Friday, May 25, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Malzahn helps club banquet

Leader sports editor

Arkansas State head football coach Gus Malzahn drew a large crowd to the Jacksonville Boys and Girls Club banquet at the Jacksonville Community Center on Wednesday. It wasn’t the club’s first banquet, but it was the club’s first banquet in seven years, and the first banquet as an independent entity separate from the Central Arkansas Boys and Girls Club organization. That made this year’s banquet important for the survival of the club, and it was one of the most successful fundraising banquets in many years.

“No doubt it was successful,” Boys and Girls Club chairman Jody Urquhart said. “Just the fact that we had it makes it successful. We haven’t had one in several years and when we did, being a part of the Central Arkansas Boys and Girls Club charter meant the money was divided up about eight ways. This time, 100 percent of the money raised goes directly to the program for our community and our children.”

More than 200 people were in attendance. Individuals paid $50 per ticket and sponsorships for tables of eight were sold at different prices for platinum, gold and silver sponsorship levels.

Final numbers weren’t available on Friday, but amounts already exceed $5,000 raised, with money from the auction still to be counted.

Attendance at the club is doing well also. The weeks immediately following the end of school are usually the busiest for registrations to the summer program. Capacity for the program is 250, and over 100 have already registered.

“We cut it off at 250, and it looks like we may have to turn people away this year,” Jacksonville Parks and Recreation director and club volunteer Kristen Kennon said. “We reached capacity last year too, and we may have to turn away even more this year. So it’s a very important part of our community. People really want and need this club.”

Malzahn’s presence played a big role in drawing the large crowd. Unlike other speakers in the past, Malzahn arrived early and was personable to anyone who approached him.

He gave a light but lengthy speech about the importance of Boys and Girls Clubs and his plans for ASU Red Wolves’ football.

But the highlight of the evening came after Malzahn’s speech, when Kennon showed a film presentation put together by her and the Jacksonville A&P Commission.

It featured supporters, volunteers, and former and present students who benefited from the Jacksonville club and parents whose children are a part of the club.

The film brought home with touching effect the positive impact the club has on Jacksonville’s youth, and brought to light the deep commitment and care for those youth that the volunteers all share.

The time sacrificed and energy put into helping the children seemed like little to no sacrifice at all to the volunteers featured in the film, instead viewing their volunteer work and those they’re helping as a joy.

“That’s what drives this whole thing,” said Urquhart, who emceed the event. “Me for example, I’m not a great speaker who has a lot of eloquent comments prepared. I just have a passion for this club, and that’s what everybody involved in this shares.”

Of course many came to see Malzahn, and he did not disappoint. After his introduction by Urqhart, Mayor Fletcher presented Malzahn with a key to the city and declared May 23 as Gus Malzahn day in Jacksonville.

Malzahn opened his speech recognizing a few local people he’s been associated with, including Jacksonville girls basketball coach Katrina Mimms former and longtime Jacksonville head coach Johnny Watson, and current assistant football coach Barry Hickingbotham.

Malzahn recalled his softball playing days in his younger years, and remembered Hickingbotham as being a renowned power hitter.

Watson was instrumental in getting Malzahn involved in the banquet. Watson was president of the Arkansas Football Coaches Association for several years, and was the high school coach of standout running back Michael Dyer, who went on to play for Malzahn at Auburn and won the 2011 national championship game’s Most Valuable Player Award.

He also recalled his membership at the Fort Smith Boys Club in his youth, and that his coaching days started there.

“At about my sophomore or junior year, I started coaching soccer at the boys club and that was my first coaching experience,” Malzahn recalled. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but we were enjoying it and that’s where it all started in coaching for me.”

Malzahn briefly recapped his entire career, starting with an anecdote about his first paid job, the head coaching position at Hughes High School.
“I got the call that they wanted me to be the head football coach and Hughes High School,” Malzahn said. “My wife and I danced around the room and celebrated. Got to work that next Monday and found out I was the only one who applied.”

Despite taking over a tiny, very basketball-minded school in poverty-stricken east Arkansas, Malzahn showed early signs of his coaching prowess by taking the Blue Devils to the class 3A state championship game in his third year. That team lost 17-13 to the Lonoke Jackrabbits and Malzahn was hired at Shiloh Christian Academy in Springdale, where he began to build his local fame.

He talked about his time at Shiloh, Springdale High, the University of Arkansas and Tulsa, but saved his next best anecdote for his last stop, Auburn.

“Quick story about the national championship game,” Malzahn began about Auburn’s 22-20 victory over Oregon in 2011. “We celebrated on the field for about 30 minutes, and I was back in my locker, and I was exhausted. Rhett (Auburn quarterbacks coach Rhett Lashlee) was with me and coach (Auburn head coach Gene) Chizik’s phone was on a wood chair sitting there and it was just blowing up, buzzing. I said, Rhett silence that phone. He reached over and silenced it. It started up again, I said Rhett silence that phone. He reached over and silenced it. It started right up again just as coach Chizik walked in. He answered it and said, ‘well thank you, Mr. President.’ I had hung up twice on the President of the United States.”