One of the winningest collegiate coaches in the state’s history, a pair of dominating pitchers from different eras, and two heroes from a 1950s football dynasty comprise the 2012 induction class for the University of Arkansas at Monticello Sports Hall of Fame.
Alvy Early, whose 1,023 career wins as a women’s basketball and softball coach rank him among the state’s most successful college coaches, leads a class that includes one of Early’s star pupils, softball pitcher Lindsey Kight, baseball pitcher Gene Franklin, fullback Charles Grassi, Sr. and the late Don Sawyer, a quarterback who led the Boll Weevils to a pair of Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships.
Monticello businessman George Harris will receive the UAM Spirit Award.
The Class of 2012 will be formally inducted at a dinner on October 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the John F. Gibson University Center as part of Homecoming Week festivities. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased by calling the Athletic Department at (870) 460-1058.
The Hall of Fame selection committee waived the organization’s rule requiring coaches and athletes to be separated from the university for five years before they are eligible for induction to select Early.
“Alvy Early is not just the winningest coach in UAM history, he is one of the most successful coaches in the history of intercollegiate athletics in Arkansas,” said Chris Ratcliff, director of athletics. “The committee felt it was only appropriate that we make an exception for an exceptional coach. We feel like this year’s Hall of Fame class is outstanding.”
Before he became a coach, Early was a three-sport athlete at what was then Arkansas A&M, earning letters in football, baseball and tennis. He was a successful high school coach at West Fork before returning to his alma mater in 1979 to become head women’s basketball coach.
In 21 seasons, his teams won 425 games and lost 211. Early was four times AIC coach of the year, NAIA district coach of the year twice, produced 11 All-Americans, won or shared four AIC titles, and led the Cotton Blossoms to the brink of an NAIA national championship, losing in the finals in 1990.
Early became UAM’s softball coach in 1997 and immediately built a powerhouse.
In 2000, the Blossoms won the first of five consecutive Gulf South Conference West Division championships. They won two more division titles before UAM joined the Great American Conference in 2011. Early promptly led the Blossoms to the first GAC regular season championship and the league’s first postseason tournament title as well.
Early was the Gulf South Conference West Division Coach of the Decade (2000-10) and has produced eight All-Americans, 42 Academic All-Americans, and two players of the year, including Hall of Fame inductee Lindsey Kight.
Kight was chosen to the GSC’s All-Decade Team (2000-10) as a pitcher after compiling a record of 89-26 from 2001-04 with a miniscule earned run average of 0.96, which is still a school record. Kight threw six career no-hitters, posted 49 shut-outs and recorded 985 strikeouts.
Kight led the Blossoms to four straight GSC West Division championships and was a four-time All-GSC selection as well as three times All-South Region, GSC Freshman of the Year (2001), and twice the GSC West Player of the Year (2003-04).
Gene Franklin pitched – and won – both ends of a doubleheader three times as the durable linchpin of an Arkansas A&M baseball team that won Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships in I963 and ’65.
Franklin was a first team All-AIC selection in 1963, ’64, and ’65, and is one of two baseball players and six athletes in UAM history to earn first-team all-conference honors three times.
Franklin once pitched an 11-inning, 1-0 shutout over UALR while recording 15 strikeouts. He pitched 13 innings and recorded 15 strikeouts against UCA and threw a no-hitter against Harding in 1964. That same year, Franklin led the AIC with 77 strikeouts, issued just 13 walks, posted an almost invisible earned run average of 0.25, and complied a 6-2 record.
Charles Grassi came out of Lake Village to play for both Jim Benton and Convoy Leslie as part of an Arkansas A&M football dynasty of the 1950s that saw the Boll Weevils win five AIC championships in six years.
In an era of one-platoon football where players played both offense and defense, Grassi was a standout fullback and linebacker, earning second team All-AIC honors in 1953, the year the Weevils won the school’s first AIC football championship (and the first league title in any sport). Grassi earned first team All-AIC honors as a senior in 1954 in Leslie’s first season as head coach.
The late Don Sawyer was the first team All-AIC quarterback in both 1957 and ’58 while leading the Boll Weevils to a pair of league titles and records of 9-2 (’57) and 7-2 (’58).
In an era of run-first and pass only when necessary football, Sawyer’s 1958 statistics included 803 yards and 12 touchdowns passing and 999 yards total offense.
George Harris, the recipient of the 2012 UAM Spirit Award, is a 1966 Arkansas A&M graduate and president of Commercial Bank of Monticello who is a long-time supporter of the Boll Weevils and Cotton Blossoms.
The UAM Spirit Award is given to Harris in recognition of his support of the school’s athletics program and student-athletes.