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49 national titles, but who’s counting?

by CARMIE HENRY Special to the Democrat-Gazette | March 26, 2023 at 1:53 a.m.

There was magic in the Albuquerque air recently. For only the fifth time in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history, a university's athletic teams won two national championships on the same night.

Oregon (alma mater of Nike founder Phil Knight), Arizona State, and Louisiana State University had all done it before (Oregon twice).

And on that most recent night, the University of Arkansas' men's and women's teams claimed the national indoor track and field titles. History.

This was last done by LSU in 2016 at the Randall Tyson Center in Fayetteville. Thirty-five schools have won at least one NCAA Track and Field championship counting men's and women's teams and indoor and outdoor events. Nineteen have won multiple championships. Arkansas leads the nation with 37 championships, followed by LSU with 32, Southern California with 30, and the Oregon Ducks with 22. Only four other schools have double-digit wins.

These indoor events are typically family affairs with parents and grandparents traveling from as far away as Maine, Michigan and Washington state.

ESPN covers it for a national audience. Olympians Dwight Stone and Carl Lewis were seen in the audience. There are no marching bands or military flyovers, no sideline cheerleaders or waves created by the spectators.

But there is plenty of drama. To win the title, the Arkansas women had to beat the University of Texas women, a classic Southwest Conference rivalry, in the last race of the meet. The Arkansas women shattered the collegiate record in the women's 4x400 relay, winning going away.

The Arkansas men had the meet won before the final event on the strength of performances such as Jaydon Hibbert's collegiate record in the triple jump. But did anyone rest on that? Oh no. The men's 4x400 relay team ran away with the event to cap a 25-point win over second-place Georgia.

I have to wonder: How many Arkansans realize that our Razorbacks rank seventh in the nation in the number of NCAA championships all sports claimed? Three California schools--Stanford, UCLA and Southern California--lead, followed by Texas, Oklahoma State, and Penn State.

Arkansas is two championships behind the last two and has a shot of tying them at the outdoor championships in June. Stanford claims a number of championships in water polo and has 37 tennis titles. Everyone knows Oklahoma State has a long string of trophies in wrestling. But no school has dominated one sport as much as Arkansas has dominated track and field.

Forty-nine of the Arkansas championships are in track and field and cross country. The other two are football and basketball. So why is it that no one knows the names of accomplished Arkansas track and field athletes, but can name the complete injury list of spring football players?

Maybe a glance at the Sunday sports page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette following the historic night in Albuquerque could tell us something. The big headline simply said "Big McEntire" accompanying a large photo of that Arkansas baseball player.

The top of the page declared that the "Hogs wait to hear NCAA destination" regarding a disappointing basketball season after being bounced from the SEC tournament in the second game, blowing a 13-point lead.

The right-side column was a story about the women's softball team having its win streak stopped by Texas A&M. Wally Hall's column at the bottom of the page announced that it's "Time for Hogs to have dance card filled."

And there it was. On the left side of the page a single six-inch column titled "Arkansas cleans up on track." You had to go to page 2C to find out that the men were also competing and also won. No banner headline such as the one for Nolan Richardson's basketball Hogs when they won the national championship.

If asked, I'm sure the paper's sports editor and writers would say that they write for their audience, and there is no audience for track and field. I say it's chicken and egg--tell me more about our track and field teams and I'll get interested. When I was a working stiff and my colleagues and I were working on a project or event I'd tell them, "We have to make this a big deal. If we don't then it ain't no big deal."

For all of my life I've watched the inferiority complex the people of Arkansas seem to have. And for so many times they had good reason for that inferiority complex. Now we are first in something--literally the track and field capital of the nation--and we don't bother to tout it when we should be singing from the rooftops.

To be fair, the Democrat-Gazette did run a follow-up story on the meet, and at least one of our central Arkansas television stations ran a shot of the raising of the 49 flag over Tyson Center in Fayetteville.

Hunter Yurachek does a great job as our athletic director. But it is past time for him to unleash the full power of the publicity machine at Fayetteville and recognize what we have. I'm disappointed the city of Fayetteville hasn't erected banners on city light poles declaring Hogtown the Track Capital of America. That's easy and cheap. Why not a parade down Dickson Street lined with UA students and city officials?

None of us are doing enough to promote good news in our state and outstanding athletes that represent us. We need to change that culture. I like football and basketball and baseball as much as anyone else.

But without the 49 championship trophies these track and field athletes have showered on our state, where would we be? We'd have one basketball trophy and a shared football trophy with Alabama.

Carmie Henry, who lives in Little Rock, loves those Hogs and his home state.

Print Headline: 49 national titles, but who’s counting?


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