As a new year begins, I often have reflected on the past year and tried to identify an individual or two who best represented and defined the year in sports in Faulkner.
After a busy and eventful year, two individuals kept coming to mind, representing the changing and holistic nature of sports everywhere.
Dr. Brad Teague, University of Central Arkansas athletic director, and Amy Weaver, his counterpart at Hendrix, have had challenging years and both have been up to the challenge.
What’s been in the spotlight lately is the sudden change Teague had to make during Christmas shopping season. Clint Conque, a 14-year head football coach, resigned to move on to Stephen F. Austin, and Teague was faced with an emergency coaching search that had to be completed quickly. He got it done in five days.
And the hire of Steve Campbell from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College was not out of desperation. Campbell is well-respected and well-connected with an amazing record of success whereever he has coached. And with the staff he’s already assembled, UCA shouldn’t miss a beat.
And that’s been characteristic of UCA. The program, under Teague, hasn’t missed a beat in most areas. There’s a sense of purpose, a continuity and a spirit in the athletic department not often seen on that level of athletics. Most of UCA’s teams have had high success, sometimes unprecedented success, in the last year. The year was highlighted by the Bears playing for an NCAA regional title in baseball and an undefeated run through the Southland Conference and the postseason tournament in volleyball.
But that’s only part of what has happened at UCA. Teague emphasizes a family atmosphere among staff and coaches and that’s a priority in hiring. The UCA coaches, across all sports, really support each other and attend each other’s games. He actively promotes all events and achivements.
Teague attends events involving all sports and gets to know the athletes involved and usually their parents. He’s hands-off in coaching details but hands-on in relationships.
He listens to his staff. He listens to boosters. He listens to his coaches.
Most indicative of what he has done is, after Conque’s sudden resignation, the confidence among UCA boosters that Teague would find the right guy.
More importantly, he listens to the athletes and their needs and concerns. Many of the ideas and things UCA has done have originated from the ground up.
A major emphasis in the NCAA is giving the student-athlete the best possible experience, both athletically, academically and socially.
UCA does that. It’s not perfect. But under Teague, it’s constantly updating, adjusting and trying to improve.
Weaver has created a similar family atmosphere and bond among coaches at Hendrix.
What she has helped create has been amazing, considering what was on her plate.
She oversees more athletic teams than any AD in Arkansas, including the University of Arkansas. Under her leadership and with the help of many, Hendrix completed a successful revival of football after a 53-year hiatus. And she’s done it all while still maintaining her on-field coaching duties as softball coach.
For not having football in half a century, Hendrix maintained a football game-day experience with great organization and few glitches, fewer than what you sometimes see among institutions that have been doing it a long time. And everybody in the athletic department got on board. You saw coaches and players from lacrosse helping keep stats, basketball coaches managing activities on the field, soccer coaches lending a hand in different areas and other coaches and staff helping with parking and logistics. An awful lot of details are involved in a football game day and what Hendrix pulled off was amazing.
And Weaver, even as interim AD as Danny Powell moved to another area because of health reasons, intially didn’t was hesitant to take the job because she didn’t want to give up on-field coaching and the interaction and relationship with athletes.
That’s a special part of what she’s done. She understands athletes and what athletics means, and should mean, to a Division III liberal arts institution that does not offer athletic scholarships.
There was one neat scene at the end of football season. At halftime, all of the Hendrix athletes and coaches who were not involved in their sport gathered at midfield, and surprised Weaver with a special recognition for her services. She received a framed composite picture of Hendrix’s facilities, which in perspective, rival any college in Arkansas. But as she was invited onto the field not sure what was taking place, the large gathering of athletes and coaches, chanted in unison, “Amy Weaver. Amy Weaver.”
The cool part of the whole thing was the idea to formally recognize the athletic director at the last football originated and was largely planned by the athletes and the coaches and staff quickly got on board.
What happens on the field is only a part of the athletic experience, both in college and high school. That’s how memories and longterm relationships develop.
Teague and Weaver got that done.
And it showed.
Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)