Category Archives: sports

Little Rock chosen as site for War Memorial Stadium on August 9, 1947

As has been noted in a previous post, War Memorial Stadium was approved by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 1947.  The work then began on the finalization of the location.

Four cities were in the running:  Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, and West Memphis.  Each of the cities was required to donate the land for the stadium, provide parking for it, and sell local subscriptions equivalent to $250,000 to raise money for it as well.

On May 19, 1947, the City Council approved Resolution 1,747 to donate the land for the stadium in Fair Park if Little Rock was selected.  This was not the first mention of a stadium in City records.  In March of 1947, the City Council had set aside land in Fair Park to use for a playground — with the stipulation that if it was eventually needed for a stadium, it would be relinquished for that purpose.

On August 9, 1947, the War Memorial Stadium Commission met in the House Chambers of the Arkansas State Capitol to select the location for the stadium.  West Memphis dropped out prior to the meeting; they had not been able to raise the sufficient local funds.  That left the three remaining cities.  (Cities had until June 24 to file paperwork expressing their interest in applying and were to submit their proposals by August 1.)

Instead of meeting in a usual committee room, the meeting was held in the House Chambers of the State Capitol.  The location for the meeting had been set because a large crowd was expected.  And the attendance did not disappoint.  City government and business leaders from all three cities turned out in full force.

The members of the Commission were Ed Keith, Chairman, Magnolia; Gordon Campbell, Secretary, Little Rock; Ed Gordon, Morrilton; Senator Lee Reaves, Hermitage; Senator Guy “Mutt” Jones, Conway; Dallas Dalton, Arkadelphia; Judge Maupin Cummings, Fayetteville; Dave Laney, Osceola; and Leslie Speck, Frenchman’s Bayou.

For several hours the nine heard proposals from the three cities.  Little Rock’s location was in Fair Park, North Little Rock’s was near its high school, and Hot Springs was on land next to Highway 70 approximately 2.5 miles from downtown.  Finally it was time to vote.  After two rounds of voting, Little Rock was declared the winner on a weighted ballot.

The north shore’s leadership was magnanimous in their defeat.  Hot Springs, however, was far from it.  In the coming days they filed suit against the Stadium Commission alleging flaws in Little Rock’s proposal as well as improprieties by members of the commission.  A preliminary decision sided with the state.  Ultimately, Hot Springs’ relatively new mayor Earl T. Ricks opted to drop the suit.  The Spa City’s business community was concerned that fighting the location might delay construction – and could negatively impact legislative and tourists’ feelings toward Hot Springs.  (And it was entirely possible that the State Police could have been used to “discover” that there was gambling going on in Hot Springs.)

Though ground was broken later in the year, by December 1947, the stadium was still $250,000 shy of funding for the construction.  This was after the state and Little Rock had previously both upped their commitments to $500,000 each.

The building did eventually open on schedule in conjunction with the 1948 Arkansas Razorback football games.

As for Mayor Ricks of Hot Springs, he moved to Little Rock to serve as Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard during the governorship of Sid McMath.  He later held leadership positions in the National Guard Bureau in Washington DC.  He died in 1954 at the age of 45.  Among the ways he was memorialized was a National Guard armory in Little Rock, which stood in the shadow of War Memorial Stadium.

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Little Rock Look Back: President Truman dedicates War Memorial PARK in a national address

Though President Truman was in Little Rock for a military reunion, he did conduct some official business while here.  In his Presidential role, he spoke at the dedication of War Memorial Park on June 11, 1949.

(It is sometimes erroneously reported that he dedicated the stadium.  That took place in September 1948, at a Razorback game with former Razorback player and future Lt. Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt delivering the keynote.)

President Truman’s address took place inside War Memorial Stadium at 2:30 p.m..   It was not a brief dedicatory speech, but instead was a lengthy treatise on foreign affairs.  The address was carried live on nationwide radio (though some radio networks opted to broadcast it later).  The text of his address can be found here.

The stadium was by no means full.  A major reason for that was that many thousand individuals had turned out to witness a parade downtown in which President Truman marched along side Governor Sid McMath.  The parade was in conjunction with the military reunion.  Given the June heat in Arkansas (in which parade spectators had been standing for several hours) and the difficulty of getting from the parade route to the stadium, most (if not all) parade spectators opted for skipping the presidential address.

Before the parade, President Truman (who was still riding high from his upset victory in the 1948 election) was asked by a local reporter if he would run in 1952. He refused to answer stating that the national media would think he had planted the question with a local member of the press.

Prior to the name War Memorial Park, the land had been known as Fair Park.  It was a former location of the State Fair.  In the 1930s, it had briefly been known as Overman Park in honor of then-Mayor R. E. Overman.  The City Council had named it for him as a tribute to his work on a variety of projects. When he displeased them, they reversed their decision and renamed it to Fair Park.

Little Rock Look Back: Brooks Robinson

On May 18, 1937, Brooks Calbert Robinson, Jr. was born in Little Rock.  His father worked for Colonial Bakery and later the Little Rock Fire Department.  His mother worked for Sears and later state government.

As a boy, Brooks was a paper boy for the ARKANSAS GAZETTE and sold concessions at Lamar Porter Field.  He also played baseball there in youth leagues.

After graduating from Little Rock Central High School in 1955, he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles.  He would spend his entire Major League Baseball career with the Orioles.   His primary position was Third Base for the team but also was a powerful batter.

When he retired at the end of the 1977 season, Robinson had amassed many honors including 2 World Series Championships, 1 World Series MVP, 1 American League MVP, 16 Golden Glove Awards, 18 times in the All-Star game.  At the end of his final season, his number 5 was retired by the Orioles.  In 1983, his first year of eligibility, he was selected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

He spent his career and since retirement engaged in a number of charitable endeavors. Robinson was beloved by teammates and fans, as well as respected by opponents and the media.  There is no telling how many babies in Baltimore were named Brooks or Robinson during and after his 23 season career.

Robinson has also leant his name and time to efforts to restore Lamar Porter Field here in Little Rock.

 

RIP David McCollum

I was not blessed with athletic ability.  Or coordination.  But I am very competitive.

My lack of skill did not stop me from dragging my parents to four years of soccer and a concurrent six years of basketball.

McCollum_David_400x400Because of my lack of talents on the field, and my interest in competition, I have found myself drawn to sports journalism and sports history.  Which, being in Central Arkansas, lead me to the writing of David McCollum.

Disclosure, for several years I attended church with him and his family.  My parents and sister still do.  But he was such an unassuming gentleman, my interest in his writing sprung not from familiarity with him. It came from what and how he wrote.

With a career of over 50 years, David entered the newspaper business as it was starting the transition from hot lead and pecking out a story on typewriters into the world of computers and electronic filing.  Likewise the field of sports journalism was transitioning from the era of colorful, hyperbolic language (which might not always be 100% accurate) into a time of bare facts crammed into increasingly shrinking column inches.

David did not try to be a colorful sportswriter. He was not trying to have the spotlight shown on him through his writing.  In his stories, David sought to serve the sports. But he brought to his writing a sense of history and style that hearkened back to bygone days without sacrificing the facts that he knew his readers wanted.  In serving his sports, he also served his readers.

While often the smartest guy in the room, especially when it came to Conway sports, David never acted like it.  In his prose, he shows his expertise without lording it over the reader.  He used his knowledge to let his readers be more informed. He was like that favorite teacher we all had at least once in high school or college. He wanted to bring us along on the journey.

For a sportswriter, working in Conway must have been a dream job.  Both UCA and Hendrix have active athletic programs.  And the Wampus Cats of Conway have long been dominant. In addition, during his career, David was able to see towns like Vilonia, Mayflower, and Greenbrier grow and develop into powerhouses in their own high school sports classifications.

Over the years, as I’ve been seeking to learn more about a sports topic, I’ve often gone back to his writing on a player, an event, a game.  Whether it was a story or an interview, his trademark understated and engaging prose was on display.  Earlier this year, I was needing background on a Little Rock Touchdown Club scholarship because we were honoring a recipient at Little Rock City Hall.

There it was.

In a column David wrote a few years ago, there were not just the facts, but the emotions. In writing about how some Texas Longhorns had created a scholarship in Little Rock to pay tribute to the memory of one of their own, David touched on the sentiment without being maudlin.  He did not pile on the irony of Longhorns who beat the Hogs in the 1969 shootout creating a scholarship here. He let the story speak for itself.  The kinship the two teams feel for each other now came through in David’s prose.

As David’s son Gavin said in making the announcement his father had died, “there were more stories for him to write.”  Yes, there were.  I feel sorry for future athletes in Faulkner County that they won’t get to be interviewed by him.  I feel sorry for the readers who won’t get his take on a future game.

David had seen enough games to know that the outcome does not always go your way.  As much as he would probably be uncomfortable with the outpouring of emotions that are now going on, I think he would understand we need to do this.  We need to express our sadness.  It helps us to move on to the next challenge.  And part of that challenge is a world without him.  I know he would be very pleased to see, just as a team rallies together, people are rallying together to support his wife and son.

So thank you, David McCollum. For your life and your commitment to excellence.  Though it has fallen out of usage these days, I’m old school enough to pay tribute to your life and career with an old journalism and PR tool to indicate the end.

David McCollum -30-