Caution: No Trojans at play
Women’s softball, women and men’s tennis, men’s water polo and of course the beloved sport of football, what do these sports have in common other than the fact that they all require a ball of some type? The answer is that almost all of them were played by the UALR or its previous incarnations of Little Rock Junior College or Little Rock University at one time or another.
A quick review of the official UALR sports sponsorship list reveals that since 1975: Men’s volleyball has come and gone (1982-1985). The women’s volleyball team missed 1987. Women’s basketball ended after the 1987 season only to return in 1999. The men’s water polo team ended in 1993 followed by the men’s swim team in 1995. The men’s tennis lasted until 2007 and the women’s tennis team recently ended its run after the 2012 season. Women’s softball is played by only eight out of the 14 SBC member schools, so it’s no surprise that UALR does not participate as one of the smaller schools in the conference.
The reasons for the missing sports range from the budget reductions that UALR Athletic Director Chris Peterson cited for the end of the women’s tennis team in a 2013 Forum article to the Arkansas Title IX issues that football would bring as the reason from Peterson in an article in 2011. The reasons are separate issues that may be debatable, but the experience of sports both as an athlete and as a fan is something that is undeniably part of the college tradition.
This experience was something that former UALR water polo coach Richard Turner could reflect on as an original member of the water polo team in the 1970s and also as coach of the team from 1983 until it was disbanded in 1993.
“It was a good run when we had it. The kids did a great job representing the university. They all graduated. They were good students. It’s just unfortunate that we had to make some tough decisions back in the early 90s,” Turner said. The problem with the polo team was a logistic one as the team had to travel great lengths to compete every weekend according to Turner. “If you know the geography of water polo, the best teams are on the west coast and the second tier was on the east coast,” Turner said. That meant that every weekend the team would travel about 16 hours overnight to compete in its conference.
Another problem was that the team had to practice in a pool that wasn’t equipped for the sport. Both problems were resolved when a new pool was built in 1993 that was able to not only accommodate water polo, but swimming and diving as well. That year the school hosted the regional championship for the first time in Turner’s 11 seasons as coach. Ironically, the same year that the new state-of-the-art pool opened in the Donaghey Center, the water polo team was disbanded.
The team had a very successful run during Turner’s coaching tenure, winning five Southern Polo Conference titles and appearing in the NCAA Water Polo Championship tournament twice. The team went to seven post-season regional championships during the late 80s and early 90s. Though the men’s swimming program ended in 1995, Turner remained the coach of the women’s swim team until 2007 and remains in an administrative position with UALR.
In order to find out when UALR played football, you would have to go back to its days as Little Rock Junior College. The team actually won a junior college championship in 1949 and was recently honored in 2006 with induction in the UALR Sports Hall of Fame. The team went undefeated that season (1949) and won the Junior College Rose Bowl. Many people have clamored for a football team to return to the UALR, including Rex Nelson on a 2009 post on his Southern Fried blog. He wrote that Trojan football could be a huge draw for football fans in Little Rock. He used examples of possible games against ASU and UCA as potential crowd draws to a War Memorial Stadium that would serve as the Trojan’s homefield. No mention was made of the longtime rumor that being part of the UA system means that UALR cannot ever again have a football team. The fact that that Arkansas loves football means that interest will continue in the possibility of having a team right here to represent the capital city.