Little family evolved into a big family in many forms Saturday morning at the UCA Sports Hall of Fame Induction brunch.
Seven individuals expressed different flavors of family.
All succinctly said the right things. No one said more than just the right things.
Two individuals had long been family — former running back Bobby Hill is the father-in-law of former offensive lineman Don Struebing.
Hill was drawn into the UCA family by an older teammate, Woody Cummins, who noted then coach Raymond Bright asked to take the freshman from Hazen under his wing
"Coach Bright told me that he did want that kid running away because he was homesick; his roommate ran off the night before," Cummins said. "So I was Bobby Hill’s first babysitter."
Hill and former Conway coach and athletic director and fellow Hall of Famer Buzz Bolding now work together at Nutters Chapel Golf Club. Their introduction wasdn’t pleasant years ago during a drill on the football field in which the rookie Hill embarrassed Bolding then got a rather rude introduction to college football from Bolding when it was repeated. "There are different versions of the story but I don’t remember much about the second time," Hill said.
Struebing remembered his father dropping him off at his first youth football practice in which he didn’t want to go to because "the coach had long hair and screamed a lot," he said. "But Dad drove away and I was left holding my helmet with tears streaming down my face, so there was not much to do but go to practice."
Practice was always a thorn to Struebing, who eventuall went into coaching.
"The only thing I hated worse than practice was thinking about practice," said Struebing, whose son plays at Hendrix. "I remember at UCA running those gassers at the end of practice in hot Conway. I would always line up in a different spot so coach (Mike) Isom couldn’t find me. He always found me. He told me that the faster I went the cooler it got. I never found that to be true but I’ve used it my entire coaching career."
As Struebing got his plaque, he and Hill warmly embraced.
That embrace occurred next to where Ann Winters was seated. She knew the feeling of family from her father, the late Layton Gray who held the state record in hurdles from 1936-1961. And hurdles in those days were the equivalent of a 42=inch board fence with unforgiving track surfaces.
"My Dad could jump over mud puddles, clear obstacles on the dead run and jump hurdles like nobody’s business," she said with pride, noting Gray lived to age 94. "He was a fun man, a fine hurdler and a very fast man."
Bill Terwilliger coached some of the greatest high school teams in state history at West Memphis, including back-to-back 30-0 seasons with teams led by Michael Cage and Keith Lee, who later starred in college and played in the NBA.
He learned the value of family early on as he was raised by his mother and two sisters because his father was killed at Iwo Jima in World War II. As a player at UCA, he developed a friendship that continues to this day with Cliff Garrison, who went on to be a highly successful coach at Hendrix and a fellow Hall of Famer.
"As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate more more everything and what you learned," he said. "Life is good."
Natalie Shock, UCA’s assistant athletic director who built the UCA softball program from scratch in 1995, took Lisa Dreher, currently the softball coach at Bryant, under her wing out of necessity. She needed players that inaugural season and Dreher was one of the best athletes she could find even though she was a slow-pitch player because fast-pitch was not played in Arkansas high schools until the late 1990s.
In her first fast-pitch game, she went 4 for 4 with four straight doubles, an NCAA record at the time. In her second fast-pitch game, she struck out four times.
"Her head was down and she was in tears because she had never struck out before," Shock said. "I put my arm around her and said I guarantee that it will not be the last time in fast pitch you will strike out."
Shock conceded that for two years, Dreher’s academic status would teeter.
"Then her junior year, she deiced to be a coach and asked me what it took to be a coach," Shock said. "From then on, she became one of the most dedicated persons I have ever been around."
Dreher remembered when she first start playing fast-pitch, there was a batting technique she couldn’t seem to grasp.
"I cried and cried," Dreher said. "It was a fear of failure I’ve never had before. What coach taught me was developing a consistent action to overcome that."
Dreher, the first softball inductee into the UCA Hall, had a .344 average for her career with 157 hits and hold the school record with a 19-game hitting streak.
"This (UCA) is my family and they still treat me like that," she said before accepting her plaque from Shock.
Nathan Brown, one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history who passed for 10,558 yards in his career with 100 touchdowns (seven TD passes in one game), initially came to UCA with no official visit because he only played quarterback his senior year at Russellville High School.
"I came down here one Sunday after church and (then) coach (Clint) Conque met me and sold me the dream," he said. "I followed a lot of trailblazers."
The dream continues with another perspective on the UCA family. He quarterbacked UCA in both NCAA Division II and Division I FCS and is currently the Beara’ offensive coordinator.
Cleon Brown was a standout defender recruited by former coach Ken Stephens and who played for Harold Horton.
"I remember after coach Horton took over, he came to visit me and put his feet on the couch," Brown said. "I was thinking we don’t do that in these parts but I knew right away he was a keeper."
By the way, Brown is still vibrant after having two kidney transplants a year ago and last March.
When he rose to accept his plaque, he received at least a minute-long standing ovation.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)