of 2006 with former North Little Rock, University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas Tech head coach Ken Stephens as the guest speaker.

All previous speakers, or family representatives, were invited back for the 100th celebration. Twenty-four were present, including Ken Stephens and longtime baseball coach Doug Clark, who was honored as No. 100.

It was an audience dotted with all-stars. Just looking about the group, I roughly counted about 4,000 combined victories and a bunch of championships.

But there were also several who never had a direct part in raising a championship, but were just loyal-to-the-core sports fans, folks at ground level of what makes athletics special.

I thought about things that were established prior to 2006 and are no longer around today — too many to mention, including the building (at least in its past form) in which I keyed in that first Arkansas Sports Club story.

It’s not as hard to establish something as to sustain it.

Harrison and many supporters have done it with the Arkansas Sports Club, which birthed the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame (of which I’m an proud member), which enters its eighth year this summer.

The first year’s speakers for the Sports Club were Stephens, Don Dyer, Jim Bailey, Cliff Garrison, Don Nixon, Bill Valentine, Bill Stephens, Wadie Moore, Mike Isom, Dave Woodman, John Hutchcraft and Hatfield. That’s a deep lineup for any organization.

For 88 sessions after those in 2006, the speakers, from all aspects of the sports world, kept coming — with insights and stories, tons of stories that prompted laughter and few tears.

A special recognition Monday actually represented the breadth and depth of emotion in microcosm for the club.

Nixon, a legendary junior high, high school and college coach who died recently, was a board member and extremely loyal supporter from the beginning. His memory was honored with a moment of silence. His family were special guests.

Betty, his widow, presented the club and the Hall of Fame with a basketball, autographed by many of Nixon’s former players who had visited him in his last days.

After former Hendrix coach Cliff Garrison retold the oft-told story of how Nixon, in the middle of a fiery halftime talk after UCA trailed Hendrix at the old Grove Gymnasium, got his foot caught as he kicked a waste basket and crushed it trying to shake it off, Betty Nixon had a special gift for Garrison, who always teased Nixon that he owed him a waste basket. She gave the former coach a waste basket for the Hendrix logo as the audience laughed and applauded.

Memories, fun, fellowship, good food, celebration of achievements and tales that never grow old.

Pretty good for No. 100.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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