Jerry Joe Harrison has served Conway as a football coach, teacher, administrator and as a deacon at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
He’s found the commonality.
“It’s all about relationships,” he said Saturday upon his induction into the University of Central Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
He has three children and seven grandchildren, most of whom live close to his home. He has been in Conway, where he first came to be a football player at UCA, 51 years.
“Everything I’ve done here has been good,” he said. “This award is kind of a capstone to my career.”
The other five 2013 inductees played on the same theme at the induction brunch at the UCA Student Center.
Clifton Ealy, a coach at several stops and a former standout receiver for the Bears whom his teammates nicknamed “The Franchise,” offered the example of his father, who died a year ago.
“Dad taught me a work ethic,” Ealy said. “I didn’t want to miss a practice or a class. When I was injured, I had to work mopping floors and cleaning restrooms. I tried to be the best floor wiper I could be because of the example of my dad. I miss him. My family misses him. But thank you Dad!”
Jimmy Devazier, who lettered in football and swimming for the Bears in the late 1940s and early 1950s and went on to become a legendary coach during a golden era of Forrest City athletics, treasured the relationship with former teammates that included UCA Hall of Famers Rex Lovell, Curtis Cope and Ken Stephens and host of former players that included former Hendrix coach and athletic director Cliff Garrison.
But he said he realized his calling growing up in the Depression and serving in World War II.
“In those days nobody talked about going to college,” he said. “The word most commonly used was survival. After two years in the service and going through boot camp and all that, I decided education was the most important thing.”
Jim Landers, whom former coach Cecil Garrison once described as the best outside shooter he ever coached, met his wife at UCA as did several others at the main table. He has been married 56 years.
“I graduated here, did graduate work then I graduated again when I said, ‘I do.’” he said.
A 1957 graduate of UCA, he still plays pickup basketball. “When I do, I hit the free-throw line,” he said. “I tell the younger guys I’ll play as long as i don’t have to run.”
Chris Smith, the defensive MVP of the 1991 NAIA championship football game won by the Bears, described a special relationship with the UCA coaching staff at the time that included head coach Harold Horton and assistants Mike Isom and Clifton Ealy.
A decathlon champion out of Springdale High School, Smith was heavily recruited by then Arkansas Tech head coach Brooks Hollingsworth (a longtime UCA assistant). He said Hollingsworth pitched to him to come and help build a program at Tech.
Mimicking Horton’s deep voice amazingly well, Smith remembered a conversation with Horton outside a motel in Springdale, “‘Chris, I can appreciate that (the challenge at ATU),” he said Horton told him. “But it’s a whole lot harder to get on top and stay on top and it’s a whole lot more fun to win championships.’”
“I live in Conway,” Smith continued. “Little did I know of the importance of the importance of that decision,” he said.
Praising his parents and his relationship with Jesus Christ, Smith, joined by his former teammates, seated at a nearby table, led audience in a prayer that the UCA team prayed after the game.
Nate Krig, one of the top sprinters in the NAIA in 1969, noted that he coached his daughter in softball for seven years, during which she asked him, “Dad, you ever play sports.” He told her.
He then produced a letter written by his daughter upon his second bypass surgery that read in part, “My dad was a big athlete in college and supposedly, maybe, is getting in the Hall of Fame in Conway, Arkansas.”
Continued Krig, his voice wavering, “That says it all. This is a dream come true.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com. Folllow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)