Bisons back in the herd

By Scott Goode, assistant athletic director for sports information

Every year, more than 100 new students come to Searcy because they have been given a chance to participate in intercollegiate athletics for one or more of Harding’s 18 teams. Many of those student-athletes graduate and move away, but a surprising number stay or come back to Harding to work.

In the athletic department, the University has 14 former student-athletes now on its coaching staffs, including head coaches Dr. Patrick McGaha (baseball), Paul Simmons (football), Dustin Howell (men’s and women’s golf), Jon Ireland (men’s soccer), David Redding (tennis) and Meredith Fear (volleyball). That number is by far the most of any university in the Great American Conference. Arkansas Tech, by comparison, is next with five.

But possibly the most remarkable figure is the number of former student-athletes who now work at the University outside of athletics. There are more than 30 current employees at Harding who participated in athletics.

Karie Fouts Fager says that her time as a student-athlete at Harding prepared her for many other aspects of post-college life.

“Athletics prepares you for so many things — working as a team, trusting a coach or boss, being able to talk to your coach or boss, winning and losing, being early and not just on time, always working to be better, encouraging your teammates, realizing your role on the team and so much more.”

For many of these student-athletes, working at Harding became a goal while they were still in school or soon thereafter.

“I loved everything about my experience at Harding as a student-athlete,” Dr. Clay Beason says. “I loved my professors, my coaches, dorm life, hanging out in the student center, eating with friends in the cafeteria, home Bible studies, spring break mission trips and more. I wanted to continue to be associated with that.”

“The men I was around during my time on hu:apocalypse (Harding’s ultimate Frisbee club team) were of such high caliber, actively pursuing loving the Lord in their daily lives,” Dr. Justin Bland says. “I wanted them to remain influential in my life. At the time, I thought if God were to provide me with a family and children, I want my children to look up to these men. So we established a plan and wrote out a contract agreement that we would all come back to Searcy and teach at Harding. Life has thrown us some curves, but 14 years later, three of the four of us have succeeded in living in Searcy and the fourth is still committed if the Lord wills.”

Tia Tarole Stone remembers: “When my parents dropped me off at Harding, I did not know a single student. They said goodbye and drove 18 hours back home. Over the next few weeks and months, my teammates became my family. We practiced together in the mornings and afternoons. We traveled together on the weekends. We ate together and at times worshipped together. This spirit of family and belonging has made me feel a part of Harding ever since, and making the decision to work here was an easy one.”

Former student-athletes also saw how Har­ding improved their lives and wanted to provide that for others.

“I thought everyone who came to Harding grew up in a faithful Christian household,” Dr. Jason Darden says. “Through my experiences as a student-athlete, I began to realize that college students are in a very formative phase of their lives. Teaching scriptures and sharing faith with college students can change the trajectory of their lives. I learned this while witnessing a few of my teammates come to faith in Christ.”

For Ross Cochran, the example set by his coach influenced the way he deals with his students.

“Coach David Elliott used to come into Armstrong Hall and check on another freshman and me just to see if we were studying and were not homesick. I see the importance of that personal touch in my present interactions with students.”

Former athletes working outside of athletics

Jim Baird
Job: Manager, client support and consulting
Sport: Men’s track, 1984-85
Stat: Ranks eighth on Harding’s all-time outdoor 2-mile list at 9:54.22

David Bangs
Job: Professor, College of Education/chair of graduate studies
Sport: Football, 1977-79
Stats: Compiled 1,122 career all-purpose yards and scored five touchdowns

Klay Bartee
Job: Assistant professor, HU Counseling Center
Sport: Football, 1977-82 • coached Bison football for 24 seasons
Stats: Played 32 games as a Bison • had a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown in 1980

Clay Beason
Job: Professor, College of Education
Sports: Football, 1992-96; Track and field
Stats: The only Bison football player with more than 2,000 career passing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards • 1994 AIC 110-meter hurdles champion and 1995 AIC high jump champion

Justin Bland
Job: Associate professor, department of exercise and sport sciences
Sport: Club ultimate frisbee, 2003-07
Best memory: Harding’s upset victory over No. 2-ranked Texas State in the regional tournament

Ryan Carter
Job: Construction manager, Physical Resources
Sport: Men’s track and field, 1995
Stat: Cleared 6 feet, 6 inches in the
high jump

Ross Cochran
Job: Professor, College of Bible and Ministry
Sport: Men’s Tennis, 1975-76
Stats: Won 21 singles matches in 1976, seventh in an HU single season • AIC No. 5 singles and No. 3 doubles (with Charles Ganus) champion in 1976 • 33-8 career singles record

David Collins
Job: Executive vice president
Sport: Men’s basketball, 1988-92
Stats: Played in 89 games • scored 573 points with 278 rebounds and 75 3-pointers made

Luke Cullins
Job: Assistant professor, College of Sciences
Sport: Football, 1996-99
Stats: Fifth at Harding with 5,027
passing yards and third with 44
passing touchdowns

Jason Darden
Job: Instructor, College of Bible and Ministry
Sport: Football, 1999-2003
Best memory: Slip-n-slide on the third floor of Harbin Hall with freshmen football players

Tessa Tarole Davidson
Job: Associate professor, department of art and design
Sport: Women’s cross-country and track and field, 2003-07
Stats: Had career-best times of 2:24.66
in the 800 meters and 5:08.84 in the 1,500 meters

J.R. Duke
Job: Associate professor, department of history
Sport: Men’s basketball, 1994-98
Stats: Ranks second at Harding in career 3-point field goal percentage (45.3%) • 1996-97 NAIA All-Region • 1997-98 CoSIDA Academic All-America

Lee Edwards
Job: Associate professor, College of Bible and Ministry
Sport: Football, 1991-94
Stats: 120 tackles and 4.0 sacks in 35 career games

Karie Fouts Fager
Job: Residence life coordinator for Allen Hall
Sports: Basketball, 1995-99; track and field, 1999
Memories: “I have great memories of going to nationals in 1996 and 1997, of road trips in the minibus, of being a Lady Bison with my sister for two years, of playing in the Rhodes, and playing with such great teammates. I am proud to have been a Lady Bison!”

Marc Fager
Job: Associate professor, department of mental health and wellness
Sport: Football, 1995-99
Honors: 2000 Berryhill Award winner as Harding’s top male senior athlete

Britney Copeland Finley
Job: Assistant professor, department of kinesiology
Sport: Women’s cross-country and track and field, 1998-2002
Honors: 1998 Lone Star Conference women’s cross-country Freshman of the Year

Butch Gardner
Job: Director, career services
Sports: Basketball, 1973-77; track and field, 1974-75; baseball, 1975
Stats: Bison basketball’s career leader with 2,255 points and 983 rebounds

Ronnie Huckeba
Job: Director of senior advancement officers, Advancement
Sport: Football, 1973-76
Coached for 30 seasons at Harding, including 10 as head coach • started at guard on the Bisons’ 1976 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference co-championship squad

David Kee
Job: Professor, College of Business Administration
Sport: Club men’s soccer
Memories: “We competed against a variety of schools across Arkansas and the region. Our team was a rag-tag group of talented players representing more than a half-dozen countries. We had no scholarships and no money, except from our sponsor Searcy Steel Co.

Kendall Lowe
Job: Preventative maintenance service specialist, Physical Resources
Sport: Club ultimate frisbee, 2012-16
Best memory: “The best memories I have of playing for Harding were our numerous road trips to tournaments, particularly our trip to nationals in Minnesota in 2013.”

Nathan Mills
Job: Professor, department of biology
Sport: Men’s cross-country and track and field, 1989-93
Awards: Two-time All-AIC (1991 and 1992), placing fourth both seasons

Jessica Moore
Job: Associate professor,
department of kinesiology
Sport: Softball, 1980-81
Comment: “I graduated from Harding in 1980 but entered the graduate education program in order to play on the first softball team. This certainly helped me attain my first coaching position.”

Eric Myers
Job: Coordinator of sports medicine
Sport: Football, 1988-90
A member of Harding’s 1989 team that upset University of Central Arkansas to earn the AIC co-championship

Farah Mackey Price
Job: Administrative assistant, physical therapy
Sport: Women’s tennis, 1990-94
Comment: “I really loved getting to spend time with the Hispanic players that Coach (David) Elliott always recruited. We are still friends to this day.”

Janis Copeland Ragsdale
Job: Administrator, International programs
Sport: Softball, 1982
Memories: “My best memories include practices at Berryhill Park, workouts at the small red-carpeted weight room in the GAC, friendships, and experiencing positive mentoring by coaches Ted Altman and Robbie Shackelford.”

Scott Ragsdale
Job: Associate professor, department of computer science
Sport: Football, 1977-80
Harding’s starting quarterback in 1980

Marty Spears, provost

Marty Spears
Job: Provost
Sport: Baseball, 1984-88
Memories: “I was part of a very special team my freshman year, and we came within six outs of going to the NAIA World Series. My senior year was special because I was the only senior, and it was Coach (Dick) Johnson’s last year. We went out together and really enjoyed that final season. I was sort of like an assistant coach that year and even drove the bus to some of the games.”

Tia Tarole Stone
Job: Preprofessional health sciences administration
Sport: Women’s cross-country and track and field, 1998-2001
Best memory: “My husband (John) proposed to me immediately following the national cross-country meet in Pomona, California, my senior year.”

Philip Thompson
Job: Professor, College of Bible and Ministry
Sport: Baseball, 1972-74
Memory: “In one of the first games I pitched, a batter on the opposing team hit a monstrous home run. The ball was still rising when it cleared the fence of the ballfield at Berryhill Park. It finally landed in the adjacent Little League field.”

Laurie Walker
Job: Assistant professor, department of math
Sport: Women’s track and field, 1985
Comment: “I was very excited to be part of the first women’s track team at Harding!”

Carl Williamson
Job: Professor, College of Bible and Ministry
Sport: Men’s cross-country and track and field, 1998-2002
Awards: 2000 Academic All-Lone Star Conference

Jamie Garner Wilson
Job: Assistant director, postal services
Sport: Women’s basketball, 1997-98
Played on Harding’s first NCAA Division II team

Categories: Sports.

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