Tuesday, February 05, 2008

SPORTS > > Colverts retire after years helping area youth

Leader sports editor

Larry and Sissy Colvert will be living up in northwest Arkansas before long, enjoying retirement and spending time with family.
Why, then, is Sissy stifling a tear and Larry shaking his head wistfully?

Probably because, however much the two are relishing the opportunity to watch their oldest grandson play baseball for Har-ber High and their youngest one play basketball, they are saying good-bye to something they love.

Larry, 65, and his wife Sissy will be honored on Thursday for their many years of service to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Arkansas.

“It’s going to be tough,” says Larry, who retired as a Jacksonville fire fighter in 1987 and has worked full-time at the club ever since. “I’m going to try to enjoy it. I’ve got three grandkids I’m going to watch. I’ve got a three-year-oldgranddaughter that we’re probably going to keep for a little while.”

Sissy, 67, a retired Jacksonville elementary school teacher who has worked as programs director at the club for the past seven years, says quitting is the hardest decision either of them has had to make.
“We put it off and put it off,” she says. “But we knew we needed to do it because of our age.”

Larry Colvert first came to the club as a volunteer athletics director while he was still a fire- fighter. He continued on as AD until unit director George Walker retired in 1994. Larry has been unit director at the Jacksonville branch of the Central Arkansas Boys and Girls Club ever since.

“I’ve been here so long that I’ve got parents coming through here now who came through here as kids when I was here,” Larry says.

Terry Brown, who serves as the current athletic director, would have been one of those kids who came through the doors about the time Larry was coming on board. Brown, 33, hails from Alaska, but has lived in Jacksonville since he was 10 years old. He is going to miss the Colverts a great deal, he says.

“Other than my dad and a few coaches I’ve had, Mister Larry has been one of the most influential men I’ve had in my life,” Brown says. “He showed me how to do a job and do it right. Every day he comes in here and does the job right. And I’ve followed in his footsteps and learned.

“Miss Siss, I would call her the mother of the club. She keeps us all straight.”

The Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club averages 25-30 kids between the ages of six and 18 between the time school lets out and basketball practice starts. Then, the numbers swell to 100-120. During the summer, Larry and Sissy say as many as 130 kids will show up, some for the entire day.

Basketball isn’t necessarily the focal point of the boys and girls club anymore. In fact, Sissy admits they don’t necessarily like to put the emphasis on basketball. But it remains a big draw for the club, which holds league and tournament play from January through mid-March.

“To me, it doesn’t matter how you get them in here, as long as you get them in here and feed them the information you want them to have,” Sissy says. “Once you get them in here for basketball, they’re going to get involved in our programs.”

Those programs, many of which have been instituted over the past year, emphasize personal improvement and development, as well as self-discipline.

“We do programs, honey, we do programs,” Sissy says with a laugh.

Those include Smart Moves, Youth for Unity, Career Launch, Triple Play and Goals for Graduation, among others.

But basketball is a big draw to the club, which, having teamed up with the seven other branches of the Central Arkansas Boys and Girls Club, has enjoyed recent success, including state titles the past two seasons for the 12-under team.

Sissy says the personal satisfaction of working days that “sometimes seem like 24 hours” comes from watching kids come around … or coming back to say hello.

“You see kids that are now in the military, who have been over to Iraq, kids you may have wondered at the time, ‘Is that one going to make it or not?’” she says. “And then they do. And that makes you feel very, very good.”

Larry admits that he is the one that has had to play the bad guy at times.

“Some of them may be glad I’m leaving,” he says with a laugh. “Ever since I was here, I’ve always been the meanie on the block. I’ve always had to say, ‘That’s just the way it is.’”
Brown thinks otherwise.

“I believe the kids are going to miss these two because they know these two people care for them,” he says. “Many a night, Mr. Larry has put kids in his car to take them home, or stayed up here for hours waiting for parents to pick up their kids. Miss Sissy’s done the same thing.”

Sissy says that because of the long hours and the demands, it’s a job “you have to love. You have to laugh at the little things they do, notice the little things they do and the big things they do.
“I was telling someone the other day that kids are very smart. They know when someone cares about them. They have this sense if people are interested in them.”

Terry Toney, who serves as chairman of the board at the Jacksonville branch, has been good friends with Larry for some time and has his own young son who plays basketball at the club. Sissy says it’s a real joy to get to watch Toney’s son play, as well as some of the other kids whose parents she and Larry are close to. But the time has come, she insists.

“We’re ready to watch our own grandkids.”