The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame brings the fulfillment of a dream, and the recollection of more than four decades of highly successful induction ceremonies honoring the athletic greats of Arkansas. The following is a brief history of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
It all started in February, 1958, when a group of 25 businessmen were told by Milton Green, “We owe something to these Arkansas people who have gone to the top of their careers, but are now about to be forgotten. Let’s form an Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.”
From that beginning, an organization was incorporated on August 16, 1958, with Jack Pickens of Little Rock as president, Green as vice president, Clifford Shaw as treasurer, Warren Wood as legal counsel, and Allen Berry as secretary.
A temporary Board of Directors also included Secretary of State C.G. “Crip” Hall, and sportswriters Orville Henry and Jack Keady of Little Rock, Jim Atkinson of Pine Bluff and Joe McGee of Conway.
The objective was to be “The selection, recognition, and acknowledgement of those persons who, through outstanding achievement and accomplishments in any form of endeavor, have brought honor, prestige, and fame to the state of Arkansas.”
The criteria to select honorees stated that “Selection would be based on athletic accomplishment, character and leadership, national significance of honoree, conduct during years following active participation in athletics, prestige to the Hall of Fame, representation of women, balance between old-timers and present generation, national publicity, honor and credit brought to the home state, and representation of all sports over the years.”
With President Pickens leading the way, the group went to work. A more permanent board was selected, adding the names of John Barnhill, Ben Butler, Bud Campbell, Benny Craig, Rolfe Eldridge, Fred Giles, Carl Gray, Howard Pierce, Earl Quigley, Lee Rogers, and Ray Winder.
More than 300 sports-minded people of Arkansas were invited to pay a $5.00 fee and join the new organization. The response was tremendous. Plans got underway for the first banquet, set for January, 1959.
Mr. Quigley provided research on nearly 100 nominees, and the Board picked through the list and selected the first honorees – Bill Dickey, Ivan Grove, Jim Lee Howell, Wear Schoonover and Hazel Walker.
Joe Garagiola became Master of Ceremonies, a selection by Pickens that became a masterful stroke. Garagiola stayed around nine years, setting up a fun-filled atmosphere that continued from that first night when 600 people crowded into Hotel Marion’s ballroom, and it was Garagiola who carried the banquet program to its highly successful beginning.
Pickens served 13 years as the Hall’s president, from 1958 to 1971, and much of the credit for success in those years belongs to him and his steady work on the project.
In 1972, Pickens turned the head job over to George Kell, former major league baseball star and Swifton-Newport businessman. Kell served as president until 1980. Kenneth Pat Wilson, a Jacksonville banker, became president in 1980. Currently a new president is chosen every two years.
Some 150 or so candidates are suggested each year for selection into the Hall of Fame. The Board of Directors and Seniors Committee thoroughly check the list and freely discuss qualifications. Afterwards three separate voting list (regular, senior and posthumous) are mailed out to the organization’s statewide dues paying membership as they get a cherished opportunity to vote for their sports heroes. The Hall of Fame’s accounting firm then tabulates the ballots sending it back to the Board of Directors for final approval.
Daily operations at the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame are managed by Executive Director Terri Conder Johnson. Johnson is responsible for successfully completing the initiatives, objectives and mission of the ASHOF including, but not limited to: membership development, developing annual business and financial plans and management of the annual banquet.
The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame is proud of its history and focus on current activities and is excited about the future.