LITTLE ROCK — The thread of opportunity binded the many stories of the nine inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday.
It was a glorious testament to opportunity during grand night of celebration of sports in the Land of Opportunity.
Brison Manor, from New Jersey; Kevin Scanlon, from Pennsylvania; Jerry Muckensturm, from Illinois; Dean Weber, from Washington, D.C. and North Carolina, talked about discovering home and fulfillment in a state that embraced them.
Amidst those parenthetical stories told so nicely, Oliver Elders and Bettye Wallace provided the punctuation marks.
Elders, the revered and highly successful former basketball coach at Little Rock Hall, had six tables for supporters from former players (including Sidney Moncrief) and fraternity brothers, who were not bashful in showing the love.
Wallace, the former Henderson State coach who was a pioneer in developing women's sports in the state in a no-respect, no-budget era before Title IX, had her own large cheering section, including "Bettye's Reddies." a group of former players who get together regularly.
At times, the response from Elder's supporters mirrored a church worship service, "Go coach!" "Say t!" "Take your time!" were among the responses to his words — and even his pauses.
Elder's answers to MC Chuck Barrett were often whisper like, but the nuggets of wisdom crescendoed.
On life lessons, "I had things I thought our players needed and I thought I had it to give and I tried to give it to them. ... I evaluated players with how the best they thought they could was what I thought was the best they could."
On opportunity, "Opportunity is like a bald-headed man with a single sprig of hair on your forehead. You've got to face it and look forward. If you turn around, it won't be there."
On what his players meant to him, Elders choked up for a moment and said quietly, fighting tears, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you."
At the conclusion of his remarks, his former players announced an endowed scholarship has been created in his honor at his alma mater, Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Paying forward opportunities.
Wallace began coaching in 1963 when women's athletics in the state at all levels consisted of tennis, volleyball and basketball among a few women's schools and were a minimal funds part of the physical education departments, basically intramurals.
"These women were students, but they still wanted to play and have fun and compete," she said.
Tech, Henderson, Ouachita Baptist and UCA once got together informally in Russellville for a weekend, two-game volleyball season. The players and coaches slept on mats on the floor of the gymnasium in Russellville.
Wallace, Margaret Downing of Southern Arkansas, Betty Swift of UCA, and Patricia Gordon of Arkansas Tech in one weekend in 1965 organized the Arkansas Women's Extramural Sports Association (AWESA) that later began the Arkansas Women's Intercollegiate Sports Association (AWISA) for all colleges in Arkansas. That was the springboard into the previous all-male NAIA and Arkansas Intercollegiate in the 1980s.
She remembered the first AWESA volleyball tournament in which the teams, though a limited budget, were provided knee pads. The players wore T-shirts they purchased from their bookstores and cutoff jeans.
"They just wanted to play," Wallace said.
We'll let Elders have the final words on this volume of seizing opportunities.
"If it falls in your life to be street sweeper, sweep like Michaelangelo painted or sweep like Abud-Jabbar played basketball. Sweep like Ray Charles played the blues. Sweep like Michael Jackson danced."
I have been to most of these Hall of Fame inductions. For inspiration, drama and the emotions, reaction from the audience, I have never seen anything like it.
Sports editor David McCollum can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd