Buzz Bolding, as a football player, was an offensive lineman. So it’s natural that, as an athletic director, he would focus on creating openings for others.
Friday night, Conway High officials honored Bolding, who is retiring at the end of the school year, after almost four decades in education. He cleared many a path and blazed many a trail.
His greatest contributions are related to how he has visualized opportunities and paved the way for others — whether that meant helping initiate new sports for students, providing them facilities and an atmosphere for the athletes and coaches to do their best work, connecting parents with their sport (or sports) of passion, trying to help teams compete at their highest level under the fairest possible concepts or allowing the community to form deeper and longstanding relationships with athletic teams.
Bolding’s career as athletic director has always meant riding both the predictable and unpredictable waves of change.
Many don’t recall the controversy surrounding his move from head football coach to athletic director. It went against the grain. In the 1980s, the head football coach was also the AD. That template was almost set in stone. In those days, there were few sports to manage and hardly anything for girls. You had football, basketball, volleyball, track, golf, tennis and in Conway’s case, because of the influence of Bob Courtway, swimming and diving.
Whether to separate the AD from the head football coaching position and make it a fulltime administrative position was a source of intense debate here. Bolding and many CHS officials saw what was coming, which was a tidal wave of new sports and paperwork. Conway was ahead of the curve. Nowadays, a fulltime AD is the rule at almost all of the larger schools.
It has to be. Since Bolding has been with the school district, Conway has added baseball, softball, soccer, wrestling, bowling. Opportunities for females, including competitive cheerleading and dance, has expanded exponentially.
And Bolding was always for everything if it represented more opportunities for youngsters (particularly those who didn’t participate in another sport) to compete and learn the values of teamwork and competing.
He worked hard to make that happen, which meant creating funding and new facilities.
In almost three decades as Conway athletic director, Conway has improved its football stadium, added on-campus baseball and softball fields, helped create Centennial Park as a soccer facility, built one of the first fieldhouse/indoor practice facilities in the state and opened the new Wampus Cat Arena, one of the best in the state. The track has been resurfaced and improved several times. Sports have been expanded at junior high, middle schools and elementary schools.
Any of us who have known Buzz over the years knew he always had a project or a list of projects lined up like planes at an airport.
And he’s done it without Conway dipping into any public educational funds.
That’s another area where Conway was ahead of the curve with Bolding. New sports and new facilities means that the modern AD is more of a fundraiser than a coach. That means building relationships and connecting with the community over the long term, making community leaders feel they have a stake in the program and ultimately the educational process. Bolding not only was able to raise funds but also to acquire in-kind donations that allowed Conway to get materials, equipment and labor for its projects at great savings.
Bolding has walked right on the fault line of how we judge athletic directors. It’s not just titles and trophies. All schools at the highest level in the state have good athletes, good coaches, most have or are building fine facilities and all have their speciality areas as far being consistently good in certain sports. It’s very hard for the larger schools to stack state championships in any given year or years. But through the years, Conway has always been right at the top of state teams as far as those all-sports standings, based on finishes in everything. It has won the all-sports award so many times in the Central Conference that some rival schools concede that to Conway and quit counting.
During Bolding’s tenure (conceding the usual cyclical fluctuation in high school athletics) there is not a sport in which Conway has not been good — and in any given year, pretty good to great in some sports. He’s done it by creating the atmosphere, then getting out of the way and allowing the coaches to do their jobs and athletes to perform at their best.
He’s done it without the resources of high schools in northwest Arkansas, which have the dynamic combination of numbers, major business support, college-like facilities and much higher salaries for teachers and coaches.
He’s helped create the passion and sport for high school athletics that is emblematic nowadays of a northwest Arkansas mindset.
And Buzz has always there — at pretty much every athletic event, thousands over the years in every sport. He will talk to you just as enthusiastically about a swimmer or a bowler as a football player.
And, in just about every major athletics issue involving school administrators and athletics over the past two decades, Bolding has been a leader, served on a committee or has helped draw up a plan. And in those minefield of formulating realignment plans and on eligibility issues, Bolding has been a "big-picture" person and has tried to create a fair playing field for all, even when it was impossible to do so.
It’s a fine legacy.
Now, Bolding has two sons who are head coaches at large schools (Bobby at Pine Bluff and Brad at North Little Rock) plus grandkids. We’ve seen the joy and the enthusiasm when he’s cleared part of his schedule to watch his sons’ games and spend time with his grandkids.
He deserves now to pull up a lawn chair, relax and experience the further joys of family and sports — without having to worry about handling ticket money or whether the ice machine is going to go out.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)