80 years ago today – Basketball came to Robinson Auditorium

Coach Earl Quigley in the 1940s

While Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium is known today as a performance and meeting venue, in its early days it was also the home to sports. Eighty years ago tonight the first basketball game was played at Robinson.

With the renovation dropping the orchestra level down many feet, one of the basketball goals would have been approximately where the cast of Wicked is currently performing.

One of the first regular activities which took place in the lower level exhibition hall was a series of boxing and wrestling matches.  Building on the success of this, basketball came to the convention hall in January 1940.

A series of games featuring Little Rock High School and North Little Rock High School were announced by Tiger Coach Earl Quigley to take place from January 11 through February 16, the official opening day for the facility.

At that time, neither high school had a gymnasium; therefore both schools played their basketball games on their school auditorium stages with fans seated in the audience. The convention hall offered a regulation size floor (made of pecan block parquet) with seating for over 1,300 people along the sidelines and in the balcony.  The first men’s basketball game in Robinson Auditorium took place between the Little Rock High School Tigers and the North Little Rock High School Wildcats on January 11, 1940.

The Tigers lost the game before a crowd estimated to be 1,300.  Earlier in the evening there had been an exhibition between two women’s basketball teams.  The cost for admission to the games was 35 cents for the reserved seating and 25 cents for general admission.

More Boxing Day looks at the sport of Boxing in LR. This time at Robinson Auditorium.

Boxer Al Globe lays in the ring after being knocked down by Bob Sikes in this GAZETTE staff photo

Boxer Al Globe lays in the ring after being knocked down by Bob Sikes in this GAZETTE staff photo

Though the origins of the name Boxing Day have nothing to do with pugilism, today’s entry looks at early boxing matches at Robinson Auditorium.

Though the building did not open until February 1940, there were a few preview events in the lower level exhibition hall beginning in October 1939.  (The construction upstairs would not be completed until January 1940.)

Wrestling was a more common sport on the lower level. But from time to time there was boxing.  It appears that the first boxing matches took place on November 9, 1939.

Pine Bluff’s heavyweight Bob Sikes was the star attraction on the main card as he faced off against Chicago’s Al Globe.  The two were fairly evenly matched through the first three rounds. In the fourth round, Globe sent Sikes to the mat, before the latter arose on the seventh count. (He was a bit groggy and could not name the city in which he was boxing.)  Ninety seconds into the fifth round, however, Sikes delivered a knockout punch to Globe.

The warm-up bout featured Carolinian Maxie Doyle against Jimmy Merritt of Oklahoma. After the ref called the match on a TKO in favor of Doyle, the two continued to fight in the ring. It took their seconds to leave the corner and help the ref break it up.  The boxers were threatened with suspension if they continued it any further.

Prior to the Doyle-Merritt bout, Bauxite’s Woody Bell edged out Young Leonard in six rounds. Charley Regan and Bobbie Lee came to a draw after their six.  The first match of the evening featured two African American boxers: Little Rock’s Bill Walker, who earned a decision over North Little Rock’s Herbert Taylor.

Since the heating system was not yet operational at Robinson Auditorium, promoters for the early wrestling and boxing matches touted the fact that a temporary heating system was in place as temperatures started to drop.

Sikes was back at Robinson in another marquee match on February 9, 1940, one week before the official opening of the upstairs Music Hall.  By this time permanent heating and lighting had been connected.

Boxer Bob Sikes, GAZETTE staffer Lou MacDuff and boxer Joe Regan in a GAZETTE staff photo

Boxer Bob Sikes, GAZETTE staffer Lou MacDuff and boxer Joe Regan in a GAZETTE staff photo

The headline bout was Sikes against Joe Regan of Ames, Iowa.  They were scheduled for ten rounds.

Earlier fights on the card were the six-round middleweight match of Gould Nix of Willow meeting Buck Buchanan of Rogers; welterweight Doyle Venable of Dierks vs. Little Rock’s Freddie Richardson; Johnny Allen of Saint Louis meeting Woody Bell of Bauxite; and, in the first match, Kid Tobey of Hot Springs vs. Bill Walker of Little Rock. The latter was a four round bout featuring two African American boxers.

The marquee fight did not go anywhere near as long as ten rounds.  Fifty-four seconds into the second round, Sikes pummeled Regan with a right to the chin, a right to the cheek and a left hook to the head. After that Regan was down for the count. Though at the eight count he did manage to turn over from his back to his stomach and remained in that position until being helped to his corner following the bell.

Earlier in the evening, Nix, Venable, and Bell all won their bouts by decisions of the judges. Walker won the curtain raiser by a knock out in the second round.

It was a capacity crowd for the boxing event at Robinson Auditorium.  Tickets, which were available for purchase at Rube & Scott, Inc. men’s clothing store, ranged from 55 cents for general admission, to $1.10 for reserved seating and ringside seats of $1.65 or @2.20.

Razorback Football in Little Rock the day after Thanksgiving

Today, the Arkansas Razorbacks take on the Missouri Tigers at War Memorial Stadium.  It marks the eighth time the Hogs have played in Little Rock on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

(The only time in the War Memorial Stadium era they played on Thanksgiving was 1969. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, they sometimes played in Little Rock on Thanksgiving at West End Park, now the site of Central High School and Quigley Stadium)

The first seven times they played on the Friday after Thanksgiving were against LSU.  While today’s game is also against a team of Tigers, this is the first time they’ve been the Mizzou Tigers.

From the 1940s through the 1980s, the Hogs would sometimes play on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  It was after joining the SEC that in 1996, they first faced off against LSU on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  That year, they lost to LSU by the score of 17 to 7. The Tigers had been ranked 19 going into the game.  The attendance that year was 22,329.  The game was Danny Ford’s penultimate season as the Hogs head coach.

Two years later, in Houston Nutt’s first season as head coach, the Hogs were ranked Number 13 on November 27, when they defeated LSU 41 to 14 in front of 55,831.  In 2000, the Hogs upset 24th ranked LSU in front of 43,982 by the score of 14 to 3.  The Hogs continued the Little Rock winning streak on the day after Thanksgiving in 2002 when they bested 18th ranked LSU by the score of 21 to 20 in front of 55,553.

The Razorbacks lost to 14th ranked LSU on November 26, 2004 by the score of 43 to 14 in front of 55,829.  In 2006, the Hogs and Tigers were both nationally ranked.  LSU (ranked 9th) upset the 5th ranked Razorbacks by a score of 31 to 26 on November 24 before 55,833 fans.  In Bobby Petrino’s first season as head coach, the Hogs returned to winning ways in 2008 when they defeated LSU on November 28 by a score of 31 to 30 before a crowd of 55,325. This was the first meeting of the two teams on the day after Thanksgiving in which neither team was nationally ranked.

Following that year, the LSU game against the Razorbacks was moved to Fayetteville.

Thanksgiving Day 1957 – final Tigers vs. Wildcats holiday gridiron meeting

Central Tigers dominating the northside Wildcats in 1957

The November 28, 1957, football game on Thanksgiving Day between Little Rock Central and North Little Rock had been poised to be memorable for a few years.

With the 1957 opening of Little Rock Hall High, the Tigers would switch their rivalry on Thanksgiving Day from a cross-river one to a cross-town one starting in 1958.  So the 1957 edition of Tigers vs. Wildcats was set to be historic as the end of a 24 year tradition.

(In its first year, Hall played smaller schools because its team was largely younger.  It would move up to top classification schools in the 1958 season.)

The events at Little Rock Central in September 1957 added a new layer of history to everything that school year.  The 101st Airborne was sent in by President Eisenhower in the evening of September 24 to ensure the Little Rock Nine were able to attend classes.  But President Eisenhower did not intend the Army to be there indefinitely.  On Wednesday, November 27, the soldiers left Little Rock. The National Guard was now charged with keeping the peace at Central.

The first day without the US Army was also Thanksgiving Day, and the final Bengals vs. Cats game.  The sports coverage of this game however belied all the drama off the field. News reports focused on Turkey Day as the final game between the longtime rivals and on the fact that it had a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon start time.

In the end, the Tigers had the same result as they did in the first Turkey Day meeting: a win.  The Bengals scored 40 while the Cats only managed 7.

After 24 meetings on Thanksgiving Day, Little Rock had 19 wins, 4 losses, and one tie.  Seven times they shut out the Wildcats, and one time the northern team blanked them.  The fewest total points scored were 2 in the 1934 game, while the 1950 game produced a cumulative total of 71 points (LR 64, NLR 7).  The Tigers scored a total of 517 points over 24 games and gave up only 203.

Thanksgiving 1958 – First Hall vs. Central football game on November 27, 1958

An early Central vs. Hall game, though not from 1958

On November 27, 1958, the Central High Tigers and Hall High Warriors faced off for the first time in a Thanksgiving Day football game.

Playing on Thanksgiving had been a Central High tradition since 1914. But for Hall High, in only its second year, this was a new occurrence.  The Tiger-Warrior faceoff on Thanksgiving would be a 25 year tradition.

The games were always played at Quigley Stadium, which was at the time the home stadium for all of the Little Rock School District’s high schools (the third high school Parkview opened in 1968).  Each year Central and Hall would alternate which was the “Home” team.

The week leading to the game would feature skits and pep rallies at both high schools.  Pranks, rumors of pranks, and threats of retribution would abound between the schools.  Cars wrapped in orange and white would circle the Central campus one day, while black and gold cars would encircle Hall’s campus another day.

On game day there would be special performances at the stadium by the drill teams, cheerleaders and bands of both schools.  The Tiger and Warrior mascots would taunt each other.  Friendships between students at the rival schools were put on hold.  It was all about the tradition and THE GAME.  Church services, family dinners and any other activities were scheduled around the festivities at Quigley.

Hall High opened its doors and started playing football in 1957. As a new school with a largely younger student body, it only played smaller schools that initial season.  The first Hall vs. Central game was set for Thanksgiving 1958.

During the 1958-1959 school year, Little Rock’s high schools were closed for the ill-conceived, ill-advised reason to keep them from being integrated schools.  Though classes were not in session, football teams practiced and played.  The Arkansas Gazette noted that most of those games that season drew only 1,000 spectators, which was down from the usual 5,000 to 8,000 a game.

With the future of Little Rock’s high schools in doubt, there was some hand wringing about whether the 1958 game would be not only the first meeting between Hall and Central, but perhaps also the last.  In only its second year of playing, Hall was undefeated and poised to win the state championship heading into the Thanksgiving game.

Central surprised the Warriors by winning 7-0 before a crowd of 5,000, which cost Hall the undefeated season and the championship (El Dorado became state champs).  This game set the tone for the high stakes of the rest of the series.

The next year classes were back in session at Hall and Central. The future of the series was no longer in doubt.