By David McCollum
What those 1984-85 Hendrix Warriors accomplished is obscured by a different culture, a different basketball era,
a modest record, a first-round exit and conferences, affiliations and facilities long past.
During one of the heydays of the late Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, Hendrix was the dominant team of the late 1970s-1980s. The 1984-85 Warriors won the school’s fourth AIC championship in six years.
But that team was the only team in Hendrix history to qualify for the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, a popular, hotly contested tournament in those days because many of the teams now in NCAA Division II were still in the NAIA at the time.
The recurring wrench in the Hendrix machine had been the NAIA District 17 tournament, which brought together all the AIC teams plus the independents for a single-elimination tournament (at Little Rock’s Barton Coliseum in those days) to determine the NAIA representative.
The AIC was extremely balanced in those days. Most of the time, the teams would beat up on each other during the regular season so much, it was difficult for any team to achieve a national ranking that would lead to a favorable seed in the national tournament. Very, very few teams won both the regular-season title and the District 17 title, which usually required three victories during a long weekend. The AIC was so competitive from top to bottom that come tournament time, the re-energized teams formed a many-pronged gauntlet that could rip the regular-season champion (and major target) apart. The AIC championship was an albatross for most teams going into the district tourney.
Those 1984-85 Warriors were not a talent team, but they were a balanced team inside and out, had a collection of outstanding athletes and played ferocious defense. They played together nicely, helping define synergy, a popular word in the era to define chemistry and togetherness.
The Warriors defeated Arkansas Tech in a tightly contested title game to finally earn the NAIA spot denied their predecessors, many of whom had more marquee players.
They went to Kansas City, played like they had stage fright and lost to a pretty good Georgia Southwestern team in the first game.
Those NAIA days are now a distant memory to the Warriors, who are in a different world in NCAA Division III. The AIC, characterized by intense, in-state rivalries, is no more. Barton Coliseum is basically a rodeo arena, little used except around State Fair time. The NAIA tournament is far out of the national spotlight. Grove Gymnasium, the cracker box the Warriors played in, is long gone. From its rubble grew the ultra-modern $26 million Student Life and Technology Center, the newest building on a growing campus. The 1984-85 Warriors assembled in the new Grove, which is contained in the modern Wellness and Athletics Center.
During a halftime ceremony Friday (Jan. 16), the former players walked onto Cliff Garrison Court, named in honor of their coach, who received a rousing ovation.
The smiles, the handshakes and the hugs indicated the team still has a special bond. You could hear it in the conversation Friday night around food and scrapbooks at a reception.
It’s also interesting and insightful the wide variety of professions the Warriors have settled into now.
Conway’s Nick Lasker is a middle school principal in Lantana, Texas. Terry Bradshaw is in management at Wurth Industries in Conway. Dr. Bill Rollefson is a physician at Arkansas Heart Hospital. Mark Cothren works at Acxiom. Anthony Greene is a vice president for a claims consulting company in Kansas City. Dwayne Gardner works in management for Walmart in Palestine, Texas, and also pastors a church. Wyndell Hunt works in management at an insurance company in Mission City, Texas. Tony Petty works in pharmaceutical sales in McKinney, Texas. Rodney Reese works in the trucking industry in Beebe. Lloyd Jackson works for Conway Public Schools. Robert Wright is director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Faulkner County. Mark Hamby, a former Central Baptist College star and athletic director, coaches at Magnet Cove. Jeff Johnson is in business in northeast Arkansas.
Albert Ussery, a manager on the team, manages a Pizza Hut in Little Rock. Statistician Larry Graddy, who developed the first computerized stat program in Arkansas, is an attorney in Conway and president of the Warrior Booster Club. Assistant coach Randy Deaton is athletic director in Stuttgart. Assistant coach Jim Holland coaches seventh-grade basketball and teaches physical education at Bob Courtway Middle School. Garrison is retired but still teaches a coaching course at Hendrix.
But here’s what’s really impressive about this group. The Hendrix roster that year contained 15 players. Twelve of them returned for Friday’s ceremony. Hamby couldn’t attend because of a medical situation with his mother but came to Conway on Saturday for the second day of the reunion. Johnson had a business commitment Friday but also joined his former teammates Saturday. One player, David Hertberg, had no current address and did not attend.
That’s 14 of 15 players, a manager and all coaches who returned for the reunion.
The Warriors were 21-11 in 1984-85.
But 25 years later, it probably recorded its greatest, and most cherished, statistic.
David McCollum is a sports columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark. This article was published in the January 18, 2010 edition of the Log Cabin Democrat and is reprinted by permission.