Hendrix’s football past met its future over lunch Saturday.
Two weeks to the day before the Warriors play their first football game in 53 years, about 20 former players from the 1950s and 60s visited campus to share stories and tour the new stadium and locker room facilities.
A couple are members of the Hendrix Board of Trustees and recalled the decision process that began in 2008 about the college reinstituting football on NCAA Division III (non NCAA scholarship basis).
“At first there was a lot of pushback, particularly from the students, who felt that we were lowering academic standards by recruiting football players,” said Joe Bates, a former player and board member. “Then, we learned that the football players would be held to the same standards as every other student and they would be able to participate in every academic program they wanted.
“Then, we found a way to finance it. And now we hear of the young men who have been recruited. I think the excitement grew and grew. Now, I think everyone is very excited. I know every member of the board is behind this now because I think we are doing it the right way.”
“I was originally against it,” said Bill Wilson, now a judge. “I know the students were big against it because they thought big bus-loads of wild animals would be suddenly dropped to run wild on campus. Then, I thought about the Hendrix football team I was on. Our grade-point average was substantially better than the rest of the student body. My former teammates have gone on to be doctors, dentists, CPAs, very successful in the professional field.”
“I’ve discovered in my career (in education) that people who have played a team sport are at an advantage,” said Bates. “No matter what you do in life, you have to be part of some kind of team, even if you are in management. Those who have played a team sport have learned how to work together to get something accomplished.”There is still a twinge of bitterness as several on the last Hendrix team thought when the sport was dropped and the team disbanded for financial reasons.
“Some schools retire jerseys; Hendrix retired the team,” said Dan Robinson.
“Some of my teammates never forgave the college; some have never come back to campus,” said Charles Tadlock,
“There were a lot of teams shed in the parking lot the day we found out and it wasn’t the girls who were crying,” said Robinson.
“I think there was a phobia about football among some of the leadership at the time,” said John Montgomery. “When those leaders went to try to get more financial resources for the college and then some of those who had donated found out their money was going to football, it gave a reason for some of them to have that mindset.”
“I wish they would have given us one more year,” said Wilson. “We have some guys coming on who were good athletes. We all wanted at least one more year.”
“Everybody has an obsession in life and playing football was mine,” said Montgomery. “Most of us would have never been at Hendrix or be doing or have done what we have in life without coming here to play football.”
“It was not until later that I understood more the decision,” said Gene Wilbourn, a Hall of Fame coach at the college. “Some of our buildings were falling down. There was a lot of building to do. We had about a million endowment at the time, which wasn’t much. The school was in terrible financial shape and (Marshall T. Steele had to rebuild campus for the next 10 years, It was a difficult decision, but it was probably the best decision at the time.”
In visiting with the group, Amy Weaver, the director of athletics for the 21 sports in the college offers, noted that athletes make up 56 percent of the new freshmnan class and tha 26 percent were football players.
“I remember when the idea of football coming back was presented to us, one reason was to help recruit young men,” Bates said. “We were shown that the number of males going to college in the United States was dwindling and dwindling. The president (Dr. J. Timothy Cloud) told us that if the trend continue that the last B.A. degree to be earned by a male in the United States would occur in 2048. We wanted to reverse that and it’s happening.”
“I’m jealous of you,” she said. “I don’t have the same feeling about my alma mater (Robert Morris) as these alumns feel about Hendrix. “It’s pride. It’s a touching feeling and I feel a responsibility to make you proud.”