Sometimes I do not understand decisions that are made by the “powers that be." While I count guys like Lance Taylor, Don Brodell, and Wadie Moore as friends and great working associates in the world of high school sports, sometimes I just want to look them straight in the eye and say, “Why in the world would you even entertain that notion?”
The announcement that the 2013 state basketball championships will be played at Barton Coliseum literally made me want to storm the Arkansas Activities Association headquarters with picket signs and a group of protesters.
In February 2011, I joined a number of men in my church in assisting our pastoral staff with an event called “Hunt Fest”. During the course of a Saturday, my fellow members of Little Rock First Baptist Church, led by Dr. Jim LaGrone and Brother Marty Sikes, transformed a dilapidated old basketball and concert arena into a festival atmosphere. Between the hunting displays, the Aaron Tippin concert that night, and a truly blessed atmosphere, souls were saved and thousands had their hearts refreshed with the word of God. I was proud of our church that we were able to put on the event, but I was even more amazed that we were able to take that piece of junk known as Barton Coliseum and actually make it a usable property. As we emptied closets, put back equipment and supplies, and got the real inside look at the place, I was quite certain that the building would never host a sporting event, ever again.
As night fell on the much less desirable side of Little Rock, I stepped outside for just a moment, and snapped the picture that you see in the headline of this story. My main reason for taking the picture was that I actually thought to myself at the time, “I want to get a snapshot of this place before they implode it.” Walking around on the inside, you saw broken chairs in the stands, the backlight signs above the restroom doors that had simply a light bulb and a box that stated “Men” in cut-out letters. I actually uploaded the picture I took to Facebook, and stated in the caption, “It is like stepping into 1973.”
Now, let us join together and rewind to the early 1970′s, and think of the things that have happened since. Elvis played there once or twice and brought in thousands to the place. We all know that Grand Funk Railroad showed up at some point in the vicinity and subsequently cursed Little Rock with the legend of “Sweet Sweet Connie.” As a child, I can remember my very conservative parents taking me to see groups like Sandy Patty, Michael W. Smith, Pinnochio on Ice (before Disney’s war with the Baptist church), and many others. The Razorbacks had some spectacular moments there, and we all remember Mike Newell’s amazing run with UALR. Make no mistake, Barton Coliseum has been good to Little Rock, and was a wonderful place at one time.
But this storied venue’s time is over.
Barton Coliseum was an eyesore twenty years ago, and it is an eyesore today. As a young intrepid reporter at KARN in Little Rock during the early 2000′s, I covered enough murders, dead body discoveries, and drug deals gone bad along Asher Avenue and Roosevelt Road to make me want to move home to Northwest Arkansas and never look back on our state’s largest city. One takes their life into their own hands even venturing into the adjoining neighborhoods, and then when you get to the fairgrounds, the facility is a reflection of the areas around it. This is a building that has not been kept up, is dark and dreary even on it’s best day, and with the inevitable exit of the Arkansas State Fair in the coming years, really just needs to meet the side of a wrecking ball.
Some of you have watched our telecasts as we have broadcast the state championships on television over the past few years. I’ve had the honor of doing the play-by-play for many of these events, and immensely enjoyed our time at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs. I watched as towns as small as Kingston and as large as Fayetteville brought most of their population to cheer their teams on to the highest honor that can be bestowed on a high school athlete. And all of them were so honored to be there. The Summit Arena provided an almost lavish environment for everybody involved, with the finest facility you can imagine.
Despite the reported $140,000 guaranteed by the Little Rock and North Little Rock conventioneers, could we not have stepped back, put aside the politics of it all, and looked at the three spectacular facilities in this area? I can’t imagine that with the people behind this, that a deal for Verizon, Jack Stephens, or even Charging Wildcat Arena might not have been an option. But instead, our state’s best and brightest athletes will arrive at the pinnacle of their high school career, and be treated to a sixty-three year old building that gives the appearance that it hasn’t been touched in almost that long.
When teams make the state championship, they have set the bar high, met their goal, and met a standard of excellence asked of them by the people of this state. The Arkansas Activities Association should treat them with the respect that they deserve by imposing the same standard of excellence on the sites where the most important games of these kid’s lives will be played.
It is only right.