Summer games bring coaches to Conway

By Donna Stephens Originally Published June 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 19, 2013 at 10:49 a.m.
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When the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star Week coaches convened at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway on Sunday, several were there to represent the Tri-Lakes Edition coverage area.

Brian Nivens of Magnet Cove is the head coach for the West softball squad, and Julie Long of Bryant is head coach for the West girls soccer team. Judy Morton of Hot Springs Lakeside is head coach for the East cheer squad, and Tonya Bolding of Hot Springs Lakeside is head coach for the East dance team.

Other area coaches on the rosters as assistants include Ronnie Efird of Magnet Cove and Mark Kehner of Glen Rose, West football; Tina Moore of Fountain Lake, West volleyball; Jason Hay of Bryant, West boys soccer; Richard Rogers of Malvern, West girls soccer; Chris Nail of Benton, West boys basketball; Jess Martin of Malvern, West girls basketball; Melissa Elrod of Glen Rose, East dance; and Laura Wooten of Bryant, West dance.

“We’re blessed with a great school and great kids and a great community,” Nivens said of Magnet Cove’s representation to All-Star Week, which also includes softball players Erin Pankey and Laney Gibson, and football players Hunter Linam and Zack Garrett. “I think there will be a good crowd. With kids in softball and football, people may spend a couple of nights in Conway.”

Coaches reported on Father’s Day, with players following on Monday. Practices for all sports began Monday. Baseball and softball doubleheaders took place Tuesday, and soccer and volleyball were played Wednesday. Basketball will go today; and football will conclude the week’s festivities on Friday.

For basketball, that means five practices. For football, it’s more. For baseball and softball — the first games to be played — it’s just two.

Besides those activities, the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Coaches Clinic in Conway began Tuesday and will run through Friday.

This year will mark Nivens’ debut as an all-star head coach, but he served as an assistant in 2011.

“The thing that makes it such an honor is it’s voted on by your peers,” he said. “The fact that my peers have recognized me makes it really special.”

The process for selection of coaches involves each conference choosing one nominee. Following the state championship in each sport, a preliminary vote for all the nominees is held to whittle the list to seven. A second vote yields the head coach (whoever receives the most votes) and the assistants (the next highest totals).

Magnet Cove won the first girls state championship in school history with its 3-0 win over Bigelow in the Class 2A state softball final at the University of Arkansas’s Bogle Park on May 18.

Nivens, who just finished his sixth season with the Lady Panthers, has a simple goal for his summer assignment.

“I want those kids who made all-stars to have the best week of their lives …,” he said. “I hope they have the best two days playing softball they’ve ever had. I hope they make new friends, maybe meet some they’ll go to college with and become lifelong friends.

“It’s a big opportunity and honor to be selected, and I want them to have fun. All those kids can play; we’re just going to let them.”

Nivens’ staff includes Mark Anderson of Texarkana, Mike Harper of Rogers and Wiley Cunningham of Ashdown.

All-Star Week was traditionally held at UCA before the AHSCA moved the activities to the University of Arkansas as the week’s activities expanded to six sports. The event has returned to Conway for the first time in several years.

Efird just finished his ninth year at Magnet Cove, his sixth as head coach. Although he coached in Texas for 13 years, he will make his Arkansas all-star debut as an assistant under Tony Travis of Pea Ridge.

Besides Kehner and Efird, the rest of the West staff includes Bobby Bolding of Pine Bluff, Lafe Caton of Pea Ridge, Shane Patrick of Springdale and Randy Tribble of Greenbrier.

Efird said he would coach receivers and kickoff return.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “For the coaching fraternity to have nominated me, it’s an honor that they thought that much of me.”

The Panthers finished 11-2 last fall, undefeated 5-2A conference champions before falling to Bearden in the Class 2A state quarterfinals.

Efird said coaches had divided the squad so that one group would play the first quarter and another the second. The game’s second half will feature free substitution, so everyone will play.

“We went back for our second meeting and talked about that,” he said. “Even though it’s an honor to be there, we still have the coaching instinct, and we want to win.”

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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