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Conway stadium named for prominent community figure

by The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | June 26, 2008 at 4:20 a.m.

— High school stadiums are sometimes named after the school or mascot, but at Conway High School, the football stadium was named in memory of someone who helped make it happen.

John McConnell Stadium was dedicated to McConnell, who died in 1991, less than two years after his death. In 1993, the Wampus Cats football team began their first season in the newly named stadium and went on to win the AAAA-Central championship.

But who was John McConnell and what was it about him that led to his name being attached to one of the larger high school football stadiums in the state?

John McConnell was a businessman in Conway who had a dream. In his youth, he wished to one day be a high school principal. When the opportunity arose to be a member of the Conway School Board, he jumped at the chance. That was in 1966.

The following year, he waselected to the board and served for 16 years (11 as president), missing just one meeting during that time. All the while he was juggling his professional and family life to volunteer to help make the school better.

"He cared a lot about the community," Stewart McConnell, John McConnell's oldest son, said. "I think it showed the love he had for the community with the time he spent on the school board."

As president of the school board, McConnell was instrumental in getting the football stadium built in 1975.

"He spent a lot of time, money and effort," Carroll Bishop, assistant superintendent, said. "We wouldn't have a field without him donating. He loved the Wampus Cats dearly."

Those who were fortunate enough to have known him remember him fondly as someone who did all that he could so that the school that his children, and later grandchildren, attended would be a model for schools across the state.

"He was a great man," Kenny Smith, head football coach, said. "In this town [to have a stadium named for you] is a tremendous honor because of the candidates. The list of worthy people is a long one."

When the school board voted to change the name of the stadium, it was a unanimous vote.

When he started his endeavor to be a part of the school district, McConnell only wanted to make it one of which the community could be proud. In high school, he wrote a paper about the highquality and standards he would bring to the school system if he ever got a chance.

He worked tirelessly, often without praise, to make sure his promise came true.

"I remember he was always getting phone calls," Stewart Mc-Connell said. "And it was never to thank him for anything."

McConnell gave of himself for the betterment of the community, his son said, not because he thought it would one day lead to his name being displayed prominently on the field.

"We didn't expect it," Stewart McConnell said. "He did it all for the community."

Many in the Conway community have been seen as visionaries, Stewart McConnell said, but his father followed through and made sure his visions were realized. The community responded by honoring him with his name on a field that more than 9,500 people on Friday nights during football season.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 73 on 06/26/2008


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