21 Oct

When Razorbacks First Competed Against African-American Football Players

1965 Cotton Bowl

The all-white Razorbacks finished their glorious 1964 with a landmark Cotton Bowl showdown.

For the most part, integration of big-time college sports in the South happened in phases from the 1950s through early 1970s. In 1965, for instance, SMU’s Jerry Levias became the first African-American football player in the Southwest Conference. Two years later, Kentucky’s Nat Northington became the first in the SEC.

With Arkansas, like with many other programs, there are multiple pioneers. Little Rock’s Jon Richardson, the first scholarship black Razorback, came aboard in the fall of 1969. In the spring of 1969, though, Pine Bluff’s Hiram McBeth had become the first black Razorback to play in a varsity-level Arkansas football game when he played in the red-white game.

Then there was Darrell Brown, the walk-on from Horatio who played on the freshman team in the fall of 1965 and spring of 1966. He quit after suffering multiple injuries and never made varsity.  This was right in the heyday of legendary Arkansas coach Frank Broyles, and Razorbacks were a force to be reckoned with. Broyles, who coached the team from 1958 until 1976, became an all-time Arkansas legend in 1964.

After finishing his previous three Southwest Conference Championship winning seasons 9-2, 8-3 and 8-3, Broyles led Arkansas to an 11-0 record in 1964, outscoring opponents by 231 to 64. He had an especially strong defense which pitched multiple shoutouts in the second half of the season. Exhibit A: Razorback linebacker Ronnie Caveness, who was selected to the 1964 College Football All-America Team, and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Johnson, the future Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, also played for that team. So did Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who got pretty emotional this past summer when he learned he was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now if his team could overcome their 20/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, I’m sure he’ll get way more emotional.

It’s interesting to note that the Razorbacks’ legendary 22-game undefeated run that included this championship-winning season started with a victory over Texas Tech, a game that was played the day after President John F. Kennedy died in 1963. That was the only SWC game played that day, and the Hogs tried as best as they could to get with business as usual, future Super Bowl-winning coach Barry Switzer told me. That win started an incredible run extending throughout the 1965 regular season when Darrell Brown scrimmaged against the varsity as part of the freshman team.

The high point of the run, of course, was Arkansas’ 10-7 win over Nebraska in the January, 1965 Cotton Bowl. That victory cemented Arkansas as the national champions, according to the two major organizations.  It was also the first time Razorback football players took the field against an integrated football team.


While Razorback football players hadn’t officially competed against black football players before 1965, decades before the program had helped a group of African-American Fayetteville natives named the “Black Razorbacks.” I tell that long-forgotten story in my new book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas.

10 Oct

Bret Bielema: “A coach is only gonna be allowed to coach to the level of what his personnel is.”

What Arkansas coach Bret Bielema Said Two Days After the South Carolina Debacle

Excerpts from Monday’s press conference

“I took over a winning program and took it to an even higher level to go to three three straight championships. I came here to a 3-9 program, we went three and nine and we’ve been on a steady ship trying to build this thing up. We were gonna be at the highest win total a year ago—lost two games at the end of the year that were very frustrating and haven’t been able to get back on track yet.”

“We’ve battled a lot with our injuries and with new players and new faces this year, that we haven’t gotten over the hump. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll get it to where it needs to be.”

“The good news is we have good kids who haven’t shown any bad signs of losing [hope], any lack of effort, any lack of discipline, any in fighting or going at one another. It’s more of a message of unity and persevering.”

On whether the problems which plagued the offensive lineman are again hurting Arkansas this year:

“I think the only thing that’s changed on the offensive line from a year ago was the departure of Skip [Dan Skipper] – a guy who played every position but center.

I felt good about where our guys were coming in depth-wise. Obviously, we would like guys to play better at certain time. Hjalte Froholdt is an improvement. Frank has been playing some pretty steady football. Colton [Jackson] does some things very, very well. Johnny Gibson has obviously been a nice continued surprise from where we got him to where we are today….I think he plays better at that guard position than he does at tackle.

It gets frustrating, but again—there are some guys we recruited three or four years ago who haven’t developed into what we want them to be…“My only regret is that four years ago we didn’t make the decision to recruit two more (in the O-line) in each class.”

A coach is only gonna be allowed to coach to the level of what his personnel is. And, again, if we just had a couple more guys depth[wise] that coulda matured and been in a position to play right now. I like the guys’ attitude.”

“I told our guys on Sunday night if I’ve ever been around a team that can change their path in a very short fashion, it’s these guys right here  right now. It’s not like they’re a million miles away — they’ve lost an overtime game, they lost a TCU game that went right down to the wire and [against South Carolina] there were in the third quarter of a game that got completely out of control.

Woulda shoulda coulda – I get it. Everybody’s gonna have commentary – I get it. But they really, truly are a team that is not very far away from being where they need to be.”

24 Aug

“African-American Athletes in Arkansas” Book Signing @ Fayetteville Barnes & Noble

This Saturday, from 1-3 p.m, I’ll do my first book signing in Fayetteville at the Barnes & Noble across from the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

I’m looking forward to meeting fellow authors,* seeing friends and talking about my book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories. A large portion of the anthology involves Fayetteville history. Below’s an excerpted example:

thumbnail of Advance Copy July 17 35

thumbnail of Advance Copy July 17 36

Some of the  families involved in this story — as well as the one in the “Black Razorbacks of the 1930s” piece (illustration above) — are the same mentioned in this OnlyInArk.com feature I wrote on the history of the the African-American community in Fayetteville.

The book’s already gotten some good press, with mentions by the likes of sports columnist Wally Hall and Ozarks at Large host Kyle Kellams, but I feel like it’s time to get out and see folks in person. Make it out if you can!

Read More

21 Aug

Frank Broyles On John Barnhill & The Threat of Arkansas State University

Good stuff from a Mike Irwin and Frank Broyles interview back in 2007. The below excerpt is from around the 13-15 minute mark.

Mike Irwin: Now one of the things that I’ve also been told is that when you came in here, you were especially initially very respectful of the traditions that were already here. You didn’t come in and say “Well, that’s nice, but we have to do this, we have to do that.” You listened to what [Barnhill] had to say about why things are done the way they are around here. One of the things he told you was “We don’t play Arkansas State here.” There were just all these traditions and reasons why things are done the way they are and you, may have put your own stamp on the program, but initially you were very respectful of.

Frank BroylesHe had built—where Arkansas wasn’t very successful—he had built [a wall] around the state. He had gotten the eastern Arkansas people interested by starting to play more games in Little Rock. And we’ve developed a fan base from one border of the state to the other, which we had to have if we were going to be a national power. We had to have the fan base, where other schools had it close by, ours was going to be 250, 300 miles away—some of it… The one thing I learned from him is “We are not successful without a fan base from all over the state.”
They could support other universities and other colleges at that time. But when the Razorbacks played, everybody stopped and listened. And he had developed that and it was a wonderful opportunity for me. I took the job with the intention of staying. So It’s been 54 years.
Mike Irwin: Jeff Long still has that same philosophy. I mean he’s the A.D. now, but he didn’t change that. I mean you know there’s been constant pressure and constant talk about “When are you gonna play other schools? Other schools do this, other states do that.” The policy is still the same.
Frank Broyles: …The wonderful thing is that the [state] legislature has let us decide that… Right now our philosophy is that we don’t play so fans can support both of us—or three of us, or four of us. Whatever schools they want to support, they support us and them. And that’s why we’ve been successful.
21 Jul

That Time the Arkansas Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 2

football strike

Below is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.

Within days of The X-Ray’s release, Tillman expelled all 36 editors. In response, most of the university’s 724 students quickly signed a petition pledging to attend no classes until the 36 were reinstated. Only seven students attended class the next day, according to Tackett.

Those students’  names aren’t known, but it’s highly improbable more than a few of them would have been football players. Even in an era in which a roster could be around 16 players*, it’s logical to infer most if not all of the football team participated in this strike. Furthermore, we know that Hugo Bezdek**—the head football coach himself—officially endorsed the students’ Progressive agenda. Bezdek, who would ultimately become a college football Hall of Famer after stops at Oregon and Penn Sate, was also the athletic director and baseball coach.

The stalemate between students and administrators lasted almost a week. “There were some tense moments for those who were expelled, who didn’t know whether they were going to have to finish their college careers elsewhere,” Fayetteville historian Charlie Allison told Brady Tackett. “Even those who were struck weren’t what would happen.”

As the week rolled on, the tide of public opinion shifted in the students’ favor. Local Fayetteville merchants, for instance, capitalized on the unrest. Some put up posters displaying their support for the students, Allison said. Local theaters even offered free admission to students during the strike.

On March 2, 1912, only a week after The X-Ray’s publication, Gov. George Donaghey (then chairman of the board of trustees) arrived for a specially convened board meeting with UA faculty and students. There, the student’s representatives argued for the reinstatement for the 36 on the grounds that the The X-Ray’s mission had been to improve the school’s overall quality. Their arguments impressed Donaghey. So the governor decided to repeal the 1905 law and reinstate the 36 students with a promise that faculty would investigate their complaints.

The students, in turn, acquiesced to Donaghey’s request for no celebratory parties or parades. Instead, student-faculty relations were to be quietly mended. Indeed, on March 4, a student representative submitted a formal request for extra class work to make up for time lost in the protests, Tackett wrote.

Although the Mizzou and Arkansas protests differ in so many ways, one strong tie is the amount of stress they caused for their respective university presidents. In 2015, Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation in the immediate aftermath of the football Tigers’ strike. But back in 1912, before the onslaught of instantaneous news coverage and video, it took a little longer. President Tillman quietly announced his retirement at the 1912 commencement ceremony.

*The 1912 team was 16 players, which was a typically thin roster in the Hugo Bezdek era, according to A Story of Arkansas Football by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey. According to Phil Huntley, who played on the 1909-1911 Razorback teams, the talent and overall team attitude took a dip in 1911 and 1912, a time when the roster had too many “prima donnas.” 

Huntley recalled traveling to Austin for a game against the University of Texas in 1911, “a game we should have won.” Instead, Texas won 12-0. “The Texas coach came by afterward and said, “‘You know something, Hugo? Five of your men damn near beat my 11.’ He knew.”

PS: The 1911 opener featured the biggest blowout win in Razorback history: a 100-0 home shellacking of SW Missouri. The 2017 Razorbacks are expected to win their opener against the consistently woeful Florida A&M, too, but don’t expect quite the same margin of victory. It should be greater than the 31.5-point line in the Rice-Stanford opener according to major sportsbooks

**According to “The X-Ray Incident,” written by Chris Branam, in the Winter 2012 edition of the Washington County Historical Society’s Flashback.

09 Jul

Ken Hamlin, Quinton Caver, Eddie Jackson & Brandon Holmes on Hogs’ Defensive Woes

Ken Hamlin

The Razorback rosters which Houston Nutt coached from 1998-2007 produced 22 NFL draftees on the defensive ball. In the decade since then, Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith and Bret Bielema have produced a total of six defensive NFL draft picks.

It is true that Houston Nutt, on the whole, recruited more highly talented defensive players. Ahmad Carroll, for instance, was rated at the top of his class of cornerbacks coming out of high school.  But the disparity between decades doesn’t just boil down to talent. It involves attitude, too, a group of former Nutt players recently told sports radio host Bo Mattingly.

Two of them—Ken Hamlin and Quinton Caver–were drafted in the second round. Below are edited excerpts from the quartet’s discussion of what has changed in the last decade, and especially with last year’s especially grievous defensive debacle.

Ken Hamlin: One thing that I’ve said, and we talk about it a lot amongst ourselves, but the energy, just the type of tenacity that I think we had when we played, when we were there, I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if I’ve seen it since we’ve left… I can’t say it’s a knock on the players or not, but it just it doesn’t seem like we get the people in that really want to …

The inconsistency I saw last year, it was so bad in key games. You think about A&M being a key game, going into the Alabama game the following week, and you give up almost 40 points. [45 points, actually] I think we led the SEC in big plays over 20 yards and, I think, we broke a record for Arkansas within like four games, five games of the season. It’s just too many big plays and not any guys that are going to step up be the one to say, “You know what—no more.”

Quinton Caver: Ken Hamlin, Eddie, and also Brandon can attest to this, as Coach [Bobby]  Allen used to tell us: Once we cross that white line, you got to turn the switch on, it’s all attitude. You have to want to do it when it comes down to it. You have to be the one like, “I’m going to make this play,” or “I’m going to make this stop.” Everybody had that mentality on the defense, not just one person.

We all wanted to be around the ball, we all wanted to make a big play. That’s what you have to have, and you have to have someone that’s going to step in and step up and say, “Follow me, let’s get this done, regardless. We have to get this dealt with, we have to get this done.” It’s all about your mentality.

I know the guys have it here, they’re just making sure that they translate that not only on the playing field, but also in the classroom as well, when you’re studying the film. You got to hold each one accountable.

Mattingly: Brandon Holmes, is it different now with players than it was when you guys were around? How do you think locker rooms might be different now?

Brandon Holmes: I’m pretty sure they got a lot of different distractions, but at the end of the day, it’s about the core nucleus, man. It’s about how you were brought up, and what you wanted to accomplish. That was one of the reasons why I came to Arkansas. Going from seeing other schools, I was like, “This is a true family atmosphere and there’s nothing like anything else I’ve seen.” I would definitely say it’s just the will to want to be able to make something happen.

Ken Hamlin: Regardless of how many bells and whistles you have—I know we have all the updated facilities and everything—[but] you still got go back to the grind that got you here. I think a lot of them lose that grind that really got them to this point. It goes to getting a little bit comfortable because we start getting spoiled. As a defensive player, you got to be ready to get down and dirty. It’s not about coming out of the game clean. It’s about having some bruises, and being beat up, and trying to beat somebody else up.

I think we have to get back to that mentality of, you know what? We’re going to go and enforce our will. We had a “Code Red” when we played. That needs to be reinforced because it just doesn’t seem that we have a defense that wants to force their will on someone else. We want to react, and we don’t want to be ones that make that offense react.

We used to have defenses where we knew the quarterbacks weren’t going to hold the ball for longer than two seconds. We got to get back to that.

Eddie Jackson: When we was in it, our defense was the offense. The team thrived, they got pumped up on how well we would do. When we all came in, we came into a situation where we had the Kenoy Kennedys, the David Barretts in the secondary and those guys, we followed their lead. When we all came in as the secondary—me, Ken Hamlin, Tony Bua, Lawrence Richardson, Marvin Jackson, Batman[Ahmad Carroll]—all these guys we had these guys that, basically, showed us the ropes.

I just feel like, right now, there’s a disconnect with, like what Ken is saying, it’s basically having that dog mentality: “When we go out there you know what? Don’t forget the offense but we can create our own plays, we can do our own thing and not just rely on the offense.” That’s what we used to think.

We used to have a situation where we would compete over batted balls, interceptions, we would try to create plays within a game on our own, and not rely on the offense. That’s, ultimately, why we had basically the top secondary in the SEC when we were playing.

The above originally interviews were originally given on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly.

Arkansas is the SEC’s eighth-most likely team to win the 2017 national championship—behind Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M—according to major sportsbooks.

09 Jun

That Time Black Muslims Interviewed Chicago Bears Legend George Halas: Part 2

George Halas

Nowadays, black quarterbacks are commonplace on the NFL landscape. It appears no native African-American Arkansan has yet suited up for an NFL team as a quarterback, but all the same the state does have some tangential connections. Former Razorback Tarvaris Jackson, an Alabama native, played a decade in the NFL and got a Super Bowl ring in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks.

Less well known is that Stuttgart native Eddie Boone nearly tried out to be a black NFL quarterback pioneer in the early 1960s. At Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Boone had been the teammate of future NFL star Elijah Pitts and after graduation drew interest from the Los Angeles Rams for a tryout, he told me. At this point, though, black quarterbacks were an extreme rarity. Those who did get into the league, such as Willie Thrower and Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins, barely got any playing time at the position at all. Most prospects (e.g. Sandy Stephens) were moved to other positions, and that’s what the Rams wanted to do with Boone.

Instead of switching positions and living far from home, Boone decided to stay home, get married and begin a highly successful high school coaching career. Indeed, while working in Menifee in the mid 1960s, he coached the first scholarship black Razorback and became the first black coach to compete against all-white AAA teams. Read more about his fascinating story in my new book “African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories.

Around the same time as Boone’s almost-professional foray, Chicago Bears coach/owner George Halas discussed the state of the black quarterback with the Muhammad Speaks newspaper. Click here for the first part of his 1963 interview. Below is the second part:

Asked if he would like to become the Branch Rickey of football, Halas answered, ‘I already am. Remember Willie Thrower* about eight years ago?’ We tried him out at quarterback but he didn’t have the arm.”

The Bear mentor said there is “quite a scramble going on now among professional teams to get players from Negro colleges. You can understand my interest,” Halas explained, “when you consider such men as Willie Galimore and Herman Lee, who came to us from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee).

“Jake Gather, coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers, is one of the best football minds in the country. He sent us four players from his squad and we now have signed him as a scout.”

Halas went to his files and showed a Muhammad Speaks reporter some of the scouting reports he has on players at Negro colleges. He said he had high hopes for one player, whose name he did not want to disclose at this time. The veteran coach thinks he helped the team in the latest football draft and said, “Our chances of winning the championship (1963) are fairly good.**”

*Willie Thrower played the Chicago Bears in 1953. “He was “the first black NFL quarterback of the modern mold,” according to former Deadspin writer Greg Howard. “He led his Michigan State team to a national championship in 1952, his senior season. Thrower went undrafted but was signed by the Chicago Bears, serving as George Blanda’s backup for his one year in the league. His only stats came in relief duty on Oct. 18, 1953, when the coach benched the struggling Blanda for a bit. Baby steps.”

**Well played, Georgy boy. Halas called it: the 1963 Bears would indeed win the NFL championship after an 11-1 season. Don’t expect such glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most insiders have the Bears finishing with a losing record that begins early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.

12 Apr

Arkansas’s “White” Newspaper Chose All-Star Teams for State’s All-Black Schools

Pine Bluff Merrill football

Throughout much of the 20th century, the  Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat lorded over all other in-state publications as Arkansas’s most comprehensive and in-depth news sources. But when it came to thorough coverage of the state’s African-American communities, these newspapers—owned and staffed only by whites until mid-century—did not offer very deep coverage.

This, of course, is no surprise given much of society was then segregated and the African-American population was significantly smaller statewide (although larger in Little Rock where the Gazette and Democrat were based).

All the same, the Gazette did occasionally run news briefs about the all-black schools’ athletics or allow stringers from the black communities to publish updates in its pages. Far less known is that in the mid-1930s the Gazette published its own all-black schools all-state football team for both the high school and college ranks.

It’s unknown who actually compiled the list below, or how long the Gazette did this. We just know they tried it at least once in 1935. In later decades, it was commonplace for the Gazette to use stringers (e.g. Ozell Sutton) to cover all-black sports events, according to Wadie Moore, the Gazette’s first black sportswriter and longtime officer in the Arkansas Activities Association. I also know that in the 1940s, at least, the Gazette would run updates written by the all-black activities association itself.

My best guess is the following selections were made with heavy input from the coaches of the black schools themselves. Regardless of who wrote it, and the method by which these players were chosen, it’s notable that a “white” paper in 1930s segegrated South chose to pay tribute to all-black schools like this. It  speaks to how football-crazed Arkansas was/is, to the point where that passion seemingly superseded Jim Crow laws. It also speaks to the possibility that even white Arkansans were proud of the fact that Pine Bluff Merrill High was coming off back-to-back national championship seasons in 1933 and 1934.

December 8, 1935:

With all the outstanding schools represented, the Gazette, for the first time in its history, names an All-State Negro high school and college team today. The team was selected by vote of the coaches who co-operated in making the undertaking possible.

On the high school selection, Merrill of Pine Bluff, state champions and recognized by many as the national champions, lead the parade, placing three men on the first team, and three on the second. Dunbar of Little Rock and Scipio A. Jones of North Little Rock placed two men each and the other positions went to Washington High of Texarkana; Washington High of Texarkana; Washington High of El Dorado; Langston High of Hot Springs, and Arkansas State High of Pine Bluff.

Arkansas A. M. & N. of Pine Bluff, state champions for the past two years, was allotted five places on the college selection while Shorter of North Little Rock and Philander Smith of Little Rock placed three each.

Allen, Merrill’s sensational quarterback, was selected as captain of the high school team. Mitchell of North Little Rock fell only a few votes short of obtaining this honor. Robinson, Arkansas A. M. & N. end, was an unanimous choice for the captain’s berth on the college eleven.

Below are the names of the Gazette’s all-state selections. Unfortunately, the quality of the the scan or microfilming is bad, so only a few names are legible. (Better quality microfilm copies, and the original paper itself, are available off-line elsewhere.)

Arkansas black college football

Obviously, Pine Bluff Merrill High’s “Allen” was a big deal. Lamar ‘Buddy’ Allen might have been the 1930s version of Basil Shabazz, who in the 1980s became Arkansas’s most legendary multi-sport prep star.

In 1932, Allen was a 5-10, 170 pound, 18-year-old Merrill High freshman who was said to be able to throw a football 50 yards while in the air, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. He started at back, helping the Merrill Tigers go undefeated and at last dethrone Dunbar, which hadn’t been defeated in four years. Merrill again went undefeated in the 1933 regular season and claimed a national championship despite a Christmas Day loss to Ardmore, Oklahoma. Merrill repeated as national champions the following season.

Throughout high school, Allen also played for the Pine Bluff Boosters, a semipro team which played in Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, as well as Piney Wood, Mississippi and Dumas and McGehee, according to former Democrat-Gazette reporter Darren Ivy.  Also, one summer, he joined a gaggle of Arkadelphia natives to play semipro ball in Butte, Montana of all places. [I write more about that team, and the reason for the Arkansas-Montana talent “pipeline,” in my upcoming book on the history of African-American athletes in Arkansas.]

For at least two seasons around 1940 Allen also played third base for the Birmingham Black Barons of the American Negro League. “He had a strong arm and stayed close to .300  hitting in the Negro leagues,” his brother George Allen told Ivy. “He also was a long ball hitter.”

PS: The image above is of “Buddy” Allen. It was donated to the book Untold Stories by Allen’s daughter LaFaye Campbell, and republished courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

03 Mar

Talking Fayetteville’s Lost Black Razorbacks with the Local NPR

Kyle Kellams

I recently discussed Fayetteville’s forgotten “Black Razorbacks” of the Great Depression era on Ozarks at Large, a daily news and culture show through KUAF National Public Radio 91.3 FM. I always enjoy talking with the show’s host Kyle Kellams, who I’d gander has one of the most inquisitive, roving minds in the tri-state area.

Check out our 11-minuteish interview here:


And here’s a preview of the story itself:

Razorback linebacker Brooks Ellis had lived in Fayetteville his whole life, but had never heard of the Black Razorbacks. Not that he’s to blame. Hardly anyone, after all, remembers the group of young African-American men who donned old Razorback and Fayetteville High jerseys during the Great Depression and played football across Fayetteville and the region. These northwest Arkansas locals represented their region against other all-black teams from Russellville to Joplin, forming a kind of regional “Negro Leagues of football” all but forgotten by Arkansans today.

They also upend common modern conceptions of athletic segregation in the Old South. Not only did this team scrimmage against white players from a then-segregated Fayetteville High School, but they did so on the grounds of the segregated University of Arkansas itself — under the watch and tutelage of white Razorback football coaches. Moreover, the white players often visited Fayetteville’s all-black neighborhood to play there. “That’s awesome to hear about,” Ellis said as he sat in the Razorbacks locker room in August 2015. His alma mater, Fayetteville High School, stood less than a mile away.

Ellis noted Fayetteville High School had in 1954 become the first high school in Arkansas to publicly announce its desegregation — “I take a little pride in that” — but the fact African Americans were regularly playing against the all-white Bulldogs decades before that was news to him. He added, “It would be cool to learn more about, obviously.”

Let us begin, then.

Much of the Black Razorbacks’ story comes to us from accounts of their games buried in the archives of the Northwest Arkansas Times, a newspaper run by civic leader Roberta Fulbright — the mother of future U.S. senator U.S. senator J. William Fulbright. The most detailed known retrospective comes from Arthur Friedman, a white Fayetteville resident who attended Fayetteville High School in the early 1930s.

He often watched the Black Razorbacks’ scrimmages and games, and considered those times “the highlight of my growing-up years and school,” he wrote in a 1985 Northwest Arkansas Times article. Indeed he considered the African-American players, many around his age, as friends.

To read the rest of this story, and other long-forgotten stories about Arkansas’ sports heritage, reserve a copy of my forthcoming book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories.


29 Dec

James Shibest: “I can remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young”

James Shibest

The Virginia Tech special teams coach recalls meeting Austin Allen while coaching at Arkansas

James Shibest and Bobby Allen are at the center of Razorbacks-Hokies football coaching cross-pollination. Allen, a former Virginia Tech player, has been on the Arkansas staff for nearly 20 years. Shibest, meanwhile, is a former Razorback player and coach. He’s in his first year at Virginia Tech, coaching special teams and tight ends for Hokies coach Justin Fuente.

They will both be on the sidelines for today’s Belk Bowl, in which Arkansas is a touchdown underdog to Virginia Tech according to the latest betting odds.

Shibest, who coached at Arkansas 2000-07, yesterday recalled Allen training his two sons in and around Razorback Stadium. Those boys, Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, have combined to hold the Hogs’ starting quarterback job for the last four years.

“Almost every free minute he had he was working with them boys and obviously that worked,” Shibest told sports show host Bo Mattingly and sportswriter Clay Henry on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “Whether it be football, baseball, whatever it was, has paid off. God I’m just so happy for them guys. I used to remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young… He’s an unbelievable competitor, let me tell you. I know all the Hog fans know that boy but I’ll tell you what, he is a good player.”

Here are some more choice excerpts from their conversation:

Bo Mattingly: … What was that period of your life like when you  left Arkansas when coach Nutt took the job at Ole Miss? Then when it didn’t work out at Ole Miss, you had some stuff to figure out…

James Shibest: No doubt. I have really been unbelievably blessed. Ever since I’ve gotten to this level I was very fortunate. I came from junior college and coach [Houston] Nutt hired me. God what an awesome person to work for and learn from. You love your alma mater so much, you want to stay there. It was tough.

Then when we went to Ole Miss went ahead but you got to go feed the family. Really the first time I really ever had to look for a job is when I got connected with coach Fuente at Memphis there. It didn’t take long, it was a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like I had to sit out a year. It’s a tough road a lot of times in this profession. I’ve been extremely lucky. Always having to be at a great place and then with great people to work for.

On coaching junior college football:

James Shibest: Let me tell you it was really a great training. First of all you learn how to go be a coach. Them guys kind of were on their second chance especially the Division I type guys through academics or various reasons. They needed you more. I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to my players more than in junior college. It was obviously a little bit smaller but them guys really needed your help. There was some deep, deep satisfaction when you could get them to that … back to division one or whatever, to that next institution.

Clay Henry: I’ve written stories about the Arkansas wide receivers of late and I keep pulling up these top 10 lists. I keep finding you in there —

James Shibest: Didn’t do much as a freshman and then, of course, it was a little nerve wracking there. I came in with hopes and Coach [Ken] Hatfield was … Of course all you heard was the Flexbone. I didn’t really know what that was as far as being a receiver, how I would fit in that. It’s amazing how it turned out to be a great blessing. Them safeties have to play the dang triple option in there, and I was out there by myself one on one most of the time and-

Clay Henry: You ran those crossing routes. It’d take a little while. The safety would clear than then ere came Shibest, about eight seconds later.

James Shibest: All right now, I was a lot faster than what y’all say I was.

Clay Henry: Okay, sorry, sorry.

James Shibest: [Laughs] It was pretty cool. You know Brad [Taylor] was still there so we kind of had to throw the ball that first year and end up having a pretty good year. It all worked out just like the way it should have.

The Shibest File
Experience: 27th season, 1st at Virginia Tech
Hometown: Houston, Texas
High School: MacArthur
College: Arkansas (1987)
Playing Exp: Arkansas (1983-87)
Family: Wife – Dianna; Son – James John III, Daughter – Jordyn Grace

Coaching History

Year School Position
2016 Virginia Tech Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2012-15 Memphis Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2008-11 Ole Miss Special Teams Coordinator
2006-07 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
2002-05 Arkansas Special Teams/Wide Receivers
2000-01 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
1996-99 Butler County CC (Kan.) Head Coach
1994-95 Garden City CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator/QBs/WRs
1993 Independence CC (Kan.) Defensive Backs
1992 Independence CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator
1990-91 Oklahoma State Graduate Assistant