CLARKSVILLE -- Nobody felt closer to home than Lonnie Qualls did when he stepped onto any portion of Hurie Field.
The former Clarksville four-sport standout, now 87, lived just across the street from where the University of the Ozarks' soccer, baseball and softball fields are located today. Qualls later inherited the wood-frame house and did renovations to it, and it still stands today.
In Qualls' playing days, however, Clarksville High School shared those same fields with what was then known as College of the Ozarks, which offered football at the time.
"I probably made more of their practices than their players did," Qualls said. "I would go over there every day to practice, and I'm sure I picked up some things along the way that would help me and probably made me a better athlete."
Qualls spent plenty of his time across the street from his home, and for good reason. Clarksville offered four sports -- football, basketball, baseball and track -- when Qualls went to school from 1947-51, and he played them all.
Even in the spring, he discovered a way to split his time between baseball and track. He was a member of the Panthers' relay teams when he ran track, then he mainly played shortstop or second baseman on the baseball team.
"That's about all I did all my life is sports, whether I played it or coached it," Qualls said. "It was never like a job to me. I enjoyed it so much, and I liked that part of sports. I really didn't have a favorite; I loved to go from one season to the other, so I really don't know if I could pick a favorite."
"I would come by the house and ditch my books or whatever, which I never did carry very many. I would run the relays and stuff for track, then I would go over to baseball on the same day. I would run the fourth leg on the relays."
Clarksville didn't offer junior high football when Qualls attended school there, so he was a 135-pound freshman when he joined the Panthers' varsity team, which was coached by Bill Metheny at the time. As Qualls grew to 175 pounds by his senior year, his reputation as a bruising runner grew as well.
He became a two-time all-state running back out of what Metheny called the "short punt" formation, which Qualls said could have been a prelude of the shotgun formation former San Francisco 49ers coach Red Hickey unveiled against Baltimore in 1960. He also played linebacker and handled the team's kicking chores.
Qualls finished the 1950 season as the state's third-leading scorer with 160 points -- 24 touchdowns and 16 extra-points -- and led the Panthers to an 8-1 record and the 4A District championship while playing bigger schools such as Russellville, Conway and Morrilton. Clarksville went on to the state playoffs that year, but the Panthers lost a 12-0 decision in the opening round of the playoffs against Siloam Springs.
Bob Horne, who was a freshman on the Panthers' roster and saw limited action that fall, remembered that game being "so cold that the valves on the band's instruments froze up."
"Lonnie was just out of sight," Horne said. "He was such a tough runner, and he was probably one of the toughest running backs in the state that year. He would line up as the short back in our formation and just followed his blockers down the field.
"We didn't have facemasks on helmets back then, so people didn't realize the licks running backs took in those days. Lonnie took so many shots to his nose and always had a skinned nose after a game. If it wasn't the opposing teams hitting him in the nose, it was those helmets sliding down and skinning your nose."
Horne truly believed Qualls could have gone to a number of places to play college football after graduation, but he chose to remain at home and play football, basketball and baseball at Ozarks. He compiled 2,106 career rushing yards and scored 182 points during his career there and earned first-team all-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference honors all four years, including the AIC's Back of the Year award in 1954.
Qualls received letters from the St. Louis Cardinals -- the baseball and football teams -- but he had to turn them down after a kidney problem was discovered during his senior season at Ozarks. He then turned to coaching, where he led Clarksville to a pair of undefeated seasons and three district titles, as well as being named the West head coach during the 1960 All-State football game.
He then went to Ozarks and held teaching and coaching positions for 29 years, and he coached football, baseball, tennis, bowling, soccer and cross country during his tenure before his retirement in 1990. He was named the NAIA District 17 Baseball Coach of the Year in 1976, and he was one of the first inductees of the Ozarks Hall of Fame in 1990 before the university named the baseball field after him in 2005.
"The football team finished in last place the year before he came, and he won the conference championship with them," said Burnett King, who played for Qualls at Clarksville. "He was pretty good at whatever he did, and he took a baseball team to the state tournament."
Who was the best athlete ever at your school? The sports staff of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will highlight 14 former prep standouts over the next two weeks.
YEAR GRADUATED 1951
SPORTS PLAYED Football, basketball, baseball and track and field
WHY HIM? Many people in Clarksville consider him an athletic legend, both as a player and as a coach. He played football, basketball, track and baseball for the Panthers from 1947-51 and was a two-time all-state player in football in 1949-50. The latter year, he was the state’s third-leading scorer and helped Clarksville win the 4A District title with an 8-1 mark.
Many thought he could have played college sports in a number of locations, but he stayed close to home and played three sports for College of the Ozarks (now University of the Ozarks). He earned first-team all-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference honors all four years and was named the AIC’s back of the year in 1954, as well as an honorable mention selection in baseball and basketball for two years. His talents drew the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals — both the football and baseball teams — but he turned to coaching after a kidney problem was detected during his senior year at Ozarks and was advised not play any more.
He coached at Clarksville and led the Panthers to two undefeated seasons and three district championships, and he was named the West head coach for the 1960 All-Star football team. He later went back to Ozarks, where he coached football, baseball, tennis, bowling, soccer and cross country until he retired in 1990. Ozarks honored him by making him one of the first selections for the university’s Hall of Fame, as well as naming the baseball field in his honor in 2005.
Sports on 07/12/2019
Print Headline: Best Ever! Qualls remained close to home in Clarksville