War memorial trips bring back great memories

by | Oct 24, 2021 | Golf Balls

LITTLE ROCK – I’m the wrong person to argue the pros and cons of playing at War Memorial Stadium. My roots are too deep in this stadium.

So don’t ask me to belittle my decision to break the 77-year streak of no-playing against other Arkansas schools. I have fond memories of Saturday’s 45-3 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

There was an 80-yard punt return from Nathan Parodi that could be memorable. Along with the four touchdown passes from KJ Jefferson in the first half, there were three total touchdowns from Treylon Burks (two received, one rushing), that is perhaps all I will remember in the long run.

Yes, I’ll remember the halftime band fight won by the UAPB’s marching musical machine from the Middle South, if the cheers from the stands mean anything. And I’ll probably remember that at halftime – 45-0 for the Hogs in the lead – the coaches agreed to cut the third and fourth quarters down to 12 minutes. The game was shortened further due to some clock errors.

There was a 12 second lap after a change of ownership. And the watch was not repaired after an 80 yard interception return was knocked over via video review. Yeah, I remember things like that.

Aside from the smoothness Jefferson has shown to laser lightning-fast Burks, there’s little else that negates all of my favorite thoughts about the War Memorial Stadium.

I could analyze some of the captivating pieces with the fourth down, but if I return to the good old days of the big old store on Markham Street, please excuse me.

For anyone who’s in the area, when you go to Wendy’s in Markham, you’ve been to my old yard. Once there was a house on the property and my family lived there until I was 2 years old. For the record, I’m 67.

A Christmas tree was planted in the front yard just weeks after Arkansas defeated Ole Miss in the Powder River Play. My dad always reminded me that I was wearing diapers when he was digging the hole for the tree. It was a massive tree that covered the entire front yard when the lot was leveled to build the Wendy’s.

More than once I drove up to the drive-through window after a night game to order a Frosty for the drive back to Fayetteville with this message to the teenager at the window: “I lived here.”

Two houses later, our family moved to 1821 Fair Park, and that’s generally the same street that winds past Little Rock Zoo and turns into Van Buren Street, dividing the former golf course in front of the War Memorial Stadium.

What I can tell you about the highlights of the Fair Park home were walks to nearby Ray Winder Field in the summer to watch the Arkansas Travelers baseball games. It wasn’t difficult to walk to the golf course or to soccer games. Hell, there were a lot of trips home from soccer practice at Pulaski Heights Junior High.

After digging through all of this, I understand that I enjoy the occasional game at War Memorial Stadium. It doesn’t matter that it’s not only old, but also antiquated in many ways.

I do not care. It is good for my heart to walk into this stadium, full or empty.

I wasn’t at the stadium as a toddler in 1954 when it was said that Arkansas football became a rage with our 6-0 win over Ole Miss across the state. Buddy Bob Benson tossed Preston Carpenter a halfback pass for the only points to score game.

Coach Bowden Wyatt called it the Powder River Play, named after a river in Wyoming. Wyatt once trained for the Wyoming Cowboys.

It was with great pleasure that I drove my truck through Kaycee, Wyo., On a fishing trip to Casper this summer. Yes, I rode the Powder River, wide and dry with sand as fine as powder.

I met Carpenter when I was 35 while he was watching his son play soccer for Conway High. We discussed the Powder River Play at length while standing on the sidelines and watching the Wampus Cats practice. His opinion: “Nobody has ever been more open than me when it came to the decisive move in a game.”

When pinned down to write more WMS memories, many have nothing to do with an actual game.

My high school golf games were often played on the golf course, which had three holes next to the parking lot on the southwest corner of the stadium. The 15th green was the highest point on this small island with golf holes separated from the rest of the course by Van Buren.

I admit that at city tournaments the high school players in my group (and probably other groups) had a tradition of dropping an old golf ball next to the green at # 15 and firing a high iron shot over the stadium wall. It wasn’t difficult to carry. The only thing that could stop you from hitting a ball into the stadium was a light standard.

The workers at the stadium told me that they had found many golf balls in the stadium over the years. So it wasn’t just my high school buddies who were putting their skills to the test.

As a teenager, there were always odd jobs at the stadium that could make you a few dollars. I always had jobs at Ray Winder Field, from stacking bats in the visitor’s shelter to picking lazy balls off the roof to selling popcorn, there was money to be made.

But the best payoff came when I helped ABC Sports play the Arkansas-Stanford football game in 1970. basically carry the statistics sheets up a flight of stairs to the press box.

But the real job didn’t come until later, when a young assistant director gave me $ 300 for my wages to cover two days of work. That was strange. I thought I would be done after a day.

Terry Jastrow, not much older than me, said I need to bring 20 luxury cars parked outside the press box used by the ABC Sports crew this weekend back to the airport rental.

I didn’t dare tell Jastrow that I don’t have a driver’s license. I had turned 16 but was still working on my learning card, which meant an adult had to be in the car with me.

My mom was the only adult driver available on Sunday when we brought those 20 cars back to the airport. After we took the first one back and took a cab to the stadium, she decided I was fine driving alone, and we took her back in twos and hired an older brother to run the shuttle.

The broadcast team from the Arkansas UAPB team was sitting in the press box just a few feet from where I was, with a glass partition between us. I looked over at the end of the game to make sure they didn’t need me to return rental cars.

In view of the inflation, TV people are now likely paying four-digit amounts.