When the new University of Arkansas - Fort Smith Lions Hall of Fame inducted seven former Lions athletes, some people asked why those athletes received the honor and others, equally deserving, were left unacknowledged. According to Dustin Smith, UA-Fort Smith Athletic Director, many thousands of students have participated in various sports during the school’s 81-year athletic history. He noted that it was not possible to induct all of them, not even all of the deserving ones, in the inaugural ceremony.
"This task is large because we have had so many great athletes, coaches, and friends of the program throughout our history,” Smith said. “The focus was to truly honor the foundation of this athletic program. We are only where we are now because of those individuals from our past.” He said the task of narrowing 81 years of individuals to seven members was very difficult, but he thought the committee did a great job. “This is a starting point, and we will continue to add to it as the years go on,” Smith said.
The selection committee will accept nominations annually for the Hall of Fame, and select the athletes who will be slated for that year’s Hall of Fame honors. Former Lions athletes, coaches, and supporters of the UA Fort Smith athletics department may be nominated by students, staff, or community members through the formal nomination process for consideration. The selection committee for the 2010 Hall of Fame inductees included Stacy Jones, Bill Wilson, Billy Higgins, Mary Beth Sudduth, Jim Wiley, Wayne King, Randy Cutting, Beth Presley, and Dustin Smith. A nominee must receive seven of the nine committee members’ votes to be inducted. Members of the selection committee serve for one year, and new members will be appointed each year.
In a telephone interview, committee member Bill Wilson mentioned that the Hall of Fame idea originated with Athletic Director Dustin Smith, and praised the excellent execution of the process and event. Wilson, a former UA Fort Smith instructor and Fort Smith businessman, has been a strong supporter of the athletic program for many years. He currently serves on the Lions Athletic Advisory Board, as well as the committee overseeing the NUMA sculpture installation. He spoke enthusiastically about the iconic lion statue, the Athletic Hall of Fame, and UA Fort Smith's future in the NCAA.
Clair Bates from Lincoln, Arkansas, graduated from Fort Smith High School in 1932, where he played every sport. He went on to play basketball and football at Fort Smith Junior College, now UA Fort Smith, before graduating in 1934. Even as a player, it was apparent that Clair Bates was destined to be a coach. His teammates at FSJC actually nicknamed him “Coach.” Bates played on the Lions basketball team and on the football team that won an Arkansas Junior College Championship. After graduation, Bates coached at St. Anne’s High School as a volunteer for two years before becoming football and basketball coach at Alma in 1937, leading the Airedales to the state basketball championship game in 1941. Bates left Alma for Van Buren in 1942, coaching there for just one year before being called to service in World War II. He returned to coach in Van Buren in 1946, and led Van Buren to eleven state championships in boys and girls basketball and boys golf during his tenure. He holds the singular distinction of winning both the boys and girls state basketball championships in 1950, the first time that feat was accomplished. Bates also coached baseball at Van Buren and, in addition to receiving UA-Fort Smith Athletic Hall of Fame honors, is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Shelby Breedlove, hailing from the neighboring town of Van Buren, became a Fort Smith Junior College student, coach, faculty member, administrator, and college president. His determination and leadership as a coach helped Lions athletics become a stronger competitive program. His vision and insight as an administrator is still felt today, as the two-year junior college he once led has evolved into the four-year institution that is UA Fort Smith. Breedlove attended FSJC for two years before attending College of the Ozarks, Arkansas State Teachers College, and the University of Arkansas, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education in 1954, and his master’s degree in education in 1960. He later earned his doctorate in philosophy from Florida State in 1972. Breedlove began his coaching career at Fayetteville’s Ramey Junior High in 1954, where his teams lost only one game in a two-year span. He went on to coach basketball and baseball at Fayetteville High School, winning a state baseball championship in 1960. He joined the faculty of Fort Smith Junior College in 1960 and during the next four years coached men’s basketball, baseball, track and golf. His 1962 Lions basketball team finished No. 4 in the nation in the NJCAA. After coaching the Lions for four years, Breedlove then served as athletic director and Dean of Men for two years. In November of 1967, he was named acting president of the college after the sudden death of then president E.T. Vines. Shelby Breedlove was officially named president of the college in May of 1968, and served in that capacity until his death on September 14, 1974. During his tenure as president, FSJC transitioned to Westark Community College and received North Central Association of College and Secondary Schools accreditation.
Ron Brewer, whose nickname is “Boot,” was a standout basketball player at Fort Smith’s Northside High School. As a senior in 1974, he led the Grizzlies to a perfect 30-0 record, which included the Arkansas Overall State Basketball Championship. Although courted by many NCAA Division I universities, Brewer chose to join his high school coach Gayle Kaundart in the move to Westark Junior College. He played one season for the Lions, and was named All-Bi-State Conference, All-Region II and NJCAA All-American, as well as being voted the MVP of the Region II tournament. After the 1975-76 season at Westark, Brewer transferred to UA Fayetteville where he helped lead the Razorbacks to the Final Four of the 1978 NCAA national tournament. That year he was named to the All-Tournament Team, chosen as an NCAA All-American, and selected by the Portland Trailblazers with the seventh overall pick in the 1978 NBA Draft. He was named to the 1978-79 NBA All-Rookie Team and played eight seasons in the NBA. In addition to his new membership in the UA – Fort Smith Athletic Hall of Fame, Brewer is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Northside High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Charles was an accomplished student-athlete at Fort Smith High School and a three-sport star at Hendrix College. Those activities were interrupted by his service in the United States Navy during World War II, where Charles attained the rank of lieutenant and engaged in combat in the Pacific Theater. After an honorable discharge, Charles returned to Hendrix to complete his bachelor’s degree, then attended graduate school at the University of Iowa to earn his master’s degree in physical education in 1948. After joining the faculty of Fort Smith Public Schools as a physical education teacher, he established a highly successful elementary school coaches’ program in which Fort Smith Junior College students received college credit for coaching in each of Fort Smith’s elementary schools. In developing that program, he laid the groundwork for league play in football, basketball, softball and track. In 1954, Charles was hired as the Fort Smith Junior College’s men’s basketball coach, and held the position for six years. A man of great vision, Charles was instrumental in the creation of the Bi-State Conference, a junior college athletics league consisting of colleges in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Bi-State Conference eventually became one of the most competitive and highly regarded conferences in the entire National Junior College Athletic Association.
Bill Crowder of Perryville, Arkansas, became head coach of the Westark Lions in the spring of 1966. He coached the first basketball game played in the Westark Fieldhouse, a win against Oklahoma State Technical Junior College. Crowder coached Lions men’s basketball and baseball for three seasons before turning his full attention to coaching the baseball program into one of the premiere programs in the nation. Crowder compiled a 1,003-559 win-loss record as Lions baseball coach, the most wins by any Lions coach. He earned his 1,000th win on May 3, 1998, when his Lions beat rival Connors State. At retirement, he was one of the Top 5 winning baseball coaches in NJCAA history. Crowder coached four of the five UA Fort Smith players who went on to play in the Major League and was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 2001.
Gayle Kaundart of Alma, Arkansas, was an All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference basketball player at the College of the Ozarks and led the school to its first AIC championship. Kaundart began his coaching career at Green Forest High School and continued at Conway High School where he coached from 1953-55. He then went on to coach Fort Smith Northside High School from 1955-74, where he turned the Grizzlies program into a state basketball powerhouse. In 19 seasons at Northside, Kaundart coached the Grizzlies to five state championships, culminating in 1974 with Ron Brewer leading the team to victory. Kaundart’s success as a high school coach paved the way for him to become the head coach of the Lions basketball team in the fall of 1974, subsequently turning the Westark Lions into one of the top junior college men’s basketball programs in the nation Under Kaundart’s guidance, the Lions made nine appearances in the NJCAA national tournament, including a run of six consecutive appearances from 1977-1982. In 1981 the team won the school’s first national championship in any sport. Kaundart compiled a 379-87 record during his 13 seasons at Westark and was named NJCAA National Coach of the Year in 1981. In addition to his induction into the UA Fort Smith Athletic Hall of Fame, he is a member of the University of the Ozarks Hall of Fame, the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the NJCAA Basketball Hall of Fame.
Kim Williams had led Chicago’s famed Marshall High School to three state basketball championships before she arrived at Westark College in 1993. By the time she left, Williams had pounded her name into Westark’s history as one of the best players ever to suit up for the Lady Lions. The 5-foot 6 guard led the team to the NJCAA national runners-up position in 1994 and the national championship in 1995. The 1995 national title team finished a perfect 35-0, overcoming Trinity Valley Community College 82-75 in the national championship game. That team is still regarded by many as quite possibly the best junior college women’s basketball team ever to hit the hardwood. During her two seasons at Westark, Williams was a two-time first team NJCAA All-American, a two-time All-Region II performer and a two-time MVP of the Region II tournament. As a sophomore, she was MVP of the NJCAA national tournament. In two seasons after transferring to DePaul University in Chicago, Williams was named Conference USA Player of the Year and was a third team Associated Press All-American. She earned Kodak/WBCA All-District honors, first team All-Conference USA honors and second team All-Conference USA honors. As a senior, she led the nation in scoring with 25.2 points per game. In 1997, Williams became the first Lady Lions basketball player to be drafted by a professional team when the Utah Starzz selected her as the 28th overall pick in the first Women’s National Basketball Association Draft. She played two seasons in the WNBA with the Starzz, then three seasons overseas, returning to join the Chicago Blaze of the National Women’s Basketball League (NWBL) for two seasons before leaving again to play professionally overseas.
The inductees will have their photographs and selected biographical information enshrined in the new Hall of Fame display alcove outside the athletic department offices on the ground floor of Stubblefield Center. Hall of Fame nomination guidelines and nomination form may be found at http://www.uafortsmith.edu/