State Of The Hogs

By Clay Henry





Ilove it when a plan comes together. It did when Brent Powers came up with the idea for the Hawgs Illustrated Sports Club in the summer of 2021. One year later, amazing things have happened. High School sports teams and individuals have been recognized on a stage that would primarily be reserved for University of Arkansas doings. Yes, the Razorbacks are the basic reason for the club’s existence, but recognizing the efforts of high school sports from our community in Northwest Arkansas is just as important. That was the idea Powers, president at Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, pitched to me in asking to help find speakers. So the crowd may be coming to see Eric Musselman or Dave Van Horn, but getting a look at Isaiah Sategna is fun, too. Or, perhaps it’s a championship softball team from Lincoln taking bows alongside ESPN’s Adrian Branch. That’s exactly what happened in April. But the real fun might have been for the Bentonville softball ladies, just a couple of days after they won a state title. They were introduced just ahead of the 13th edition of the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sports Writers Hall of Fame. That was the May meeting of the Hawgs Illustrated Sports Club. It was a bigger cast of new Hall of Famers with Bob Holt, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports writer; Mike Irwin, Pig Trail Nation senior analyst; Chris Mortensen, ESPN Senior NFL Analyst; and Mike Nail, former Voice of the Razorbacks (basketball) for 29 years. The late Mike Harrison, an early casualty to covid-19 on Jan. 16, 2021, hatched the Sportscasters and Sports Writers Hall of Fame sometime just after the turn of this century. It took him a few months to figure it out, but he did it under the guidance of a Conway group composed of former coaches and politicians. Basically, Mike, a longtime Conway radio voice, had the movers and shakers of Faulkner County at his side when he formed the Arkansas Sports Club for monthly meetings at a local steak house. He brought in statewide speakers, along with local coaches. He soon had full houses for his meetings. Whether or not Mike’s initial idea was to form a Hall of Fame is not clear. But it became his mission soon after the Arkansas Sports Club was created. The Hall of Fame soon became a yearlong mission and the banquets Mike executed to induct one sportscaster and one sports writer were legendary. They might last three hours and include an honored coach or athletic director from around the state for meritorious service. The first event was a slam dunk, although both of the inductees had already passed away. Orville Henry (longtime sports writer with ties to covering the Razorbacks) joined Paul Eells (KATV sports director, Voice of the Razorbacks) as the first to be included in the Hall of Fame. Bud Campbell (KATV, Voice of the Razorbacks) and Jim Bailey (Arkansas Gazette icon, later Arkansas DemocratGazette) were next. The banquets kept getting bigger. It seemed all of Conway attended. I saw many of them, as both recipient and presenter. I accepted the award for my father, then joined him in 2014. It seemed all of my mentors were inducted. I smiled as Harrison continued to pull off a massive task, helped by the top people in Conway, many of whom were my friends during my early days in the business as sports editor of the Log Cabin Democrat. The summer was not complete until I made the trip to Conway for the Hall of Fame inductions. You might cry, but you also were going to smile as your friends were honored. I didn’t think about what would happen when Harrison died. But it hit me when the summer of 2020 rolled through and there were no inductions. Then, it happened again in 2021. I don’t know how Harrison would have held a banquet (or even a modest lunch meeting) the last two summers with covid ruling our lives, but somehow I think he would have pulled it off. He always pulled things off, from broadcasting high school tennis matches to winning a bid to call the College World Series when it was exploding as a big thing on ESPN. All of this is to write that his efforts needed to be saved. When Powers asked for ideas about speakers, I pitched to him that Harrison’s hall of fame needed a new home. First, I called the movers and shakers of the club he built in Conway. What did men like Cliff Garrison, Vance Strange and Cliff Henry think? All liked the idea. So I reached out to Elaine Harrison, Mike’s widow. If she thought someone in Conway still could put together a banquet with the relaxed nature of meeting regulations with the wane of the covid pandemic that was just fine. No, she wanted help. She liked the idea and encouraged it. The next step was to put together a selection committee, or board. The call went to HOF members Steve Sullivan (KATV sports director), Harry King (retired Stephens Media columnist), Donna Lampkin Stephens (University of Central Arkansas chair for the department of communication and longtime journalism teacher) and Nate Allen (Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist) as a starting point. All agreed to serve. To add a little more depth, I asked Larry Foley, department chair for UA journalism. He agreed to serve. Lastly, I needed some youth and some technological help. Matt Jones, online sports editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a longtime contributor at Hawgs Illustrated, agreed to help. Early in the spring, Zoom meetings were set up to discuss the next class for a May meeting. The idea has always been to have a sportscaster and sports writer. But since there had been no inductions the previous two summers, several members of the selection committee suggested that we double it to four. And we easily had four in mind. They passed with a unanimous vote. Whether or not there will be four in the future is not clear. But there is not a shortage of worthy candidates. Our committee would like to move the meetings to other points in the state to make it easy for families from those regions to attend. The idea to potentially hold a luncheon in Jonesboro, Texarkana or El Dorado is appealing. Stephens has seen this from the start. She was at the first meeting of the Arkansas Sports Club when Ken Stephens, retired Hall of Fame coach, was the first speaker. Donna and Ken are married. “We had a small group for that first meeting,” Donna Lampkin Stephens said. “Mike did a great job of finding interesting speakers. Ken was the first speaker and Don Dyer (another retired coach) was the club’s second. “From the start, I went to the meetings and agreed to write a report for the Log Cabin Democrat. The programs were always great. “It was about two years in — and Mike had exhausted our local speakers — when he brought forward the idea of the hall of fame. It was really good. “Mike did almost everything. If he ever had a fault it was because he didn’t want anyone to help. But the programs have been good and somehow Mike always pulled it together each time.” It’s a worthy project with no end in sight for the possibilities. But that’s not the most important thing in writing this piece. It’s to say thanks to Mike Harrison. His idea is just as important today as it was 13 years ago.