Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SPORTS >> Hall of fame to celebrate Red Devils of the past

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville High School Hall of Fame will induct five, or a lot more than that depending on how one looks at it, at its third annual banquet Saturday night.

In ceremonies at the Jacksonville Community Center, the hall will admit former Red Devils athletes Mark Dewey, Bernie Cox, Ray Harris, John Buckwalter and the 1976 AAA state championship football team.

“It’s an honor to be recognized,” said Harris, the former Red Devils’ pitcher. “It’s very humbling. I don’t know how to put it in words.”

The football team, which included future NFL hall of famer Dan Hampton, was Jacksonville’s first state champion and posted a 12-1 record, beating Hot Springs 3-0 in the final.

Dewey was an all-state defensive end for the championship Red Devils and played for the University of Arkansas from 1977-81.

Cox, the legendary coach of Little Rock Central High School, was quarterback and captain of the 1961 Jacksonville team. He played at Harding College from 1962-65 and took over at Central in 1975.

Cox, who has announced he will retire after the season, went on to lead the Tigers to seven state and 18 conference championships and is a member of the Arkansas and Harding halls of fame.

Buckwalter was an all-state basketball forward with the Red Devils in 1986 and played for the University of Tulsa in 1987 and Centenary College in 1988-91, where he earned all-conference honors and was named an academic all-American.

Buckwalter earned his doctorate degree in philosophy at Arkansas in 1995.

The left-handed Harris was the state baseball player of the year when he pitched for the Red Devils in 1984 and he played for Arkansas from 1985-88, pitching in the 1985 and 1987 College World Series. The Oakland Athletics drafted Harris in 1988, but an elbow injury eventually ended his career.

With his College World Series appearances, Harris also played in a Major League exhibition in which he pitched for the A’s as a minor leaguer and rubbed shoulders with greats like Ricky Henderson, Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa. But he said his greatest moment was winning the 1984 American Legion State Championship with Gwatney Chevrolet.

“That was the funnest time I ever had,” Harris said. “I think what really makes it special is it’s the guys you grew up with, the guys you went to school with since fourth grade, the guys you played Legion with and all-stars and Babe Ruth.”

Harris, a converted high school first baseman, was 7-1 with a 0.98 ERA as a high school senior and struck out 20 in the Red Devils’ first 1984 state tournament game, which Watson Chapel won 2-1. He went on to earn MVP honors in the American Legion state tournament.

A former Bentonville High School coach now in pharmaceutical sales, he named several coaches who were key to his success: American Legion coach Bob Hickingbotham, Gwatney Chevrolet assistant Steve Poloski, who taught Harris the curveball, and Jacksonville High School coaches Bill Hollingsworth and Robert Koorstad.

It was Koorstad who wrote Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn on behalf of Harris.

“I just think it’s really neat that they’re doing this,” Harris said of the hall of fame induction. “There’s a ton of guys out there history-wise for Jacksonville. I just can’t wait for every year when more and more guys are being recognized.”

The hall of fame induction banquet will be held at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12.