ASHOF 2009: Short, sweet and brief 'Courtway' brief


Published Sunday, February 15, 2009

NORTH LITTLE ROCK

For the first time in its 51-year history, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet was conducted under "Courtway Rules."

The late Bob Courtway, Conway civic leader and longtime Hendrix coach and athletic director, used to approach public ceremonies with the mantra, "A person should speak no longer than he can stand on one leg."

Friday night, that was law for the eight new living inductees. In fact, former Springdale coach Jarrell Williams' acceptance speech took hardly longer than for a person to position himself on one leg and balance himself.

Those who took a break during the presentations probably missed at least two introductory videos and speeches.

As a result, the banquet that has attracted more grumblings about length than praise for its speeches in past years was over in less than two hours from when the dinner officially began. By an unofficial monitoring of a watch, the induction ceremony took 55 minutes, 12 seconds.

Those exiting to the parking lots at Alltel Arena took second-takes at their watches.

"It took 'em 50 years but they finally got it right," said one female noting she accompanied her husband to the event for years and has been generally bored at most.

Despite its brevity, the event featured both its warm and light-hearted moments.

The sight of Corliss Williamson receiving his plaque reminded me of a comment former Conway High coach Joe Graham made after a game in which his Wampus Cats played Willliamson's Russellville team. Graham had his team hold the ball the entire game, working only for open short jumpers or layups. The score was something like 6-4 after a quarter and 14-10 at the half. Russellville eventually won something like 29-27.

A reporter asked Graham afterwards why he used such tactics.

"Because I don't have anybody on my team who will be in the NBA some day," he quickly replied.

In the presentation video, Williamson noted his love of professional wrestling and a fantasy of being a pro wrestler.

"I'd get on you like a mad dog with rabies," he quipped.

It was revealed that former All-American and all-pro (Washington Redskins) R.C. Thielemann's initials stood for Ray Charles.

But he enlightened the crowd on his experiences with his sister, seven years older, and how that may have led to his later ambitions.

"As her younger brother, I was her personal dress-up doll," he said. "I decided I just didn't want to dress that way. That's probably why I first decided to play football." (He didn't go into that many pro athletes nowadays probably dress similar to how his sister dressed him).

He also mentioned the "help sessions" Frank Broyles and his staff used for various transgressions at the University of Arkansas.

"I think they are now banned by the Geneva Convention," he quipped.

Former track coach Bobby Richardson, an icon in Crosssett and a recent inductee into the University of Central Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, attracted one of the biggest and vocal contingents of supporters, spanning eight tables.

"I was fortunate to coach my entire career in a community I love," he said. "The greatest honor I have is when men and women I had the privilege to work with still call me coach."

NFL referee Walt Coleman, whose father, "Buddy," is a former president of the organization and was also inducted for his achievements as an official, noted he has been coming to the banquets since age 16. He said his daughter was born while he refereed a high school game at Cabot. After he visited his wife in the hospital after the game, he got in his car and drove to Lafayette, La., to help call a college game the nest day.

He played on his slogan of his family milk company in saying, "officiating is not a job to me but my heritage." Former Arkansas Tech star Kenny Saylors, a teammate of former UCA coach and athletic director Arch Jones, was one honoree whose exploits have faded into history and he played on that.

"Most of you probably never saw me play because I played back when Jesus was a boy," he quipped.

Saylors once scored 76 points in a game before fouling out. Longtime sportswriter Jim Bailey, who covered many of Saylors' games, noted in the video that "Saylors was dedicated to the proposition that you must shoot to score."

At the conclusion of his short acceptance speech, Saylors said, "This is the longest I have been open with getting the ball. Do I not have any teammates out there?"

Former college basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour, known for his homespun humor and a frequent banquet speaker, said, "It's fortunate that in the video there were no highlights of me playing. That would have been a hideous sight."

A College of the Ozarks graduate, he said he initially attended the University of Arkansas on a baseball scholarship.

"The coach gave me a scholarship sight-unseen and as soon as he saw me, it cut me," Spoonhour quipped.

He remembered when he coached at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) he was involved in recruiting battle with Nolan Richardson at Arkansas for shooting specialist Cannon Whitby, who eventually signed with the Razorbacks.

Spoonhour said Jim Whitby, Cannon's father, would often call him when Cannon had a big game in high school.

"He got me out of the shower one morning calling to tell me Cannon scored 56 points," Spoonhour said. "I told him that my senior year I scored 64 points. I didn't tell him it took me 26 games to do it."

"It's hard to explain my life in three minutes or less," Thielemann said.

Neither he nor anyone else attempted it.

Bob Courtway again had it nailed when he once said, "One comment you will never, ever hear is, 'That sure was a bad short speech.'"

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)