(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a column written after the Hendrix Board of Trustees voted in 2008 to reinstate football pending the ability to raise private funds to support the start-up)
When she first learned that Hendrix College was considering reinstating football, Stacy Sells, the 1981 student body president, angrily told Hendrix officials that if they did so, the college would never receive another dime from her.
A kazoo band’s performance at halftime started turning things around.
Now, Sells, who had never had any desire to attend a football game, can hardly wait for the Hendrix Warriors football team to take the field.
The Little Rock native effervescently spouts out statistics such as 95 percent of potential students for Hendrix consider football a positive lure, that Division III head coaches make an average of $65,000 per year and that recruiting budgets are only $35,000, which would not likely cover Alabama coach Nick Saban’s income tax. She passionately argues now from the other side.
An ardent supporter of Hendrix’s Odyssey program, Sells has had quite an odyssey from initially one of the most “anti” members of Hendrix’s Football Study Committee, whose recommendation and research led the college’s board of trustees to decide to revive football after almost half a century as soon as start-up costs are raised from external sources.
“Arkansas has never had a Division III football team, so I didn’t know what that meant,” she said. “I thought Division III football was like Razorback football and would be a dominant part of the community. I grew up in the Southern culture in which football also represents marching bands, pom-pon girls, majorettes and mascots and going to any football game and hearing bands always playing the same songs.
“Then I saw some Division III football games and some schools like Amherst and others and how they were able to create traditions unique to their campuses under a Division III philosophy. I saw a kazoo band perform at Grinnell College in Iowa, and I knew I was seeing something different. It was community football, community athletics. I saw the purest form of college athletics.”
As part of her research, she talked to her daughter and some of her friends at Grinnell, Washington & Lee, Middlebury and the University of Chicago.
“I began to realize college kids today are looking at things from an institution different than what we were looking for,” she said. “For example, students no longer want to go down the hall to a gymnasium-style bathroom like we did. One bathroom for four students is considered not enough nowadays.”
Basically, Sells came to understand that football on the Division III level, where athletic scholarships are prohibited, is not designed to conflict with the academic mission of the university.
“I prefer to give to academic programs,” she said. “But as we did our research, we discovered people who, if Hendrix reinstated football, would increase their level of giving. People make contributions based on their value system. I realized that, by having football, Hendrix would open up some areas of giving and support that are not open to us now. And I realized that would be a good thing, creating the type of diversity and opportunity we’re looking for.”
The debate about Hendrix reinstating football, absent since 1960, has been described as reaching a level of intensity that, by comparison, would make what is going on between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama a lovefest.
Marty Rhodes, co-chairman of the exploratory committee, noted that the biggest argument for reinstating football would be the creation of more diversity. Then, he laughed, and said one of the biggest negatives to some people was football would detract from the college’s diversity.
“The culture of Hendrix College came up time and time again and I have not been able to get my hands around how, culturally, football does not fit,” he said. “I think it related to a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge what Division III football really is. Just about everybody in this state understands football in terms of Razorback football. We faced an educational challenge.”
“Once I understood what Division III football was all about and that it was addressing a desire of students for another extracurricular opportunity to add to the educational experience, then I had to ask ‘why not?’” Sells said.
Tuesday, Sells displayed a legal pad full of notes and highlighted a statement by Dr. Robert Entzminger, provost and dean of the college.
“He told us that what makes Hendrix distinctive should not be defined by an absence,” she said. “I thought that was terrible profound. It spoke to me.”
In the next few years, expect to see once “anti-football culture” Stacy Sells at a Hendrix football game, cheering on the Warriors but appreciating the totality of somewhat an existential experience of youngsters having fun playing a sport they’ve always loved with little motive except an individual love of sport.
Hell freezing over? Actually, she expects a little bit of heaven.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)